HC Deb 04 March 1903 vol 118 cc1453-76
MR. PRICE (Norfolk, E.)

then rose to move "That in the opinion of this House, the unnecessarily long hours of labour in shops are injurious to the health and well-being of all concerned; that it is desirable that Borough and District Councils should be authorised to obtain provisional orders making such regulations in respect to the closing of shops and the limitation of the hours of labour of shop workers as may seem to them to be necessary for the areas under their jurisdiction, thus effectively carrying out the recommendations of the Select Committee of the House of Lords on Early Closing of Shops, as embodied in paragraph 15 of the Report of 1901." He said that at that late hour of night he would only very briefly tell the House what had been the Parliamentary history of that movement. It would be in the recollection of hon. Members that in the year 1888 a Bill dealing with the early closing of shops was introduced by Lord Avebury, then Sir John Lubbock, and was rejected by a very large majority. In 1893, however, the House came unanimously to the conclusion that some change in the law was necessary, and consequently in 1895, a Bill effecting that change was introduced and passed a Second Heading. It went to a Select Committee and was there dealt with, but further progress with it was checked because the Government annexed the whole of the time of the House. In 1896, almost the same thing again occurred, the Bill, however, going to the Grand Committee on Trade instead of to a Select Committee, it passed through that Committee with certain Amendments proposed by the Home Office, but again it was lost through want of time. Since then they had had no formal Bill on the subject in the House.

In the House of Lords, however, in 1901 Lord Avebury introduced a Bill, which was referred to a Select Committee where some interesting developments took place. One of the members of that Committee was the Marquess of Salisbury, who was at first disposed to take a very strong line against the measure, judging from the questions he put to some of the witnesses. But after they had called eighty-six witnesses, sixty-two of whom represented large trade interests, Lord Salisbury submitted a recommendation to the Committee setting forth that they were convinced by the evidence that the early closing of shops would be an immense boon to the shopkeeping community, both shopkeepers and shop-assistants alike; that the present hours were grievously injurious to the health, especially of women, and undermined their constitutions, and recommending that Town Councils should be authorised to pass Provisional Orders making such regulations with regard to the closing of shops as might be deemed to be necessary in the areas under their control; such Provisional Orders to be submitted to Parliament in the usual manner.

Now, the Motion he had the honour of submitting that night went generally upon the lines of that recommendation. There were only two points, indeed, in which it differed from it. In the first place Borough and District Councils were substituted for Town Councils, and in the second place he added to the recommendation a limitation of the hours of shopworkers. Indeed he thought that was a necessary corollary. It was obvious that the mere closing of shops would not preclude excessive overtime being worked after the establishment was closed, and therefore it was necessary to include some limitation of hours in the interests of the shop assistant. Anxious as he was to get this matter dealt with by Parliament, however, he would warmly welcome an early closing movement, even if unaccompanied by any recommendation as to the hours of labour. In refreshing his memory with the evidence given before the Committee, he was struck by the terrible position of affairs in many trades. There were three kinds of shops—the rich man's shops, the middle class, and the very poor man's shop. In dealing with the richer class of shop, the matter was comparatively simple. About twelve years ago the Voluntary Early Closing Association was started by the hon. Member for Dulwich and others, and the working of that organisation in the case of the superior class of shop had been most satisfactory and gratifying. Up to that time the hours worked at all shops had been laboriously long. But the Association had produced a marked improvement in that respect in the better class shops which now closed at a reasonable hour in the evening, which gave a weekly half-holiday to the assistants, and in which there was no Sunday labour. In the middle class shops, too, there had also been considerable improvement, but there was still room for more improvement. But when they came to the very poor shops the condition of things that obtained there was terrible to contemplate. The assistant had to work eighty to ninety hours in the week, and one witness stated that to his own knowledge there were shops in one poor district where the employees were working an average of fifteen hours daily, including Sundays. No doubt, that was an extremely rare case, but it was certain that in many poor districts in London, and in some provincial towns, assistants had to work from 8 in the morning till 10.30 on most nights, and even later on Fridays and Saturdays. There was no question that they were dealing with a section of society where life was very hard, and where moments of leisure were very few. And in any legislation which was passed, in any provisional order drafted by Councils, care would have to be taken that unnecessary hardship was not inflicted on the very poor.

One interesting witness examined by the Committee, a lady who had intimate knowledge of the lives of the very poor in London, said that it was no doubt impossible, under present conditions, for the poor to shop earlier in the evening; the husbands were not paid until very late, and, of course, no shopping could be done until they got home with the money. One argument put forward for late shopping was that it was found that at midnight on Saturday the butcher, realising the necessity of disposing of his stock, let it go at very low prices. But surely if he were compelled to close an hour or two earlier the same considerations would still obtain with him; he would still be under the necessity of selling off his meat, and he would let it go at the best price he could get for it. No doubt some of the lateness was due to the habits of the people. Formerly the middle classes were in the habit of shopping late, but, thanks to the voluntary early closing movement, shops were now closed much earlier and yet no public inconvenience was suffered, because people did their shopping earlier. With the middle and upper classes it was unquestionably a matter of habit and convenience, and as far as they were concerned everybody's sympathies would be with the shop assistants. Long confinement indoors was most detrimental to health, and varicose veins were a common form of complaint among assistants. Nothing could be worse for a man than to start a varicose vein, for it led to chronic ulcers.

The question was would an alteration of the law inflict any hardship upon the very poor. They would, no doubt, have to move very carefully in the matter, and that was the reason he had couched his Resolution in such moderate terms. Indeed, so anxious was he to see something done, he was willing to still more modify its wording. If they could by some legislative means bring about an improved condition of affairs they certainly ought to do so. The Voluntary Early Closing Association had done extremely well, but it had made no practical impression on very poor shops. If they could contract the hours slightly at first, they would alter the habits of the people, they might be able to induce them to shop earlier on Saturday night, and the result would be a great boon to a hard-working and very much overworked section of the community. Shop assistants represented a large proportion of the population. There was a great tendency for people to migrate from the country into our large towns, and they got into crowded centres where the conditions of life were far from healthy. Everything possible ought therefore to be done to render more healthy those conditions. It was with that object that he moved the Resolution, and it would be very gratifying to him if he were told by the Government that night, seeing that both sides of the House were agreed upon the main principle, that they were themselves prepared to take up the question and introduce what would be a most beneficent reform.

SIR JOHN GORST (Cambridge University)

rose to second the Resolution. He did not suppose there would be any strong opposition to it, seeing that it practically embodied the words of Lord Salisbury, and he hoped it would be supported by the Government and carried by the House. But that would not take the matter very far. The Resolution would be carried and they would hear no more about it. What he wanted to ask the Government to do was to assure the House that not only would they sympathetically support the Resolution, but that during the course of the present session they would give practical effect to the policy of Lord Salisbury. This case was a very fair example of the extreme slowness and difficulty with which social reforms were carried in this country. This was a question which had been before Parliament for the last quarter of a century. So long ago as 1886 there was a Bill introduced into that House upon which a Committee sat, in which all the evils at which the present Motion was directed were brought under the notice of Members of Parliament. More than that, two years later a memorial was addressed to Parliament by all the most prominent medical authorities in London, including the President of the Royal College of Physicians and a President of the Royal College of Surgeons, pointing out to the House of Commons the great social danger of these long shop hours, particularly in the case of women. The heads of the medical profession of that day declared that these long hours gave a very great impulse to tubercular disease, rickets, and other diseases to which town populations were liable, and which had a very serious effect on the next generation. That was fifteen years ago, and the young men and women employed in those days under such conditions had proved very bad parents, from a physical point of view, to the generation which was now rising up. How could they expect, when they had more than three-fourths of the population gathered together in the towns, that the nation would be physically healthy if they allowed that state of things to continue year after year? However, after 1888, not very much was done. Not long afterwards a Government came into office which was so occupied with the Home Rule Bill, and subsequently with ploughing the sands, that it was not able to attend to the social wants of the people.

In 1895 there was a gleam of hope. There was a General Election in that year, and Members of the Party now in power, in the course of that election, vied with each other in assuring the electors that they would make the social condition of the people their one consideration. They had no United Kingdom to dismember, and no Parliamentary reform to occupy themselves with. They had, in fact, they said, nothing to do but to attend to the social condition of the people. They were returned to power, and practically nothing was done. A good deal was heard about the case of the shop assistants during the progress of the election, but nothing was heard of it in the legislature except the various attempts made by Sir John Lubbock to bring the subject under consideration. And it was not until Sir John had been translated to the House of Lords that he was able, in 1901, to bring in a Bill. That Bill was referred to a Select Committee, and on that Select Committee was Lord Salisbury, who, at that time was Prime Minister, and who, being entirely convinced of the necessity for some legislation, joined in the unanimous report of the Committee, which proposed a remedy for the evil. He believed that Lord Salisbury, on that occasion, indicated for the first time the real direction in which reform should take place, viz., by leaving it to the local authorities to make such regulations as were suitable to the circumstances of each particular case. After all, the closing of shops and the shortening of the hours of workers must depend largely upon the habits of the people and the circumstances of the locality. Lord Salisbury proposed that the duty of framing the regulations should be entrusted to the local authorities, who would be better able to lay down rules suitable to the requirements of their respective districts. He attached certain restrictions, which appeared to be scarcely necessary. Personally, he could not see why the local regulations should be subject to the confirmation of Parliament. He thought that if the Government would carry a Bill exactly on the lines of the recommendation made by Lord Salisbury two years ago, it would be a very satisfactory step in the direction of progress.

The Committee reported in 1901, and it might have been supposed that the Government would, in the following year, bring in a Bill giving effect to its recommendations. But they had done nothing of the kind. A Bill had been brought in in another place, however, though not by a supporter of the present Government, which exactly carried out Lord Salisbury's proposal There was little probability of the House of Lords not supporting the unanimous conclusion of its own Committee of 1891, so that that Bill would doubtless reach the House of Commons. He assumed the Home Secretary would not oppose the Resolution under discussion, but he hoped that in addition, in order to give effect to the Resolution, he would assure the House that when the Bill to which he had referred reached the House of Commons it would receive the support of the Government.

Question proposed, "That, in the opinion of this House, the unnecessarily long hours of labour in shops are injurious to the health and well-being of all concerned; that it is desirable that Borough and District Councils should be authorised to obtain Provisional Orders making such regulations in respect to the closing of shops and the limitation of the hours of labour of shop workers as may seem to them to be necessary for the areas under their jurisdiction, thus effectively carrying out the recommendation of the Select Committee or the House of Lords on Early Closing of Shops, as embodied in paragraph 15 of the Report of 1901."—(Mr. Price.)

MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)

I shall not follow the right hon. Gentleman opposite in the controversial parts of his speech; I will only say that, as usual, he has dealt out even-handed justice. I am prepared to admit, as he has frankly admitted, that neither Party is altogether free from blame in this matter; but, if we were to enter into the question of the Apportionment of the blame, I should say that the Party which has been in power, with a large majority in both Houses, during the last few years should, at any rate, accept its share. I have risen, however, simply to re-echo the appeal which has been made from both sides of the House, for some reassuring declaration on this subject. There are two propositions in regard to this matter which I think have now passed beyond the region of possible dispute. The first is as to the gravity and magnitude of the evil itself. The report of the Committee to which reference has been made shows that the average hours of shop assistants in London are between seventy-five and eighty hours per week, and very often you have to add to that from half-an-hour to two hours per day during which they carry on their work after the shops are closed. I cannot help contrasting that with the effect of the evidence given before the same inquiry with regard to co-operative stores, in which, you may say, both employers and employed belong to the labouring class. These are carried on with the most profitable results, and yet the hours of labour rarely, if ever, exceed sixty-five per week. If co-operative stores, catering for the same class of people as many of the poorer shops, can do their business at a profit, and exact from their employees only sixty-five hours per week, it is an unnecessary scandal that eighty, ninety, or even a hundred hours per week should be exacted in other shops.

I need not enlarge on the enormous injury inflicted on people by these long hours. Without any exaggeration, and after long study of the question, I really believe that there is no class of the population, except the very lowest stratum of the working class, who are so badly off as regards facilities for humane and civilised life as shop assistants. Just consider what it means. They are in the shop for fourteen hours out of the twenty four; they are beyond all possibility of enjoying domestic, social, or civic life; they have no means of recreation, physical or intellectual; they are practically working slaves. Nothing struck me more, in reading the evidence given before the Committee, than a statement of the Rev. J. W. Horsley, a well-known clergyman in South London, to the effect that the tradesman class, meaning shop assistants, and small tradesmen who have no assistants of their own, never enter the public libraries. You see artisans, clerks, and members of almost every other class of the community availing themselves of these libraries, but shop assistants cannot. I am sure I have the universal sympathy of the House in saying that such a state of things is a disgrace.

The second proposition, which I think is equally clear, is that it has been demonstrated by generation of disinterested and zealous effort, that voluntary action is not sufficient. We have had our Early Closing Associations, and they have undoubtedly done a great deal, particularly in the better class of shops, not so much to shorten the average hours of labour, as to bring about something in the nature of a weekly half-holiday. But voluntary associations are insufficient for the purpose, as has been shown over and over again, because a single, selfish, profit-seeking tradesman in a district can defeat the combined action of those who are disposed to close their shops and give reasonable facilities to their employees.

These two propositions being granted, and I think they are amply proved, we are driven to legislation. It is really a melancholy and discreditable thing that for eighteen years, while both parties in the State had been practically agreed on these two propositions, nothing really effective has been done, except that very homoeo pathic measure for shortening the hours of young persons in shops, which does very little, and is, I am afraid, but inadequately administered. What I want to elicit from the Government, if I can, is this. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has shown that Lord Salisbury himself has indicated a way. I want the Government to assure us that they will take up seriously, and this session, one or other of the practical proposals which have been put before Parliament, and so bring about a solution of this evil. For myself, though I admit there are arguments on both sides, I think that, on the whole, the balance of argument is in favour of leaving the matter to the discretion of the local authorities. The conditions are so various, as between different communities, that to lay down a hard and fast cast-iron rule for the whole country might be productive of considerable mischief. I have sufficient confidence in the county and town councils—and I believe that confidence is shared by the bulk of Members on both sides—to know that in these matters they would be responsive to public opinion and anxious to improve the condition of this class of the population, without, on the other hand, being guilty of anything in the nature of tyranny or arbitrary action. I would leave the matter to them without any reference to Parliament. The machinery of a Provisional Order, with its delay, cumbrousness, and expense, is not one that it is desirable to use in a matter of this kind. But I do not want to labour that now. I want an assurance from the Government that when that measure reaches this House they will grant it the facilities which only a Government can give, so that it may pass into law. and at last clear away from our social structure that which has long been a scandal and a, disgrace.

SIR; FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

said the right hon. Gentleman opposite had stated that the shop assistants worked very long hours, and therefore he would place the whole of the business of the shopkeepers in the hands of the Borough Councils. ("No.") He thought that was the result of the right hon. Gentleman's argument. The local authorities were to fix the hours—not the hours that the people might work, but the hours that the shops were to be kept open. They might have poor people, a poor man and his wife, who were ready to keep open in order to earn a little money, and the right hon. Gentleman would compel them to close. That was a most extraordinary doctrine to be enunciated from the Front Bench opposite. It really seemed as though the people of this country were not to be allowed to do anything except under the regulation of the local authority. Much had been said lately as to the necessity of education to enable us to compete commercially with other countries, but what was wanted was not so much legislation as the freedom of every man to manage his own affairs in the way he thought best for his own interests. The mover of the Resolution was evidently aware of the evils which might result from the Motion, because he had said that it should be put in force slightly and tentatively at first. But there was nothing in the Resolution to that effect. The question of the very poor came in. People who were employed until six or seven o'clock, and had their purchases to make after they arrived home, would, under this Resolution, be unable to do their shopping at all. There were also the small shop-keepers, who would practically be deprived of their means of livelihood. Many of these people, although their shops were open from eight o'clock in the morning, did not really commence business until eight o'clock in the evening, the remainder of the day being spent in the shop parlour.

The Act of three or four years ago, by which shopkeepers were compelled to provide seats for their women assistants, had to a great extent removed the evils to which reference had been made by previous speakers. The medical evidence before the House of Lords Committee was practically confined to women, and if the hon. Member had introduced a Resolution restricting the hours of women he might possibly have supported it. Up to the present there had been no legislation affecting the hours of labour of the adult male. As to the hours of railway servants, they were not limited. If representations were made that the hours of labour of railway servants were excessive, and might cause danger to the public, the Board of Trade had power to step in and say that such hours should not be worked. But that was an entirely different thing from laying down a hard-and-fast rule that no adult male was to work beyond a certain number of hours per week. Even if the hon. Member had confined this Resolution to saying that the hours of shop assistants were to be limited, it would be introducing a very dangerous precedent, and one which might lead to serious results. But the hon. Member had gone further than that, and declared that a man might not work for himself as long as he liked without State interference. That was a serious matter, and he hoped the Government would say that as long as a man chose to work in this free country he should be allowed to do so. In that way they would do more for the prosperity of the country than would be done by all the efforts of Ministers of Commerce, Borough Councils, and other people who knew nothing whatever about the particular cases with which they might have to deal.

MR. YOXALL (Nottingham. W.)

said the hon. Member for Peckham had made a great point of the freedom of a man to work as long as he pleased, but that also implied the freedom of an unreasonable person to make his competitors work as long as he pleased, and in this country we usually proceeded on the assumption that the wisdom of the many was superior to the obstinacy of the one. The Committee of the House of Lords, whose Report was largely drawn up by Lord Salisbury himself, stated:— We have endeavoured to ascertain the views of the shopkeepers themselves, by evidence, petition, and resolution. We have had before us the views of a large number of tradesmen, and of associations formed for the purposes of trade in all parts of the country. Of these over 2,900 are in favour of the general provisions of the Early Closing Bill, and many would wish to see it made more stringent, while the only tradesmen or associations who have petitioned or desired to give evidence against the Bill are the off-licence holders and the London pawnbrokers. That did not appear to support the arguments of the hon. Member for Peckham. The hon. Member for the Peckham Division also argued that this proposal would give the Town Council power over the shops within its area. Now what was the proposal? It was not a hard and fast piece of legislation for the whole of the country. It applied in the first instance to that part of the country from which the demand for it arose.

If a Town Council after consulting their constituents and hearing local opinion desired to do something in the way of restricting hours, then that Council might obtain a Provisional Order, with all its safeguards, which must be submitted to this House before it could have the force of law. Could anyone contend that that could be described as handing over the trade of a borough to the local authority. The Report of the Select Committee recommended that the local authority should be authorised to obtain a Provisional Order, which should be submitted to Parliament before it had the force of law. Therefore he submitted to the House, and especially to the Home Secretary, that the proposal was a moderate and restricted proposal, and that the right hon. Gentleman could hardly decline to extend to it the blessing of the Government. Depend upon it, it would not be availed of in any locality until the municipality were perfectly satisfied that they could adopt it without the risk of losing their own seats. The course of moderation could not further go; and he hoped that the proposal would have the support of the Government. The shop assistants were in favour of it, and he was perfectly certain that the chief thing they desired was a reduction of their hours of labour; the traders themselves approved of it; several associations of employers approved of it; Trades Union Conferences had passed resolutions in favour of it: and he thought that, altogether, the case was a very strong one from every point of view.

* LIEUT.-COLONEL GEORGE KEMP (Lancashire, Heywood)

said he wished to say a few words in favour of the Motion, because he had already taken some steps in favour of even more stringent legislation. He did not think that any hon. Member would have opposed the Motion, seeing that its principle had been affirmed over and over again; and he was rather surprised that his hon. friend the Member for the Peckham Division should have taken exception to it on the ground that it would put more power; into the hands of the local authorities. Surely they on that side of the House had been giving powers of decentralisation in many directions. They had given it with reference to education, and had trusted the local authorities in that matter; and he hoped that it might be given, in the dim and distant future, even to the Army. If power were given to the local authorities in this matter they would know the requirements of the public, and the wishes of the electorate would be consulted. After all the principal part of the electorate were not shopkeepers or shop assistants, but the public; and the great argument, as he understood it, against the Motion was, that the public might be inconvenienced by any curtailment of hours; but as the public formed the larger part of the electorate, their wishes would be the most consulted by the local authorities. They knew from the Report of the Committee of the House of Lords that the shopkeepers as a whole were entirely in favour of legislation on the lines of the Motion, and he hoped that the Government would see their way to take the matter up and pass the desired legislation. He thought it would be a grave reflection on the House if, after acknowledging the principle for so many years, they were to let the matter slide. However, he had every confidence that the Government would show that in this respect they cared for the real interests of the hard working people of this country; and that they would add to the Statute Book a measure which would materially increase their happiness.

* MR. TENNANT (Berwickshire)

said that the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Beckham Division stated that if the Resolution were limited to the case of women he was not sure that he might not support it. He did not feel very sure that the hon. Gentleman would support it even then.


Withdraw the Motion and introduce one referring to women.


said that he had not the good fortune of his hon. friend in the ballot, but if he had he would not have introduced a less drastic Motion. Probably his Motion would be a little more forward, because he agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken that the House had nothing to boast about in its relation to this question. What had they done? They passed what his right hon. friend called a homoeopathic measure, but what was the use of homoeopathy in a case like this. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knew as well as anyone else that the only law of the land with reference to shops except the Seats Act was the Act limiting the hours of young persons to 74 a week, and this was not administered in 50 per cent. of the eases. It could not be administered because young girls, of all ages up to eighteen, could not remember at the end of the week how many hours they had worked. They got bamboozled when they were asked. The hon. Member for the Peckham Division also introduced the story of the man and his wife, and their old friend the widow. They had timely warning given to them by the hon. Member for Battersea not to be misled by the old story of the widow. Finally the hon. Member for the Peckham Division came to the conclusion that if this country meant to compete with foreign countries it should employ women and girls eighty-four or ninety hours a week.

He had from his hon. friend the Member for the Clitheroe Divisiona list of the hours worked per week in the Co-operative Society at Darwen. They were as follows:—Monday, ten and a half; Tuesday, four; Wednesday, nine and a half; Thursday, ten; Friday, eleven and a half; and Saturday, eleven and a half—a total of fifty-seven hours per week. He was talking to a shop assistant some time ago, and she said she worked from seventy-six to eighty hours, and she added that that was nothing to the hours of her little sister in Kings Road, Chelsea, who worked 91 hours a week, including six hours on Sunday. He had been refreshing his memory with the evidence given before the Committee of the House of Lords, the most interesting part of which was the evidence of Miss Octavia Hill, and her cross-examination by the late Prime Minister. Lord Salisbury could only be persuaded with great difficulty that shops did remain open in London on Sundays, and he asked if there was not an Act of Parliament against it. No doubt there was, but as the penalty was only 2s. 6d., and as the shopkeeper would make at least 3s. 6d. by keeping open, it was not surprising that the Act was almost a dead letter. He sincerely hoped that this Motion would be carried. They had remained too long looking at the subject; and it was really a reproach on the House of Commons that it had delayed so long in dealing with it.

MAJOR EVANS-GORDON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

said he was in general agreement with what had fallen from his hon. friend the Member for the Peckham Division; but he hoped that, in agreeing with his hon. friend, it would not be supposed that he was wanting in sympathy with people who had to work in many cases very long hours. But although they might have the deepest sympathy with such people—and he was sure he had—they should think of the shopkeepers to whom his hon. friend referred, and whose very lives depended on keeping their shops open to what might seem unreasonable hours. In the part of London which he represented, the people who did the shopping were employed in all parts of the Metropolis They were out at all hours, and bought the smallest quantity at the most extra ordinary hours of the day and night, when the money happened to come in. It would be a terrible hardship on the shopkeepers and those people if they were handed over to the local authority It had been said by his hon. friend opposite that they were out of touch with the sentiments of those people if it was thought that they desired to keep their shops open; but he knew that a great number of the people in the East End of London would view the adoption of this Motion with great alarm. There were one or two points which had not yet been dealt with, to which he wished to refer. Had it occurred to anyone the extraordinary situation that would arise if, for instance.

in the East End of London one Borough Council were to adopt a resolution of this nature, and a neighbouring Borough Council were not. That would create a most extraordinary state of things, and he submitted it was a very great objection. One other point had not been referred to. There were 80,000 people in London who would be affected by this Resolution—he meant the costermongers. In the East End of London an immense amount of shopping was done from barrows, and a great number of people were employed in carrying perishable goods about the streets in barrows. It would be a great hardship on them if they were told that after a certain hour they could not sell their goods.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said the House knew the facts with regard to the danger and evils which accrued from late shopping, and he was really surprised that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down had not expressed his intention to abate the nuisance. He was also sorry that the hon. and gallant Gentleman should have introduced the East End of London, and should have used reactionary and obsolete arguments. He too represented a constituency in which there were large numbers of poor people, and also costermongers, and he contended that in the interest of the shopkeeper, in the interest of the shop assistant, in the interest of the purchaser, and in the interest of the costermonger, there was no reason why a maximum number of hours should not be fixed. The hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of men who were employed late at night, but who bought the food for such men? Who bought lighter- man's steak? If he were a decent fellow, as he generally was, he was married, and his wife bought it.


said that a carman's wife could not buy food until the carman came borne late at night with his money.


said he would deal with that later. The lighterman's wife bought his steak, if he were married: and if he were single, his landlady bought it, but not at one or two o'clock in the morning. If the landlady wanted to get her young man lodger into a happy mood, she would buy his steak at a proper hour, and not have to depend on cagmag ornaments. As to the carman, he was not paid daily. He was paid on Tuesdays and Fridays, and had sufficient money to allow his wife or his landlady to shop at reasonable hours. Mechanics now had short hours, but they were inclined to rather selfishly impose long hours on the people who served them. The shopkeeper's assistant ought to get protection from the too often selfish and greedy mechanic, whose wife too frequently bought the Sunday dinner at midnight on Saturday night. He would tell the hon. and gallant Member what would happen. The local authorities, when this Resolution took the form of an Act, would give it six months working, and if an anomaly was disclosed they would make the Resolution uniform and applicable to all the Borough Council areas.

The hon. Baronet the Member for Peckham really surprised him on these matters. He had spoken on behalf of working men, but he really did not know a great deal about them. The hon. Member had stated that there were some people who worked late at night. That was no excuse for late shopping. Workmen did not shop. Shopping was done by their wives and families. Skilled and unskilled labourers were now getting reasonably short hours, and it was scandalous that shops should be open for sixteen hours, though they were not doing more than six or eight hours effective work in the time. The hon. Member for Peckham did not go shopping after eleven o'clock at night. In the West End of London the big shops were as a rule closed early. If Belgravia could shop at the Army and Navy Stores between ten and five o'clock, he saw no reason why something like reasonable hours should not be kept in the New Cut. Voluntary closing could be broken down by a few greedy shopkeepers with a little capital; the pressure of a law in which common-sense should be embodied was required. In the East End there was no reason why British shop keepers should be subjected to the unfair competition of aliens who worked from sixteen to eighteen hours a day, and, as was shown last week at Stepney, sometimes disposed of putrid foodstuffs in the late rush on Saturday night. It was because he believed that the adoption of such a Resolution as this would enable the people to buy better and cheaper food, at a time of day when they could detect the bad from the good, that he supported it.


The House will desire to hoar from me what reception the Government are prepared to give to this Resolution, and what view we take in regard to this matter. I cannot complain at all of the terms of the Resolution moved by the hon. Member for East Norfolk, nor of the tone in which he has addressed the House. I fully sympathise with him in the view he takes as to the hardships which are inflicted on many of these people in the shops of London. There has been a very general opinion for a long time past in favour of some form of early closing. I think opinion has certainly grown in the last five or six years in that direction. There is, I think, quite a general desire that shops should close earlier, and possibly the only feeling which is in conflict with that view is the feeling which has been expressed by the hon. Members for Peckham and Stepney, who seem to think, and possibly not without reason, that the smaller shopkeepers might suffer. But I am one of those who think that we might safely adopt the suggestion contained in the final clause of the report of the Lords Committee, and allow the Borough Councils to deal with this question. I think they are perfectly capable of exercising the power, and further than that, I honestly believe they will exercise it with justice. I believe that they will not venture, probably, to make any such proposition unless they have first taken a plebiscite of their population and decided on it upon a given proportion, and I believe that in most of the districts or boroughs three-fourths of the shopkeepers themselves would vote in favour of a proposition for the earlier closing of shops. There need not be any hardship on the smaller shopkeepers, because their views would in one way or another be heard.

My right hon. friend the Member for Cambridge University has challenged us for not having ourselves introduced a Bill to deal with this subject in the years we have been in office. As my hon. friend the Member for Peckham has pointed out, a certain amount of the blame, if blame there be, falls equally on his shoulders, because he was a Member of the same Government. But I do not think the question was quite in the same position then as it has been since this unanimous report of the House of Lords Committee was presented. I think that the feeling that we were not at all assured that there was any general opinion in favour of this proposal, or any general likelihood of being able to carry a Measure of this sort unless it was made a principal Measure and a large amount of time devoted to it, may now, to a certain extent, be set aside. I cannot accept the challenge of my right hon. friend that we should ourselves this year introduce a Measure of this character. We have already got a large amount of legislation to deal with, probably a larger amount has been given notice of in the King's Speech than we shall be able to carry, and I have myself often witnessed, as most hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this House who have been in any Administration must have done, the trouble the Government get into near the end of the session by having overloaded their coach in starting. I am not prepared to accept the responsibility of introducing legislation upon the question myself, but I am perfectly prepared to view with favour any Measure laid before the House which is based on what has been alluded to as Lord Salisbury's Clause in the Lords' Report. I would point out to my hon. friend the Member for East Norfolk that he does not entirely follow this in the Resolution he moved. He winds up his Resolution by saying— Thus effectively carrying out the recommendation of the Select Committee of the House of Lords on Early Closing of Shops, as embodied in paragraph 15 of the Report of 1901; and yet in the earlier part of his Resolution he asks us to agree to a proposal which would include the limitation of the hours of labour in shops. There is nothing of that in the Resolution carried in the House of Lords.

Then I have felt that that Bill which was introduced and printed the other day, and which stands in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Forest of Dean, went a very great deal farther than the Resolution proposed in the House of Lords. I would point out to my hon. friends who favour the proposal that the Government should deal with this question, that it is not at all certain that, even if we accepted the challenge, the House would generally agree to support such a Measure, because my right hon. friend the Member for Forest of Dean would be the first to endeavour to extend it to the extent of his own Bill. I venture to say, that if the Measures alluded to by the hon. Member for East Norfolk as now awaiting Second Reading in another place—one of which he says is based on this Report, and the other of which stands in the name of Lord Avebury, who may be called almost the father of this question—came down here, or came in a consolidated form, it is not at all certain that a large section of the House would accept it, or that the Measure would receive general support. I have no doubt that the hon. Member who moved the Resolution would accept it, because he said in so many words that he would accept a moderate Bill, and although he might considerate it only a tentative one, he would vote for it in this House. I am not at all certain whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Forest of Dean would view the matter in the same light. He would very probably seek very largely to extend its scope, and therefore certainly prevent the possibility of any Bill which came down here late in the session being able to pass under the limited opportunities which offer themselves at that period of the year. I only hope that the more moderate view of the hon. Member for East Norfolk may obtain if those measures come down to this House, because I am firmly of opinion that we shall advance very considerably with a moderate proposal such as this would be if based on the Report. I can only repeat that I am ready to welcome on behalf of the Government any Measure based on the Resolution to which allusion has been made, but I cannot hold out any hope of the Government being able to legislate.

* SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

said he might be allowed to state in reply to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman that he might not be disposed to accept a Measure which came down from another place that that question was not before the House at present. He was quite content with the Resolution moved by his hon. friend. The Trade Union Congress and the organised workers in this trade preferred the Bill under his charge, but they accepted the Resolution of his hon. friend and were prepared to support it. He submitted that they ought to be allowed to take the sense of the House on the Resolution because the words to which the Home Secretary had taken exception were words which were necessary to efficiently carry out Lord Salisbury's clause.

Resolved, "That, in the opinion of this House, the unnecessarily long hours of labour in Shops are injurious to the health and well-being of all concerned; that it is desirable that Borough and District Councils should be authorised to obtain Provisional Orders making such regulations in respect to the closing of shops and the limitation of the hours of labour of shop workers as may seem to them to be necessary for the areas under their jurisdiction; thus effectively carrying out the recommendation of the Select Committee of the House of Lords on Early Closing of Shops, as embodied in paragraph 15 of the Report of 1901."—(Mr. Price.)