§ It being a quarter-past eight of the clock, and leave having been given to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.
§ Captain BARNETT
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."
I rise to move the Adjournment of the House with feelings of confidence mingled with misgiving—confidence because I am speaking in this august House for the first time, and I know the way in which the House is prepared to overlook the shortcomings of the newcomer and misgiving, because I feel that the task I have undertaken is one that might have been in better hands. It is through no lack of modesty that I am making this Motion. I waited vainly in the hope that another Member of longer experience and better standing would come forward to raise this question, which is of such vital importance to a large section of my own Constituents, and it was only when no other Member came forward that I, very hesitatingly, threw myself into the breach. I speak with a certain amount of reluctance, because I was returned only ten days ago to give a loyal but discriminating support to the Government. I am sorry that 1434 the need for discrimination has come so soon. It would be impossible for any Metropolitan Member who goes carefully through his post-bag to overlook the fact that a very large section of his constituents view this Order of the Home Office as one that is going to cause them serious injury. I am speaking with studious moderation. The Order will cause inconvenience and hardship to all and ruin to many. This method of legislation by Regulation and administrative Order is not an ideal one. At a time when the House of Commons is sitting only three days a week—I express the opinion with all deference and humility—a great question of this kind, which affects vitally the interests of a large section of the electors, ought to have been submitted to the judgment of this House as the representatives of the people.
What has happened? A Regulation has been made under the Defence of the Realm Act under which the Secretary of State for the Home Department has issued the Shop Closing Order. No one can deny that the Home Secretary possesses the gift of sympathy with working classes, but anyone who has studied this Order must say that in this departmental legislation there is a great want of imagination and insight. I am going to ask the right hon. Gentleman to imagine himself for a moment a man who has put the whole of his little savings into a tobacconist's shop in Camden Town. He has been going through a very difficult time. His eldest son, if he is old enough to have one, is at the War. He is suffering from heavy taxation. Many of his best customers have gone to the front, many of them, alas, will not come back again. He has kept going under these adverse conditions. Suddenly, the high gods of Olympus introduce a Shop Closing Order which is absolutely fatal to his prospects. He is not consulted about it and has no chance of saying what he thinks about it. One fine morning he reads in his newspaper that in future his shop is to be closed at seven p.m., although all his business or 80 per cent. of it has been done after seven p.m. That is a change which ought not to be sprung by administrative Order upon any section of our citizens. It is eminently a question upon which the House of Commons ought to have been consulted.
I suppose we shall hear later that there is some good, I will not say suffi- 1435 cient, reason for this proposed Order. It is made under the Defence of the Realm Act. We all want to respect anything that is said or done under the Defence of the Realm Act, but really, when you come to apply the test of fact to this particular Order, it is difficult to see how the Realm is going to be more effectually defended by this Shop Closing Order. Is it a question of enemy aircraft? I do not think it can be that, because those aircraft have got into the habit of coming on Saturday nights, and the Shop Closing Order says that shops may remain open on Saturdays until 9 p.m. As a further concession, during the last day or two it has been conceded that shops may remain open on Fridays until 8 p.m. If it is safe for shops to be open on Saturdays until 9 p.m. and on Fridays until 8 p.m., it is very difficult indeed to realise how the Defence of the Realm is going to be seriously endangered by the shops being open till 8 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, or for three days a week, leaving out the early closing day. We shall probably find that the right hon. Gentleman bases his defence of this Order not upon anti-aircraft legislation, but upon the saving of fuel used for lighting and heating. He will tell us that large quantities of electric current and gas are used by these wicked confectioners and tobacconists. I should like to take the right hon. Gentleman for a promenade one evening alone one or two of the highways where these shops are found. I think he will find there is very little waste of light, for it is extremely difficult to see one's hand in front of one's face, and the little shopkeepers, who are most cruelly affected by the proposed measure, are people who, for the most part, live behind or over their shops. The fuel that they consume would be consumed whether their shops are open or closed, and the light they burn would be burnt whether their shops were open or shut. There is not going to be any saving here to speak of.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to make a really big saving in fuel and light, his course is obvious—let him shut the shops altogether. Then he will save something. There will be a saving of fuel and light because your workhouses may be crowded, and, upon the Prussian system of not supplying artificial heat where you have a large number of people 1436 in a room, you will be able to dispense with the light and fuel used at present in these small shops. Speaking seriously, I await with curiosity the explanation which, no doubt, the right hon. Gentleman will have to make as to the cause of this Order. The Order has created an enormous amount of distrust and dissatisfaction amongst the small shopkeeping class of the community, and it is very difficult to see with a microscope the slightest possible usefulness in it. What does the right hon. Gentleman do when he is met with these criticisms? He circulates through the Press a reference to non-essential trades. This is what he says:It will not be possible to justify an exemption for non-essential trades, such as the sale of tobacco or sweets. Trade may be expected to adapt itself to the new conditions.Of course it will. I am told that eels when skinned always adapt themselves to the new conditions and get to like it in time, and many of these unfortunate small shopkeepers who are deprived of their means of livelihood will go on, no doubt, quietly to the workhouse, while other people get the trade which they have enjoyed in the past. When you say that trade will adapt itself to the new conditions it seems to me a sort of revival of the old idea we had in those long distant days before the War in the controversy about Free Trade, that if a business was driven out of the country it did not matter, as the manufacturer removed his capital to something else—to a new industry. How is my little confectioner or tobacconist in Camden Town, crushed under the heavy weight of the right hon. Gentleman's Shop Closing Order, to transfer his capital to another industry? I do not think it can be done, and a crop of small insolvencies may be expected to result from the carrying out of this Order. As for essential trades, after all, tobacconists and confectioners are God's creatures. It is not yet criminal in this country to be either a tobacconist or a confectioner, and if a man is living quietly, paying his rates and his rent and struggling on, a good member of society, I fail to see why he should be subjected to legislation of this kind of administrative Order which crushes him down to the ground, without having a chance of reply and for no possible reason or excuse which will bear a moment's investigation.
There is one class which has received an exemption from the right hon. Gentleman—the chemists. The chemist, apparently, 1437 is neither essential nor non-essential. He occupies a half-way position between the two. He is not allowed to have his shop open after seven o'clock in the evening. On the other hand, he is not absolutely closed. What he does under the Shop Closing Order is to sit like some spider in his web in a locked shop, sufficiently darkened, and when someone comes and rings the bell and wants to buy medicine the right hon. Gentleman will let the shop be opened and will allow the chemist to supply the medicine on condition that when he has sold it he locks the shop door, turns the light out, and stands at ease. That is the way the chemist is affected under this scheme. Is it not ludicrous? I do not think at present there is any great waste of light and fuel in the chemists' shops, in my Constituency, at any rate. I am quite sure there will not be any less if the Shop Closing Order is carried into effect. I hope in this matter, which has aroused the very greatest interest and the greatest apprehension among a large class of small traders, we shall meet with sympathetic consideration from the Home Secretary. I hope he will come down from his Olympus and make the very small concession we are asking for. If we get eight o'clock instead of seven, it would not meet the demands of the extremists, but I can assure him it would meet the demands of most reasonable people. Take the case of a small shopkeeper, a very large part of whose trade is done after seven o'clock in the evening and many of whose customers go in the day to the West End or the City. If you extend the hour, as you have already done on Friday, to eight o'clock, you will give him a chance of doing some business. You will not be striking at his little trade the vital blow which you are striking under present conditions, and I make a strong appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his scheme at least to that extent and to give us eight o'clock instead of seven for the other days of the week.
May I congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman on his maiden speech and on the occasion which has called him to his feet—sympathy with a certain class of his constituents, a class which is scattered very widely over different parts of London and which probably exists in no greater numbers in any other constituency than in mine. I should like to know what this Order is for and what is the purpose for which it is imposed. I do not quite understand the 1438 object my right hon. Friend has in view. If we had had that explained before, possibly we should not have moved the Adjournment now. All I know is that it has created great disturbance in the minds of the small traders throughout London—those conducting small retail shops. In any case the small trader is gradually being squeezed out of existence. Year by year it is becoming more difficult for him to make money enough to pay his rates and taxes and make a living for himself. That may be a desirable economic development or it may not. I am extremely sorry that the number of persons who live an independent life and are not mere wage earners is getting fewer as the years go on. Everything is playing into the hands of the big shopkeeper and the big establishment. Early closing has always been advocated by the owners of large establishments. That has not prevented me from supporting it for the last twenty-five years. I have been a subscriber to both early closing associations and I have advocated early closing in every possible way. I am extremely anxious that so far as possible the hours of work for shop assistants shall be curtailed. It may, therefore, seem inconsistent that I should be supporting this Resolution, but I want to do so because of the large number of letters received from people in different parts of my Constituency pointing out the grave injustice which it will inflict upon them. I will read one:I have been a shopkeeper in the grocery and provision trade for twenty-four years, paying rates and taxes, and the best part of my trade is. done in the evening after the poor women who work in the City, mostly office cleaning, and do not return till eight or ten o'clock at night, when they have to buy their food for supper, chiefly consisting of cheese, tinned meat, sausages, bread, butter, etc. If I have to close at seven I might just as well put the shutters up for good, while my neighbour who sells fried fish may keep open and therefore take my living away. I am a widow with one son, whom they are taking from me to join the Army, and I have no other means of getting my living.That will be a tragedy which will be multiplied by th"e thousand all over London. There must be some very strong reason for the imposition of a rule which would bear so hardly on that class of trader. They exist, more or less, collected in all constituencies, and in some districts, especially in the East End of London and in North-East London, they exist by the hundred. Nearly all their customers are working people employed during the day in factories, sometimes miles away. These factories generally close at six o'clock in the evening, sometimes earlier, but mostly- 1439 not before six o'clock After the closing of the factory the little provisions required for the evening meal oftentimes have to be purchased. It may be said that they are purchased by the housewife, but it must be remembered that the housewife is herself very largely engaged in industry to-day, and unless these shops are allowed to remain open long enough to enable people to return to their homes and then go out to make their purchases it will inflict great hardship and inconvenience upon those working people, besides ruining those who supply their needs. I suggest that if eight o'clock is fixed as the closing hour, reasonable time will be given for these purchases. If seven o'clock is fixed it will be almost impossible either to conduct the trade or for these working people to obtain what provisions they require.
They are not able during the day time to make their purchases whenever they like. In quite a large number of cases payments are made daily, and the money is not in hand until the end of the day. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if he will alter the rule to eight o'clock, instead of seven o'clock, he will meet the objection of large numbers of people and will not do, any injury to the working classes. I understand that some of the Labour representatives are going to oppose this Motion on the ground that it may perhaps increase the number of hours during which certain people may have to work. It will not affect the workers in that way. The change I suggest will set at rest the minds of a great number of people who are greatly disturbed. The reason why we have brought this matter forward to-night is that the Order is to be put into operation next Tuesday. I hope it will not be put into operation in its present form. If the right hon. Gentleman will make the suggested concession, and allow the closing hour to be eight o'clock for all days up to Friday, and nine o'clock on Saturday, it will meet the objection practically of us all.
Mr. SHIRLEY BENN
I am afraid that I cannot agree with all that has been said by the speakers who have preceded me, although I should like to congratulate the hon. Member who opened this discussion on the very able speech which he gave. I object to this Order very strongly, becuase I feel that it is unjust to certain classes 1440 and that it will not create the economy that we all desire. Economy is necessary to enable us to win the War, but this is not the sort of economy that will help us to win the War. We must have prosperity that will enable people not only to pay taxes, but to lend money to the country to carry on the War. This Order will affect a great many people in seaport towns, and in dockyard towns, and it will affect a great many people in the Constituency of which I have the honour to be one of the representatives. I have in my hands a copy of a letter written by the Town Clerk of Plymouth, in which he says:The attention of the proper committee of the Plymouth Town Council has been directed to the Home Secretary's statement in Parliament as to the intention of the Government to issue an Order for the closing of all shops during the winter months at seven o'clock on days other than Saturday and weekly half-holidays, and at nine o'clock on Saturdays. I am instructed to say that in this fortress a large number of small traders, estimated at 3,000, depend largely for their livelihood on the custom of operatives engaged in the dockyard and other Government establishments, and of soldiers and sailors, who find it impossible to complete their shopping by the hours named. The committee hope the interests of the small traders and of the population on which they depened will be carefully safeguarded in any Order which may be issued. Unless this is done it is feared that serious and unnecessary hardship will be suffered by many deserving persons. I have to express the hope that in framing the exceptions proposed to be allowed these considerations will be borne in mind.At the present time we all know that the leisured class have become very small in this country. Nearly everybody are trying to do their bit for the War. People are working, and it is going to be extremely hard that men and women who are working throughout the day for their country should not be able to do their shopping. Surely it is right that shops which wish to keep open should keep open, so that men and women working during the day should be able to go, when they have completed their day's work, and buy what they need to live on. A further point I wish to raise is that the class of people who are running these small shops are nearly always men who have made a little bit of money and put it into a business of their own, and who wish to keep it. Numbers of them who work daily in their own shops say that the greater bulk of their business is done in the evening when the workers come home. Some of these shops are run by women whose husbands are fighting for us at the front, and some are run by widows who have lost their husbands fighting for our country; and these are the very people who are going 1441 to be affected by this Order. I know that the Home Secretary is very sympathetic, and I hope that he will give serious consideration to this matter, and realise that though we want economy we want prosperity; and we want the whole of our citizens to work shoulder to shoulder to win this War.
§ Colonel Sir CHARLES SEELY
I rise to add a few words to the appeal which has already been made to the Government in regard to this question. I speak with a certain amount of diffidence, because I have been absent long from this House, and it is somewhat new to me to have to speak on information received from the public Press, and not on information rendered to Members in this House. I cannot say after that what I have heard to-night, either in this Debate or in the previous one, has given me the impression that it is a great improvement, this acting by Departmental Committees instead of acting after full consideration in this House, and after full information. I would like to add my word to what has been said as to the desirability of His Majesty's Government reconsidering what they are doing in regard to this Order, more particularly from the point of view of the smaller shopkeeper. I rose especially because I have had sent to me one case which I think is typical of many, and which seems to me an exceedingly hard one. A man who went to the War early, in the days before there was any compulsion, bought his wife a small shop in order to support her while he was absent. The information given to me is that this shop is one of a character which is dependent almost entirely for its trade upon men who come late from their work and who stop there and make small purchases on their way home. We all know that the large shops have many advantages over the small ones. They buy on a larger scale, and they have better sources of information as to what credit they can give, and many other reasons. The small shop has one advantage. It belongs to the person who lives in the shop who, therefore, can keep it open without inconvenience to themselves at times when it is obviously not convenient for the large shops to remain open. I would ask the Government to consider what has been said by many people this evening and to consider the case which I have put before them. My informant may be right or wrong, but his information is 1442 that in this case the Order that has been made by the Government, a purely administrative Order as to which this House has not been consulted, will result in practical ruin, and doing away with the provision which a man has made for the support of his wife when he went across the seas to fight for his country.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
The hon. Member who has just sat down has joined with my hon. and gallant Friend behind me (Captain Barnett) who opened this Debate in expressing a view which I think is very widely held in regard to legislation by administrative Order. No one will be willing as a general principle to defend legislation by administrative Order, though we recognise that in time of war administrative Order may be a necessity, and, that in the peculiar circumstances in which we are living at present, it would be impossible to depend entirely upon the well tried constitutional methods of altering the law into into an emergency law for the moment. But that imposes all the more obligation upon the executive Government, to show the very strongest possible justification to this House when they interfere violently with the accustomed liberties of the people of this country by administrative Order. They should show that the particular Order which they have issued is required for some definite purpose with relation to the peculiar circumstances of the War. I do not know, of course, what the right hon. Gentleman has got to say, but I think that he will have to give a very unexpectedly strong reply to the case which has been already made if he is going to persuade this House and the country that this particular Order is justified on the grounds that I have mentioned. My hon. and gallant Friend, and the hon. Member for Haggerston (Mr. Chancellor) agree in saying that the requirements of the case will be met if it were decided to allow houses to remain open until eight o'clock. My hon. and gallant Friend said that that was the opinion of most reasonable persons. My hon. and gallant Friend and the hon. Gentleman opposite both speak for Metropolitan constituencies, and I am not prepared to say that that may not be right so far as their constituents are concerned. But the conditions which obtain in the Metropolis are not in all respects similar to those which govern other constituencies in other parts of the country.
I, for example, speak mainly for seacoast towns, provincial towns, towns 1443 which have been already very heavily hit by the unavoidable circumstances of the War, their prosperity destroyed by want of visitors, large numbers of small householders and property owners unable to pay their taxes, with the necessity for some scheme devised by the local authorities, often in conjunction with the Local Government Board, for meeting the exceptional distress which has been brought about, and in the particular coast towns for which I am entitled to speak, having the additional disadvantage, so to speak, of being in the very forefront of the country most open to enemy attacks. In those circumstances, one would have expected that the utmost consideration would be given to any person in those areas who was in the position to make his own living, to pay rates and taxes, to keep his head above water, not in any circumstances, I am afraid, of enjoying any great prosperity, but of being able to tide over difficult times and keep his small business together until the end of the war, renders it reasonable to hope that he may return to something like the prosperity which he enjoyed before the War began. In many cases these small businesses in such places will be absolutely detroyed by the Order which the right hon. Gentleman has issued. We have often heard in this House, perhaps, rhetorical expressions to the effect that such-and-such legislation would cause widespread ruin, and that such-and-such interests would have to close down or put up shutters. But it is the literal truth that very large numbers of people will have to close down and depend either upon charity or upon the Poor Law if this administrative Order is carried out.
That cannot be the object of the Government. It cannot be the object of the Government to destroy any trade, even if it should be non-essential, if it is perfectly innocent. and if it enables people to pay their way who otherwise would be unable to do so. I, therefore, am absolutely opposed to this Order altogether. The people for whom I speak would not be content, and should not be content, by even such a modification as would suit the Metropolitan constituencies. But I would say that while I am against the Order altogether, unless such a case is shown as we have had no foreshadowing of at present, some totally unexpected case, yet, even supposing that the right hon. Gentleman feels himself unable for any reason to go the whole length of abandoning this, as 1444 I consider, ill-advised Order, there are no doubt grades of hardship, and I venture very urgently to press upon him specially the case for exceptional treatment of the confectionery trade. In a great deal which has been said on this subject, since the Order was made, we have had the tobacconists and the confectionery trades grouped together as exceptionally hard cases. I dare say that that is so, but there is a great difference between the two.
The tobacconist, in such a case as my hon. and gallant Friend has put, no doubt may suffer very severely if he is not allowed to be open just at the time when experience shows him that his customers come in. But, taking generally the matter of trade methods, the person who buys tobacco can supply himself at other times of the day, and the ordinary consumer of tobacco carries it on his person. But the consumer of confectionery does not. He is a consumer who goes in for the moment to buy a commodity which he wishes to get. He does not carry it about on his person. Therefore, it is of vital importance that the confectioner should be able to keep his shop open at the particular moment which is the most suitable for his customer to come in. I do not know to what extent the right hon. Gentleman has really considered, or has been in a position to consider, the particular circumstances of the confectionery trade. In provincial towns, at all events, my information is that it is very closely dependent upon the public amusements of the case. The small confectioner sells his goods to the people who are flocking to the local theatres and cinemas, and recreations of all sorts. If he is not able to sell at that time of day, he will not sell at all. If the Order is persisted in, may I point out one of the effects that will follow? The confectioners are licensed dealers in mineral waters. Under the present regime, at all events, it remains open until nine o'clock. If the public-house remains open to that hour, and the confectioner's shop, licensed to deal in mineral waters, is closed down at seven o'clock, a large number of persons, who go to the local cinema show or theatre, when they come out between the acts, or after the turns are over, into the darkened streets, go to the confectioner's shop for some sweetmeats, or pastry, and perhaps a drink of mineral water.
What will happen when these confectionery shops are closed? The public- 1445 house is not the real resort of people who have a sweet tooth, and are fond of chocolate creams, but, unable to obtain what they want, they may go to the public-house and take a glass of beer or a glass of whisky. The result of this administrative legislation of the right hon. Gentleman will be that these innocent people, coming out of the cinema show, and unable to get confectionery or mineral waters, will be driven of necessity into the public-house, where they may not be content with the drinks that have hitherto satisfied them, and the right hon. Gentleman may be responsible for a change of habits in these people. In addition, let me point out how very objectionable this is from the point of view of the population of the towns. At the present, in East Coast towns, the authorities rightly reduce the public lighting of the streets to the minimum, but it causes a great deal of things that are objectionable, or possibly dangerous, to the population. The right hon. Gentleman, who is constantly in communication with the police, who are under his Department, must know perfectly well the sort of objectionable occurrences which may arise by the reduction in the public lighting to the minimum. But the right hon. Gentleman proposes to close down all the shops at seven o'clock, including even the confectionery shops, into which innocent couples may go to obtain a drink of mineral waters, and purchase some confectionery, before they go home. He is going to close these shops, and to turn the thousands of people into the streets at an earlier hour than they meant to go home. How can these people wander about the darkened streets during long evenings of winter, having no confectionery shops open, to which they have been accustomed to go to get what they require? May they not be driven to enter the public-house, a place to which they have not gone hitherto. That is a piece of social legislation of a very retrograde character, and I cannot believe that the right hon. Gentleman has given real consideration to the matter, or as to the ultimate effects of what he proposes. The right hon. Gentleman wants to reduce expenditure. Does he think, in this war and in face of the national expenditure to-day, that he is really going to do anything serious or substantial in the matter of war economy 1446 by preventing the drinking of mineral waters or the purchase of a packet of sweets or of chocolate creams? The thing is ridiculous. You cannot produce national economy by these small pinpricks in various directions, and I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to justify his Order on that ground. My hon. and gallant Friend suggested that it might be an economy in lighting and fuel. If that be the contention, you are met by this extraordinary inconsistency, that the right hon. Gentleman, so far as I know, is making no attempt to close the places of local entertainment. He is not closing the theatres, nor is he closing the cinema shows, which consume more electric light or gas in an hour than all the small shops put together. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to act fairly and equitably towards the confectionery trade he should, at the same time, do something that would possibly show substantial results in the matter of economy. He is closing the confectionery shops at seven o'clock. Let him insist in the same way in closing theatres and cinema shows, and then everybody would go to bed at seven o'clock at night Such a course, at any rate, might be regarded as having a consistent and equitable element in it in respect of the different interests.
But may I remind the right hon. Gentleman of this, that these cinema shows and theatres which he is keeping open, while closing the confectionery shops, are actually trade competitors of the confectioners, so that the unfairness becomes even more obvious. People who go to places of entertainment can buy their confectionery there, and that is competition which the confectioner has at all times to meet. The right hon. Gentleman, I submit, is going to do a gross injustice to a perfectly innocent trade, and he is going to destroy it by closing down shops to the benefit of trade rivals. All these are considerations which I wish to put with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether they have been within his knowledge. I freely confess that they were not within mine until very recently. One learns these things when proposals of this sort are made against some particular branch of trade or industry, or the social life of the people. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider the fact that up to now there has been a unanimous expression of 1447 hostility to this Order, and that he will not feel hurt in his amor propre, or think that he is saving his face in any way, if he realises that, with the best possible intentions, which we all acknowledge, he has made a very gross error, and I trust that he will be led by his advisers to retire from his present position.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down stated that the one or two concessions which the Home Secretary is prepared to make will not satisfy him so far as he is concerned. So far as I am concerned, I want to make my position perfectly plain. I am a member of the Labour party, but, on this occasion, I am not speaking in their behalf, but entirely on my own responsibility for the Constituents I represent.
§ Mr. THORNE
Not always; but I think I am justified on this occasion in saying that as soon as the Order was made known I received more postcards and letters in regard to it than I had ever received before. When the Military Service Act was under discussion I, like all Members, I believe, received great numbers of letters or postcards and communications, but, great as their' number was, it was exceeded by the number of letters and postcards addressed to me from all parts with regard to this Order. The Division I represent contains, I believe, more small shopkeepers than any other Division in London, or, at any rate, as many as in any other Metropolitan Division. In the Division I represent there is a very large dock area which would be greatly affected by this Order, if carried out in the way intended. In many large dock areas, not only London, but in Liverpool and in the North and other parts of the country, there are many dock labourers who do casual labour at the docks. When they have finished the day's work at seven, or eight or nine o'clock, they usually get paid for the day. If this Order is carried out and the shopkeeper has got to close at seven o'clock, you will find that it will be quite impossible for a very large number of those people to buy any kind of food, and that a number of homes will be without bread, and I think it certainly will happen in some cases that, instead 1448 of the men going to work the next morning at four or five or six o'clock, they will be inclined to stay at home until the shops are open. I do not think that it is going to induce men to attend to their work. I do not think that the Home Secretary has any intention of inflicting hardships of that kind on anyone. Therefore, I feel I am justified in speaking in the name of a very large number of shopkeepers, not only in my own Division, but for a very large number all over London. I cannot say that I speak for shopkeepers in provincial towns. I have just had a special letter sent by express from the organisation which represents the London confectioners, stating that they had a meeting this afternoon, and that they would like the hour ' altered from seven o'clock to eight o'clock for the first five nights of the week, and nine o'clock on Saturday night, so that if the Home Secretary is willing to make that concession they will be perfectly satisfied. I do not know why I have had all these telegrams and letters sent to me, but I have had bundles from various people. There is one here signed by the chairman of a large meeting held this afternoon, representing tobacconists and confectioners. He says that they will be perfectly satisfied if the Home Secretary would make this concession of eight o'clock for the first five nights of the week. I saw the secretary of the Small Retailers' Association last night, and he said also that, so far as they were concerned, they will be perfectly satisfied if they could have the shops opened for those days to eight o'clock, and that they will then raise no objection to the Order at all.
§ Mr. THORNE
Yes. In reply to a supplementary question this afternoon, as to whether hotels and public-houses would be allowed to sell tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes after seven o'clock, or eight or nine o'clock, whichever hour was fixed, the Home Secretary said "No, that they would not." I am perfectly certain that if a vote of the House were taken that provision would be wiped out altogether, and it is one which would inflict great hardship on hotel keepers and public-houses. Personally, I think that if the Home Secretary makes the concession which is asked, namely, to extend the Order from seven o'clock to eight o'clock, that he would then be perfectly 1449 justified in going back to what I may call the old regime, and to allow hotel keepers to sell in the usual way without any restrictions. So far as the retail trade is concerned, in the event of the concession, they would raise no objection to that, and the reason they raised an objection now is because the hotel keepers and the public-houses would secure their trade, and no doubt they are perfectly justified in making that objection. I make an earnest appeal to the Home Secretary, and although I am not speaking in the name of the Labour party, I do speak on behalf of a very large number of poor small shopkeepers. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make the concession, and if he does I feel sure that the shopkeepers, if not altogether satisfied, will be pleased for the time being.
§ Mr. J. W. WILSON
We have heard a good deal of the views of the small shopkeepers in the Metropolitan district. I desire to bring before the Home Secretary the case of the small shopkeepers in the provincial districts. Many of us feel that there is a great deal to be said for the Order, and that when large shops are diminishing the hours of trade and allowing their assistants to get home in better time, we do not wish to say that an Order of this sort is not desirable, yet we would welcome some concession in favour of the small trader, who in many industrial districts, as many of us know well, do the hulk of their trade after seven o'clock at night. I have had letters about this, very reasonable ones, which recognise that we are living in an age of restrictions of all sorts, and that they cannot expect to he entirely free. I would ask the Home Secretary to make the concession of extending the hour from seven to eight o'clock, and I can assure him that the benefit to those concerned would be quite out of proportion to the actual sixty minutes of the hour.
§ Mr. STANTON
I am sure that after the series of speeches we have heard there is not much necessity to add further arguments. In Wales, from which I come, we have probably more small shops than anywhere else. After explosions in mines widows very often open such small shops and endeavour in that way to make a livelihood. Like other hon. Members, I have received a large number of letters and certainly sufficient to justify me in rising to support the appeal which has been put forward. We have cases of women who have sons at the front and who carry on 1450 these small shops, and such an Order as this would mean ruin to them. The Order also means a good deal of inconvenience to the workers. We have for munition purposes three shifts among the miners, the morning, afternoon, and night shifts, and very often those men do not know their requirements until they get to their homes, and they could get their supplies hitherto from the small shops. They are a general convenience to the public who live around, and, after all,' we know what is best for ourselves. If there was anything to be gained by the Home Secretary's proposal, I should not rise to object to it, but I fail to see what is to be gained except that you will impose a hardship. I have no right to complain of the procedure of the House, but I should have liked to have heard first of all what the Home Secretary had to say. It might have prevented my rising. If his defence is sufficient, all right; but, if not, I hope, as another hon. Member has said, that he will not try to save his face by backing up a bad case. I do not think he would do that. These poor widows and people in different parts of the country are trying to struggle on. They are serving the convenience of the public, maintaining their little homesteads, and in many cases saving cost which would otherwise fall on the Government. This concession could be made without any great risk. These shops are not like cinema shows, which always have a large blaze of light; they have not sufficient light. They do not want too much light, because then you might see the sample of goods they have. But they serve the convenience of the public. This is one of the things that could well be left alone. Do not let us have any grandmotherly legislation. Let us do the best thing at the right time. We are all out to win the War. We do not want to show any light. We do not want to do anything that is wicked or wrong or damaging to the Empire. But, whatever we do, do not let us inflict a hardship upon these poor women who are struggling to maintain their little households while perhaps their husbands are sick and their boys are fighting at the front.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
There is one class of case that has not yet been referred to—I mean that of munition workers, who have to live a considerable distance from the munition factories. Thousands of these workers have to travel many miles by rail, and it is quite impossible for them even to get home by seven o'clock, much less to make any purchases. Even eight o'clock 1451 does not leave sufficient time for a considerable time to get in the necessaries of life. It is really a very serious matter. The Order could not possibly be carried out in the areas to which I refer. I sympathise with those Members who have said that the extension to eight o'clock would not be sufficient. The hour would have to be later if the absolute necessities of these areas, with which I am well acquainted, are to be met. I earnestly hope that the Home Secretary will pay attention to the representations which have been made from all parts of the House.
§ Mr. YEO
There is no doubt that if it had been necessary we could have given the House such a demonstration that there would have been no need to discuss this proposed Order. Everywhere in London the people, apart from the large traders, seriously want the hour extended from even to eight o'clock. Who has asked for this early closing? It is all very well for Brompton Road, Oxford Street, and Regent Street, but it will not suit the docks of Poplar or West Ham. The men in these places are working all day, and seven or eight o'clock is the hour when they can go and spend the few shillings that they have earned. I have had scores of letters even to-day on the subject. No tradesman desires in any way to hamper the Government or needlessly to find fault with their proposals. They all wish in the most honest way to see this War got over and business resumed under normal conditions. But what they say is that their business in nine cases out of ten is done between seven and eight o'clock. If the small shopkeepers had been as well organised as the big people in the West End, I do not think we should have heard anything about bringing in these hours of closing. The people who go to the West End shops have plenty of money, and early closing does not affect them; they can drive up in their motors or carriages, have their flunkeys to open the door, get their goods, and go home. But this House has to remember that the working classes also must have some consideration when legislation is proposed on the question of shops I make my appeal also on another ground. Many of these small shopkeepers will be hit because they will want to shut on Saturday and open on Monday. Why does not the Home Secretary take his courage in his hands and ask the House to pass an Order pro- 1452 hibiting Sunday trading? What would happen? [AN HON. MEMBER: "There would be a row."] Of course there would be a row. Moreover, the small shopkeeper has some concern in the payment of rates and taxes. He is doing his bit to pay for the War. People are being urged to save and to buy War Loan Certificates, and yet when they are struggling to do their best we are asked to consent to an Order which will shut down for ever many of these small tradespeople. I appeal to the Home Secretary to make this concession, so that the tradespeople will be satisfied and the people generally much more contented.
§ Colonel YATE
I cannot speak for London, but I can speak for my own Constituency and the town of Leicester. I have some 9,000 Constituents, most of whom are engaged in boot and hosiery factories. Not only the men, but their wives and daughters are employed. These people are all working till nearly seven o'clock every night. Both shopkeepers and residents have appealed to me to object to this new rule. They look on it as a great tyranny, and on their behalf I beg to support the appeal to the Home Secretary to alter the Order.
§ Mr. GLYN-JONES
Whilst I, too, would like to criticise the Order, I desire to strike a note which has not yet been struck, namely, one of thanks to the Home Secretary for, despite the experience of his predecessor, making an attempt to deal with what is undoubtedly a great evil. Everybody must admit that the late hours to which shops are kept open is an evil, and one with which nearly every branch of retail trade has for years been trying to deal. The great majority of those trades—I think I am right in saying the great majority—have in various ways been trying to bring about a shortening of the hours in which shops have to be kept open. I hope neither the Home Secretary, the House of Commons, nor the country will take this Debate to-night as an indication that no one wants that evil dealt with. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no!"] Well, I thought it was wise to make that suggestion. I think almost every one of the predecessors of the Home Secretary during, at any rate, the last few years, has made some attempt or other to deal with this question of shop hours. Some of us well remember the weeks that we spent upstairs in Grand Committee on the occasion of the last Shop Hours Act. All these questions were very closely examined and discussed. With what result? That in 1453 order to save a small portion of the Bill the then Home Secretary had, at the last moment, to sacrifice about thirty of the Clauses in his Bill. All these points, with many others, were brought up. They included the question of the small shopkeeper. If this evil, which at some time or other must be dealt with, is to be dealt with effectively, I think we can ride too far the difficulties of the widow carrying on a small business. You have to consider the greatest good of the greatest number. Are we never to have any reform which does not hurt or injure somebody who by force of circumstances has to carry on business under conditions which ought not to obtain? One of my hon. Friends, representing, like myself, an East End constituency, has said that this is all very well for Brompton Road: "these conditions will suit Brompton Road but not Poplar." Certainly they will not suit Stepney. But my concern is to see that the people of Stepney and Poplar are able to live under conditions which will enable these altered conditions to suit them. That is the difficulty. The difficulty is that the whole condition of the people in the East End is such that you cannot have those beneficial conditions which apply to the West End. Having said this, it seems perhaps a little ungracious for me to say that I think in this particularly drastic form of Order the Home Secretary is making a mistake. I do not want here to press the case of the shopkeeper who is carrying on business in a very small way in a neighbourhood. I want to emphasise the case of the whole retail trade of a particular neighbourhood as against another. Let anyone go, say, to the top of Aldgate and see the people there between seven and eight o'clock pouring into the City before the shops in the East End are open. Then let the same person try to get a tram or 'bus at Aldgate at seven or eight o'clock at night. You cannot get on except with great difficulty, because these people are pouring back home again. If you have this Order fixing the time at seven o'clock the effect of it will be that these people will never be able to shop in the place in which they live. The trade of any particular district will lose the custom of many of the inhabitants of the district because they will have no opportunity of shopping except in places where they happen to be before seven o'clock in the evening.
I have no doubt it will be said, "Oh, but the bread-winner does not do much shop- 1454 ping." That is perfectly true, but you have no right to deprive the whole of the traders of a given district of the trade that the bread-winner brings into the district. It is a very big trade indeed. The workman who wants to buy a collar or a hat surely ought to be able to buy it in his own district? The shopkeepers in that district have a right to that trade. Take the tobacconists and fancy dealers. Why should they, in any suburb of London, be deprived of the trade in the articles they sell? They will lose the trade of the people who live in the districts because those people will not be there until after the time this Order fixes for the shops to be closed. I do not go further than to ask the Home Secretary to extend the hour to eight o'clock, because I am bound to say that I believe in many cases—I do not say in all—late shopping is a question of habit. I do believe that a great improvement can be brought about in the habits of the people, to their own benefit, and to the benefit of the shopkeeper. I do not think it can be done in this sudden way, unless—and I make this proviso—the Home Secretary is able to show that there is really so great an advantage in the Order that it outweighs all these disadvantages. Then I for one have no more to say, and I think that will be the attitude of most people. But I should think it would be very difficul indeed to show that the closing of shops between seven and eight will have so overwhelmingly beneficial an effect or be so overwhelmingly necessary as to outweigh all the disadvantages which have been pointed out.
Mention has been made of the fact of the sale of cigars and tobacco in licensed houses. The hope of the speakers was that the Home Secretary would not interfere with the sale of these commodities in licensed premises after eight o'clock if he changed the Order to eight. I want most emphatically to dissociate myself from that suggestion. If you are going by law to say that a man whose business it is shall not sell tobacco after eight o'clock you have no right to allow any other trade whose business it is not to sell after that hour. One of the difficulties that the Government have in dealing with these questions is to make the thing fair. People do not mind so much the inconvenience, if it appears necessary, provided they are fairly dealt with. For the life of me, however, I cannot see what argument there is in favour of the suggestion that it is necessary to close tobacconists' shops 1455 to prevent sales after eight o'clock and right for the licensed houses to sell after that hour. The point made by the hon. Member opposite in regard to confectioners and mineral water dealers is really an important one. If the effect of the Order is that nobody will be able to get non-intoxicating beverages after the hour of closing except by going to a licensed house, that is, I think, a very serious defect in the Order. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if the Order does include the sale of non-intoxicating beverages he had better exclude them from the Order altogether. I can quite conceive it may be impossible to prevent licensed houses from selling non-intoxicating liquors during the hours they are open. I apologise for having detained the House at such length, but in closing I do want to emphasise the point that I made at the start: that I hope the Home Secretary will not be discouraged by the criticism of this particular Order, and that his Department will take the necessary steps at leisure.
§ Mr. GLYN-JONES
Well, at any rate, not to wait until an emergency arises, and then do as recently, to my own knowledge, had been done by the Home Office, send draft copies of an Order—as in this case—to various organised bodies of shopkeepers I have no doubt the Home Secretary will tell us the result of his inquiry. But this is much too intricate a matter to be dealt with in the course of a few days, and I hope, with the modification of this Order, the Home Office will continue its efforts to see if some scheme can be devised which will deal with what is an undoubted evil, namely, the abnormally late hours in which trade is carried on in some districts.
§ Mr. GILBERT
As an old supporter of early closing, I am quite in favour of what the last speaker has said. You cannot get efficient early closing unless you have a compulsory Order, but I do wish to join issue with the last speaker when I say I think this Order of the Home Secretary is far too drastic. I speak purely as a London Member, representing one of the central districts of South London, which is typical of a good many other districts on London. We have one or two main streets which are crowded with shops, and a good many crowded areas in back streets 1456 containing a great number of small shops. I think the Order which is proposed by the Home Secretary is going to do a very great injustice to a great number of these small shops, and also to a number of the medium shops. It would be very interesting if the Home Secretary could give us the number of small shops that exist in this great county of London. I think the House would be surprised if it knew the number, and I wish to suggest to the Home Secretary that you cannot deal with London in the same way as the small provincial city, and you cannot make one Order which will apply equally to all parts of London. The right hon. Gentleman will know that on the application of the Early Closing Act at the present time London is turned into a series of zones, and you have one closing hour for the central parts of London and another closing hour for suburban parts.
What I want to put specially before the Home Secretary is that these shopkeepers, both small and medium, during the War have had up to now a very difficult time. They have been hit very considerably by higher prices for their goods, and in very many cases they have had to sell goods at the same price as before. They have also had great difficulty in obtaining goods from the wholesale houses and factories, and therefore the position of the small shopkeeper in London to-day is more difficult than ever it was before. He is highly rated, and in many cases the man or the woman who makes a small income has been hit by the new Income Tax regulation, and had to pay Income Tax for the first time because of the reduction in the amount of allowance. As I said just now, London under the Early Closing Act is turned into a series of zones, and the people who live in certain trading districts work a long way from their district. The worker in the central part of London or the West End generally lives a long way from his work, and has the Home Secretary considered the great difficulty that has arisen since the War for the worker returning to his home? It takes the or worker, whether man, woman, or girl, probably twice, if not more than twice, as long to reach his or her work in the morning, and to reach home in the evening, as before the War? In many districts of London, suburban train services have been taken off, and the trams and the electric underground railways are overcrowded, 'buses have been reduced, and everybody 1457 knows that it takes a considerable time to get from your home to your work, or from your work to your home.
The effect of this Early Closing Order will be that it will be absolutely impossible for the people to shop in the district in which they live. I am very anxious to know, like other speakers, what is the object of the Home Secretary in proposing this Order. Does he wish to shut up some of these shops? Because, if that is his object, his Order will do it. If he wants to shut up these shops, he is going to reduce the trade of the wholesale houses. If he wants to close down factories, that will be done if he persists in this Order. I have always understood it is very desirable that we should try to keep the trade of the country going as well as we can, and therefore I cannot fathom at all the object of the Home Secretary. Other Members have mentioned the case of a labourer who is paid by the day. We have a great number of these people in London. Women particularly have gone into a great number of industries, and, on account of the small allowances they are receiving, a good many soldiers' wives are doing work, and they do not reach home until very late. You are going to cause the greatest suffering and inconvenience to that type of woman in obtaining food and other necessaries if you close the small shops in the neighbourhood in which they live. A good many women have gone into the carrying trade. They drive carriers' vans and shopkeepers' vans, and everyone knows that the hours are generally late. As the hon. Member for West Ham has said, that type of people is to be absolutely debarred from obtaining ordinary food if the shops are closed at seven o'clock. I have received numerous letters and postcards from constituents of mine, and a good many of my shopkeepers will not be satisfied with eight o'clock closing on the first four days of the week. At any rate, I think the bulk of them will accept eight o'clock on the first four days of the week, nine o'clock on Friday, and ten o'clock on Saturday. I hope the Home Secretary will consider this matter in the interests of the small trader who has been hard hit by the War, and who will in many cases be exterminated if this Order is passed. I hope, therefore, that we shall have some concession made.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Herbert Samuel)
I think the House would desire 1458 me now to reply to the speeches which have been made. There has been a very considerable unanimity of opinion, and I think all Members of the House will unite in greeting the new Member who has moved this Motion to-night, and I feel sure all hon. Members will agree that both the matter and the manner of his first speech will make us welcome succeeding occasions when he may address us. We are all glad to see again the hon. Member for the Mansfield Division (Colonel Sir C. Seely), who has made not his maiden speech but his first speech en secondes noces. Hon. Members have asked what is the origin of this Order? The Order is in no small degree a consequence of the Lighting Orders made throughout the country in consequence of war conditions. These Lighting Orders have reduced shopping hours to a very great extent, and a large number of shopkeepers already close their shops at a much earlier hour than they were accustomed to do before the War. A great number of them now close at seven o'clock, and some at six o'clock. In some districts, by voluntary arrangement, the general early closing hour is six o'clock, at least on several days of the week.
The Home Office received very many representations from all over the country pointing out that although this was possible in many places there were others where unanimity could not be obtained, and where shopkeepers who were anxious to close earlier could not do so on account of competition with those who would remain open. We received a very large number of representations from important organisations in that sense. Further, the Coal Supply Committee of the Board of Trade communicated with the Home Office, and urged, as they were most anxious to effect economy in our coal supplies, that if the early closing movement could be encouraged and developed, it would have a very valuable effect in lessening the amount of coal consumed for the lighting and heating of shops during the winter months. It was impossible for the Home Office to ignore those representations, backed as they were by communications from those who represent a million and a quarter persons employed as shop assistants. They have always urged strongly earlier closing, and they were anxious to forward a movement already going on during the War and to secure Government support for it. I do not think hon. Members will agree with the hon. Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. Ronald 1459 McNeill) in the protest he made on behalf of the shop assistant who, after many hours' work, would be turned out of the warm shops into the dark streets, when he would have nowhere to go unless he went to bed. I have received representations from Labour organisations. Hon. Members have spoken about the hardship existing in regard to working classes in the dock districts, and the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. W. Thorne) has spoken in that sense. I may say that I received some time ago from the secretary of the East Ham Trades and Labour Council and Labour Representation Committee a letter, as follows:My council, having its attention drawn to the proposal to curtail the hours of business in shops, has directed me to inform you that it is of opinion that the compulsory closing of all shops not later than 7 o'clock p.m. would be a step in the best interests not only of the public generally, but of shop workers especially.I also had a letter from the secretary to the Shields and District Trades and Labour Council, in which they say:I am instructed to forward you the following resolution: 'That this council appeals to the Home Office to make a national closing Order not later than 6 p.m. on four days of the week, 1 p.m. on one day, and 8 p.m. on Saturdays.'I have received all these representations in the interests of economising coal supply, and in the interests of meeting the desire of the shopkeepers throughout the country who have sent petitions to the Home Office; and I have also had communications from various labour organisations making representations on the subject, and I thought it would be inconsistent with my duty if I put them all aside and simply did nothing, which is always the easiest course for a Minister when he is urged to take action of any kind. Any Minister who tries to benefit his fellow men must take his life in his hands, and that has been my experience this evening. Before making the Order I published it widely, and I consulted the local authorities. I sent it in draft to the town councils of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, and Sheffield, and all of them replied strongly commending the Order and urging me to proceed with it. I also consulted the following trade representatives: The trades associations—
§ Mr. SAMUEL
No, there was not time for that. With regard to the shopkeepers' associations, I sent a draft Order to the 1460 following, all of which approved: The National Association of Goldsmiths, the National Federation of Meat Traders' Associations, the Drapers' Chamber of Trade, the National Federation of Shopkeepers' and Small Traders' Protection Associations, the National Chamber of Trade, the Federation of Grocers' Associations of the United Kingdom, the National Association of Master Bakers and Confectioners, the Ironmongers' Federated Association, the Parliamentary Committee of the Co-operative Congress, the National Federation of Hairdressers, and the National Federation of Dairymen's Associations. One hon. Member said the Order as it affected the chemists was absurd, but the Pharmaceutical Society was consulted and cordially approved of it in the terms in which it was drawn, and perhaps the chemists knew their own business best. There was one association which disapproved, and that was the National Federation of Shopkeepers' and Small Traders' Protection Association, and it was known before that they were against this Order. I consulted two representatives of the Labour party especiallly qualified to speak on this matter, and both of them advised me to proceed, while the Press generally throughout the country approved the Order, making the usual complaint that the Government had not done this very obvious and useful thing long ago. I think the House will agree that this is not a case in which a Minister arbitrarily and hastily, without consulting any of the bodies interested, sought in an autocratic fashion and by a stroke of the pen to endeavour to foist upon the country a measure which had not been asked for. That is the history of the Order, and I am sure the House will acquit me of having either wantonly or gratuitously taken up the subject unnecessarily, and also of having proceeded without consultation with the parties interested.
I think the House will also agree that if the Order were withdrawn altogether and nothing done at all there would be a very widespread disappointment in very many circles, and all these great associations of shopkeepers would feel indignant that their efforts to promote earlier closing had been frustrated. Those who speak for the million and a quarter shop assistants would not thank the House for depriving them of some further degree of 1461 leisure in view of the excessively long hours which some of them have to work. The suggestion has not been made this evening by any hon. Member that we should endeavour to make an Order which should exempt small shops as such and apply only to the large shops. Hon. Members who have paid some attention to the subject know that it would not be practicable to say in any particular street to one shopkeeper, "You shall be closed because you employ a girl to assist you," and to another, "You may remain open because you employ no one," the shop, perhaps, being worked by the shopkeeper himself and his family. It would obviously give rise to the grossest inequalities, and the most legitimate complaint would be made by the man whose shop had been closed because he employed an assistant and by his assistant when a shop across the road or along the street was allowed to remain open competing with his business and capturing his trade. I am sure hon. Members will agree, whatever course is proposed, that it is not possible to say that a shop which employs no assistants may remain open, and that every other shop must be closed. Consequently, if you do anything, you must treat all alike, and if you say that no small shop is to be closed you must in no way shut the larger shops, and you must do nothing in respect of shop assistants, economy of coal, and the like, in the larger businesses.
The great majority of hon. Members who have spoken, including the Mover and Seconder of this Motion, have declared that the case would be met if the hour were extended to eight on all the days in the week except Saturday, when it should be nine o'clock. The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. W. Thorne) said that he had received a communication from the Small Traders' Association to the effect that that would meet their case. The One-Man Business Owners' Association, of which the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Yeo) is the president, and which conducted a very effective agitation not long ago, has written to say that their case would be met if the Order were altered to eight o'clock instead of seven o'clock. I have received communications from the confectioners and newsagents to the same effect. It is always somewhat difficult to gauge what is really the feeling of the House of Commons. I am anxious to meet the wish of the House of Commons so far as I am able to gauge it from the 1462 Debate of one hour and a half which we had before I rose. I am under the impression that the House would not wish to destroy the Order altogether—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—but would wish to meet the claim of the small shopkeeper that the shops should be allowed to remain open until eight o'clock instead of seven o'clock. A member of the Government is naturally, as I say, very anxious to meet the general desire of this House, particularly in view of the fact that we are proceeding under war conditions by virtue of most exceptional powers granted to the Executive. The House has very readily given the Government large powers under the Defence of the Realm Act, and I think the House is very ready to give a free hand to the Government, wherever the defence of the realm is quite directly touched, in all naval and military matters; but because the House is so ready to give the Government that free hand the duty devolves upon the Government, on the other hand, where the action is only indirectly connected with the defence of the realm, to endeavour in every manner to meet the wishes of the House of Commons as a whole. The House is reluctant to divide on questions like this, and there is therefore all the more necessity for Ministers to meet the desires expressed in debate. Consequently, in view of the speeches delivered this evening, I shall have great pleasure in acceding to the case which has been made and of issuing to-morrow an Amended Order permitting the keeping open of shops until eight o'clock on five days in the week and until nine o'clock on Saturdays.
§ 10.0 P.M.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I am sure the House will have heard with satisfaction the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has just made. He has rightly said that he has to consult the House of Commons on all these occasions and recognise the opinion of the House. I would remind him, however, that but for the action of a private Member this afternoon and the support of forty Members, without any support from the Government, the House of Commons would never have had an opportunity at all of discussing this matter. This Order would have come into force on Tuesday next. We have the satisfaction of knowing that almost every borough council throughout the country, almost every trade organisation and every chamber of Commerce, and all people who might be interested in it have had an opportunity of seeing the Order before it was issued—in fact every representative 1463 body except the House of Commons itself. We are at this moment discussing an Order of vital importance which, I venture to say, would mean the ruin of thousands of people throughout this country, and the House of Commons is not in possession of a copy of it although it has been sent by the right hon. Gentleman to so many others. That is a state of affairs which is absolutely indefensible on the part of the Government. I gladly thank the right hon. Gentleman for his concession, but I do point out that but for the extraordinary procedure which has been taken this afternoon the House of Commons would have had no voice whatever in this very important departure in regard to legislation. I would say to my right hon. Friend and to all those whom it may concern that in future, when an important legislative step of this character is being taken, they really ought to take the pains to find out what the House of Commons think of it before it is put into force. I heard with some surprise that the new Labour Adviser of the Government had been consulted with regard to this matter and had given it his support. They were right to consult the Labour Adviser of the Government because the position has been heralded with so much acclamation in many quarters, but I cannot congratulate him on the first step that he has recommended the Government to take nor on the result of the recommendation he has made. I do not think there is very much advantage to be got from that point of view. I am one of the few Members of the House who has got a copy of this Order, and while, on the whole, it represents what has been stated to-night, it also contains things which have not been indicated. In the first place, I am not quite sure how far the Order extends. It extends, I presume, to the whole of England and Wales, but I do not know whether it extends to Scotland.
Sir H. DALZIEL
In due time the Secretary for Scotland will make an Order for Scotland, so that the law will be the same in England and Scotland. Is it to apply to Ireland?
Sir H. DALZIEL
It is difficult to understand exactly where we are. In the ordinary course, procedure of this kind, taken under the Defence of the Realm Act, would presumably only apply to lighting restrictions, consumption of gas, and other matters which directly bear upon the War and the operations of the Defence of the Realm Act. I would remind my right hon. Friend that a great portion of his speech was not devoted to that at all; in fact, that portion of his speech was not at all complete. He made a great case out for the overworked shop assistant, but it is entirely outside a matter of this kind to bring in the question of the number of hours that are worked by shop assistants. That really does not come under the Defence of the Realm Act. The shop assistants by their organisations and by the association of the different trades in the different parts of the country have been able practically to close the shops at any time they please. The result is that the particular classes which would have been directly affected if the original procedure had been carried into effect are really not concerned in these voluntary associations at all. It is not fair or just in a case for action under the Defence of the Realm Act to bring forward a matter which ought to be settled on its merits. I venture to say that the House of Commons would be unanimous in supporting any fair or just claim that overworked shop assistants might make.
I desire to point out the difficulty that there would be in carrying out this Order. All cigarette and cigar shops were to be closed at seven. They are now to be closed at eight. In order that there may be similar treatment throughout the whole of the country, you are also going to apply that rule to restaurants, hotels, and to clubs. Therefore, after eight o'clock at night, you can buy spirits, beer, and champagne. I do not know that you will be able to buy ginger ale. I presume that you will in hotels and restaurants, but lemonade and ginger ale shops are going to be closed. There is some justification for what my hon. Friend has said with regard to driving people to drink. You will be able to have dinner at a restaurant or hotel; you can invite your friends there, but after eight o'clock you will not be able to offer them a cigar. [An HON. MEMBER: "Fill your case beforehand!"] Usually, when one dines at a restaurant, he buys his cigars there. He does not take them with him, for that would be rather hard 1465 on the proprietor. The working man may go into a public-house and drink as much beer as he likes up till half-past nine, but after eight o'clock he is not to be allowed to buy an ounce of tobacco, a cigar, or a cigarette. That is a rather ridiculous state of affairs. The House of Commons will be the only place in the whole country where it will be possible to buy a cigarette or cigar after seven p.m. [An HON. MEMBER: "And Ireland!"] Ireland has special privileges for special reasons, but at any rate the House of Commons will be the only place in England, Scotland, and Wales where anyone, after seven o'clock, will be able to buy a cigarette, cigar, or ounce of tobacco. At any rate, we have some privileges left us in this part of the country.
There is one other point to which I should like to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention. I understand he is going to prevent shops selling cold meat after eight o'clock, there being a special provision that only newly-cooked provisions can be sold after that hour for consumption off the premises. But who is to decide what is newly cooked? Surely it will be very difficult of definition! One will not be able to buy cold ham to take home for supper unless the proper authority—is it to be the local constable?—decides that it is newly cooked. I am afraid my right hon. Friend, with the best intentions in the world, has not made out a very good case, because in the great majority of shops they sell both cigars and newspapers. They are to be allowed to keep open for the sale of newspapers, but they may not sell cigars. While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his small concession, I do not think he has made a case for an important alteration of the law more especially at a time when the shopkeepers are being harassed by taxation, and by the fact that their assistants, and very often the head of the business itself, are taken away. I could have hoped the right hon. Gentleman would have spared us the introduction of this legislative step.
§ Mr. LOUGH
It may seem a little ungrateful to the right hon. Gentleman to say, notwithstanding his concession, that I think the Government have done the wrong thing in the wrong way. If we had any of the rights this House should have in an important matter of this kind, if we had any rights over the procedure which the Government have taken, I do not believe this proposal would have gone through. It certainly could only have gone 1466 through in the form of a Bill, if at all, with some substantial additions. I, too, like the right hon. Gentleman who last spoke, have a copy of the Order in some mysterious way, and I would like to ask why was not this House furnished with copies of it, so that every Member during the Debate might have had an opportunity of seeing exactly what was being talked about. My right hon. Friend, I admit, has made a very conciliatory speech as far as form is concerned, but has he said a single thing which connects this matter with the Defence of the Realm Act? Yet it is under this procedure, which, perhaps, the House has too readily given the Government, a procedure which enables them to do almost anything, that he is acting, and I am afraid this is an instance in which the power has been grossly abused. Some of the points raised do not come in under the Order at all. There is a question of the small shop and the large shop. Anybody can close the large shop at any hour they please, but here the House is dealing with the livelihood of a number of people, and it is only the indignation manifested by the House that has wrung out this concession.
I think we ought to ask the Government to indicate why these powers are asked for under the Defence of the Realm Act. [An HON. MEMBER: "Lighting Orders!"] My hon. Friend is mistaken. There is nothing in this Order with reference to lighting. A shop may have no light at all and yet it may not be kept open, or it may be moonlight and still it is to be closed. My hon. Friend, with the best intention in the world, is trying to put a feeble prop under the Government. I suggest that in an important case of this kind, the Government ought to have presented a Bill. The right hon. Gentleman read a long list of trade councils, corporations, and other bodies who have passed resolutions supporting his Order. I want the House to note the contrast between that and the thing called public opinion, so far as legislation is concerned. Resolutions passed by labour organisations and trades councils are matters to which people pay no attention. They think them got-up jobs, and so very often they are. In dealing with proposals affecting the liberties of the people, the Government should proceed in a constitutional way, and it is most remarkable, if this proposal is so popular as has been suggested, that no independent Member of this House has spoken in support of it. I do not like the Order in 1467 the amended form, but then what can one do? We cannot propose any Amendment. We have to swallow it as a whole. It is a. very ungrateful thing to have to make the speech I am making, but I do think that under the circumstances it would have been far better for the right hon. Gentleman to leave the whole thing alone. I believe I am not taking too much on myself in saying that the general opinion of the House is that it would have been far better for the Government to have dealt with this matter, not by an Order in Council, which has been hastily and badly drawn, seeing that they are interfering with the livelihood and freedom of large numbers of people, but to have brought in a Bill in the regular way and allowed the subject to be discussed on the various stages of that measure.
§ Captain BARNETT
In view of the concession made by the right hon. Gentleman, for which I ask to be allowed to thank him on behalf of the small shopkeepers, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.