HC Deb 18 June 1920 vol 130 cc1657-61

For the purpose of this Act and of the provisions as to the closing of shops on the weekly half-holiday contained in the principal Act the expression "retail trade or business" includes the taking of orders from the public for the repair of boots or shoes and the delivery thereof to the customer at the place of business.—[Major Baird.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

This is a proposal which has been made in deference to strong representations to the Home Office by the Trade Board and it is to confer the advantages which this Bill confers on persons engaged in boot repairing. The body of feeling in favour of this Clause in the trade is very strong. The Trade Board, under Section 10 of the Trade Boards Act of 1918, has power to make recommendations to any Government department in reference to industrial conditions and the Government department can take those recommendations into consideration. When the Trade Board made strong representations to us with regard to this Measure we made enquiries whether they claimed to represent the people who would be principally affected, that is to say the one-man business, and we satisfied ourselves that, so far as England is concerned, they represent 75 per cent. of the one-man businesses. The other point is that the particular portion of the boot trade known as boot repairing is of a very special character which constitutes it a particular branch of the trade. Boot repairing is a business by itself. This Clause does not, of course, affect the hours of work at actual repairing although it does affect and prevent a shop being kept open on the chance that somebody will bring boots to be repaired. A man may be forced to do that quite against his will because other people in the same locality do the same thing. The hours of work are not a matter for this Bill and they arise under the provisions of the Factory and Workshops Act. There is, as I have said, a very strong feeling in favour of this proposal, so far as we have been able to ascertain, on the part of a large majority of the people who are directly concerned and who wish to be included in this Bill.


I am not sure that I thoroughly understand this proposal. Is it to apply only to the weekly half-holiday?


It simply brings this class of people under the operation of the Bill in every respect, and they would not have come under the Bill without this Clause.


Does it mean that if you put a note into a letter box giving an order to repair a pair of boots to be sent the next day, and the man takes the note out of the letter box and repairs the boots, he is committing an offence? I think that would be going too far. It is really too absurd if we go on in this kind of way making regulations which nobody will understand.


I venture to think that the objections of the right hon. Gentleman are substantial as to the construction of this clause, and it is difficult to anticipate how the Courts might construe it. But it would have this ridiculous result, that supposing you are in a village where there is one bootshop, and you are anxious to get your boots back, it would be possible for the boot repairer to send his assistant or his small child for two or three miles carrying a pair of boots to the customer, because that would not be delivering to the customer at the place of business, but it would be illegal for the customer, who might have sent his servant with a pair of boots to be repaired on a Saturday, to call himself at the place of business and take delivery of the boots over the counter after church on Sunday, because Sunday is very often the only day in Scotland, for instance, where a customer may be in the place where the boot repairer has his shop. I do not think my hon. Friend can have contemplated that as a result of his clause. It will be oppressive to the public, it will produce ridiculous results, and it will be very difficult to construe in a reasonable sense in the Courts of Law.


I gather that my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) is opposed to the Amendment, but that the hon. and learned Member for Bristol who has just sat down is only opposed to the drafting.


My objection is not purely a drafting point. My objection is that a proposal of this sort cannot be satisfactorily drafted; it is a point of substance.


This Bill may not be well drafted, but I suggest that the sense of the House as a whole probably is in favour of giving effect to the wishes that have been expressed by this very large number of people engaged in this work. Surely arguments about whether or not you can put a letter into a letter-box or pick up a pair of shoes on the way back from church are beside the mark. What we desire to do is to bring within the effect of this clause a very large number of people who have been asked to be brought within it. They are men who are engaged in a precarious kind of business, and it is clear to us that owing to competition their shops have to be kept open for many hours into the night—up to 8, 9, or 10 o'clock at night—on the chance of somebody bringing along a pair of boots for repair. I fail to see the hardship of everybody bringing their boots to be repaired at a reasonable hour. In regard to the question whether receiving a letter in which a man is asked to repair a pair of boots would bring a man within the four corners of this Bill, I would point out that he is not asked to repair the letter but the boots, and before the boots can be repaired, they must be brought to the shop, and all we seek to prevent is that a man should be forced, owing to competition, to keep his shop open at all hours of the evening. The whole of the Bill is a restriction on the liberties and the convenience of the community in the interests of a particular section of the community who exist for the purpose of serving the community, and in these days I do not think it is unreasonable to attempt legislation in Parliament which is going to render the lives of people engaged in serving the community rather less hard than they have been hitherto.

That is the whole object of this Bill. It is undoubtedly an innovation, and any change in our habits and customs is necessarily unpopular with a considerable section of the community, but I suggest that these people who seek to be brought within the Bill and to get the advantages of early closing which are going to be conferred on very large numbers of people engaged on the same kind of work, should not be discriminated against, and that these men, who, if they were employed in an ordinary retail shop would be included, are entitled to the same treatment, which they would not get unless this Clause were passed. The people employed in repairing shops come under the Factory Act when they are in big shops, but the one-man business and the small shop do not come under that Act, and we say that it is impossible to justify making a difference between the boot repairer employed in the retail shop and the boot repairer who is simply a boot repairer and nothing else. I am sorry if the drafting of the Clause is defective. I am not prepared to argue with my hon. and learned Friend as to whether his point is a real one or not, but the Clause has been drafted with great care, with a view to giving effect to the ideas which I nave explained to the House, and if my hon. and learned Friend, who I do not think is against the principle, will allow me to have the Clause further examined between now and the time when the Bill reaches another place, I will see that such modifications are made, if necessary, as will make the Clause quite watertight and give effect to the ideas which we seek to carry out


I think my hon. Friend is well-advised to give the undertaking that these words shall be further examined. I am a supporter of the Bill and of the proposal, but I am advised that there is a good deal of ambiguity about the construction of these words, and they are introduced at a stage in the Bill when it is not open to us to give the full consideration to them that would have been possible if they had been brought forward when the Bill was first introduced. I understand this is an endeavour to give effect to a recommendation of the Wages Board under the powers of Section 10 of the Trade Boards Act, 1918. As it was my privilege to be responsible for the passage through the House of that Bill, I am aware that at the time we introduced that provision into the Bill we were advised that there might be many difficulties arising from the exercise of those powers. But, nevertheless, having the assurance that the vast majority of those who are affected by the Trade Board in the boot and shoe repairing industry are in favour of this provision, I think it ought to weigh with this House. What I understand it is desired to do is to prevent the delivery to, or conveyance from, a repairing shop, of work during the tims that the shop ought to be closed under this Act, and, after all, I think these words have to be read in connection with the purpose of this Bill, which is an Early Closing Bill. I still think that, acting on advice which has been tendered to him, my hon. Friend is well advised to undertake to give further consideration to the Amendment, and I think he will find it possible in another place to provide a more suitable set of words to carry out the effect desired.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.


The next Clause standing in the name of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. W. R. Smith) and the hon. Member for St. Helen's (Mr. Sexton) [Closing Orders], is an Amendment to Clause 6, which is entitled "Amendment of 2 Geo. 5, c. 3," and therefore this would be an Amendment to 2 Geo. 5, c. 3.