HC Deb 01 May 1907 vol 173 cc960-78
MR. SHACKLETON (Lancashire, Clitheroe)

rose to call attention to the failure of the Shop Hours Act, and to move—"That, in the opinion of this House, more drastic legislation with regard to the closing of shops and the hours of shop assistants is required." He said that this was not a new question for the House. It had been discussed time after time. Many Committees had sat on the subject, and many reports had been made, but they were in a more favourable position that night, because there had been an opportunity of testing some of the suggestions which had been made in years gone by. It was really to that phase of the subject he wished to direct-attention, namely, the failure of the endeavour which had been made by the late Government to deal with this subject. Many Members opposed the proposals of the late Government at the time they were made, preferring the altogether different plan embodied in the Bill introduced by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean for many years back. The opposition to the right hon. Baronet's Bill had taken the form of a Bill in the name of Lord Avebury. Lord Avebury's ideas on this question had been put into operation by the late Government, but the Act had failed. His hon. friend the Member for the Newton Division of Lancashire, who had been a shop assistant, would tell the House more authoritatively than he could do how the Act had worked. The present Act was drawn in the optional form, its provisions being governed all through by the word "may." He and his friends thought the word "shall" should govern everything in regard to shop hours. It did not deal with the hours of the shop assistants; it dealt with the hours of closing, which was a far different thing. The Act provided that the local authority "may" do certain things when satisfied that a prima facie case had been made out by people desiring a closing order. First of all, a two-thirds majority had to be got in favour of a closing order. There was no distinction made between one who held fifty shops and one who held one small shop. They were all reckoned on a level. There was no compulsion on the local authority to apply for a closing order, even when there was a two-thirds majority in favour of it. Anyone who had knowledge of the working of the Factory Acts knew that such a provision would make them absolutely nugatory and of no benefit to the operatives. In regard to the hours of shop assistants, unless they had compulsory powers there was very little use in Parliament spending its time legislating on the subject. Lord Avebury prided himself on the fact that the Act did not apply to the hours of labour, for he found that his Lordship had stated that— there was nothing in the Bill to prevent employees being kept at work after the door of the shop had been closed. That was said for the purpose of prevailing on certain people to accept even the present Act. The fact that the Act had been in operation two years, and that the number of orders issued under it was very small, proved that something different from Lord Avebury's suggestions was wanted in regard to this matter. In asking for this, he thought they could claim the support of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In a speech delivered in the House when the present Act was under discussion the right hon. Gentleman expressed regret that the then Government had not framed its title and scope so as to make it possible to introduce Amendments in Committee to meet cases of common occurrence where shop assistants were employed either before the opening or after the closing of shops. The right hon. Gentleman further said that no measure would be really effective which did not give the power of compulsorily closing shops. The Bill was so framed that Amendments in that direction could not be moved. Such Amendments as were competent were moved, but with very little success, and the Bill passed practically in the form in which it was introduced, so far as its main provisions were concerned. The Bill of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean set out that they desired a sixty hours week. Some people might say that was an impossibility. He had inquired as to the hours of assistants in the cooperative shops of Darwen whose business was chiefly with the working classes. All the arguments as to workmen or their wives not being able to make their purchases within certain hours applied quite as much to these shops as to others. He was informed that the hours were 56¼ per week. There were fourteen days allowed each year for holidays, in respect of which no deduction from wages was made. He thought that was an ideal condition which the private trader might try to aim at. If the co-operative shops could be carried on successfully and increasingly so with these hours, it was not too much to ask the House to sanction a Resolution which called for more drastic legislation on the subject. There had been many cases where the people concerned had asked the local authorities for closing orders under this Act and had not succeeded in obtaining them, although they had the two-thirds majority in favour of the applications. At Dover recently twenty-four out of twenty-eight hairdressers applied for an order, and the town council, which was the deciding authority, said that a prima facie case had not been made out. So far as he was aware a closing order had not been applied in that case up to the present time. To get a two-thirds majority to start with was a tremendous thing, but, having got that, it was too much that the applicants should have to face a recalcitrant town council. That was a power which should be done away with at once. He was glad that the Home Secretary had asserted himself with regard to applications for the revoking of orders. The borough of Southwark had asked the revocation of an order on the ground that there was a sufficient number of people against it. The right hon. Gentleman said that was not sufficient for him; he wanted proof of the opinion of the people. The result was that the answer given by the right hon. Gentleman was sufficient to check the movement for revocation. The question of areas also required consideration. There were twenty-nine local authorities in London, and as the administrative area of each closely adjoined the boundaries of one or more of the others, it was difficult to apply the closing orders in such a manner as to avoid unequal treatment. A shopkeeper on one side of a street might come within the closing order applicable to the area in which his premises were situated, while another shopkeeper on the other side of the street was not required to close his shop because no order had been issued in regard to the area in which he carried on business. The area should be sufficiently wide to cover all the shops in that area. Attention was called to this matter when the Bill was passing through the House, but no steps were taken to avoid the difficulties which were predicted. That was a point which ought to be dealt with in any measure which the Home Secretary might bring forward on the question of shop hours. He would take another case, that of hairdressers, about whom more orders had been issued under the Act by local authorities than in regard to all the other trades put together. One order fixed the closing time for hairdressers at 9 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, on Thursday at 10 p.m., Friday at 11 p.m. and on Saturday at five minutes to 12 o'clock. He supposed that was done on religious grounds. It was feared that if the assistants were permitted to work up to midnight they might have to labour for a minute or two on the Sabbath! He was told that the only town that had successful and satisfactory orders was Glasgow, where the hours of the shop assistants had been really reduced. In the case of forty-eight trades the closing hour on Saturday was ten o'clock, and on other nights in the week eight o'clock. It must also be remembered that the Act dealt only with closing time. Nothing was said about opening time, with the result that in many cases assistants who worked late had to begin early. He thought the Shop Assistants' Association had taken a sensible view of the situation, and had done what they could to make the working of the Act successful by sending circulars to and approaching town councils and tradesmen. But, on the whole, the result had been very disappointing. In view of the universal failure of the Act, the Shop Assistants' Association had approached the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, who had taken such a keen interest in this matter, and the Labour Party to bring pressure on the Government to deal with the question next session. It was not only the shop assistants who were dissatisfied, but traders interested in the early closing movement also demanded better legislation. The Shopkeepers' Association, which represented thousands of tradesmen, was strongly in favour of more drastic legislation. That demand was supported by the Drapers' Journal, which published a list of the towns where the Act had been an absolute failure, and another article pointing out the districts where the hours of the shop assistants were seventy hours per week, or more. The purpose of his Resolution was to draw the attention of the Home Secretary to this matter, with the view of receiving from him a satisfactory assurance that his Department had really realised that the present Act was inoperative. As he had said, the Act on the whole had proved disappointing. It must no longer be permissive. Less power must be given to the local authorities, and more power vested in the central authority. He begged to move.

MR. SEDDON (Lancashire, Newton)

said that in seconding the Resolution he had no wish to make an attack on any persons who were responsible for the original Act. Had it been blessed with a less exalted origin he might have been tempted to describe it as conceived without knowledge and shapen with impossible intention. This question had been before the House for forty years, and had been discussed by six Commissions and seven Committees of Inquiry. The Labour Party were deeply indebted to the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean for his persistent attempts to improve the position of shop assistants. It was said by the late Lord Salisbury that— This is one of the cases in which the two Houses of Parliament occupy a somewhat difficult position. They are asked to legislate as to matters affecting the personal happiness and well-being of a very large number of persons—a very large class—to which, with scarcely any exception, the Members of the two Houses do not themselves belong. It is, therefore, very difficult for them to know how such a measure would affect the comfort of the classes concerned. Happily for their cause that was not strictly accurate to-day. He himself had stood for many years behind the counter as a grocer's assistant; therefore he spoke with some personal knowledge, although he would not say that his personal knowledge would carry the House very far. In his youth he used to start work at seven in the morning, finish at nine in the evening, and had to be in bed at ten o'clock. On Saturdays the shop was kept open till eleven o'clock, and it only closed then because there was a licence attached to the business. The Act had entirely failed because it attempted to destroy selfishness by permissive agencies. They might as well try to prop up an avalanche with a lady's sunshade. This was a case, in the words of Professor Sedgewick, Where the coercion, either of law or of the social sanction, wielded by a deliberate and vigorous combination, is prima facie indispensable, except in a perfectly ideal community of economic men. From what had been said by his hon. friend the Member for Clitheroe, it would be acknowledged that they were not yet living in that ideal state. They did not rely altogether on the ease set up by the shop assistants themselves, which stated that the present Act entirely failed because of the avarice of a few. The Draper, which was an influential journal, said— There is no longer any disguising the fact that the Shop Hours Act has proved a dismal failure. They made exhaustive inquiries in 175 towns, and found exactly the contrary of what they expected. Long hours prevailed, and no application had been made to the local authority for Orders. In some cases, where the hours were very long and application had been made for Orders, they had not been granted. In other cases where application had been made for an Order, it was where reduced hours had been in vogue for years. The Grocer newspaper in 1904 described the Act as a legislative steeplechase, and, after quoting its various clauses, said that even this legislative steeplechase was not run in accordance with the fair rules of sport, and that the people who were the non-starters could take away the prize. They found that the local authorities could refuse, and had refused, to make Orders, and that town clerks could dictate the conditions of the Orders. The town clerk of Burnley had laid it down, in reference to this matter, that a shopkeeper could vote according to the number of trades carried on under one roof. Many shopkeepers carried on trades which were not allied to their ordinary business. For instance, many grocers sold floorcloth, and while the seller would have the right to vote as a grocer, he would also have the right to vote as a dealer in floorcloth. A grocer might also sell pills and other things, and in that way he might get eight or ten votes. Then, as the deputation pointed out, it was impossible to get over the objections of the town clerk of Burnley, because every person might vote by proxy. There was no doubt about it that London was a great difficulty in regard to all social reform, owing to the different regulations which were imposed in different parts. To bring the Act into operation would cost each borough £50, and they did not apply for a closing order because it could be so easily upset. In Camberwell, taking the hours of the shops and striking an average, the shop assistants were liable to work seventy-five hours a week. It was useless to occupy the time of the House by talking of voluntary effort. Voluntary effort had been preached for forty or fifty years by well intentioned people, but it had broken down, and assistants engaged in grocers', fishmongers' and poulterers' businesses worked from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and from 7 a.m. to 12 midnight. Surely that statement was eloquent testimony to the fact that, while we as a nation objected to slavery, it was still permitted in the British Islands. The question was, in his view, eminently one for speedy and effective legislation. Many employers of labour were discouraged, and had become disgusted with the working of the Act, and steps should be taken to remedy the present state of things. Nothing less than drastic compulsory powers would enable them to bring the selfish members of a trade to reason. They had most valuable evidence in support of their case, because the medical profession had borne their testimony to the great evil which was done to the health and life of shop assistants under the present system. One medical gentleman had stated that such hours as were worked by shop assistants were not only detrimental to the shop assistants themselves but were a danger to the community in which they lived. Thirty-eight per cent. of shop assistants fell victims to chest complaints, and in regard to one well known sanatorium it was declared that nearly fifty per cent. of the girls admitted had been shop assistants. In saying that this was a case for immediate legislation he believed the Labour Members had the sympathy of the Treasury Bench. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Home Department, and other Members who sat upon the Treasury Bench, would see the justice of the demand of shop assistants for a uniform hour of closing on weekdays, complete closing on Sundays, except in certain scheduled cases, and the limitation of the hours of labour of the assistants, the maximum to be sixty hours a week including meal times. They claimed that the present condition of things was a national danger, and must lead, and had done so already, to the physical deterioration of the race. The occupation of shop assistants created more consumption than any other occupation throughout the length and breadth of the land, and all they asked was that the employer should be compelled to give reasonable hours of labour to those in their employ. The present state of things was to a great extent due to the system of multiple shops and stores and to the formation of large companies who forbade to any man the opportunity of rising, and made the majority of shop assistants simply wage earners throughout their lives. Therefore they were entitled to ask for the protection of the State, which, if afforded to them, would not only be an advantage to them, but might be a benefit to the public by preventing meretricious and shoddy articles being sold to them. Long hours broke down the constitution, and shop assistants were entitled to have compulsory legislation applied to them. He was sorry that the Minister for War was not in his place, because it might well be that in the reduction of shop hours the right hon. Gentleman might find some assistance in his policy for the creation of a new reserve and in regard to recruiting. It might be, if the policy he was advocating was adopted, that shop assistants would, for reasons of health and pleasure, join the-Territorial Army which the Secretary of State for War proposed to set up, and thus render his task less onerous. The-shop assistants of the country had begun to realise that there was something higher than bed, food, and work. They had begun to realise that they were human beings, and they wanted leisure time for study, pleasure, and recreation. He therefore appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to give them an explicit promise that he would introduce a measure limiting the hours during which shop assistants could be employed. He was one of those who believed that the best asset of the State was a physically robust man or woman, and it was the duty of the House to do all it possibly could to secure protection for those who were the victims of selfish cupidity on the part of their employers. The great majority of the employers were in favour of the Resolution, but were unable to conform to it because of the selfishness of a small minority who would not come into line. They asked, therefore, in the interests of the health of the assistants, and in the interests of justice, that the right hon. Gentleman would give some assurance that it was the intention of the Government to see justice done to a large number of the people of the country.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, in the opinion of this House, more drastic legislation with regard to the closing of shops and the hours of shop assistants is required." £(Mr. Shackleton.)


A case for legislation was made out in 1904, and the evils with which the Act tried to cope were so fully admitted on that occasion, and have been so accurately described by the hon. Member who has just sat down, that I need not detain the House by again referring to them. The Resolution which we are now considering has been moved and seconded in speeches of much moderation and great force, and, in the judgment of the Government, the case for the Resolution has been made out. Now I pass for a moment to the working of the Act of 1904. I rather regret that the authors of that Act are not here to-night to look after the interests of their child, whose career has certainly not been satisfactory. That Act has been working for two years, and a good deal can be done in two years, and, if one does not do so much as one could hope, what is actually done in that time may be taken as proof of what can be done under the Act. Now what has been done? The total number of closing Orders under that Act for England and, Wales is only 112. They affect 9,000 shops, and, perhaps, 15,000 persons out of a possible total of some 800,000 assistants besides shopkeepers. Of the 112 Orders, ninety-two affect one trade only, and there are only twenty which concerned more than one trade. In districts where the Act is most seriously needed it has been practically inoperative. It has been practically inoperative in London and in many large towns. For instance, a Salford Order had to be revoked, because Manchester would not fall into line. Under the Act of 1904 only 112 local authorities have made Orders. Nothing has been done by 364 local authorities. That figure 364 includes county councils. The question is how are we to proceed upon this excessively meagre result of the Act of 1904. I have no doubt whatever that the framers of that Act honestly believed that the majority of shopkeepers would peacefully persuade the minority to adopt it, and come in under the Act, and that the Act would be a success. But permissive Bills based only upon hopes, wishes, and aspirations do not, as a rule, prove to be strong Acts in working. It is perfectly clear that the Act of 1904 could only be a success by the good will of those concerned, and by their being anxious to make it a success. On the other hand, to its opponents it provides a practically impenetrable zareba to which they can retire, and in which they are unassailable. What are the reasons why the Act is not a success? We know the general reason in London is that the framers of the Act, against the advice of Members of this House, made the central authorities the borough councils. The suggestion that it should be the County Council was not listened to. The result of that is that in these various areas there are competing and conflicting interests, and, in consequence, the Act has been in London a disastrous failure. As far as its general failure in the country is concerned, 1 may point out that there are five main stages which an Order has to go through before it can pass into law. First, the local authority has to be satisfied that a prima facie case has been made out. They then take certain steps and, if they are satisfied it is necessary to make the Order, they must have a satisfactory result from their own local inquiries. If two thirds of the occupiers of the shops affected by the Order are in favour of it, the Order passes to the Home Office, which is the central authority; and, lastly, it is laid on the Table of this House for the prescribed number of days. It is quite obvious that if there is no determination or wish to make the Act operative there is every opportunity of making it practically nugatory. I say emphatically that the Home Office have given this Act every encouragement in their power, and they have been the means of making operative a considerable number of the Orders which have been issued. One hon. Gentleman spoke of revocation of Orders by the Home Office. I hope I have shown that we look very carefully into these matters. But as regards revocations the Act oddly enough becomes mandatory. It says that where the local authority has been satisfied that a majority of the occupiers of shops to which a closing Order applied are opposed to the continuance of the Order, it shall apply to the Home Office for revocation of the Order. I need only say we have done so most reluctantly. Our difficulties are created by the Act we have to administer. I cannot exonerate the local authorities from blame. I am not able to show in how many cases, although satisfied that two-thirds of the occupiers were in favour of an Order, they have refused to make the Order. But they have not taken the initiative in order to rouse people to a sense of their duty in the matter. The difficulties which the Act has produced are enough to make weak-hearted people avoid it. It is difficult to obtain a two-thirds majority for this or any other purpose. An undue protection of interests has been given by law to the exclusion of the rights which the Act was designed to protect. And it is most extraordinary that the 800,000 people in England and Wales whose claims were admitted in 1904 have no power to set the law in motion. I agree that in England and Wales the Act has proved woefully unsound. I should like for a moment just to remind the House of what was said by my hon. friend with regard to Scotland. In Scotland it has been a success, because, although there are only twenty Scottish Orders, twelve of them are of a large and composite character. Included in these Orders are different trades, but milkmen, bicycle makers, and motor shops are not included. In Glasgow, for example, the Order includes no less than forty-eight trades, and the figure given to me is so large that I cannot be responsible for it, namely, that the forty-eight trades include no less than 14,700 shops. If that be so, it is an extraordinary fact. But I guard myself, as I cannot vouch for the accuracy of it; but the success with which the Act has met in Scotland undoubtedly suggests that a good deal might be done if proper machinery were provided, and there was an honest intention to work it. There are a variety of methods of dealing with this question. There is the suggested Bill of my right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean, but I think that he will admit that it would undoubtedly take a great deal of time to pass. There are the alternative methods of a compulsory clause or a limitation of hours. There is a further alternative, that of a combination of the principle of the compulsory clauses with the principles of this Bill to amend the present Act. I am not asked to state our intention with regard to a Government Bill at the present time, and I do not commit myself on that point; but I frankly admit that the case for an amending Bill has been made out. This brings me to the question of when a Bill could be brought in. I confess that I speak on this point with some embarrassment. I made out a list of measures this morning for which the Home Office is being constantly pressed —Bills on the stocks and in posse. There are no less than twenty adumbrated measures on very important subjects. What we say, so far as the Home Office are concerned, is that to get through that list of measures it would take at least two whole sessions of the legislative attention of the House. I am afraid that we should not get that. Therefore, I confess that it is with some hesitation that I get up and say that we accept the Resolution, and that we admit that there is a case for legislation, even with all these legitimate demands which are made upon us, and for which it is difficult to find time in the House. I do not want to be misunderstood. I do not wish it to be thought that in saying what I do, I am not in earnest on this particular subject. I admit the case, but I can only deal with a subject such as this, and with similar important subjects regarding the social and industrial position of the country, as well as I can when the subjects arise. I accept the Motion. I agree that the Act of 1904 has to a large extent failed in England and Wales, and at any rate it is the duty of Parliament to make good that Act, to remove what is admitted to be a great evil, an evil which still exists, and which, therefore, ought to be dealt with and removed by an amending Bill as soon as possible.

* SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

said his hon. friend in moving the Resolution, and his right hon. friend in replying, had so completely covered the ground that there was little left to be said on the subject. He thought the answer of the Home Secretary was all they could demand. He was himself an old friend of this cause, and he had been a promoter of the Bill named—The Shops Bill—for a good many years. As far as this limited subject went, nothing could be more perfect, he thought, than the speech of the Home Secretary. His right hon. friend had covered every point which his hon. friends desired to have answered. All that could have been said usefully, as to the delay of the Labour legislation of which this formed part, would be out of order in the present debate. There had never been an occasion when prophesies had been so conspicuously fulfilled as on this occasion. When this question was under discussion in the last Parliament there were debates in both Houses, and he had himself ventured to move the rejection of the Bill of 1904 on the Second Reading on the very grounds which had been put forward that night. Everything which was prophesied in that discussion by opponents of the Bill had come true, but eventually the Bill was passed, and, honestly, those who had opposed it did all they could to make the best of it when it came into force. As regarded London, Manchester, and Salford, all the difficulties prophesied had come about exactly as had been prophesied, and the House of Lords and the House of Commons must be said to have gone wrong deliberately on that occasion. They recognised the desire of the right hon. Gentleman to set right what had gone wrong and to put matters on the right lines. He hoped that an opportunity would be found to press this legislation forward, together with a good deal of other Labour legislation which was waiting to be dealt with.

MR. A. C. CORBETT (Glasgow, Tradeston)

said that Lord Avebury was not responsible for the faults in the Act to which attention had been chiefly called that night. Lord Avebury was strongly opposed to having the authority for London vested in the municipalities instead of in the County Council. He was also opposed to the number of restrictions which multiplied the difficulties in the way of carrying out the Act. He desired to do the very utmost he could in behalf of overworked shop assistants. It seemed to him (Mr. Corbett) that it was a mistake to make allusion in the Resolution to the failure of the Act, because he believed that the strength of the case for further legislation depended mainly upon two reasons, namely, partly upon the failure of the Act itself—upon the fact that the shopkeepers themselves had not been prepared to carry out the restrictions as far as some of them had hoped, and on the success of the measure where it had been tried. In Glasgow this legislation had been acted upon without any difficulty and without any considerable friction. That was a great point in favour of carrying such legislation forward on more drastic lines. He would be glad to go with his hon. friends as far as he could in restricting the hours of shop assistants, but he could not regard this measure as being altogether a failure, seeing that it had brought something like comfort into so many miserable lives; for it was evident that some40,000 or 50,000 persons had been benefited by the Act. If the words declaring the Act to have been a failure had been omitted he would have had much pleasure in voting for a Resolution in favour of more drastic legislation. He wished the Home Secretary could have given them a stronger assurance that something would be done by the Government. It was a pressing matter, and he trusted that, before this Parliament came to an end, some further practical steps would be taken to lighten the labours of those for whom so much sympathy had been expressed.

* MR. T. DAVIES (Fulham)

assured the House that in many areas and in many boroughs in London they had done their best to get the Act put into operation. In the borough he represented, Fulham, at the very earliest opportunity they called a towns meeting, in January, 1905, and did their best to put the Act into operation, and so far as they were concerned it was a complete failure, because they could not get the majority required. At Camberwell the result was that practically no advantage accrued to the shop assistants as the hours agreed upon were no shorter than they were previous to the Order coming into force. All his life he had done what he could to reduce the hours of shop assistants in London, and his view was that the Act had been a complete failure in London, and that no Act could be successful unless the whole of London was treated, for this purpose, as one area. The same thing happened in other districts immediately outside London. The Act should be amended if it was to be of any benefit to shop assistants in London, and in order to be effective it should be on the lines of the Bill of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean. Speaking from the shop assistants' point of view he said that the Bill should be general in character, compulsory as regarded its scope, and must contain a limitation of hours. He thought that sixty hours a week should be the limit for shop assistants exclusive of meal time. He was very glad that the Home Secretary had promised as soon as he had time to see that the Act was amended in the directions he had indicated.


said that as one who had taken a considerable interest in this question for the last fifteen years he would like to say a few words. He agreed that the Act had been a failure, but not for the reasons given by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean. He did not believe that any Act was required or that any Act would be successful. When he contested Peckham at the last general election he found that a considerable number of the small shopkeepers were going to vote against him because he had supported the Act of 1904, and because they resented any interference with the liberty of the subject. He took considerable trouble to convince those shopkeepers that they were labouring under a misapprehension, but they would not believe him. Of course they had not read the reports in Hansard, and they voted for the hon. Member for Peckham, who was now supporting the very measure for supporting which they voted against him. The Act of 1904 was unjust and unsuited to the habits of a free people. He strongly held to the view that the adult male should be free to use his labour as he saw fit. If he chose to work twenty hours a day he should be allowed to do so, and was to be respected for his physical capacity. This country had been made by men prepared to work to the best of their ability. He saw no reason why a small shopkeeper should keep his shop open at such hours as met the wants of his customers; in fact, that was the only chance he had of carrying on a business in competition with large establishments. No reason had been advanced for preventing the small shopkeeper from using his own labour in the manner which he thought was best suited to his own interests. As regarded the large establishments there was no necessity to have any Act at all, because they already closed at an early hour. The Bill of 1904 was brought in owing to an unfortunate agitation led by a noble Lord for whom he had great respect, but he was afraid that upon that occasion the noble Lord allowed his kindness of heart to run away with his judgment. He did not question the sincerity of hon. Members who had supported the Bill. The gentlemen who were agitating in favour of the measure were supporters of the then Government. They prevailed on the late Lord Salisbury to hold a Commission, and evidence of a very unfortunate character was heard. That was to say, the Commission listened to people who took one view of the matter, but the small shopkeepers, who did not even know of the existence of the Commission, were not heard. The result was that the Commission came to an erroneous conclusion. The Bill, as far as he could remember, was not passed unanimously. He could not conceive of such a thing being possible. One of the reasons why he objected to the Bill of 1904 was that he believed the whole agitation was got up on sentimental grounds. He then ventured to point out that there was a large number of people in different parts of London whose interest lay in having shops open at different hours, and that to lay down a hard-and-fast rule which would be enacted by the central authority would only result in failure or injustice. That was one of the reasons why the borough council was substituted for the London County Council. Another reason why the vast majority of shopkeeper did not want it was that the vast majority of consumers did not want it. He denied the accuracy of the statement that there was a general desire among the shop keeping and purchasing classes that shops should be arbitrarily closed at a certain hour.


Why did you vote for the Bill? In Hansard, on the Division on the Second Reading, among the "Ayes" is the name of Sir Frederick George Banbury.


said that, the hon. Member having drawn his attention to Hansard, he of course accepted his statement. He did not know what the circumstances were at the moment. There might have been something worse, and he took the lesser of two evils. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean was perfectly well aware of the action he had taken in this direction. He remembered that the right hon. Baronet made a speech in his constituency in which he said that it would be impossible to pass a Bill of this description as long as he himself was in the House. Therefore if for once his Party loyalty—


What I said was that it would be impossible for a private Member to pass such a Bill.


said it came to the same thing. He had never ventured to arrogate to himself the power to stop a Bill of the Government. He would endeavour on all occasions to do what according to his lights he considered to be his duty. If he believed he could stop a Government Bill of which he disapproved he would be proud to do it. The proof that there had been no general demand for the Act was to be found in the fact that it had been a failure. He knew it was perfectly useless to appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite to remember the old maxims of the Liberal Party. [Cries of "No."] Then he would appeal to them. The late Sir William Harcourt said that there should be no interference with individuals by the State, and that every man should have freedom to conduct himself according to his own lights. Those were the old doctrines of the Liberal Party. He was sorry his hon. friend the Member for Preston was not in his place; they were his views now, and he was the only true remnant of the old Liberal Party in the House If the hon. Member were here now, he was sure he would support him. He would ask the Home Secretary on what ground a man who had a shop of his own should be obliged to close it at a certain hour. What was the argument from the Liberal point of view?


said he would make exactly the same answer as was given by the hon. Gentleman who brought in the Bill of 1904.


said he had always been against a Bill of this sort, and he did not know why he supported it. They all made mistakes sometimes. He was consoled by the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had expressed sympathy. It was easy to profess sympathy. Every Member on the Treasury Bench always professed sympathy. He was glad to see that they did not always go much beyond sympathy. If hon. Gentlemen below the gangway brought in a Bill to extend this Act he would vote against it.

* MR. J. D WHITE (Dumbartonshire)

hoped that the speech of the hon. Member for the Tradeston Division of Glasgow would not give the House the impression that Glasgow and other Scottish cities were industrial elysiums. As one fairly familiar with the conditions there, he would like to point out that in Glasgow and other Scottish cities the hours of shop assistants were in many cases too long. Some time ago he met in a shop in London an assistant who was formerly in similar occupation in Scotland. He told him that, though the conditions in London were far from desirable, they were better than the conditions from which he had come. He could assure the House that the conditions of work among shop assistants in Scotland required amending quite as much as in England. He spoke not only for the young men, but also for the young women assistants. Standing for long hours in an unwholesome atmosphere had even a worse effect on young women than young men. He would be sorry if anything that had fallen from the hon. Member opposite led the House to suppose that the conditions in Scotland should be left as they were. Scotland was, of course, outside the jurisdiction of the Home Secretary, but he ventured to hope that the right hon. Gentleman would use his influence to bring Scotland within the scope of any projected benefits. A reform of the conditions was needed in the interests of the shop assistants in Scotland fully more than in those of the same class in England.

MR. HUNT (Shropshire, Ludlow)

said he quite agreed with the Resolution, because he believed that men and women were kept too long serving in the shops.


said he desired to make a personal explanation. He found on referring to Hansard that he had stated at the time that he did not approve of the Bill of 1904, and that the principle was one which, in his opinion, should never have been brought forward by a Conservative Government. To that opinion he adhered. He thought he had shown that he believed the borough councils would be better than the London County Council to administer the Act

Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, more drastic legislation with regard to the Closing of Shops and the Hours of Shop Assistants is required. —(Mr. Shackleton.)