HC Deb 09 July 1913 vol 55 cc431-3

I beg to move, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend and consolidate the Acts relating to Sunday employment, and to regulate the conditions of labour upon the basis of six working days in the week with Sunday as the normal rest-day, and for other purposes connected therewith."

The Bill is framed on the assumption that one day in every seven should be allowed for rest and for recuperation—both mentally and bodily. It declares that Sunday is the normal day of rest, but, if it is not possible, some other day should be set aside. Clause 6 provides that if it is necessary to work on Sunday, no two successive Sundays shall be worked—in other words, no person shall work on more than twenty-six Sundays in the whole of the year. The promoters of the Bill, entertaining strong opinions as to the necessity of having Sunday as the normal day of rest on moral and religious grounds, and in order to preserve the health and strength of the nation, recognise that there are certain works of necessity and mercy which must be performed on Sunday, and in the First Schedule there are set out a number of exemptions—for instance, the serving, sale or delivery of medicines, bread, fresh milk, newspapers and periodicals for a period not exceeding two hours, the receiving and transmitting of telegraph and telephone messages, and the doing of any work essential to any industry, or absolutely necessary branches of work or industrial process of such a continuous nature that it cannot be stopped without serious injury to such industry. The exemptions also include the conveyance and delivery of milk and other perishable dairy produce, and the conveyance by railway and omnibus of passengers and travellers, and the hiring, letting, and repairing of motor cars. If I went through the whole list of exemptions I should exceed the time limit allowed for introducing the Bill. Suffice it to say that the measure is not framed in the spirit of the pedant or the Puritan, or for the purpose of enforcing a dreary Sabbatarianism on the people of this country.

If there are objections to the proposals in the Bill they can be discussed in Committee. There is a strong body of public opinion in favour of the Bill, and the greater the strain of modern industry and the keener the competition the stronger does public opinion become. Two Parliamentary Committees have already sat on the subject—one in 1905 and the other in 1906. The evidence given before the Committees showed that there was an overwhelming mass of opinion favourable to the proposals contained in this Bill. All the shopkeepers' associations, with one exception, embracing nearly the whole of the trades of the country, gave evidence in favour of the principle of Sunday rest. The Trade Union Congress at Nottingham passed a resolution in favour of restricting Sunday labour within the smallest possible limits. The Imperial Sunday Alliance conducted an investigation among trade unions, and found that there were 600 organisations, representing 2,000,000 workpeople and employers, who were enthusiastically in favour of the principle that the working week should consist of six days. I would remind the House that about a year ago there was a long and, unfortunately, unsuccessful strike among the spelter men in South Wales in favour of Sunday rest. It may be urged that to give workmen one day's rest in seven would be very detrimental to several industries, and that it would be almost ruinous to dividends, but it has been the business of social reformers and philanthropists, from Lord Shaftesbury downwards, to break down the necessitarian plea, and, after all, they have been most successful in doing it. Social reformers and philanthropists have proved to be better business men than either they or anybody else imagined. In the 'forties Nassau Gineot said it was absolutely necessary that factory workers should work twelve hours a clay, because it was only in the eleventh and twelfth hour that a profit was made by the manufacturers. However, now, thanks to the instruction of meddlesome social reformers, enlightened employers of labour have come round to the idea that the most economical method of working is only to employ the workman when at his best. But this is not entirely a question of dividends and money-making. The senior Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour) said that not all the international Commissions in the world could fix a unit of happiness. That may be so. "One cannot draw nectar with a sieve." But, at all events, this country should be able to fix a standard above which it should be possible to rise, and below which they should not be degraded—their bodies tired out and brains dulled. Matthew Arnold said that it was in ceaseless expansion of its powers, and ceaseless growth in wisdom and beauty that the spirit of the human race found its ideal. What unit of happiness or welfare has the State fixed for the spelter men who work ten hours a day for seven days in the week? And what chance of expansion of mind or growth in wisdom have the steel workers who often work twenty-four hours on a Sunday? It is in the hope that this Bill may do something to limit man's inhumanity to man, and smooth away some of the injustices of our industrial system that I beg leave to introduce it.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, Mr. Bowerman, Mr. Noel Buxton, Mr. Dickinson, Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Goulding, Mr. Arthur Henderson, Mr. W. Hudson, Mr. W. Redmond, Mr. P. Morrell, Mr. Harold Smith, and Colonel Williams. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Thursday, 17th July, and to be printed. [Bill 243.]