§ (1) Where it appears to the Secretary of State, on the representation of the local authority or otherwise, that it is expedient to ascertain the extent to which there is a demand for early closing in any locality and to promote and facilitate the making of a closing order therein, the Secretary of State may appoint a competent person to hold a local inquiry.
§ (2) If after holding such an inquiry and conferring with the local authority it appears to the person holding the inquiry that it is expedient that a closing order should be made, he shall prepare a draft order and submit it to the Secretary of State together with his report thereon.
§ (3) If the Secretary of State, after considering the draft order and report and any representations which the local authority may have made in respect thereof, is of opinion that it is desirable that a closing order should be made, he may communicate his decision to the local authority, and thereupon there shall be deemed to be a primâ facie case for making a closing order in accordance with the terms of the draft order, subject to such modifications (if any) as the Secretary of State may think fit.
§ (4) The person who held the inquiry shall, if so directed by the Secretary of State on the application of the local authority, assist and co-operate with the local authority in taking the steps required by this Act as preliminary to making the order.
§ (5) The remuneration of persons holding local inquiries under this Section, and all other expenses incurred by the Secretary of State under this Act, to such an amount as may be sanctioned by the Treasury, shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament.
§ Mr. NORMAN CRAIG
I beg to move to leave out Clause 13.
The subject of this Clause was dealt with very fully in the general discussion which preceded the Amendments on the Paper. I dislike Clause 13 very much indeed, and if it is to stand in its present form I shall divide the House upon the Amendment. 1816 The interference of the Secretary of State with local authorities I think would be practically intolerable, and lead to a great deal of friction. I object to the Clause as an interference with purely municipal matters, and as a very evil precedent, one of the worst, because it means the granting of public money for the purpose of propaganda work being done in the provinces. On all those grounds I have the very strongest objection to the Clause. The elimination of the words "or otherwise" would make it impossible for the Secretary of State to act except on the action of the local authority. That would perhaps be desirable, and if, as I understand, the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to assent to the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Mile End or the hon. Member for Croydon I should desire not to press this Motion, but to move it with the view to eliciting from him an expression of his intentions.
§ Mr. GRETTON
I beg to second the Amendment. The omission of the words indicated by my hon. and learned Friend would entirely alter the complexion of the Clause, and make it practically unobjectionable. There would be no unnecessary expenditure of public money on raids into local territory. I think the right hon. Gentleman went a long way to meet some of the objections that might be raised against that part of the Bill when he indicated that he would undertake on behalf of the Government, and I take it that his statement went so far as to say that no new appointment should be made, but that persons of an impartial character should perform these duties from time to time and receive their expenses, and no more. If the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon to leave out the words "or otherwise," then a great part of the objection to the Clause would be removed, and I, for one, would be prepared to accept that as being a reasonable compromise under the circumstances, rather than proceed with the Opposition.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
I think the proposed Amendment takes the real vice out of the Clause. If we were apprehensive it was very largely due to the manner in which the First Lord of the Admiralty introduced this proposal in the House of Commons. He talked of those Gentlemen going about the country stimulating, propagating and exasperating public opinion. I think he used words like that. At any rate, they would have an irritating effect 1817 and cause general alarm. We do not want that sort of propagation about the country, and we think the proposal might seriously interfere with the performance of the duties of local authorities. My own view is still that if this is not very judiciously exercised it is more likely to tell against the objects of the Bill than in favour of them, because I am a believer in getting local authorities on the side of the law. If you proceed to irritate them by needless interference you set them against it, and you enable the interests that are opposed to you to gather strength, and there is a real danger of the opposite effect, to that which the drafters of the Clause thought, being brought about by such means as that. Whilst I think this removes the great vice of the Clause, I understand from the First Lord that no new officials are to be appointed to carry out the Clause. Under Sub-section (5) the remuneration is to be out of moneys provided by Parliament from the Treasury, but, if that is so, I do not see that extra expenditure is required, except, perhaps, for travelling expenses. If the officials are there, it must be a very small matter, and although it may not be necessary to eliminate Sub-section (5), we understand that it is not to be a big question, and that there are not to be those appointments of special missionaries to go about the country, who, although they may have some talent for speaking, are not likely, in my humble judgment, to lead to the simple conduct of the measure. Under those circumstances I hope, if the words be accepted and an assurance given that we are not going to have officials ad hoc appointed under this Clause, that the House will allow it to pass.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
Let me reiterate the statement made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, as representing the Home Office, that certainly the interpretation, as far as the question of officials is concerned, is a correct interpretation of the intentions of the Home Office. The intention, I think, all through was not to appoint an army of officials, or even any special officials specially concerned in this work. It was explained in the Committee upstairs that the kind of person who would be employed is the kind of person who at present is on the panel of the Board of Trade and makes similar inquiries in connection with trade matters. May I also say that it is with very great reluctance we face the suggestion made in this Amendment. There is no Clause in the whole Bill which 1818 has been more welcomed by the shopkeeping fraternity throughout every part of these islands than this Clause which was framed by my right hon. Friend. Every deputation we have had—and we have had about a hundred deputations representing every class of traders—first pressed for some such power as this and afterwards welcomed it when my right hon. Friend agreed to put it in the Bill. It was put in in the interests of traders themselves, because the traders have come again and again to us and said that although there may be an almost universal feeling in a town in favour of compulsory closing, yet that it is quite impossible to get members to leave their own business in order to make themselves, as they term it, busybodies, and act for public opinion. Therefore they did very greatly welcome the suggestion that on their representation some impartial man might be sent down from the central authority, not at very great expense, and not, as my hon. Friend correctly says, in most cases much beyond travelling expenses, to unite and bring them together and to present to the local authority the united demand of the traders. I do not know whether it is of any use making a last appeal to the right hon. Gentleman opposite whether, if we omit the words "or otherwise," he would be willing to allow the insertion of the words "representation of the local authority or any association of occupiers of shops that it is expedient." [HON. MEMBEES: "NO, no."] We are in his hands, and we will take his words in the matter. If even under those conditions, and realising, as I believe he does realise, that this is very greatly desired by the shopkeeping fraternity, he still thinks, speaking for his party, they are unable to accept it, then all we can say is we have done our best, and that we will be carrying out the pledge as to this bill being non-controversial.
§ Mr. A. LYTTELTON
I desire that the words "or otherwise" should go out. I do not at all understand the suggestion put forward by the Under-Secretary because he contemplated a case in which the majority, or a great number, of shopkeepers desire to fix an hour for closing. If that is the case, what possible difficulty can there be in those shopkeepers going to the local authority and saying, "A very large number of us are agreed on this point; pray move in the matter?" That is a perfectly easy thing to do. If you put in the words suggested by the 1819 Under-Secretary, "or other associations," you may have an association of three people who may represent nothing but who would be able, taking the point of view perhaps of some faddist in the district, to move the Home Office in the matter. I cannot think that that is a desirable thing. I reiterate what I said before, that if you wish to get those who contemplate early closing to act the first and most necessary thing to do is to get the local authority on your side. When you have got the local authority on your side the thing will very likely be done. There are conceivable cases—I do not think they are at all likely—where you may get a hot controversy between different tradesmen in the town. Such a case might embarrass the local authority, because if they were then to take up the question a large body of traders might say, "You are acting in a manner hostile to us." That would be a pity. Therefore I accept the compromise, proposed originally by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. W. Pearce), that the words "or otherwise" should come out. In the state of things which I contemplate as possible, but not likely, the local authority might not care themselves to act, but under this Clause, with the words "or otherwise" eliminated, it would be open to the local authority to go to the Home Office and ask for an impartial umpire to come down. That is a reasonable compromise, and on behalf of my hon. Friends I shall be glad to give it my support.
§ Mr. GLYN-JONES
The speech we have just heard would not have been delivered if the right hon. Gentleman had tried to get an early closing day amongst traders in various districts. If he had made that attempt he would have found that very often it is first suggested by some trader, and the very fact that a particular trader has suggested it means that the whole proposal will be upset. Over and over again when I have tried amongst pharmacists to arrange for an early closing day the great difficulty has been, "This has emanated from so-and-so." Local authorities have had power to make early closing orders since 1904. Why have they not been made? What you are doing now is simply telling local authorities that, instead of using the powers which they have had since 1904 and making their orders, they shall go to the Home Office and ask for an inquiry to be made in their own districts as to whether the orders shall be made. Unless a representation comes from the local authority 1820 nothing is to be done by way of stimulating early closing in a particular district. The whole value of this Clause is destroyed if you do not give someone other than the local authority the right to suggest that the machinery should be put in motion. It is suggested that you should leave it to individual traders. But in the past local jealousy has been the cause of preventing steps being taken. If two or three or more members of a particular trade go to a local authority and say, "We want a closing order," they can make it now. The point is, why will not the local authority make the order? The right hon. Gentleman says that they will not do it because they do not want to interfere in local jealousies. But under the present proposal they have to take action by going to the central authority, and I think they are no more likely to go to the central authority than they are to make orders. The suggestion of the Under-Secretary with reference to an association of traders would be an extremely valuable provision. I appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite, who all along have said, and I frankly accept their statement, that they are anxious for shopkeepers to have an early closing day, at any rate to allow the insertion of words enabling the central authority to be moved by a recognised association of traders in a particular locality.
§ 3.0 P.M.
I wish to make a suggestion with a view to getting agreement between the two sides. The objection to the Clause is that it will give an opening for busybodies to interfere, and I understand that the suggested Amendment of the Government is open to the same objection. I would, therefore, suggest that instead of the words "or otherwise" there should be inserted the words "or employers and assistants."
I purposely left it open in order not to draw it too close for acceptance. I am not particular as to the number. The only point is that if employers and assistants are acting together they ought to be regarded as acting bonâ fide on behalf of the class.
§ Mr. HAROLD SMITH
I desire to support the suggestion just made. I agree with what has been said as to the inability at present to secure the closing of shops. We must face the fact that the present system has failed, and shops are not shut. It is the unanimous desire of the House to pass a Bill which will have a practical result. I believe that if we remain as we are, with the provisions of the old Act, we shall not secure that practical result, and shops will not be closed. I think the Government might accept some such compromise as that just made. It is difficult on the spur of the moment to suggest words to carry out the principle. But in most towns there are bodies representing the traders and the shop assistants, and I should be perfectly satisfied personally if those two bodies had power to invite such an inquiry as is suggested.
§ Mr. MALCOLM
If there be this great anxiety on the part either of employers or of assistants in a certain town for early closing, nothing is easier than for them to represent their desire to their own local authority, and the local authority can then take action. What seems intolerable is that associations from outside, even such as those suggested by the Under-Secretary, should be allowed to come in, and, usurping the place of the local authority, approach the Home Office. This objection is by no means confined to this side of the House. I remember that upstairs the hon. Member for Stepney was very much annoyed about this Clause. He said:—If this Bill was to be worked through a Government Department it would break down. It would only be successful as far as the local authority took it up and made it a success.If the local authorities are to be stimulated by the activity of the Shop Assistants Union and the Early Closing Associations, which were two of those mentioned upstairs—and no doubt there are others on the employers' side—then I do say a great deal of power has been taken away from the local authority which ought to reside in it. I find myself also in agreement with what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stepney when he said he was much concerned with the attitude that the Government have taken up in regard to the local authorities. Here, he said, was a Liberal Government in power——
§ Mr. MALCOLM
I beg the hon. Member's pardon, I mean the Member for Bethnal Green. The hon. Member finally 1822 said—and here a great many of us find ourselves in agreement with him—To send down a paid official from Whitehall to undertake a roving inquiry independent, of the local people, is to go against the whole principle of representative government.Those then really are the grounds on which we base our desire to take out the words "or otherwise." The First Lord of the Admiralty has made the position today clearer than it was made upstairs.
§ Mr. MALCOLM
Then it was the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southampton. In any case it has been made clearer than upstairs in showing us the kind of gentleman who is to be sent down to undertake the local inquiry—if local inquiry there is to be. But leaving the question of a local inquiry to one side, the real charge and the grave objection we have to this is that this power is taken away perfectly obviously, from the local authority and put into the hands of any mere busybody who may be interested—or perhaps not altogether disinterested in the matter. I am sorry I cannot accept the invitation of the Under-Secretary to accept his words. I think the words, "or otherwise," must come out.
§ Mr. HELME
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's pointed out that there may be cases in which the local authority may hesitate to take action that would secure the shorter hours. I think the House is generally agreed that it is desirable, so far as possible, to have the holiday; consequently if the words "or otherwise" be left out——
§ Mr. T. E. HARVEY
If it is not possible to accept the particular words in the Bill which may be too vague or wide, it should be possible to come to some agreement and a decision which would add some other meaning than to act only by the local authority. I have had in mind, during the course of the discussion, a particular 1823 instance in East London. That instance does not stand alone. It very often happens that the members of a small local authority feel a peculiar hesitation to take the first action in these matters. Perhaps as much as a fourth or a fifth of the local authority belong to one particular trade, and these gentlemen do not like to act; that is, to take the first step in acting. Even if it comes to a voluntary census, it may almost amount to the same thing. A voluntary census was undertaken in this particular district of East London to apply the Act of 1904. There was very great difficulty in getting any unanimity among the shopkeepers as to the line of action to be taken, although almost every individual shopkeeper when asked individually wished that some action should be taken. They had discussed it one with another, but one wanted one time and one another, and in consequence it was not possible for all to agree. Hence it was impossible to get common action upon which to go to the local authority. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Mile End is possibly quite familiar with the difficulties in a case like that. We do not want to have machinery that no one can put in motion. We want to be able to act in those cases where the local authority hesitate to act.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
In this matter I leave myself in the hands of the House, but I do venture to say this really is a serious matter. This proposal originated in the following way: when I received the various deputations, of which an account is to be found in this book—in the process of that long business—we found a unanimous opinion as to the failure of the Act of 1904, firstly, because of the lack of anyone outside to start the process, while, second only to that fact, was the fact that in a good many places the local authority had been quite unsympathetic. In some cases they hesitated for reasons which my hon. Friend has put forward. In other cases they were not sympathetic to early closing. A case was brought before me by the Hairdressers' Association which seemed to me to touch the high-water mark of disability. I do not propose to mention the name of the town because I have not got the actual references. But there were nineteen hairdressers in it, and sixteen agreed upon an Early Closing Order. They asked the local authority to take the necessary steps to make it effective. The local authority told them that they did not 1824 consider a case had been made out—that there was not sufficient public demand. That meant that the sixteen hairdressers were forced to continue at the hours the three insisted upon working. I am bound to say, without wishing to cast any slur upon our local authorities in the matter, that early closing should be helped in every way, and ought to be free from any trammels. It really is a matter of very great importance, but, as I say, I am in the hands of the House. But perhaps I might venture to suggest this alternative, following on the suggestion which came from below the Gangway, and that is that in Sub-section (1), the words "or otherwise" should be cut out, and that the following words might be inserted: "on a joint representation from a substantial number of occupiers and shop assistants."
§ Mr. DUKE
I hope the House will come to an agreement. It is quite obvious that there are difficulties in the way of setting up a scheme of early closing which are not overcome by the present Acts and as the local authority at the present time can act it does seem as though the existence of a local authority is not sufficient. Some of my hon. Friends on this side suggest that you might obtain security by a majority, or something of that kind, and that some confidence must be put in the discretion which is to be exercised by the Secretary of State. I cannot conceive myself that the Secretary of State will lightly interfere with the action of the local authority and with what is purely a local matter, or that he will act on any other grounds. I think the words the right hon. Gentleman has suggested meet the difficulties of the case.
§ Mr. T. DAVIES
I hope the House will agree to what is suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. I know the difficulty of trying to put the Act of 1904 into operation. Individual members of the local authority might be agreed, but it was the greatest difficulty to get them together to deal with this matter.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
The expression "locality" means nothing as a Parliamentary 1825 phrase. I presume the right hon. Gentleman means the local government area or the local authority area.
§ Mr. MALCOLM
With this necessary alteration, I should gladly support the Amendment. There is only one thing I would like to add, and that is, I think, the right hon. Gentleman might consider how we are going to interpret the word "substantial." It must not, of course, be vexatious. I understand the interpretation will be made by the Secretary of State. That being so, if we could get a scientific definition I should be happy. If we could have that all of us would gladly accept the Amendment.
§ Captain JESSEL
How do you propose to deal with London? The local authority under this Bill is the London County Council, and it would be very difficult to ascertain the views of the shopkeepers in so great an area. Why not make the borough councils the local authority?
§ Mr. A. LYTTELTON
I think my hon. Friend will find that the word "substantial" is a term that can be construed without very much difficulty. If the Secretary of State were to grant an inquiry without having substantial support, a writ of prohibition might be granted to prevent him holding such an inquiry. I think, on the whole, although perhaps we should prefer a more exact expression, such as one-third, I would not press the matter if the House takes the word substantial. I really think that does meet the difficulty that will arise, and I think that it is very rarely that a local authority would not respond to the wishes of a sufficient number of ratepayers. There may be isolated cases here and there. I should advise my hon. Friends to accept the words of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. NORMAN CRAIG
In the circumstances, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment to leave out the Clause.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment made: In Sub-section (1), leave out the words "or otherwise," and insert instead thereof the words "on a joint representation from a substantial number of occupiers and shop assistants in the area of the local authority."?—[Mr. Churchill.]