HC Deb 08 December 1911 vol 32 cc1844-8

(1) This Act, except such of the provisions thereof as require the closing of shops on Sunday, shall not extend to any rural parish with a population of less than one thousand:

Provided that where, by reason of the vicinity of such a parish to a borough or urban district, it is made to appear to the Secretary of State, on the application of the council of the county in which the parish is situate, or of the council of the borough or urban district in the vicinity of which it is situate, that it is expedient that this Act should extend to the parish, the Secretary of State may by order extend the provisions of this Act to that parish.

(2) Where it appears to the Secretary of State, on the application of the council of a county in which a rural parish with a population of one thousand or upwards is situate, that, owing to the dispersal of the population over the area of the parish and the character of the shops in the parish, it is expedient that the parish should be exempted from the provisions of this Act, the Secretary of State may order that this Act, except such of the provisions there of as require the closing of shops on Sunday, shall not extend to that parish.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be left out."—[Mr. Churchill.]


There is a very important matter raised by this Clause, and it is one to which the House ought to give some consideration. The Clause proposes to exclude parishes with a population of less than a thousand from the operation of this Bill. The conditions in rural districts as to shops and the employment of shop assistants are different from those in the towns. A great number of shopkeepers do not employ any assistants at all. It was considered desirable in the Committee that this provision should be retained in the Bill, and now the right hon. Gentleman moves to leave it out. That is the course which he took with respect to the Irish Clause, and I raised no objection to what was done in that case. He has actually strengthened the Irish provisions. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to state his reasons for proposing to leave out this Clause. It appears to me that if the reasons in support of the Clause were right when the Bill was before the Committee, they would operate quite as much when the Bill is before the House on Report, and I would like to know what has induced him to ask us to reject the Clause now. On what principle does he propose to include the whole of the rural districts? On account of the short notice that has been given of this Amendment, there has not been time to hear anything whatever from the country districts on the matter. We come down to the House to-day and find a number of Amendments on the Paper, and many of us know very little of their general effect. If we are in that position with respect to the Amendments, how can we expect people outside to know what the Government propose to do? I can assure the right hon Gentleman that he would have heard a great deal from the rural districts in regard to this matter if it had been known that they were to be included, because the Bill is entirely inapplicable to them.


I desire to associate myself with what has been said by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gretton). I am sure it was not realised in villages that this Bill was intended to apply to every village. We all know that it cannot be applied there in the same way as in the towns. It seems to me that it would be most unfair to include rural parishes in this Bill without giving the people interested some opportunity of knowing how they are to be affected in the matter. It is a matter of general knowledge that not merely are the conditions healthier in the country districts, but that there is nothing like the same amount of strain by reason of continuous work in shops as you find in urban places. There was a proviso in the Clause as it originally stood providing for cases where there was anything in the way of competition between shopkeepers in a village and in a neighbouring town. Subject to that proviso, it seems to me that you have all you require in order to prevent the defeating of the purposes of the Bill. I feel sure that strong feeling will be expressed hereafter by the people of the villages if they are included in the Bill.


(who was indistinctly heard): I hope that the House will accept the Amendment. The Home Secretary ought to bear in mind that there are many towns or villages in the country where the population does not exceed 1,000, but which, nevertheless, are shopping centres for large rural areas. In these small places there are large numbers of assistants who would be affected if these areas were excluded. I think that the assistants of shopkeepers in the country are just as entitled to a weekly half-holiday as the people who have the good fortune or the misfortune to live in a large centre of population. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman who spoke against the Amendment had that before his mind, and I trust that the House will accept the proposal.


In the last Bill, in which we had the sixty hours' limit, of course it was necessary that this should not apply to rural districts, but now that there is only the question of the half-holiday, and that the half-holiday is expressed in a Clause which gives a power of contracting out, I cannot see that it is really worth while to have exemption for these rural districts, and I hope that the House will adhere to the proposal. The existing Shop Hours Acts are in force in all the small villages, and this is only an addition to that.


This is a case where power ought to be retained of making exemptions in special cases, and I do not see that that is done under the Bill. Here, again, I agree that it would not be wise to exempt from the limited provisions of the Bill the rural and smaller parishes under this Clause, but why should not the Secretary of State have power to exclude when special circumstances exist? I should like to see this Clause inserted. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman could object to that. The power could be exercised in that way, and I think it ought to be retained.


I hope that the Home Secretary will not reinstate this. If for no other reason than that if he puts this in the Bill you take outside its provisions all the shop assistants in the village. It may be said that there are not many shops, but there certainly will be a number of public-houses. The assistants are knocked out, and I am just as anxious for the assistant of the village public-house to have his half-day as anyone else.


It does not affect the assistants.


I hope that I am wrong, but as I read this Bill it would mean that none of the provisions of the Act would apply to a rural parish. I think we must delete this. If the shopkeepers in the village do not want the early closing day to apply, then, unfortunately, they have got enough exemption in the Act to enable them to contract out.


It does appear to me that the House is making a mountain out of a mole-hill. Under Schedule 2, how many shops will remain in these small places that will not be exempt already from the weekly half-holiday? Unless hon. Members opposite wish to take away the benefits of the Act entirely from these persons there is no point to be served at all by this Amendment. The sale of intoxicating liquors, refreshments, newspapers, periodicals, tobacco, confectionery, etc., are to be dealt with, and there will not be many shops left in the villages to be affected. But even if a little hardship is inflicted on a very few people, I think the right hon. Gentleman will be very well advised to leave things as they are.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he will retain power in the Home Office?


As to whether there should be some dispensing power vested in the Secretary of State in regard to remote places, I will consider whether words cannot be brought up in another place making some exemption in the case of very small out-of-the-way rural places, but not so far as the assistants are concerned.

Question put, and agreed to.