HC Deb 29 June 1928 vol 219 cc861-6

"The following shall be substituted for the definition of 'shop assistant' contained in section nineteen of the principal Act: The expression 'shop assistant' means any person wholly or mainly employed in connection with any shop for the serving of customers or the receipt of orders, or the collection, warehousing, despatch or delivery of goods, or in any clerical capacity, but shall not include any person solely employed outside the shop for the purposes of delivering or collecting goods"—[Miss Bondfield.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

We on this side are most anxious to secure the Third Heading of this Bill and the Amendments that will be brought forward are intended to clarify points which are still in doubt. One of the doubts we very much want to clarify is the definition of shop assistants under the 1912 Act. That definition reads as follows: The expression 'shop assistant' means any person wholly or mainly employed in a shop in connection with the serving of customers or the receipt of orders or the despatch of goods. The change we desire to make takes the form of following up the immense development which has taken place in the distributive trades since the 1912 Act was passed. We have seen the growth of departmental stores, where the despatch of collection of goods has become a very considerable business, which has grown with the growth of the amalgamation of businesses until it assumes a very large share of the time taken up by what may quite properly be described as shop assistants. We want, therefore, to have words accepted which will include this immense business and include all the operations which take place in the interior of a shop. We have no desire whatever to widen the scope of the definition to include those people who are engaged in the outside work of the shop and the delivering of goods to customers. We who are connected with the trade and know the internal working of a great business realise that the intention of the fair employer is to close his shop and let his assistants go at the proper time, but he has always to contend against the unfair man who is looking for a loophole so that he can unfairly compete with those who are carrying out the law. It is for the purpose of stopping up this gap that we ask the House to include this wider definition of shop assistants.


I beg to second the Motion. The Clause does not cover all we should like to cover. The last two and a half lines are opening the door to employers to send goods out at any time after their shops are closed. We have been fighting that for a great number of years, and in many instances we have been able to get the concession that goods should not be sent away after the shops and warehouses are closed. We contend that the hours the servants have to work prior to the shops closing are quite long enough for anyone. They often extend to 10 and 12 hours, because it is necessary in many instances for some of the goods to be fetched from railways and docks, and men have to start out fairly early to collect them. I have at times had to go to the docks, and even to wait for goods to be transferred from the ship so the warehouse before I could get them, and many hundreds of others are doing the same. I do not see why we should ask for a privilege to be given to the employers to send out goods after the shops are closed at night. If we cannot get it through Act of Parliament we shall have to get it by organisation, and there is the possibility that if we can get some reasonable consideration given to those employed in shops, warehouses and stores, we shall be able to get some more consideration for the men who are out at night delivering goods. I think that we ought to have a proper definition placed in this Measure as to whom it is to apply.

If this Clause be accepted, and I hope it will be, it certainly will help to reduce the number of hours of certain people who have to work after the shops are closed, because the shops will be closed earlier than is the case at the present time. The fact that shop assistants and clerks and warehousemen attached to shops, making out the accounts and making up the parcels for the delivery men will cease work earlier, naturally will help to curtail the hours of other men who are going broadcast through the streets of London and the suburbs delivering goods. Therefore, if we are unable to get all that we desire so as to ensure that those engaged in the delivery of goods shall be finished at the same time as those engaged in the warehouses or shops, we wish to accept the next best thing, and this Clause helps to bring about a more satisfactory state of affairs.


I do not wish to delay the House for more than a moment or two, bearing in mind the promise that was made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Home Office when the Bill was in Committee. He made a promise that between then and the Report stage, he would attempt to try and secure a re-definition of the meaning of "shop assistants." We were hopeful, of course, that a suitable definition would have been placed on the Order Paper prior to the Report stage. As we have no desire to prolong discussion in this matter, if the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, or his hon. and gallant Friend, would tell us exactly what is in the mind of the Home Office, it might be that we could reach a decision very early on the points submitted by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield). My hon. Friend seems to have covered practically the whole of the ground and has made all the submissions that we desire, and, if the Home Secretary will tell us why his department have not made a re-definition or will say what he intends to do, we shall be happy to listen to him.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)

I was on the point of rising before, but I saw that the hon. Gentleman desired to speak and, I hope with my usual courtesy, I gave way to him. I should like to say at once that we have considered—that I have personally considered—this new Clause, and I am afraid that it is such an enlargement of the main Act that it could not possibly be allowed to go through without further consideration and the assistance of those outside bodies who are interested in the matter. When the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield) read the new Clause she said that down to a certain word was the old Clause. She omitted the final words of the old Clause which deal with the despatch of goods. The words in the existing Clause—the Clause as it now stands—are: shop assistant means any person wholly or mainly employed in a shop in connection with the serving of customers, or the receipt of orders, or the despatch of goods.


I was anxious to show that there was so little change in my new Clause.


Then the hon. Member for South Poplar (Mr. March), who seconded the Clause, extended it very much further, and desired to include the case of men working outside delivering goods. Really, the object of this Bill is to deal with the earlier closing of shops. I can quite understand when a shop assistant or a shop-keeper has been engaged all day long selling numerous goods, all of which have to be sent away——


The right hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I said that this did not go far enough to suit those who are out delivering goods, and that as we could not get all that we wanted we welcomed the proposed Clause, which goes part of the way.


It shows how far the hon. Gentleman desires to go if I let him have his way. If he gets this, he will come along to-morrow for a little more. Let me make my point quite clear I am not asking that delivery men engaged on vans should have to work 12, 14 or 15 hours a day—nothing of the kind—but I am saying, quite definitely, that in the public interest it may be desirable that work on the vans should go on after the shop has been closed. That can be got over by the men who have to do the delivery work coming on duty later in the day. After all, the House will realise that the keeper of the shop is really the servant of the public, and when goods are sold up to 8 o'clock at night it is in the interests of the public and the consumer that those deliveries should be made as rapidly as possible. I really think that the Section of the original Act of 1912 has worked very well so far. It deals with the serving of customers, the receipt of orders, or the despatch of goods by people inside the shops. The people outside the shop, and the people in warehouses, and those engaged in delivery are a different class of people from the shop-assistants. They will work their own hours. Arrangements may be made between employers and various trade unions connected with warehousemen and others to enable them to begin their work later in the day.

These Acts are for the protection of a body of people who would not be able without these Acts to protect themselves. They have worked exceedingly well so far, and by this Measure we are making these temporary provisions—I am sure the whole House will agree with them—permanent for the first time. We are embodying them in an Act of Parliament so as to make them permanent throughout the land. I want to get this Bill through. I am very anxious about it, but I do not want hon. Members to press me to-day to extend it further, as this new clause would extend it. I think that it is outside the purview of this Measure, which deals with the closing of shops, to include other ancilliary businesses like warehousing and cartage, and so forth. That being so, I hone hon. Members will not press the new Clause.


I want to thank the Home Secretary for putting before the House very clearly the true aspect of this proposed new Clause. It is the intention of the mover and supporters of this Clause to bring within the scope of the Bill, as the Home Secretary said, men engaged outside the shops who are not really shop assistants. I venture to tell the Committee that the definition in the original Act of 1912 is quite clear and covers actually what is intended by everybody engaged in shop life. The sting of this new Clause is really in the tail, because it says it: shall not include any person solely employed outside the shop for the purposes of delivering or collecting goods. If that were passed, it would mean that the public would be greatly inconvenienced. I speak as a trader and not from second-hand knowledge. It is the common practice of members of the public—and we have to serve the public in this matter—to come in to a shop very late, and sometimes a customer will say: "I want this bed sent home as I have a visitor or a sick person." The trader has to oblige the customer and send someone to deliver the bed to the house. A large shopkeeper can keep men solely engaged upon outside work, and others solely engaged upon inside work, but the small shopkeeper who has to employ a man to work outside, and sometimes to assist inside would not be allowed to meet the situation, because such a man would not be solely employed in the work of delivery outside the premises. It would mean considerable inconvenience in the case of emergency in the borderline cases, which the general public would not desire. Speaking as a trader, I know that many members of the public, and particularly the working classes, leave their shopping to the last minute and are very much offended if the trader cannot oblige them, and do what they desire. If we rope in the trading community and restrict, or attempt to restrict, every effort they make to oblige the public, we shall be doing something which is not in the interests of the general community. It is not purely in the interests of the trader; we have to consider the purchaser equally with the trader. I suggest that the provision in the original Act of 1912 meets all the requirements. If we are going to incorporate in a Bill which is promoted for another purpose a Clause amending the original Act, it would be most unfortunate.


In view of the statement of the Home Secretary, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment. I would point out that the debate has switched the discussion far beyond the proposed new Clause. I regret that, because it was a perfectly genuine desire to get the Clause clarified in the Act of 1912. It was not intended to widen the scope in the way that has been suggested.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.