HC Deb 08 December 1911 vol 32 cc1773-90

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.


I hope I shall be in order in asking whether it is still the intention of the Government to move the Amendments which are indicated in the White Paper?


The First Lord of the Admiralty may have a statement to make. It would be a great convenience if I could formally move to recommit the Bill.


I daresay by permission of the House it could be done on the first Amendment. It is very inconvenient to have a general discussion which leads to no issue.


It would shorten the time very greatly if at the earliest possible moment the First Lord would state exactly what his intentions are. There is great difficulty in considering these Amendments without knowing those intentions.


The new Clause standing in my name raises the whole structure of the Bill.


It might be taken on that.


I beg to move that the following new Clause be read a second time:

Hours of Shops.

  1. (1) Save as otherwise provided by this Act, no shop shall be open for the serving of customers for more than seventy hours in any week.
  2. (2) The local authority may make an order, in this Act referred to as a general order, fixing within the aforesaid total of seventy hours the total number of hours in any week during which throughout the area of the said authority, or any specified part thereof, all shops, or the shops of any specified class, may be open for the serving of customers.
  3. (3) Any general order shall be made and revocable in like manner and subject to the like procedure and confirmation as closing orders hereinafter mentioned.
  4. (4) The hours on which shops of any particular class may be open for the serving of customers on the several days of the week shall be fixed by the occupiers of shops of that class in each district.

Provided that the hours so fixed—

  1. (a) shall not, save as otherwise provided by this Act, when added together exceed in the week the total of seventy hours or any limitation of that total fixed by general order as aforesaid;
  2. (b) shall be subject to the provisions of Section nine of this Act as to the closing of shops for the serving of customers not later than two o'clock in the afternoon on one week-day in every week.

In default of agreement between the occupiers of the shops of any particular class as to the allocation of the hours of opening on the several days of the week or as to the areas in which certain specified hours shall apply the local authority shall take a vote of the occupiers of the shops of that class as to the hours during which the shops of that class shall be open on the several days of the week for the serving of customers, and as to the area or areas within which certain specified hours shall apply, and shall make a closing order in conformity with the result of such vote.

A register of the hours during which shops may be open for the serving of customers on the several days of the week shall be kept by the local authority for the district in which the shops are situated, and no shop shall, save as otherwise provided by this Act, be kept open for the serving of customers except during the hours thus recorded.

(5) In places frequented as holiday resorts during certain seasons of the year, or where special circumstances so require, the local authority on the application of a majority of the occupiers of all the shops, or the shops of a particular class, may make an order permitting the opening of shops, either throughout the area or in any part thereof, for a specified period or periods in excess of seventy hours, provided that the hours of opening throughout the year are so arranged that their total does not exceed the rate of seventy hours per week.

(6) This Section shall not apply to any shop in which a trade or business of the class mentioned in the Third Schedule to this Act is carried on.


I beg to second the Motion. We are in a great difficulty. The proposals of the Government, as we understand them, are a complete transformation of the whole Bill, which occupied sixteen long days in Committee ending usually at four o'clock. It is now proposed to drop the greater portion of the Bill—twenty and a half pages out of twenty-nine—and to transform the remaining Clauses in important particulars. There is no great controversy on the question of the compulsory half-holiday, provided that there are some minor Amendments inserted to make that matter more clear. The question of meal times is more controversial. For my part, I am not disposed to oppose the principle. I am disposed to accept it. Speaking for myself, I regard the third Clause in the new Bill as a highly controversial matter. There was a statement made in the House in answer to a question on 30th November by the Prime Minister that the Government proposed to proceed with the Bill as regards meal hours and compulsory closing for the half-holiday for assistants. In a subsequent statement the First Lord of the Admiralty introduced the question of the third Clause. I will not go into the merits of that Clause now, but I may say that it is regarded by many on this side of the House as of a highly controversial character, and that if the Government persist in proceeding with the Clause they will transform the Bill into a controversial measure. As regards the alteration of the Irish Clause, I wish to ask whether there is any change in the intention of the Government. There is a remarkable omission from the Clause, as the Government will see. I am given to understand that it will lead to considerable debate and controversy. I think it would be most convenient if the First Lord would explain to the House exactly what the Government intend to do. I think there will be no hostility to the Bill on this side if the Government drop the third Clause. If they bring in what has been called the "Gingering" Clause the Bill immediately becomes of a controversial character.

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Churchill)

The House is, I think, aware of the reduced character of the proposals which are now embodied in this Bill, and, if they are not, they may learn from glancing at the long succession of pages over which we went, inch by inch, in the Committee, and which are now relegated to the category of waste paper. But the Shops Bill, in one form or another, has been before the public for the last three years, and during the whole of that time this great body of persons who are grossly oppressed have been looking forward to some Parliamentary relief. It is quite true that, owing to the pressure of time and the period of the year, we are not able to proceed with the sixty hours' limitation. I should like to remind the House that it really amounted to a sixty-eight hours' week when the provisions for meal time and overtime were considered, but we were not even able to get that, and I had to recognise with the very greatest regret—it is a very keen personal disappointment to me—that the Bill cannot be carried further in this great and most important particular. Whether a Bill based upon the principle of compulsory closing of shops would have had a better chance or not I cannot say. I have frequently expressed my own opinion on the subject. I am quite sure that once the House begins to close shops by compulsion from Westminster they will find that the bulk of the opposition on behalf of the little shopkeepers, who have no assistants, and who constitute the overwhelming majority of the shopkeepers of the country, and with whom we have had difficulty to face as to the method proposed by the Bill, would be incomparably larger. It is quite impossible to go back on the question of the sixty hours week. That is gone so far as the Government is concerned. The question I have had to face is whether anything can be achieved during the present Session which will to some extent console this large body of persons to whom I have referred, and who have, I admit, very little voting strength, but for that reason have all the greater claim on the attention of the House of Commons? Can anything be done to console them for the serious disappointment and failure of the main provisions of the Bill? There are two provisions about which there is really no great difference. There may be minor points here and there. These two provisions were carried unanimously, or practically unanimously in the Committee. The first secures a weekly half-holiday to shop assistants and shopkeepers—to the whole of this great body of persons. The second secures for them reasonable intervals for meals. The mealtime scheduled was agreed to between the representatives of both sides, and although I do not say that elasticity might not be introduced, I am positive that it will be an extraordinary convenience to shop assistants. It is not only a matter of convenience and comfort, which affects them every day of their lives, but it is also a question of health, because there is no doubt whatever that a great deal of sickness and ill-health is caused in the shop-assistant class by the short and insufficient time which in a great many shops is allowed to them to take particularly their midday meal. Both of these are important matters, and both of our proposals are in the nature of a real gift and boon to the large body whom they affect.

I should be deeply grieved if the House were not able to confer these advantages, and, of course, I will not let anything stand in the way, so far as I am concerned, of these two proposals. But before the House makes up its mind to treat the proposal in Clause 3 as controversial, I would like to say one word upon it. We have abandoned attempting to limit the work of shop assistants by regulation of the hours of labour. We are not attempting to limit their hours by compulsory closing of shops except in regard to the half-holiday. What is left? If there is to be any practical relief until the question can again be touched by legislation to both assistants and shopkeepers it must be by the development of voluntary early closing.

Already powers exist which, on paper, would appear to afford every conceivable facility for voluntary early closing, but in practice they have not worked. It is very melancholy and depressing to notice how very small a proportion of early closing orders has been achieved all over the country. Last year I received some seventy or eighty deputations on the subject, and was enormously struck by the great desire of the shopkeepers no less than the shop assistants to promote voluntary early closing arrangements. But there are great difficulties, which they told me about frankly, in bringing the movement to a head in any one place. What suits one shopkeeper does not suit another in the matter of hours. Then, when a movement is started by shopkeepers for early closing, each shopkeeper is regarded as perhaps pushing his own interests and making arrangements agreeable to him which act injuriously towards his rival. Then, when there has been a demand, there have been occasions when the local authority has, I am bound to say, unreasonably overruled that demand. It will be a very great stimulus to early closing arrangements if the House assents to machinery by which persons of the same sort of character, though suited to this particular sphere, as those who will be on the panel of the Board of Trade arbitrators, perhaps not persons of such high consequence, but persons of that impartial non-political character, can from time to time be sent down by the Secretary of State into districts where the early closing movement is hanging fire, and can hold a full inquiry, and after hearing everybody on the spot, perhaps draft a scheme of early closing suited, as such scheme should be suited, to the varying complexity of conditions of each particular town and each particular trade in that town.


These will be new officials?


No, they will not. What is wanted is a person of some public standing who can go down, hold an inquiry, and make a plan, and then that plan has to be voted on in the ordinary way under the regular provisions.


What is this £20,000 to be spent on? As I understood, it is to be the salaries of these new officials.


No. It is not proposed to make any appointments at all of any kind. They will be simply nominated on the same terms as the Board of Trade panel of arbitrators. That is, I suppose, they will get the payment, while they are actually holding the inquiry, which is given to persons serving under such provisions. I am quite sure that if the House allows this system to be set up it will just give the extra fillip to the early closing movement, which would render it effective in all sorts of districts where at present it is brought to a standstill. The alterations in the Bill involve certain alterations in the Irish Clauses, but I will defer that subject until we actually reach the point; and I think I shall be able to convince the House that there is nothing to dispute about in the changes. Otherwise there is no substantial alteration in the Bill. No Amendment is made except one or two of the smallest consequence in the direction of facilities other than those which have been indicated.


Is the Irish proposal that which is stated in the Paper?


It provides, in the case of any shop, in which the trade or business or sale of beer or intoxicating liquors is carried on in conjunction with other business, for the exemption of such shop from closing on the weekly half-holiday. It does not mean that shop assistants in Ireland will not get their half-holiday, which is compulsory under the Bill. They will get that. What it does mean is that a shop where liquor is sold in Ireland will not be closed compulsorily, and, of course, shops where liquor is sold in England will not be closed compulsorily, because licensed houses are altogether outside the scope of the half-holiday provision except as regards the individual employés. There are many shops in Ireland which carry on a joint business, and it is not practicable to carry closing of shops so far there, but the half-holiday will run all over the United Kingdom.


Upon this side of the House we are entirely in favour of the two main provisions of the Bill, which the Government, I think quite rightly, have treated as non-controversal. The proposal for the weekly half-holiday, I think, came from my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester in the first instance, and was accepted by the Government. For myself, I can say, as I said not very long ago, I would infinitely prefer to lose my dinner than to lose my weekly half-holiday. That is entirely beyond controversy. As regards the provision of meal times, I agree with what the First Lord has said. It is not only a provision for health, but it is also a provision for enjoyment. Nobody but very austere people would deny that meal time is a time of enjoyment. For a meal to be enjoyed it is quite manifest that some leisure should be granted for that enjoyment. To the Bill, so far as it carries out those two proposals, on behalf of all my hon. Friends I promise that we shall give cordial support and do nothing to hinder its passage. But with regard to Clause 3, I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that it is regarded as highly controversial on this side of the House. In my view, it would set up friction between the central Government and the local authority, which is most undesirable in this question. For the life of me I cannot see what place it has in the Bill at all. I think, if you examine the Clause, it will be found that it really must have been left in the Bill by accident. Be that as it may, and speaking for myself, I am in favour of this Bill, but, most distinctly, not in regard to the proposal to send an official to the local authority to interfere with it, because, so far from facilitating early closing, I should regard such a course as likely to have the contrary effect. Nothing is more dangerous, especially in an isolated Clause of this kind, than to devise machinery which, to put it shortly, would set up the backs of many local authorities. If the right hon. Gentleman does not persist in Clause 3, we shall certainly expedite in every reasonable way the two main principles which, even taken alone, I believe to be a very substantial boon to a large class of shopkeepers and shop assistants.


The Amendment upon which this discussion is taking place has been only formally moved, but it is to be regretted that the circumstances are such that it cannot be fully discussed and decided upon in this House. I realise that the Government have come to a decision to exclude all other considerations from this Bill save what the right hon. Gentleman calls two matters, but which, I think, are three in number—namely, the hours for meal times, half-day holiday for the assistants, and half-day closing for shops. The right hon. Gentleman, in the speech he has just made, said it was his intention to have a half-day for shops and a half-day for assistants. We now find an appeal is made to the Government to seriously prejudice the third of these provisions—namely, the half-day closing of shops, because I understand the position to be this: That a sort of covert threat is held out that unless the Government give a pledge not to proceed with Clause 3, which contains the machinery for enabling shops to be closed, the other portions of the measure will not go so smoothly. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] I may be allowed to explain what I mean. The first two provisions of this Bill deal with the hours of meals and the half-day holiday for assistants. Those two provisions have nothing whatever to do with Clause 3. The appeal which has been made to the right hon. Gentleman, as I understand, is in regard to Clause 3, and I hope no indication will be given as to what shall be done as to that Clause, and that it will be dealt with absolutely on its merits when it is reached. It does not seem to me a reasonable thing to suggest—and if that is not the suggestion I cannot understand the meaning of the appeal to the right hon. Gentleman at this stage—that unless an undertaking is given with regard to Clause 3 then the other Clauses will not be so non-controversial as they otherwise would be. I hope the House will not be put into that position.

The Home Secretary stated, and very rightly, that there is an intense desire among shopkeepers of the country to get a half-day holiday for themselves as well as for their assistants, and they will be extremely disappointed if, while they are quite prepared and anxious that the assistants should have the half-holiday, at the same time we did not provide them with efficient machinery to obtain their half-holiday. When we come to Clause 3, I think we shall be able to show that it is necessary to proceed with it and set up the machinery in order that early closing may be obtained. Immense labour was spent upon the Bill over a long period in Grand Committee, yet now, within a week or two of the end of the Session, the announcement is made that it is no longer to be a consolidated Bill, and that just two or three brands are to be snatched from the burning, valuable, I admit, but I do think it is a reflection upon the Parliamentary machine that, after all the work that has been done, the House of Commons has to admit that the most it can do on this great question is for the two or three things which it is now attempted to save. Why is it? In the first speech I made, after having had the honour to become a Member of this House, I urged that the measure should be sent to a Select Committee, but I was persuaded by the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary to vote against my own suggestion. I am satisfied that if it had been sent to a Select Committee, we might not have got the Bill at this moment, but I am perfectly sure we should have arrived at some common agreement and obtained very much more than we are now going to get. I am in this position: I dare not seek to amend this Clause to any extent because of the limitations of time. We have only two or three hours to deal with the Bill, and if, in consequence of anything we did, the Bill was dropped, our blood would be on our own heads, and it would be said that we had deprived the people of the half-holiday. I am not taking that position. I am quite prepared to do all I can to see that the shop assistants get their meal times and their half-holiday, and also to see that the shopkeeper also gets his half-holiday. I admit the difficulty of the question, but I must leave the responsibility for the present position with the Government.


The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has really not fairly interpreted the position of hon. Members on this side of the House. Our view of Clause 3 has nothing whatever to do with the compulsory closing of shops once a week. That is to be statutory. Why we object to Clause 3 is that the machinery provides that an official shall be sent by the central authority to the local bodies in order to discuss with them the voluntary closing of shops. That is quite apart from the compulsory closing of shops. I am sure the hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension, for we do not object to the compulsory statutory half-holiday. The hon. Gentleman will find that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester proposed a compulsory half-holiday for shops, and he will find us equally anxious with himself to get the statutory half-holiday for shops. The First Lord of the Admiralty very "fairly stated what passed in Committee upstairs. I think it is hardly possible for us to discuss the whole Bill, but I think as to the Irish Clause, which is at the end of the measure, we must, before it is reached, discuss the bearing of that Clause and the exceptions it contains. He said something also about the hour of meal times. There may be a difference in detail, but the hour of meal times was settled by unanimous consent. I have the record here of what occurred. It was two o'clock in the original plan. An hon. Member from the Labour Benches made a suggestion of one o'clock, and after further discussion——


The hon. Member is speaking of the half-holiday.


Yes, I beg pardon. In the record in an excellent paper, "The Grocer," which is the only one which had anything like a verbatim report of the proceedings, the right hon. Gentleman said that that question would be open to discussion when we came downstairs again, and it was suggested to split the difference and make it one o'clock for shops and one-thirty for shop assistants. I observe there is an indication on the other side that perhaps two o'clock might be accepted. [HON. MKMBEKS: "No, no."] I may be wrong, but I thought I saw two Amendments from the other side to that effect. The only other point I can see as to Clause 3 is the question of fines, and I still think that the fines for offences are strenuous fines, and a great deal more than shopkeepers can stand. That can remain to a later stage, and otherwise I wish a successful passage to the Bill.


Statements have been made during the course of the discussion as to pledges having been given by the right hon. Gentleman in regard to Clause 3. Personally, and speaking for my party, I know nothing about those pledges, and I hope no such pledge has been given, and consequently——


I said nothing whatever except what I said in the House.


That is so, because I have a very distinct recollection of What the right hon. Gentleman did say in the House was that the Commissioners would be sent down; that was his proposal, in order to facilitate the early closing of shops in the evenings. That was one of the points I noted as one of the redeeming features of the proposed alterations, because, to speak frankly, this Bill as it is now presented to us is a very great disappointment indeed, and here I think I speak for my colleagues. We cannot just exactly know what has happened to the right hon. Gentleman. It seems as if since he has gone to the bellicose atmosphere of the Admiralty Office his courage has oozed out at his boot toes. I am always inclined to associate the right hon. Gentleman with his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I think that association finds favour in the country. They are regarded as the fighters and swashbucklers. One wonders how it is, after the display of courage and tenacity that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given us in regard to the Insurance Bill, that his right hon. Friend and colleague is showing so much weakness in this particular matter. What is at the bottom of it? I can understand pressure being brought to bear, and I understand the right hon. Gentleman had numbers of petitions, but so had the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to the Insurance Bill. He at least, and it is to his credit, did fight, instead of weakly giving way, as the right hon. Gentleman appears to have done. For my part, I should be very sorry indeed if the right hon. Gentleman were to give way upon this question of Clause 3. From my own experience I believe some such Clause is absolutely necessary. Not only is it quite true that the difficulties which he outlined to us are there, but there is another difficulty which he did not touch upon—namely, that it is notoriously the fact in this, as in other cases, that what is everybody's business ultimately becomes nobody's business, and unless there is somebody to take the responsibility in regard to this matter then nothing will be done.

If the local authority does not show that activity which it ought to show then I join issue with the hon. Gentleman opposite in saying that I believe it is absolutely necessary on some occasions to do a little bit of what an hon. Gentleman opposite called—using a very strong phrase—" gingering." [An HON. MEMBER: "Who said it."] I am not certain who said it, the thing is it has been said, and I for my part believe it is one of those things which is necessary. In addition no mention has been made of a certain alteration which is to be made by an addition to the old Clause 9, in which, if I understand aright, certain powers which are now being exercised, not very successfully I admit, under the Act of 1904, giving power to fix a closing hour earlier than seven o'clock are to be taken away, and even those agreements which have already been entered into in regard to that matter are to lapse. I think hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to have taken that into consideration. It may be that they resent interference with the liberties and autonomy of local authorities, but at least they ought to recognise that certain things have been taken away from the shop assistants and that the bargain is not a one-sided one as some of them seem to imagine.

I wish to indicate to the House and the right hon. Gentleman what our general position is in regard to these alterations. As I have already said, we are very disappointed indeed and we are not at all filled with admiration for the right hon. Gentleman's position in this matter. We think he ought to have shown a stronger front. We think he ought to have fought a little bit more tenaciously for the things which he advocated so very well in the earlier days of the Bill. If I am not mistaken he committed himself rather to this position, that the only thing in the Bill, as originally introduced, which he cared a straw about was the limitation of the hours of shop assistants. That, I believe, was the attitude he took up and that he strongly followed right through the Committee stage—namely, that the sixty hours' limitation of the shop assistants' hours of work was the only thing he cared much about, and that the other was so much padding to satisfy various interests here and there. Apparently now he has dropped the body of the Bill and what the Bill really set out to do, and he is giving us the husk instead of the kernel, and expects us to grow fat upon it. I do not know whether we are or not, but I do not want to let this opportunity pass without saying that we do recognise the great boon of the half-holiday, and also of the scheduled meal times.

I understand that the shop assistants are very favourable to the scheduled meal times. They believe much good will accrue. I had figures given to me the other day which for the moment have slipped my memory, but at least I was told that a very great proportion of illness amongst shop assistants took the form of indigestion, and quite a considerable majority of that indigestion they thought could be traceable to the haphazard method and manner in which shop assistants are forced to take their meals. I was given the instance of a big emporium in this city where the young lady assistants had to travel from the room in which they worked to the dining-room, no less than 750 yards, there and back, of which distance half was up and down stairs, and it all had to be done in a twenty-five minutes' meal time. We can all see what that means. To travel half-a-mile and have a mid-day meal in twenty-five minutes—one would be very surprised if it did not result in indigestion. Therefore, we are anxious to give the right hon. Gentleman all the support we can in regard to that particular point. We are not unmindful of the benefits arising from the weekly half-holiday. Our only complaint is that it does not start early enough. But in these days we must be thankful for small mercies. The House, however, must not expect us to be too thankful, when we know that up and down the country there are many places where the shops close at twelve. In his endeavour to save a little bit of the Bill we think the right hon. Gentleman might have put the hour at twelve instead of at one. We feel very strongly about this Bill, and if there were not other considerations the Labour party would be a strenuous opponent of the scheme as now presented. We believe that the type of men who sent us here will not thank us for giving the right hon. Gentleman support at all. The feeling is very keen. In fact, there have been big demonstrations in all our centres with the object of strengthening the demands of the Bill and for substituting the word "inclusive" for the word "exclusive"—which we attempted to do in Committee, but failed. We are going to support the Bill, not because we are unmindful of the great alterations which have been made or of the extremely unsatisfactory shape the Bill now assumes, but simply because we have a request from the shop assistants that we should not jeopardise the measure by pushing our opposition or our strictures too far. The letter—I will not read the whole of it—says: Under these circumstances we ask the Labour party, on behalf of the organised shop assistants, to accept the provision of fixed meal-times and the half holiday. We recommend this course with the greatest regret, and express our intention to continue our agitation on the question of the limitation of hours until we secure tins most important object by Act of Parliament. Were it not for that letter I personally should not have submitted to the alteration. It is one of those things that one cannot accept without feeling very sore about it. We regard the sixty-hours' week as the pivot of the Bill, and without it I personally should have had very little interest in the matter. But the shop assistants, after all, are the people who will be most affected, and as they have asked us to do so we shall help the right hon. Gentleman to get the Bill through, in which endeavour I trust we we may be successful.

1.0 P.M.


Notwithstanding the censures which have been so lavishly poured on the right hon. Gentleman by his own friends, there is a strong flavour of common sense in his decision to get what he can at the end of a hard Session. So far as my experience goes, there is a general consensus of opinion in favour of the right hon. Gentleman's proposal, and not least with regard to the standardisation of meal times. But in the country towns on market days very great difficulty will be found——


I will meet that.


Then as far as I am concerned the proposal will be satisfactory.


The charge of want of courage, I think, disproves itself when we remember the period of the Session. The right hon. Gentleman has indeed acted with common sense. It was proved to me, as a Member of the Committee, that to deal with every district in the country in one particular way and by one particular mode was really an impossibility. The first two Clauses are very important. One gives the half-holiday and the other ensures that a very large class of shops must close on one afternoon in the week. I am sorry that objection is taken to Clause 3, because the shops in the Schedule do not come under Clause 2 unless we pass Clause 3. If it is feared that the power might be used by irresponsible people, Members might be content to take out the words "or otherwise," and the Clause could then be put into operation only on the representation of a local authority. Having sat through the long discussions in Committee, I feel that if we pass the Bill as proposed we shall render a real service to shop assistants. Nobody is in favour of long hours nowadays, and I think the right hon. Gentleman is taking a considerable step towards securing a shortening which will be of benefit to all concerned.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not give way on Clause 3. It is most important that we should have these men going down to the district, as he says, to "ginger" the authorities. The Act of 1904 was a failure simply because there was no provision of that kind in it. With regard to the Sunday Clauses, we in Wales have felt very strongly, and I should like an assurance from the Government that they mean to deal with the question in the near future. If they do so, they will have our best support, as we are anxious and ready for a clean Sunday in Wales. We must go on compulsory lines in a measure of this sort. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has the right to say what he has said about shop assistants. I am in favour of the sixty hours' week and the weekly half-holiday, and the only way to get them is by compulsion.


I have, of course, considered very carefully what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. Lyttelton) in regard to Clause 3, and I would make this proposal to the House with a view to dealing with the issue fairly. Let us leave Clause 3 until we come to it, and then let the House divide upon it quite freely, without Government Whips or Government pressure of any kind, and decide whether or not it will be a useful thing. Then, when we get forward with the other Clauses, the House can decide on the merits of this after it has been thoroughly discussed.


I am sorry to say I cannot accept that offer on behalf of the hon. Friends behind me. The right hon. Gentleman must make up his mind whether or not he is going forward with Clause 3. If so the great boon that we all here desire to have will probably be lost. He must decide one way or the other.


I do not think that is quite fair to the House. I have been asked to promise not merely that I will leave the matter to the House, but that I will actually use the Government Whips to secure the deletion of a Clause that I am anxious to see included. I do not think it is a fair request. The proposal that the House should decide the matter on its merits is surely a good one.

Viscount WOLMER

I should like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he would give the House the opportunity of deciding in a free way upon the question of the sixty hours' week? In his short speech this afternoon he really did not give the House any adequate explanation as to why the proposal for sixty hours has been dropped. The hon. Gentleman opposite has said that the sixty hours was the kernel of the whole Bill. After all, this Bill has been before the country for the last three years. It has been threshed out, I believe, in different forms in three Standing Committees. Two General Elections have been held since the original proposals were made. Under these circumstances it is impossible to say that the question of the sixty hours has not received the general approval of the electorate. As the right hon. Gentleman has framed his Amendments it is impossible to take a test Division on the sixty hours without compromising the weekly half-holiday. In the way the Amendments are drawn, too, it is impossible for this House to declare in favour of the sixty hours without declaring against the weekly half-holiday. There is a strong feeling amongst this section of the House, who would welcome some assurance from the Government that we should be allowed to decide this sixty hours' question. It does seem very hard that this question should be put on the scrap-heap at the last moment. It is not treating the House of Commons with proper respect. This question has been debated for the last six months in Standing Committee. It has got overwhelming support, not only in this House but elsewhere. For the First Lord of the Admiralty to come down at the last moment and draw his blue pencil through the Bill, and take out the kernel, appears to me to be nothing more nor less than sacrificing the Bill for political reasons. We should, I venture to suggest, be allowed to take a Division on the sixty hours' question in a free and unrestrained way.


The House has now occupied an hour over a totally irregular discussion. It was said that to allow the discussion would save a great deal of time, but it seems to me to have raised a great number of points of controversy without having settled any, and to have led to no issue. I therefore respectfully urge the House to get to business.


May I ask one question? Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman who is now leading the Opposition and his Friends will not allow the retention of Clause 3—that if Clause 3 were retained the Bill will be opposed and practically lost?


I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. GLYN-JONES had given notice to move that the following new Clause be read a second time

The Secretary of State may make regulations for prescribing anything which under this Act is to be prescribed. I am not sure that this is necessary. As the Bill stood there were provisions for enabling matters to be prescribed. I understand that there is a Clause which is not now to be inserted in the Bill which says, "That the Secretary of State may make regulations for prescribing anything that may be prescribed …" I, however, find that it is provided that the Shops Regulation Acts, 1892 to 1904, shall be construed with this Act of 1911, and as I understand that this and other matters are covered by this new provision, I do not move.

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