HC Deb 10 June 1920 vol 130 cc726-61

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a Bill to give effect to an international agreement. The first Schedule of the Bill recites the effects of three Conventions which were agreed to at the recent International Labour Conference held in Washington. The object of the Bill is to enact the necessary legislation to enable effect to be given to those Conventions, and in order that they may be ratified. The operative part of the Bill is really in the Schedule, and the Bill is mostly taken up with the machinery for giving effect to it. The first Convention deals with the fixing of a minimum age for admission of children to industrial employment; the second is concerned with the night work of young persons employed in industry; and the third deals with the night work of women employed in industry. If the House will sanction this legislation it will take a long step forward in a policy which, I dare say, the House without distinction of party will accept as a wise one, namely, the co-ordination of labour legislation throughout the world as far as possible. Clause 1 prohibits the employment of any child under fourteen years in any industrial undertaking. Subsection (2) provides that no young person or woman shall be employed at night, except to the extent of the circumstances permitted in the Conventions. There we are coming into line with the other countries to the Conventions. The third Sub-section says that where young persons are employed in any industrial undertaking, a register of the young persons so employed, and of the dates of birth, shall be kept and open to inspection. This refers to male persons as well, and if that is not clear now it will be made clear. Sub-section (4) sets forth the effect of the Bill as regards mines and quarries, and paragraph (a) of that Section refers to the Employment of Children Act. Under Sub-section (4c) of Clause 1, it will be seen that we propose to use the machinery of the Factory Acts inspection for the purpose of inspection in connection with these new measures. Clause 2 is not part of the Convention that was agreed to at Washington, and no doubt the House will desire to discuss it either now or later on. It is as follows: Notwithstanding anything contained in the Factory and Workshop Act, 1901, it shall, subject to any conditions prescribed by the Secretary of State, be lawful at any time between six in the morning and ten in the evening, on any weekday other than Saturday, to employ women and young persons in shifts averaging for each shift not more than eight hours per day. That is new, but only to this extent, that we ask the sanction of the House to the continuance of conditions which had been adopted during the War, and under which women had been employed who could not have been employed under the Factory Acts. Under the Factory Acts the day ends at eight; the two-shift system has the twofold result of finding employment for something like 25,000 women and rather over 5,000 young persons with the accompanying increase of production and of work in the dependant industries. I admit at once that there is no justification for seeking a continuance of war conditions in peace time, unless they can be shown to be advantageous to the people employed, and all the experience that we have had through the Factory Inspection Department tends to show that this is a system which has been on the whole beneficial and which does enjoy the support of the women who have been employed on the two shifts. In addition to the reasons which I have advanced in support of the two-shift system, there is this. The House will recognise that taking the Saturday, which is an important day, if you employ two shifts every day of the week, except Saturday, when you only have one shift, you will have a forty hours' week one week and a forty-eight hours' week the next week. The hours of employment are varied in a way which I am told, by those who are in a position to know it at first-hand, is found a convenience for the social and home life of the women who are engaged. In the one case they get the afternoon free, and in the other case they get their morning free. All I can say is that all our information goes to show that the system is beneficial, that it suits those who are employed, and that they do not desire any change. I recollect that on another occasion—I think it was when the War Emergency Laws (Continuance) Act was being discussed—support was given to this system from the Labour benches on the very grounds which I have now advanced.

If hon. Members will look at Article 2 of the Convention concerning the night-work of women in industry they will see that For the purpose of this Convention, the term 'night' signifies a period of at least eleven consecutive hours, including the interval between ten o'clock in the evening and five o'clock in the morning. So that it is contemplated that the night shall commence at 10 in the evening instead of 8 o'clock, as is provided under the Factory Acts. The same sentence occurs in the Convention dealing with the night-work of young persons in industry. The rest of the Bill is practically all machinery, and it will be seen in Clause 3 that The provisions of this Act shall be in addition to and not in derogation of any of the provisions of any other Act restricting the employment of women, young persons, or children. That is to say, that any advantages under the Factory Acts, of course, hold good. Sub-section (2) of the same Clause enacts that Nothing in this Act shall apply to an industrial undertaking in which only members of the same family are employed. Sub-section (3) states that: Nothing in this Act shall prevent the employment in any industrial undertaking of a child lawfully so employed at the commencement of this Act. That is a temporary provision, and we hope the House will agree to it. It is for the relief of children who under this Act cannot enter into employment, but are lawfully employed under the present legislation, so that they will not have to leave their employment. I think it is only a fair point to the children so employed. Under Sub-section (2) of Clause 4 it is provided that This Act shall come into operation on the first day of January, nineteen hundred and twenty-one, or on such later date or dates as the Secretary of State may by order appoint, and different dates may be appointed for different provisions of this Act. That is with a view to exceptional instances and for adjustments to be made which could not reasonably be made by the first of January, 1921. Hon. Members will realise that there are instances where, from their very nature, more time is necessary to enable these adjustments to be made, and it is with a view to giving that reasonable time that those words are put in. The schedules, as I say, really reproduce for convenience of reference the text of the Conventions that were passed. Those Conventions mark a very important and interesting stage in international industrial legislation, and the Government hope that the House will give its consent to the Second Reading of this measure, which will enable us to ratify and give effect to these Conventions, subject, of course, to modifications which the House may desire to make in the Committee stage.

Mr. ALFRED DAVIES (Clitheroe)

We are all agreed that unanimity of labour conditions in all countries is a very desirable end at which to aim, and I desire to offer my little appreciation of the Convention that sat at Washington and aspired to that end. I must say that I was rather struck with the admission of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has introduced this Bill that Clause 2 was an addition to anything that had been promoted at the Washington Convention, and it appears to me that it is upon this particular Clause that the whole of the argument will be based. He has justified this Clause on the ground that it is necessary in the interests of increased production, and he also justifies it on the ground that those persons who were employed in the war period in this particular form of occupation desire to have it maintained and continued. I do not know whether that is true or not. I am not going to argue to the contrary, but I do know that, so far as the Lancashire cotton operatives are concerned, they do not propose to entertain this Clause at all. I have received a telegram from the Secretary of the United Textile Workers' Association requesting me to offer the most strenuous opposition to this Clause, and I do so, not only because it emanates from that particular industry with which I was associated as an operative for 35 years, but I believe that the great bulk of the men and women of this country will absolutely protest against the perpetuation of war conditions in peace time.

It is all very well for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that economic conditions are compelling, but, personally, I do not agree to the suggestion that it is necessary to continue this form of employment to make up for the world shortage. I think if we were to utilise the mechanical developments prior to, and particularly during the progress of the War, and proper organisation, it would not be necessary to have recourse to employing the young people of our country at untimely hours. When I read this Clause it reminded me of the story of an African chief who was taken to America for the purpose of seeing some of the architectural and engineering achievements of that country, and afterwards he was asked what he considered the most wonderful sight. His reply was that the most remarkable thing during his stay in America was to see strong, able-bodied men playing, and women and children working. That is the condition in this country to-day. You are going to accentuate the problem by promoting a Clause of this kind, and, personally, I do not think it is needed. I was delighted to know that the delegates who met at Washington were not responsible for the endorsement of a Clause of this character, and, even if they had been, I should have inferred that it was due to the fact that the backward nations—I am speaking from the industrial standpoint—must have been in a majority at the Convention. I am convinced that there is not a single trade union leader of any standing in this country who would subscribe to a Clause of this nature. I believe at the last Industrial Conference, held in London 12 months ago, the executive of that Conference endeavoured to get inserted into the conditions a Clause of this kind. It was turned down, and I hope that this Clause will be turned down. I hope we have not got to that stage of despair when it is necessary to say that we must have the young people of this country engaged in work up to 10 o'clock at night. It is totally unnecessary.

I am not one of those who desire to create any bad blood between employers and workpeople and the Government, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, so far as Lancashire textile trades are concerned, they will put forth a most bitter hostility to the proposals contained in this Clause. I would like to put it to hon. Members who do not happen to be associated with the wage-earning classes, if they can conceive the fact that their women-folk were going to work from 2 in the afternoon to 10 o'clock at night, and whether they would look upon that proposition, if submitted to them, with any degree of equanimity. I know they would not, and I think that they will agree with me that if this great nation has to depend upon its women and youths to restore anything like economic stability, then we have got into a very parlous state indeed. I hope the Government, before this Bill goes to Committee, will delete this Clause. I know that in Committee this Clause would meet with a considerable amount of hostility from the Lancashire Members and my colleagues, I daresay, will work in co-operation with me, as they have been instructed, for the purpose of preventing this Clause becoming a legal enactment. I, therefore, hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will en- deavour to induce the Government to delete this particular Clause of the Bill.


I desire to welcome this Bill as a further instalment to carry out the Convention at Washington for levelling up the conditions of world labour. As the House is aware, the Conference at Washington met at the fall of last year, and proceeded largely by way of reference, and necessarily so, because there were certain findings of Conventions that had been held prior to that, and which had embodied many of the conditions contained in this Bill. A Conference had been held at Berne so long ago as 1906, which made certain recommendations in regard to child labour, the labour of young persons and of women, and also with regard to poisonous processes in industry, and when the Washington Convention met last year, the Berne Conference recommendations had not been adopted generally throughout the world. Therefore one of the objects 9.0 P.M. of Washington was to bring the other countries into line with the Berne recommendations, and also to bring them more into line, and make their conditions approximate more closely to the conditions already obtaining in this country.

Leaders of trade unions have always found that the great difficulty in getting advances in labour conditions in this and other countries was the plea of the employers of foreign competition. It has always been stated by employers that the conditions of employment on the Continent of Europe, and more especially in Eastern countries, were so bad that it was unsafe for them to make further advances. I believe it has always been said by American employers that conditions in Europe were so bad that they could not make improvements in the States. The object of the International Conference at Washington, and other conferences that will be held year by year, under the provisions of the labour chapter of the Peace Treaty, is to induce employers to go ahead together, and to take this plea of foreign competition out of their mouths, and out of the mouths of the enemies of progress, to get all countries to march forward together, and therefore leave them relatively in the same position as before in regard to world competition.

This Bill only covers a small corner of what was dealt with at Washington. It deals only with three matters, comparatively unimportant compared with other matters which will be dealt with at future conferences. Still, so far as it goes, the Bill embodies certain provisions which will make an improvement in this country, and which, if carried out in other countries, will make immense improvements in the conditions of labour. It is a matter for sincere satisfaction that at Washington we had representatives from the Eastern countries, notably Japan, representatives of authority representing the Government of Japan, and also representatives of the employers and workmen of the most weighty kind—that is to say, we had the best known employer in the person of Mr. Sanji Muto, of Japan, and men representing labour affairs; therefore, the Convention drawn up, and which definitely had the assent of these representative people from Japan, partook more or less of the character of a commercial treaty—because you may depend upon it, having got the assent of representative people at Washington, the Government of Japan will no doubt give their assent to these arrangements as well. This Bill, therefore, is not important so far as it affects the conditions of labour in this country. Its importance really lies in the fact that it will involve immense improvements in the labour conditions in other countries.

Still, in so far as it does affect—with the exception of the point mentioned by my hon. Friend who has just spoken—the labour conditions of this country, it affects them for the better. Take the first point. We have now got a declaration in this Bill that no child shall be employed in any industrial undertaking. The definition of an industrial undertaking is a very wide one, and practically covers everything in the nature of industrial employment. We have it laid down in this Bill that no child, girl or boy, shall be used for profit-making purposes under 14 years of age. By that enactment we shall do away with all those pettifogging provisions about leaving certificates, and the smart and clever child of 13 shall not be penalised by being taken away from school at that age and sent to work just because he has been clever enough to attain a certain standard; he shall at least have the advantage of another year's education, the better to equip him for the struggle of life before he begins work in the factory, mill, mine, or elsewhere. That, I say, is a very important provision, and a provision which I hope will yet, as I am sure it will, get the assent of all parties in this House.

The second Clause has got in it something which is already a provision of the Factory Acts. That is to say, at present a woman is not allowed to work after 8 o'clock at night if she started at 8 a.m., or 6 p.m. if she starts at 6 a.m. Therefore these provisions that a woman or young person shall be employed up to 10 p.m. is an innovation, and one which I do not like. I quite share the opinion of the hon. Gentleman who preceded me, that it is bad that such a provision should have been embodied in the Bill. When I read the Bill I misunderstood it. I did not think it was intended that Clause 2 should involve employment of women up to 10 o'clock at night. I read Clause 3 as being in connection with Clause 2, and Clause 2 as simply being put in as confirmatory, so to speak, of the provisions that will be, I know, applied in other countries. For instance, Japan was induced to make some considerable concessions in the way of reducing the hours of labour. In the cotton mills of Japan at present the hours are, generally speaking, about 11 per day. In the silk industry, which is the largest industry in Japan, they are more, and work out at 12 to 13 per day. But the Japanese representatives were induced to bring their working hours to a maximum of 9½ per day in all industries except the silk industry—that is to say, 9½ hours is to be the normal in cotton, engineering, metal and various other factories. In order to enable Japan to keep up her present production, or something like it, Japan said it would be necessary for her to work two shifts in all these industries. She could not work two shifts and conform to the Berne Convention at the same time. Therefore Japan promised that, provided she could get sufficient machinery during the next two or three years to enable her to keep up her present production on the two-shift system, she would begin it as from six in the morning till ten at night. I fancy, though I am not sure, because I have not consulted anybody—I fancy this Clause 2 is inserted in the Bill because of the fact that other countries are going to employ a similar principle in their industries, that is to say, the two-shift system.


That is not the reason the Minister gave.


I do not know. At all events, I regret that the provision has been made. There are a large number of factories, about 250 I believe, now working under the system. But I agree with the hon. Member opposite. Surely we have not got to the point in this country where the reconstruction of our industrial activities is going to depend upon the further exploitation of this labour of women and young persons! After all, these are Committee points. I hope the House will not object to a Second Reading being given to the Bill on account of this particular proposal. For my part I would advise that we should strike out the reference to the Act of Parliament and the protection before the War. The Bill gives effect to the Berne Convention. Its effect in this country will not be very great, but it will bring other countries more into line with us, and will help to relieve manufacturers in this country of some of the strenuous foreign competition from which they have been suffering. It will make a great deal of difference in the working conditions of women and children and young persons generally throughout the world. For these reasons, as well as for the other reasons that I have mentioned, it will make a sensible advance towards the international regulation of labour conditions throughout the world. I hope therefore the House will give the Bill a Second Reading, and will reserve the right to deal in Committee with the points which have been raised by my hon. Friend opposite.


The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has a special and peculiar right to speak upon this Bill, because his work on the Peace Treaty, and also subsequently in connection with Part 13 of the Treaty under the heading of "Labour," will, I believe, be an enduring monument of his labours on behalf of industrial workers throughout the whole world. I welcome with the greatest confidence the main scheme of the Bill, especially Clause 1, Subsection (1), which says, "No child shall be employed in any industrial undertaking." That is a new charter of child- hood which will, I hope, be given, though after too long a delay. I have had considerable experience of the hardships of child labour, not only in industrial, but also in rural conditions. Then there is Sub-section (2), which says: No young person shall be employed in any industrial undertaking, except to the extent to which and in the circumstances in which such employment is permitted under the Conventions set out in Part 2 and Part 3 respectively of the Schedule to this Act. That will make a very great difference. It gives encouragement and support to the international character of the Bill. In all probability we are the first country which is proposing to give legislative effect to what I have called this new "charter of childhood," and also of young persons and women, and I hope it will speedily be followed by all the countries which are signatories to the Peace Treaty. My one hope is far more in the workers of the world, industrially and politically, than in anything else. By the coming together of the working communities of the various countries very much can be done. I have very little hope of controversy from the top. It is in and through this common agreement of the workers of the world that I believe real progress can only be assured This is the first really international movement under Part 13 of the Peace Treaty, and I welcome it with great heartiness as the first instalment of its results. I would ask hon. Members to look at that part of the Treaty. It is worthy of the attention and study not only of those who directly represent Labour, but also of anybody else. In that Part 13 of the Peace Treaty there is a sentence saying that in any Acts or Regulations which are passed as a result of the adoption of any regulations of the draft Convention, there shall be no lessening of the protection offered by existing legislation to the workers concerned. Clause 2 of the Bill in my judgment is a direct contravention of that concluding sentence, and it is done specifically and by intention so that it lessens the protection given by existing legislation to the workers concerned.


I think that Clause 3 overrules that entirely.


That may be so, but I have had an opportunity of looking at one or two sections of the Act referred to. The protection which is mentioned in Clause 2 is as follows: Notwithstanding anything contained in the Factory and Workshop Act, 1910, it shall be subject to any conditions prescribed by the Secretary of State to be lawful. And so on to the end of the Clause. So far as I have had an opportunity of going into the Sections which are referred to, Sections 49 and 54 of the Act of 1901, I find that in Clause 49, with regard to the employment of women, there are certain provisions. As the right hon. Gentleman has just pointed out, there are now existing provisions against the working of women on overtime. Except on such Saturdays, or a day which is substituted for a Saturday, they cannot work more than from 6 O'clock in the morning until 8 o'clock at night, or from 7 o'clock in the morning until 9 o'clock at night. The proposals of this Bill, as far as I understand them, are that these hours are extended from 6 o'clock in the morning till 10 o'clock at night. Not only does that apply to women, but also to young persons, and young persons are defined as persons who are under 18 years of age. The right hon. Gentleman took a charitable view of that, and said it had some relation to Clause 3, but he could not have heard the statement of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who is in charge of the matter. He gave his reasons, which I suppose we must regard as arguments in favour of it. He gave no particulars of the evidence which would justify this inroad into the protection now existing under the Act of 1901, and we must remember that these relaxations which are introduced were brought in under the stress of war, and with the specific promise that when the war was over we should revert to the peace conditions. This proposal takes away this statutory protection. What was the evidence, where did it come from, what was the case that was made for this change? I think it is one of the most retrograde proposals that even this Government has made in the course of its Parliamentary record. They have slipped in such a Clause into such a Bill as this, a Bill which carries with it, generally, the sympathy and support of everybody, but there is no case made out for this little Clause 2 which we find in it. I warn hon. Members that it only shows what great care we must exercise, with regard to every Bill which is brought in, to see that these matters are thoroughly examined. My hon. and gallant Friend no doubt will tell us what is his case, because we want to know what the case is. It is suggested that it is a matter for the Committee. It is a matter for the floor of the House. I am not going to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, but I join heartily with what has already been said. There is no good messing about with Amendments of a Clause like that. Take it right out. That is the only way to deal with it.

There is another point. Only the year before last this House passed a great new charter of education. To my mind the most attractive part of it was the continuation school. We all thought that a new vista would be opened up to us, that the education of the young citizens would not cease at school age, but in a few years' time would be carried on up to 18 years of age, and give them leisure to study and develop both mind and body. It was not only on the educational side, but it was also on the physical side that the Minister of Education appealed to us. They propose here to give powers to the Secretary of State to enslave these young citizens once again, to chain them to the chariot wheel of selfish interests. It arouses within me feelings of indignation that a proposal of this kind should be propounded solemnly in a Bill like this after passing an Act like that. My hon. and gallant Friend passes on to us Bills which his Department think we will swallow, but I am quite sure that the House will not swallow this. Was the Minister of Education consulted? This strikes at the root of one of his main proposals. I feel quite certain that this Clause will have to be taken clean out. I feel that my hon. and gallant Friend did not fully appreciate what must have been the ordinary normal meaning of it. He said that this ought to be included in the Bill to protect the children concerned.


No. That is in a different part and has nothing to do with this.


I took down the hon. and gallant Member's words.


It was on a different Clause.


My hon. and gallant Friend said that Clause 3 has got to be read in connection with Clause 2— Nothing in this Act shall apply to industrial undertakings in which only members of the same family are employed. No parent has the right to enslave his child for the purposes of his own private purse. That child is the future citizen of the State. It is our business to see that children, no matter how employed, are fully protected, whether in the factory of private employers or in a factory run by a small family. The children of this country are far too precious to be treated in the way which this Bill proposes to sanction. I have spoken with a certain amount of heat, but with real feeling, and I hope that the House will take a strong view of this matter. But subject to that, I regard the Bill as a whole as marking a new and splendid advance along the road by which alone I believe the world can be saved, by the democracies of the world joining together for social purposes.

Major GRAY

This is a measure which would be received with approval were it not for this Clause to which reference has been made. I am amazed to find that a Government which set out with such worthy objects should have introduced such a Clause as this. It is one to which I, for one, shall have to offer strenuous opposition at every possible stage. I hope that before getting the Second Reading the Government will indicate that at the appropriate moment they are prepared to delete this Clause altogether. I do not desire to repeat what has been so well said by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean) with regard to this Clause. But to me it is appalling to imagine that a girl of fifteen may be employed under this Clause at ten o'clock at night on a shift of eight hours' duration, deprived of the protection already given by the Factory Act, which, I believe, has hitherto worked with general satisfaction. What does it mean with regard to the day continuation schools? A child of fifteen or sixteen is to attend for certain hours of the year day continuation schools. It has always been understood that those hours would be subtracted from the hours of employment. Apparently under this Clause the employer could make an arrangement whereby the hours lost to industry by attending that industrial school would be made up in the industry after seven or eight o'clock at night. That would create an intolerable position. I am informed that the operatives of Lancashire will resist this Clause to the very utmost, and I am delighted to hear it.


And employers also.

Major GRAY

I am glad to hear that, but I am particularly glad to hear that operatives will resist it, because in the past they have not been too sensitive in the matter of the employment of children, but have been very largely sinners. In the mills operatives themselves employed their own boys and girls. I am glad to find that they have reached that stage at which they will not tolerate the imposition of this Clause, which will cut into one of the main provisions of the Education Act of 1918. I fail to see how it can be justified. I am certain that the industries of this country can be carried on without employing boys and girls of tender age at labour until ten o'clock at night. I am certain that the industries of this country are not in such a position that they require this to be done. This is unnecessary. It is dangerous, and it ought to be dropped without hesitation.

There is one Clause in the Schedule as to which I ask permission to say one word. It is to me a matter of supreme delight to find that there is at last a Clause in the Bill which abolishes half-time employment in the factories and the workshops of this country. No child under the age of fourteen is to be employed as from the 1st January next. When I recall the fact that nearly thirty years ago, as a Lobbyist outside, I took part in the defeat of a Conservative Government on a Factory Act raising the age for half-time employment from 10 to 11—we managed in this House by a majority of eleven votes—and when I remember the steady progress of legislation, gradually diminishing the number of these poor little half-timers, the House will perhaps understand how heartily I rejoice at finding here a Clause which will abolish them at once and for ever. A child under the age of 14 will be free from employment, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite said just now. He will be free to attend school, but, unfortunately, he cannot be compelled to do so, and I desire to draw the attention of the Minister in charge of this Bill to a word or two in the last Section referring to the date at which this shall come into operation. I want to point out to him the somewhat peculiar position which will arise under this measure. A child under 14 may not be employed in any industry, and under the Education Act of 1918 that child may not be compelled to remain in school to the age of 14, until a certain period after the close of this War, and it may well be, therefore, that there will be a period when the child cannot be employed and yet cannot be required to attend school.

That will be a very unfortunate state of affairs. We do not want boys and girls of 13 running about the streets and lanes. If they cannot be employed they should be in school. They can be if the local bye-laws provide, but they cannot be compelled to attend by Statute. This House purposely put in the Education Act of 1918, section (52), I believe, a proviso that that Clause should not come into operation until after the close of the War. We know what the phrase, "Close of the War" means, and I venture to suggest that this matter is one of more than passing interest. In determining the date at which this shall come into operation, there should be co-operation with the Board of Education, so that when the child cannot go to work he or she shall be required to attend school. We do not want a number of these young persons running the streets. We know too well that if a child is not acquiring good it is acquiring evil very rapidly. Nothing could be worse for the future than that the child should be free from school attendance at the age of 13 and have a year's idleness before being allowed to enter into employment. He cannot be required to attend the day continuation school, because the Act does not insist on that until he is 14 years of age, so that he will be free from attendance at the day school although he cannot go into employment. Therefore in fixing the date of the operation of this Clause it is necessary that agreement should be reached with the Board of Education on the subject. I venture to hope some steps may be taken to provide that the date at which a child may be required to attend school may be accelerated—that something may be done to modify the provision in the Education Act of 1918, especially now that we are about to provide that that child shall not enter employment before the age of 14. I will not attempt to discuss this from the international point of view. It is sufficient for me that this will be of the utmost value to women and young persons and children throughout the whole industrial areas of this country. It is a great step forward. It is a matter for congratulation that the Government should have brought in their Bill, but I urge them not to spoil the object they have in view by retaining this most obnoxious Clause. If they will only take it out of the Bill I feel sure the House will be ready to carry the measure through all its stages without much delay.


I have much pleasure in welcoming several Clauses in this Bill, because it is the creation of international social and industrial law. But this second Clause is to me a very pernicious Clause. We who are acquainted with our industrial history know that it has been the business of this House to reduce the hours of employment so far as children are concerned. From the time of the late Lord Shaftesbury, who did so much work for the improvement of the Factory Acts of this country, we have always been endeavouring to reduce the hours of labour of children. This has been done by Conservative Governments and by Liberal Governments, but here we have a Coalition Government introducing a Bill containing a Clause which extends those hours of labour beyond what is laid down in the Factory Acts of 1901. I should like to know who has approached the Government in reference to this Clause. I represent the continuous trades in the country—the steel trade and the tin-plate trade, where three shifts are worked. I would ask the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill whether the employers or trade union leaders or representatives of the trade unions have approached him on the matter of the extension that is asked for. I can assure him that so far as these trades are concerned, the employers and the representatives of the men will give him evry assistance possible in order to put this Bill into operation, with the exception of Clause 2, which is so pernicious a Clause. I know we have some difficulty, because in those trades which work continuously lads often are employed to work levers and other light machinery in different departments, but I can give the hon. Gentleman my assurance that we will assist him in every way in our power to pass this Bill if he will withdraw Clause 2. I am expressing the opinion not only of the leaders of the men, but of a large number of employers who look at this matter from the human standpoint. This is a human question. The Prime Minister has said that you cannot get an A1 nation out of a C3 population, and legislation of this kind is not going to give us an A1 population. It will destroy the physique of these boys and girls, who will be the men and women of the future. I was very pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Barnes), taking part in the Debate, because he is speaking from first-hand knowledge. He attended the Conference, and I am sure he will agree with me that, if, instead of this Clause, one of its decisions were introduced into this Bill, whereby the employment of women immediately before and after the birth of a child would be prohibited, and also provision made for the woman during that period, it would be more in line with the recommendations of the International Conference than this black spot upon the Bill. I assure the introducer of the Bill that in Committee we shall fight this Clause, not only line by line, but word by word. We are determined that it shall not be included in this Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, when he replies, will let us know what trades he is referring to. I believe that some of the employers who have had this advantage of extension of hours during the War period, are now endeavouring to keep up those long hours in some of the factories, and to exploit these girls and boys. I hope the expression of opinion that has been given from both sides of the House against this Clause will be taken into consideration, and that the Government will withdraw it even before we go into Committee on the Bill.


I wish to join in the congratulations that have been offered to the representatives of the Government who have introduced this Measure. It is one of the fruits of victory, equally with those of national life and opportunity of freedom resulting from the heroism of our soldiers and sailors. To my mind the time has come when the great industrial problems of the world may be considered, not only in their bearings on finance, but in their bearings on the well-being of the nations concerned. The heroism and sacrifice of the War days of the men and women of this and other nations are proving worthy, and will bear fruit, worthy not only of this country, but of all the great civilisations of Europe. Therefore I join with others in welcoming some of the first-fruits of the great internationalisation of the consideration of all sections and strata of the communities in respect of the bread-and-butter existence, for it is that major portion of our existence which has its very important bearings on our life. When that has been said, however, one feels that it is vital that something also should be done in respect of the obnoxious Clause, namely Clause 2, that has been referred to by every speaker to-night (save only the representative of the Government who introduced the Measure). Something has been said as to its objectionable bearing in regard to education. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Gray), who always speaks so effectively and thoroughly on matters of education, has dealt with that. Something has been said by a representative of a textile employés' association in respect to one section of industry, against the night labour of women and children; but I would say that no section of any industry, and whether it be that of employer or employed, accepts this Clause with any degree of complacency. The great employers of to-day, equally with the employés, desire to elevate the craftsmanship of industry to its highest ideal of altruism in regard to output and the great and wonderful effect which it has on the moral well-being and character, as well as on the social well-being of the people—the proper and legitimate opportunities of industry and labour. This is impossible if the bad old days of night labour of women and children be allowed. I suggest, therefore, that the Minister, in bringing in this Bill, has done so neither in consultation with, nor with the approval of, either the Minister of Health or the Minister of Education.

We in Lancashire know to our cost to what a terrible degree the ravages of consumption and other fell diseases have been with us as a result of the tremendous speed lust which obtained in those essential industries which go to make up our county life. The Minister of Health is doing all that is possible in regard to dealing with tuberculosis, nerve diseases, and other ills which arise more especially by reason of the type of the industrial life of the County Palatine. All that the Minister of Health is doing, however, in respect to the eradication of these fell diseases—the white scourge, and others in our midst—will be completely nullified if this objectionable Clause be permitted to remain. There are some others here besides myself who have had the honour to lead men in the field, and when we know and consider, as we are compelled to do, the medical records of the men we had the great honour to lead from Lancashire, we know that they were the products of the C.3 variety in physique, but in spirit were gloriously A.1. Americanization, this speed lust in industry, has had many terrible effects on such physique. I join with those who have already spoken, and say without any hesitancy that whether we come from the employing class or the employé class, we shall certainly fight this Clause. I want it to be remembered that all is being done that can be done in respect of proper conditions of labour. We have great welfare organisations in the cotton industry and in many other industries.

An hon. Member has suggested that there may have been some improper motive in regard to the employment of women in industry, but I would beg to remind him that industry has not always been in the profitable condition in which it is to-day. There was a time when it was vital, if the home was to be kept in that condition in which it was possible for men, women and children to live respectably and honourably, that the woman should take her part in earning. Those days are passing. I hope and trust that they are passed, and that it may be possible for the woman to remain in her proper sphere in the home—the guidance of the young life in its future. It is to her, more than to anyone else, that the training of the citizens of the future will be due. I give it as an economic proposition which cannot be controverted that the hours of fatigue which will obtain in regard to night labour—shift labour—will nullify the economic considerations which are held to be useful and necessary, and which perforce has supposed the necessity of this Clause. We shall not obtain the output and the necessary speeding up which it is suggested will be obtained by its application. Therefore I say that while we folks in the northern counties by the quality of our craftsmanship and work have led many different sections of industry in regard to world commerce, quality of goods and competition (and I speak with the knowledge of many types of continental labour) I say without hesitation that English labour, in its high quality of production and idealism of craftsmanship among the rank and file of the employés, will be lessened, prostituted and depreciated if these hours of labour be permitted to obtain. Whilst I welcome the Bill as a great advance in the civilisation of industry, and as one of the great fruits of the great War, the health, the moral and the intellectuality of the people will suffer if this objectionable Clause be included. I appeal to the Government to withdraw it, and to permit us to give unanimous support to the Second Reading.


The general principle that is embodied in the Bill is worthy of commendation. The trouble is that some of its provisions do not carry out that intention. Clause 1, which provides that no child under 14 years of age shall be employed in any industrial undertaking, will, I think, meet with unanimous approval, and it is an indication as to how far we have gone since the days of the historic Debates when objection was taken to interference with the hours of labour of women, children and young persons. But if we believe, when we have accepted this Clause, that we have said the last word upon the question, we shall be very much mistaken. When it is put into operation, it will leave behind it, in some sections of the community, very great hardship. Those who have served upon education authorities are familiar with the painful interviews we often have with parents who are counting the days till the time will come when their child can be utilised as an asset to the family income. In families where the bread winner is incapacitated or has been taken away, and there is a widow with a small family, it is unfortunate, but it is true, that the child has to be looked upon as being the medium of a contribution towards the family income. While we can accept this Clause with unanimous approval so far as the child is concerned, its operation will leave behind it the necessity for ameliorative measures. The time is long overdue for some principle of mothers' pensions to be instituted in order to make provision for a woman which will permit her children to go to school and take those advantages which are the child's due without penalising the woman and the rest of the family, and in those cases where the breadwinner is incapacitated and not able to earn what is recognised as the standard wage, some measure of assistance ought to be instituted. Any Act of Parliament which imposes a hardship in this direction ought to make some provision for ameliorative measures to meet that hardship, and matters are very real and pressing in this direction.

10.0 P.M.

I join with hon. Members who have expressed their objection to Clause 2. My view of the matter is that no factory ought to be permitted to work 16 hours on end, for the vitiated atmosphere of a factory or workshop which is permitted to work continuously for that length of time imposes a disadvantage upon those people who go into it at the latter part of the day. From the point of view of health conditions, no undertaking ought to be permitted to work that length of time. There ought to be a break for sanitary and health reasons. The Bill defines "young person" as one between 14 and 18 years of age, and it stipulates that night work shall not be permitted to young persons of that age, but it makes certain exceptions. Outside this House for a good many years I have stood at all times for sex equality, economic, industrial and political, and since coming into this House I have made some little contribution towards that point of view, and I have nothing to repent. But I believe there are exceptions even to that principle. When I turn to the exceptions this Bill has instituted, it is with some measure of regret. I find that the exceptions to night work for young persons are in the manufacture of iron and steel and in glass works. I have not had much experience of the operations of the manufacture of iron and steel, but I have had considerable experience of the responsibilities and duties inside a glass works, and not only from the point of view of young persons, but of females of any age whatever, the glass trade is not an occupation in which female labour ought to be permitted, and I am astonished that this Bill makes the exception, because the manufacture of glass has to be continued through the night. While the Bill will not permit young persons to be employed in night work in various departments of industry, the exceptions that it makes is in the most undesirable occupations for female labour to be employed in. I hope the Department which is in charge of the Bill will investigate the matter from this point of view. Further, those of us who have had actual experience of night employment can bear testimony to the fact that there is no comparison between day and night work, even in the same occupation. The expenditure of physical energy working on a night turn is infinitely greater than in the day time. If it operates in that direction so far as male labour is concerned, what must be the pressure upon female labour between 16 and 18 years of age being permitted to work inside these factories at night time? One of the great advantages of the Bill is that it regularises conditions in our own country. At the present time unanimity does not prevail. In the West Riding towns, in the textile trades, we know that half-time labour has been fairly general in one town, while in other towns in the immediate neighbourhood, where the conditions of employment are practically the same, half-time labour has been non-existent. Taking different parts of the country, and making comparisons, we meet with the fact that there is a complete lack of unanimity in working conditions from the point of view of young persons and child labour.

I join in welcoming this Bill because an attempt is being made to regularise the international aspect of labour conditions. We are all familiar with the objections that have been made by employers of labour as to the unfair effect of wage conditions in other places. That point of view has often been overdone. Employers in other countries have played off one country against another, and we must, having regard to the circumstances of the case, recognise that there is something in the declaration. We know that to-day, so far as information is available, the conditions prevailing in India and Japan in many industries are typical of the worst features of the factory system when it originally prevailed in this country, and if anything can be done to equalise the conditions from the point of view of a similar industry here and the same industry elsewhere, it will be a great achievement. There are other encouraging indications in this development. If the machinery of the League of Nations can be utilised to balance, equalise, and make uniform working and labour conditions over large areas in the world, it will give a special proof of its utility in other directions. Something has been said as to the perfection of the child and woman life of the country, and the Bill is entitled to a hearty welcome on that account. The economic changes that are taking place in this country and in the world at large are making that very largely necessary. In days gone by, in the days of hand labour, the labour power was the first element in production, and the tools and the implements took second place; but in the growing economic developments we are now finding that the mechanism, the tools and implements, are the first element in production, and the labour power becomes the secondary element. As that line of development proceeds there is an ever-increasing inclination to use the child and woman life of the nation purely as the minders of machines when strong physical labour power is no longer necessary. With the developments in that direction the protection of the child and woman life of the country becomes more and more necessary. Subject to the conditions to which I have referred being improved and adjusted, including the question of night labour for women of any age, we on this side of the House will give our hearty approval to the general principles of the Bill, and will encourage it in every stage until it passes into law.

Lieut.-Colonel ALLEN

I think it is only right that I should say on behalf of Ireland, that we welcome this Bill. I do so both from the standpoint of an employer in the linen trade, the sister industry to the cotton industry. I welcome it also on behalf of the employed, because I believe it conduces to contentment amongst employers and employed. I am glad the hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred to the consideration of this Bill along with the education question, because in Ireland our compulsory Education Act is somewhat different to the English Act. In Ireland it is possible for a child to leave school provided it has reached a certain standard quite apart from the age of the child, and provided it has reached the sixth standard it may leave school, and it is possible for the child in Ireland to leave school at the age of 12 years. The point comes in, what has the child to do meantime when it is not compelled to attend school between 12 and 14 years of age. I ask the House to go into this question very closely so far as Ireland is concerned, and the education authorities, because something must be done to make the two Acts coincide.

With regard to Clause 2, as an employer I have had experience of women going to work very early in the day, at 6 o'clock in the morning in very cold weather. For some years past that has ceased, and as an employer I wish to say I never want to see it again. Plenty of work can be produced in hours other than in the very early morning, and I think we may consider, after what has been said on this point, that Clause 2 is as good as dead. There is another matter which I hope will be made perfectly clear. Clause 1 says that no child shall be employed in any industrial undertaking, and the expression means a person under the age of 14 in Clause 4. If, however, you turn to Article 2 of Part I. of the Schedule, you find it is provided that: Children under the age of 14 years shall not be employed or work in any public or private industrial undertaking, or in any branch thereof, other than an undertaking in which only members of the same family are employed. I should like to understand what that means. No child is to be employed under 14 years according to Clause 1, but in the Article which I have quoted, it is suggested that children under the age of 14 may be employed in public or private industrial undertakings where other members of the same family are employed. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman, when he comes to reply, will make that clear, because I do not understand it. I join with all who have spoken in heartily welcoming the Bill. So far as education in Ireland is concerned, we have this Bill hanging over our heads. We want co-ordination between the primary schools and the evening technical schools, and if we are to have that co-ordination, it must be prefaced by the dropping of Clause 2 of this Bill.


I have nothing to say about this Bill except in regard to Clause 2. As one of those poor half-timers to whom reference has been made, I wish to express strong disapproval of this Clause. I cannot understand any Government introducing such a Clause in any Bill. I believe that the Government have honestly tried to bring in legislation which will be for the real benefit of the people. But this Clause would be a retrograde step. I started work as a half-timer on the day when I was 10 years of age. That was about 35 years ago, and on that day, as I was going to the mill—it was at 6 o'clock in the morning—it struck me that it was a very early time for children to start work—I made up my mind that some day I would be a Member of Parliament, and that if possible I would bring in, or help to bring in, legislation which would alter the hours of labour in the cotton trade. Since then it has been my privilege to decide what sort of labour I would employ, and since I have had the option I have never employed half-time labour in any mill with which I have been connected.

I would like to tell occupants of the Treasury Bench a few of the things I saw during the time I was going to the mill as early as 4.30 or 5 o'clock in the morning. It was only when the hours of labour were altered, about six or eight months ago, that I was able to have my breakfast at home, except on Sundays or holidays, and I feel that there can be no Member of the Government—certainly not the hon. and gallant Gentleman who introduced the Bill—who has any experience of what takes place in connection with these early morning starts. I do not know what has been the business experience of the Parliamentary Secretary, or where he started work, but I do not think he has worked for 35 years in a mill from 5.30 in the morning to 5.30 in the evening.

In those days I witnessed some very sad sights. One of the saddest was the sight of a woman taking a bundle from one house to another. I have seen that sort of thing at 4.30 in the morning. Starting work at 6 o'clock means that some people have to leave their homes, as I had to do, at 4.30. That little bundle was taken to another house seven or eight streets away. Snow was falling on the ground. The bundle was a little baby. We do not want to see anything of that sort again. In another case, about 5 o'clock one morning, I saw a poor fellow collapse in the snow. We carried him home and up the stairs, and he died as we got him to the top step. It is exposure in the early mornings that is so dangerous to men who are weak, and more especially to women and children. I wonder when I see a Clause like this who has advised the Government to put it in the Bill. They have not asked the representatives of the employers, and the representatives of the employés tell me they heard nothing about it. We welcome the Bill as regards the other matters which indicate international agreement on very important points, but as regards Clause 2 I am certain if the Government had experience of this question they would not dream of proposing it. Unless they promise to delete Clause 2, I shall certainly vote against the Government, and I shall never give a vote with greater pleasure.


I welcome this Bill which in its main principles is the result of the work of a Conference of International Labour Organisations of the League of Nations, and at least that is an assurance that the League of Nations is alive. As far as that side of the question is concerned it will make for quick results and very good results too. When we consider some of the conditions in some of the countries of the world under which people are working and the problems that arise therefrom, we are sometimes appalled at the possible results those conditions, rates of pay, hours and so on, are likely to have upon labour conditions in this country unless something is done to alter them. In so far as we have conferences of this kind facing these problems so it seems to me we are going to take one of the most effective steps in regularising conditions throughout the world and hindering backward nations, if we may so call them, from pulling down the standard of life of other peoples. I was interested in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Barnes) because it was a first-hand recital of what took place at Washington and very enlightening. I was sorry to find from his remarks, as I understood them, that these conditions are not binding upon the Government, although they have taken it upon themselves as a matter of honour that they ought to fulfil the conditions laid down there. As to Clause 2 it seems to me that this is too good a Bill to have such a Clause in it. It is really a pity that what would have been one undiluted stream of praise to-night for this Bill should be altered or interrupted by such a Clause as that. I am not living in an area where we have women and children working in double shifts, but I am living in an area where I have seen men and boys working from one shift to two shifts and three shifts.

I have seen the social life of that district broken up, I have seen education, on its evening-class side, almost swept out of existence, and I have seen the question of production tested at first hand on the dual and the triple shift plan. The effect on the social life has been, both with the men and boys, and the women who remain at home, to make an intense bitterness in their minds. I was very pleased, by the way, to hear the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Greenwood), as an employer of labour, make a straight declaration against this Clause, but I can understand employers of labour coming along and thinking they are not going to take advantage of the workers at all, but that they might possibly increase output, and give a bonus or something to the workers. I can even imagine workers being taken by a bribe for the time being, but the inevitable result, when this kind of thing gets into operation, is to set a spirit abroad among the workers that certainly does not help, either economically, industrially, or socially. On the education side, it must be quite apparent that it is impossible. It broke our evening-class down in the North of England almost completely, and there is no possibility of continued education under a scheme of this kind. Take the production side. It is a well-known fact, after the experience we have had during the past few years, that you do not get as much with the triple shift as you do with the double shift. I have seen that, only within a few months of coming into this House. I saw the three-shift go into the two-shift, and the latter increased the output over the former. That may be a strange result to the outsider, but to those who know the conditions and psychology of working-class life, it is no strange result at all, and I can imagine that even if you were to get an increased output with the two shifts upon the single shift, you would get such a state of acerbity of mind, you would get such a friction produced, that in the long run the single shift would prove more useful than the double shift.

I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman who introduced the Bill said there were something like 25,000 workers concerned in this two-shift system. I could have understood it if there had been a Clause limiting the period of the factories that now work on two shifts, in order to give them time to tide over and get back to the one shift. We have got to face facts, and we know that we have got to face them in a rough, common-sense way; but, as drawn, the Clause will inevitably lead people to take advantage of it. Could the hon. and gallant Gentleman distribute a White Paper showing where these 25,000 workers are, because it seems to me rather an abnormal figure, and how many of them are men and how many women? My final word is that it would be a pity, indeed, to spoil this Bill. It is a Bill that encourages one, at any rate, although it comes from a Government with which one seldom agrees. It encourages one because it comes from the labour representatives of all parts of the world, as a regular part of the League of Nations, and I should like to join with those who ask that the Clause be withdrawn, so that we may go home, at all events, satisfied that there has been a definite piece of constructive work, and an addition to our national life that will have good results upon the population.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

I only want to endorse the obsequies of Clause 2 from the point of view of public health. We have already heard a good deal on the subject, and I only wish to refer to one particular side of health that has not been before the House so far, and evidently was not the point of view of those who favour the Bill. If you are going to permit the employment of women in the factories up to ten in the evening under the second Schedule, that will be a constant trouble in trying to get back any kind of home life, which is at the bottom of healthy homes, for which we are constantly working and speaking. That is a side that has not been very much advanced hitherto, but it goes to the basis of our difficulties when we are looking into the preventable mortality of infants. We notice that it is so quite as much in industrial towns which are magnificent pioneers in sanitary organisation and administration, as in those which are absolutely backward. And why? For the very reason that the mothers cannot attend to their domestic duties and look after the children when they are engaged industrially. It is quite well to say that, under the modern industrial conditions that have developed, it is necessary in certain communities for the mothers to have the opportunity of being employed in factories, but I hope some day it will not be necessary for that to happen in any class. That, however, is the vision of the future. At the present time, we must recognise it is necessary in certain industrial communities, but to encourage their employment in the late shifts up to 10 o'clock in the evening goes absolutely to the root of any possibility of either attending to the child at that time in the evening or of making anything like the semblance of a home in family life.

Again and again we are met in public health, and in gigantic problems of the recruitment of the nation, with this fact, that slowly and gradually, but surely, everything is tending to undermine family life, and we want to go against any legislation that is tending further to break up family life. The possibility that is opening to the working classes now of increased leisure must more especially tend to opening the way to some kind of family-life towards the end of the day. What kind of family life is possible when the womenfolk are employed to ten in the evening? I say it is that later employment in the working day which we want to prevent both in the case of the mothers and also the girls. I can only see two objections. One is the mere industrial one, which, I think, is obviously the one that inspired the Clause in the Bill, and I have not the least doubt that, in certain industries, you can produce more if you are able to have the women employed in two shifts in this way. That I rule out entirely from the point of view of public health.

The other objection is from the point of view of those who say—and this has got to be met—we must have equality between men and women in every respect. These are already starting an agitation and correspondence which we Members are getting in order to enable them to do away with every kind of difference between men and women, to maintain this principle that they have established. I do not think the future health and happiness of the country, or of any country, is compatible with equality of that sort between the sexes. They can be equal in one way. They cannot be equal in their attainments and in certain methods of life and methods of employment. It is totally unnatural for women to be employed night and day in the factories. It is merely owing to the abnormal developments of the industrial position in the last century—a development that, I hope, we shall be able gradually to correct, but only gradually—that the women of the present generation have been turned away from home life, and I hope she may be able to return there. Therefore, I am utterly opposed to Clause 2 in the name of public health, and I hope the Government will either withdraw it or else will be beaten.


I welcome this Bill very heartily as being one which, I think, must commend itself to the common-sense of this House. In looking through the Bill, however, I observe it is in some respects retrograde. For instance, I find that in Clause (1) no child shall be employed in any industrial undertaking. That means a young person under 14 years of age. Strange though it may appear, at the present time in Scotland no one can be employed under 14 years of age by reason of the operation of the Education Acts, and it is incumbent upon certain employers in certain industries—in the collieries—to see that a boy is not employed, underground at any rate, until he attains 16. I want to know upon what grounds this Sub-section (1) has been drawn. If those who drew up the Bill understood clearly how Scotland stands in the matter, I think they would have put this age a little higher than even 14. In Scotland the employers know it very well that in no industry can any young person now be employed under 14 years of age. Sub-section (4) of Section (1) speaks about the Coal Mines Act, 1911. I find that in one of the Schedules no women can be employed during the night, and no young person for certain hours of the night. I am at a loss to understand why those who drew up this Bill should insert what is already in other Acts. Like other speakers I think it is a pity that this Bill, which is a good Bill, should be hampered by Clause 2, which is a very retrograde step. I cannot understand for the life of me why employers in England should for a moment hesitate to withdraw the question of the half-timers. In Scotland, I am glad to say, we have no such thing. We seem to be much further ahead in employment in Scotland than in England, and I am very much surprised that the Government in drawing up this Bill, did not look ahead. After all, what is good for Scotland cannot be very bad for England and Ireland! It would be a pity that the Bill should be spoiled by a Clause which everybody who has studied the question will agree ought not to be in it at all, and I hope that the Government in Committee will withdraw it altogether. The Bill is to be welcomed in many respects. It is good that there should be uniformity in the various countries in the matter of child labour. I was very much surprised to hear what the hon. Member opposite said about half-timers. We have had no experience of that kind in Scotland, and I hope that we never shall have. It is a good thing to do away with half-timers altogether, and if anything has to be done in the matter of double shifts, some other way may be found out of the difficulty. After all, the strength of this country rests very much upon the life of the people, and once you begin to disturb home life you are doing a wrong thing to the people and to the country. I trust that we shall do our best to help our country. The Bill must commend itself, not only to employers, but also to employés, and, if Clause 2 be taken out of it and certain Amendments are made in Committee, I have no reason but to think that it will be a good thing for the workpeople of this country to realise that the House of Commons are studying the interests of the people and of the country in bringing in a Bill to ensure that children and women shall not be overburdened with work. Already there exist Clauses whereby children under a certain age cannot be employed in the mines, and young people under a certain age are not permitted to work with wagons. If any boy under a certain age undertakes to move wagons at all, it is a breach of the law. I heartily support the Bill and shall vote for it if it goes to a Division.


I welcome the Bill in its international aspect, and as far as the abolition of half-timers is concerned. I can never understand why young children are compelled to work and there are strong men and women allowed to live idle and luxurious lives. I want to raise the question of education. I have had no experience of half- time, but I have had considerable experience of young lads leaving employment and continuing their education. This Bill cuts into the Education Act. You want to continue the education of boys and girls who leave school at the age of fourteen, and naturally they need some encouragement. If you put any barrier in their way, then they will not improve their education. The difficulties which certain people have overcome with regard to education are sometimes pointed out. I know how very determined many people are to improve their education. Bright lads and bright young women can always look after themselves. It is much more important to raise the general level of education. I hope sincerely that the Government will consider the question from the standpoint of protecting the opportunities for education, and if for nothing else that they will withdraw this Clause.

Captain W. BENN

There is one point which I think has not been referred to. The only argument that can be brought forward in support of Clause 2 is that it may be necessary to equip the Government temporarily with powers to enlarge or relax restrictions of the Factory and Workshops Acts until we are nearer peace conditions, and until the extraordinary conditions of War time pass away. That, I conceive, is the only argument that can be advanced in support of a Clause which is universally condemned, and which is very retrograde in character. I would remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Baird) that under one of the Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act—I think 6A, which we discussed at great length in this House—he has the power to relax restrictions of the Factories and Workshops Act for any factories where it is deemed to be desirable. Is not that sufficient power for him to have? That will remain in his hands until the end of the War, which may be many months away. It may be a year hence before the Order in Council is made terminating the War. With those powers surely he is sufficiently armed to deal with the special circumstances that may arise. That being so, I think that it will meet the wishes of the House, which have been so strongly expressed, if he will intimate now—because this is the last opportunity which we shall have in this House, as we shall not all be on the Select Com- mittee—that the Government intend to withdraw this, which is the one objectionable Clause in an otherwise most admirable Bill.


With the leave of the House I may say a word or two about Clause 2. About the rest of the Bill there seems to be no criticism. The reasons which the hon. and gallant Gentleman advances for withdrawing this Clause are, I think, reasons for allowing it to remain in the Bill until the Committee and the Report Stage have taken place. It is obvious that unless arguments be adduced during those stages, there is no chance of the House, either in Committee or on Report, accepting this Clause, but I cannot escape from this, that there are 26,000 women and 3,600 young persons who, I am informed, are employed in consequence of 250 orders which have been issued under the Defence of the Realm Act Regulation, to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred. I do not think that it is reasonable without detailed discussion—after all there has been no discussion of this Clause in detail—for the Government to undertake here and now to drop this Clause.

Captain BENN

But you have 6A.


I would suggest that the proper course is to allow the Second Reading to be taken, and of course, if the Government be unable to remove by its arguments the strong opposition which has been manifested to this Clause, it is perfectly clear that the Clause cannot stand. I do not think it follows that something short of the complete elimination of it may not commend itself to the judgment of the House. Although a good deal has been said in condemnation of the Clause, it should be remembered that a Committee set up by the Ministry of Reconstruction to report on the employment of women after the War—a very strong Committee, containing several very experienced women—definitely stated that the question of continuing the power of allowing employment on the two shift system, as far as they were concerned, was one that would require consideration not only in respect of the transition period, but after. That is a strong recommendation by people who have gone into this question from the women's point of view.

Mr. A. DAVIES (Clitheroe)

What is their definition of the system of labour? Does it correspond with the hours in the Clause from 6 a.m. till 10 p.m.?


Without examination, I cannot definitely answer that question. I think they were referring to a particular kind of employment. But I do not want to argue the point now. It is quite clear that the House is strongly opposed to the Clause, but I would ask it to give us the Second Reading, on the understanding that we will consider this carefully. My right hon. Friend is going to receive a deputation on this Clause, and will discuss it with those mostly concerned. Bearing in mind the fact that it is only three months since the whole of this question was discussed in the House, which, after hearing the arguments of hon. Members possessed of first-hand information on the subject, agreed that it was not possible to stop suddenly this form of employment, I hope the House mill agree that it is a matter which does require further consideration. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) asked for details with regard to the people who are employed. I will do my best to obtain that information for him. It is obvious that the House will not consent to the embodiment of this Clause in the Bill unless it is in possession of very much more detailed information than it is possible to give in the course of a Second Reading Debate. I hope, therefore, that the House will give us an opportunity of keeping this Clause in the Bill, certainly until the Report stage, and not ask me now to give a pledge which I might have to withdraw. We will carefully go into the question, and secure every possible form of information which Members may require, in order to come to a final decision.


Will the Government leave this Clause to the free decision of the House?


I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will not read more into my speech than the words I used justify. We undertake to collect such information as we think may persuade the House to accept the Clause, or which, on the other hand, may make the House persuade us to withdraw it.