§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Sir PARK GOFF
I beg to move "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In presenting this Bill, I appeal to the indulgence and the usual generosity of the House to grant it a Second Reading. If I have to regret my own inability to do justice to this Bill, I take courage from the fact that I honestly and conscientionsly believe that I have a great mass of public opinion behind me. For a long time, there has been a bitterly strong feeling among every class of the community that a Bill, even such as this, has been far too long delayed. My only regret is, that it does not go nearly far enough, and I hope that it may be the thin end of the wedge.
Perhaps it will be convenient, briefly, to trace the Shops Acts and Regulations leading up to this Bill. In the existing law, there are two sets of provisions, one permanent and the other temporary. The permanent deal with the Shops Acts of 1912 and 1913, and the temporary deal with the Shops Acts of 1920 and 1921. In 1916, owing to the shortage of light and supplies, and to the loss of assistants and the consequent falling off in evening trade, the local authorities throughout the country recommended earlier closing. At that time, the individual shopkeeper was never consulted at all on this matter. An Order was made under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, of which for greater accuracy I have obtained a copy, and which I shall, by the leave of the House, refer to as D.O.R.A. On the 25th October, 1916, an Order was made fixing the closing hours at 7 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, at 8 p.m. on Friday, and at 9 p.m. on Saturday. In consequence of very strong recommendations in the House of Commons that the closing at 7 p.m. would ruin many thousands of small traders, and inflict serious hardship on those who were compelled to shop after returning late from work at night, this Order was never put in force, and a new Order was made on the 27th 1400 October, 1916, fixing closing time at 8 p.m. every day except Saturday. This Order was continued in 1917, again in April, 1918, and in September, 1918, it was continued in force until further notice. On the 22nd July, 1920, the Shops Act was passed. On the Second Reading the then Home Secretary, Mr. Edward Shortt, said that, there being a great diversity of opinion and choice among those concerned, opportunity ought to be given for discussion and investigation. I quite agree. That is exactly what I am asking the House to do to-day.
I come now to the Bill itself. I am afraid that I have been some time in producing this Bill, but I believe that it is far better to sleep over what you are going to do than to have sleepless nights over what you have done. I dare not for one moment suggest that it is a perfect Bill. No Bill was ever perfect. It has often been said that there was never an Act of Parliament made through which you could not drive a coach-and-four; otherwise, the Bar would be bankrupt. [Laughter.] I am referring to legal assets and not to liquid assets.
Clause I simply re-enacts and stabilises the provisions for the closing of shops. This will be of very great benefit to shop assistants, for they are not interfered with in any way at all under this Bill. Next I come to an important part of the Bill, i.e., the First Schedule dealing with exemptions. As far as these are concerned, I have applied the principle of the curate's egg to the recommendations of the Committee, and I have adopted about seven-eighths of the best parts. It is an honest attempt to abolish, as far as possible, those antediluvian anomalies which have been the curse of the community.
I will give a few instances. Take the case of the chemist out of hours. If a customer goes into a chemist's shop out of hours, he cannot buy a toothbrush, but he can buy a camel-hair brush, because it is used for painting your throat. He cannot buy a hot-water bottle, but he can buy an ice bag. Take the newspaper shop. A man can buy a paper, but he cannot buy a wrapper or an envelope in which to put that paper. As regards the customers in licensed victualling houses, there have been many instances of a customer going in and 1401 demanding across the counter, say, a packet of Players' cigarettes "I am very sorry, Sir, we cannot serve you, but there is an automatic machine over there." The customer goes there and says "No, these are Gold Flake: I want Players'." "Never mind, do as I tell you. You get Gold Flake." He says "I want Players'." "Never mind." So the customer gets a packet of Gold Flake out of the automatic machine and hands it over the counter and exchanges it for a packet of Players'. These are just a few of the anomalies, those silly, irksome, irritable, childish restrictions which merely invite the public either to evade or to break the law. I will go through this Schedule as shortly and as briefly as can:—Meals or refreshments for consumption on the premises or (in the case of meals or refreshments sold on railway premises) for consumption on the trains. …newly cooked provisions and cooked or partly cooked tripe to be consumed off the premises;intoxicating liquors to be consumed on or off the premises;tobacco or matches on licensed premises during the hours during which intoxicatting liquor is permitted by law to be sold on the premises;tobacco, matches, table waters, sweets, chocolates, or other sugar confectionery or ice cream, at any time during the performance in any theatre, cinema, music hall, or other similar place of entertainment so long as the sale is to a bona-fide member of the audience and in a part of the building to which no other members of the public have access;.medicine or medical or surgical appliances, so long as the shop is kept open only for such time as is necessary for serving the customer;newspapers, periodicals and books from the bookstalls of such terminal and main line stations as may be approved by the Secretary of State;aircraft, motor, or cycle, supplies or accessories for immediate use, so long as the shop is kept open only for such time as is necessary for serving the customer;victuals, stores, or other necessaries required by any naval military or air force authority for His Majesty's forces or required for any ship on her arrival at or immediately before her departure from a port, so long as the shop is kept open only for such time as is necessary for serving the customer;the transaction after the closing hour of any post office business.
I was asked to add to this Schedule a point about the hours of hairdressers, 1402 but the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Stewart) has a Bill of his own dealing with this subject, with which I entirely agree. I would, however, like to point out to him that he has, possibly, overlooked the fact that there is a leading Scottish case on the subject, which meets the whole of his Bill. That case is known as the Dundee Barber's case, Phillip v. Innes. The Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that the barber could compel his assistants to shave customers on Sunday. There was an appeal to the House of Lords, and the House of Lords reversed this decision, the Lord Chancellor and their Lordships holding that the master barber could not do so, except on medical grounds. It would appear, therefore, that in those days the Scotsmen went a bit cleaner on the Sabbath than did the people in England.
Clause 2 provides thatAny shop may be kept open during the general closing hours if no person other than the owner of the shop is employed or engaged in or about the business of the shop during those hours.I wish to state, perfectly frankly and clearly, my reasons for inserting this Clause in the Bill, whatever the effect may be hereafter. Ever since 1922, and at every subsequent election, I have been pledged to bring in an anti-D.O.R.A. Bill and to support the small single shopkeeper who is trying to earn a living when he likes and how he likes. This is the second time in the last 10 years that I have had an opportunity of having some luck in the ballot. In 1920, I had a scintilla of luck in the ballot, and on the 13th February, 1920, I brought in a Bill for the enfranchisement of women on equal terms with men, but it did not get any further. There was a Coalition Government in power at that time. In 1920, D.O.R.A. was not really a burning question. It was between the Armistice and 1922 that the people began to feel the pinch, when there were no homes for heroes to live in, when there was poverty and unemployment, and when everyone was surrounded by these restrictions, which we were so repeatedly assured were only War-time restrictions. What drew my particular interest and notice to this matter was the case of the ex-service men, crippled and disabled, or their widows, their orphans and dependants, who had been provided by charitable 1403 institutions or philanthropic friends with a small shop or with the rent of one, for the time being.
This Bill simply supplies a demand without interfering in any way with the hours of hired labour. No one is exploiting anyone else. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I repeat that no one is exploiting anyone else. The man is standing on his own. No one wishes to work longer than is necessary, but we must appreciate the fact that there are certain hours in certain places where it pays to keep open, if only for a few hours, to oblige those customers who either shop early or shop late, and where a man can make a scanty living by catering for these particular hours and these particular customers. The vans of the stores and the multiple shops deliver goods and take orders every night after hours, and that is where the small trader is up against an unjust and unfair monopoly.
I know full well that hon. Members have been inundated with correspondence and memorials, inspired and otherwise, but the poor people for which I am pleading have neither the great organisations nor the great wealth behind them to enable them to circulate memorials to air their grievances. I have received over 100 letters on this subject. I have received very few inspired letters; I did not expect that they would send them to me. The letters which I have received all relate to individual cases of serious hardship to the poor man or the poor widow who is trying to earn a decent living. Of these letters—I have received over 115 up to date—I will not bore the House by reading many, but I will take three specimen letters to show the feelings of these people. Here is one letter from A. S. Dyke, Holdfast Boots Stores, Wells, Somerset:I write to thank you, and to say that I am voicing tens of thousands of small traders up and down the country. In your attempt to give us this act of freedom, I feel sure you will gain the approval of all small traders. I am engaged in boot trade repairing and doing a small retail business, and find myself handicapped by what I consider unnecessary legislation. We have never been canvassed on the subject. When I say 'we,' I mean the thousands of small traders in this county who, for the most part, are unorganised, and I beg to put to you that the large influential businesses and the large combines that hold sway to-day were never brought to their 1404 present prosperity by limiting hours. Limiting hours such as some wish to impose upon us will for ever debar the small man from rising above his present position, and this imposition will also debar him from rising to be a competitor.Here is an extract from a second letter:Allow me to say how very much thousands of one-man self-supporting private retail traders are looking forward to the repeal of the restrictions of the shop hours, as their one and only salvation against sure financial ruin.
§ Sir P. GOFF
Percy Clarke, of Law-field House, Wakefield. This is another letter from an ex-service man:Your Shop Hours Bill will be welcomed and supported by thousands of ex-service men whose post-war conditions have left them the alternative of wasting a small capital in the search for work or attempting one-man businesses in the hope that a living, however meagre, may be their reward.He then goes on to give us his views of a gentleman called Mr. Larking, which I do not think it is necessary for me to deal with at the moment. This letter is only one of dozens I have here and which are open for the inspection of any hon. Member. They come from widows and the dependants of widows. I think it would save time if I read one other letter which has to do with the tobacco trade, as it affects not only Clause 2 but Clause 4 to which I shall come shortly.I am a retail tobacconist, and my one and only business is situate in one of the main roads of Manchester.This letter is written from Hyde Road, Ardwick, Manchester, on the 2nd March, 1928:I employ no labour other than myself and wife, and our ages are 56 and 60 respectively. Within 100 yards to the left of my shop there is a branch shop of a wholesale firm, and within the same distance to the right of my shop is another shop of another large wholesale firm. The Imperial Tobacco Co. supply both these shops with automatic machines for the benefit of the public after 8 p.m. I refused one. Within the same radius of my premises there are five general businesses, four public-houses, and two picture houses, who are allowed to keep open until 9.30 p.m., 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. respectively. In all these places cigarettes and tobacco can be obtained by persons whom they know until they are closed. Next door to me is a catering business open to 11 p.m. The owner of this catering business informs me that any amount from 5s. to 10s. per night goes into these machines, which business I should 1405 certainly get were I not compelled to close at 8 p.m. under the present Act. May I draw your attention to the proposal brought forward by the National Union of Retail Tobacconists. As one which has been on the National Council I can assure you that its members are not composed of legitimate tobacconists only. About 75 per cent. of its members sell cigarettes as a sideline.These are all the letters with which I propose to bore the House this morning. My four hon. and gallant Friends who support the Bill will give hon. Members their views upon the ex-Service men. The hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Mrs. Philipson) who has specialised on this question, will be able to give more information at first hand. As regards Clause 2, I have endeavoured to state the claims of these people rationally and dispassionately; with the lowest form of advocacy—the simple truth. I put this Clause to the House as the poor man's charter of freedom, and the right to work Clause. Clause 3 deals with confectionery. It consolidates the present law under the Act of 1921, that is, to open on week-days until 9.30 and 10 p.m. on the late day, provided that the local authority may substitute an earlier hour, not later than 8 p.m., if they are satisfied that it is desired by the majority of the shops to be affected.
Clause 4 gives the same facilities for tobacco and smokers' requisites as Clause 3 does to confectioners, if they are satisfied that such an order is desired by the occupiers of at least two-thirds of the shops to be affected. Clause 5 gives powers for shops to close earlier if they want to, and Clause 6 takes power to grant exemption in respect of exhibitions, provided that shop assistants shall not be employed for more than such hours as may be specified in the Order. Clause 7 gives power to the local authority in holiday and sea-fishing resorts, during a period not exceeding four months in any year, to grant later hours as they may think fit if desired by a majority of the shopkeepers to be affected, with the same protection for shop assistants. Under Clause 8 the Secretary of State may suspend the operation of this Act during Christmas or on any other special occasion, and in the same way the local authority may suspend, but only for 7 days in the year. Clause 9 is the penalty Clause, and Clause 10 contains 1406 consequential amendments; and then there is the short Title.
We sometimes hear it said "He knows what he is talking about." I do not claim to come under that category [HON. MEMBERS "Hear, hear!"] I am glad hon. Members opposite are so ready to recognise my many deficiencies, but it is extraordinary how wonderfully well some Members get on in spite of that handicap. There are others who really mean what they say, but never get a chance of saying it. I do not profess to have the gift of tongues; I was one of those who were left out at Pentecost, but the longer I look at the front Opposition bench the longer I realise their sincerity and their sympathy for minorities. The more I look at our own Government bench the more I regret that our parents had not the political prophetic instinct to send us all to Harrow. But there are other schools, and the finest public school in the world is the British House of Commons. We have our headmaster, and he has his assistant masters. There are only two levellers in this world, one is the House of Commons and the other is death. I ask the House with some confidence to give this Bill a Second Reading if for no other reason but because there is so much bad in the best of us, and so much good in the worst of us, that it ill becomes any one of us to say a bad word of the rest of us.
§ Sir WILLIAM BULL
I beg to second the Motion.
I am afraid that I cannot imitate the humour of my hon. Friend who moved this Motion. My reason for Seconding the Motion is that ever since I have been in the House I have taken the deepest interest in the question of shop assistants and early closing. Some of the hon. Members may remember that in 1912 I was in charge of that Bill which was called the waiters' charter of freedom. That being the case, when my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Sir P. Goff) asked me to put my name to his Bill, I readily assented and here I am seconding it. I do not regard it at all as a perfect Bill. I suppose no Bill is a perfect Bill, but I do hope that when this good-natured House of Commons—evidently very good-natured this morning, perhaps largely because of my hon. 1407 Friend's amusing speech—gives the Bill a Second Reading, it will be improved in Committee upstairs. All Bills are compromises and this Bill is a compromise. But I think it is a step in the right direction which all parties in the House are seeking to take, namely, the betterment and contentment of the large shopping classes.
With regard to Clause 2 I was a little surprised to see that the Home Secretary, when receiving a deputation the other day before he had heard the arguments for or against, definitely came down against Clause 2. I regard Clause 2 as one of the most valuable Clauses of the Bill. I do not think that it can be logically opposed. The inherent right of every Englishman to work as hard as he likes without doing any harm to any other person is such—[Interruption]. That is the point. I do not see how he could possibly be doing any harm to anyone by keeping his shop open. We have got into the habit I am afraid of wanting too much Government control. I forget who it was, but many years ago a philosopher said: "Please govern me as little as you can." During the War we all very willingly and heartily agreed to tremendous restrictions on our liberties, but we did think that when the War came to an end those restrictions would be removed, and a great many Members on this, the Conservative, side of the House were disappointed that a Conservative Government did not move earlier in the matter and sweep away many anachronisms. I recollect shortly after the War having to go to Euston to receive a very important letter that came by the Irish Mail. The Irish Mail was an hour late, but I thought that I would occupy the time by smoking a cigar. I had not one and went to the bar to try to buy one. I was told I could not have it. Then I thought I would like a glass of bitter. I was told I could not have that. Then I thought I would ask for a sandwich. I asked for a sandwich, and the obliging young lady behind the bar said to me, "Now you have ordered a sandwich you can have a glass of bitter and also a cigar."
That kind of thing is simply childish rubbish. It is exactly on a par with the way in which the licensing laws are being enacted, whereby you can drink only 1408 until 10 o'clock on one side of Oxford Street and you have merely to cross the road to go on drinking tilt 11 o'clock. These are the things that exasperate the British public, the inarticulate British public. I am not talking of the people who belong to large organisations and unions. I have had a tremendous lot of letters against this Bill—all kinds of letters from all sorts of societies. But I am rather ruse, and I can see perfectly well that it is all engineered. The people who are really deeply interested do not write to us. Hon. Members all know that the large amount of correspondence that reaches them in regard to every Bill is really factitious and merely intended to frighten them into voting in a particular way.
§ Sir W. BULL
Yes, I am a lawyer, or try to be. [Interruption.] I am sorry I cannot translate what the hon. Member said. A good deal of the opposition to the Bill comes from the big shops and from other shops where there are one or two assistants employed. It is only natural that they should oppose the Bill. I was very much interested in an article that appeared in the "Times" the day before yesterday from Mr. Selfridge, who took a very reasoned view of the case and said he thought the small man should also have a chance and that he did not fear any number of small shops. The shopkeepers who have one or two assistants are naturally fearful. I want the Opposition specially to think of the underdog, the man who has but one shop and wants to keep open and supply his customers. There is no doubt that there is a necessity for the removal of existing restrictions, as is shown by the large number of prosecutions that take place. The people summoned in these cases are very unwilling law-breakers. We ought not to make people into law-breakers by making laws which go against the common sense of the community as a whole.
I noticed in one letter or circular that I received that it complacently said, "We are now educating the public up to shopping at reasonable hours." Educating the public—why should they educate the public? Of course, you can easily educate the public if the shops close. The public cannot shop if the shops are closed. These people complacently 1409 say that they are educating the public up to shopping at reasonable hours. The whole thing is approached from the wrong end. The public are the last people thought about. It is the proprietor of the shop and the assistants, everyone concerned but the poor unfortunate public. The public who pay all the rates and taxes are never considered or consulted in the matter at all. That is why this Bill is brought in, for the purpose at any rate of doing something to right what we consider is a very great wrong.
I am very sorry that my colleague and very good Friend the Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Gardner) is not here. I think he is in the Rotary Club at Hammersmith, where I ought to be at one o'clock. If he were here I am sure he would not dissent from what he said the other day to our local Chamber of Commerce. There, to a body very largely Conservative—although there are no politics in Chambers of Commerce—to a body composed of shopkeepers, he had the temerity to say that all the small people would be swept away by large cooperative stores and multiple shops. He calmly said that to this audience. That is the policy and the tendency of his party. All I say is that I do not think that is fair. I think we Conservatives ought to oppose that tendency as much as possible, and to give the small man a chance. That is the reason why I am supporting this Bill. I am not certain whether the subject ought not to have been approached from the other end, whether it would not have been better to have framed a very short Bill with regard to shop assistants and to leave it at that, without all the complicated exceptions of this Bill. That, however, may be amended in Committee. I think we ought to include billiard saloons in the Bill. That also is a point for the Committee. Billiard saloons and the selling of drink there seem to have been left out of the Bill. Perhaps the Bill can be modified in that direction. I am obliged to the House for the patience with which it has listened to me. I loath speaking in this Chamber, and I never speak unless absolutely compelled. That means, however, that I save a good deal of time of other Members.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of 1410 the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordswhilst this House is in favour of making permanent legislation relating to the hours of closing of shops, it cannot assent to a Measure which would render the Law to a large extent inoperative and encourage unfair competition by the exemption of many shops and other establishments, and which fails to limit the hours of labour of shop assistants to 48 per week.I should like to congratulate the Mover of the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill upon his very informative speech. I should also like to congratulate him upon his wisdom in avoiding a critical examination of the facts surrounding this problem. I think a problem of this importance ought to have been dealt with by the Government, rather than by the method of a private Member's Bill. Whatever legislation may be passed on this subject will affect the lives and well-being of between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 of our people, including over 1,000,000 shop-workers. It seems to me there are two methods of approaching this problem, either of which would have led to a much more satisfactory solution than the method which is before the House this morning. First, there is the possibility of dealing with this problem by abolishing all restrictions and protecting the interests of the shop-workers by fixing the maximum number of hours during which they may be employed. Had the hon. Member opposite brought forward a Bill, the main principles of which were to lay down a statutory limitation of the hours of labour for shop-workers and to abolish all restrictions, it would have been a proposition worthy of examination on these benches. I do not say that is the best solution of the problem. I believe that an examination of all the facts would indicate that you could not adopt the principle of the 48-hour week unless you associated some measure of compulsory closing of shops with that principle, because of the difficulties, the varying conditions, and the impossibility of applying the shift system, economically, to shop life.
That, however, is a proposition which would have been worthy of consideration, and it would have had this advantage: It would have attempted to meet what we are told is the enormous volume of public opinion, which resents any restriction upon the opportunity to purchase 1411 at any time, regardless of any inconvenience which may be caused to other people. The other method which would, I think, have enabled us to deal intelligently and effectively with this problem has been ruled out of consideration by the action of the Home Secretary by determining terms of reference which did not permit the Departmental Committee set up by him to survey thoroughly the whole field of Shops Acts legislation and the possibility of legal restriction of the hours of labour. I complain very strongly of the right hon. Gentleman's action in this connection. He was urged to extend those terms of reference before the Committee began to consider the matter, but, with that characteristic obstinacy which he displays when he has made up his mind, and thinks he is right, and determines to stick to his guns, the right hon. Gentleman declined to extend those terms of reference. The consequence is that the Departmental Committee's Report represents, not an intelligent comprehensive survey of the problem as a whole—pre-War legislation as well as post-War legislation—and the question of hours of labour, but it represents a number of illogical compromises, and the Report does not give to the House that complete guidance to which it is entitled in considering a matter of this kind.
I would like to ask the Home Secretary whether, in the event of this Bill being defeated, he can hold out any hope or give us any undertaking that the Government will consider the whole question of legislation in connection with shop hours regulation, and give us a comprehensive Bill, to deal with the pre-War legislation and its relation to post-War legislation, and also enable us to discuss the merits or demerits of a legal delimitation of the hours of labour for shop-workers. I hope when the right hon. Gentleman makes his statement upon this Bill he will deal with that point and let the House know, clearly and explicitly, exactly where the Government stand in relation to the most contentious part of the Bill, namely, Clause 2. We have heard a great deal from the Mover and Seconder of the Motion about the necessity of the principles embodied in Clause 2 and the necessity of doing justice to the ex-service man. My hon. Friend opposite says he is concerned— 1412 and I do not doubt his sincerity in the matter—about the position of a relatively small number of disabled ex-service men who might, he thinks, be helped to get a living, if these restrictions were removed. I think that in legislating on these matters we must have regard to the interests of the community as a whole, and the Mover will probably agree with me, that the enormous number of ex-service men who are small shopkeepers or, it may be, shopkeepers employing a number of assistants, or, it, may be mere hired workers—that these ex-service men are entitled to consideration of their interests as much as any small body of ex-service men who may be in the position which my hon. Friend has indicated.
When I remind the House that the organisation to which I have the honour to belong, the Shop Assistants Union, sent to the Colours 65 per cent. of its male membership and had to close over 100 branches during the War, I think it will be agreed that they are entitled to some consideration. My objection to Clause 2 is that it is the enemy and not the friend of ex-service men. It would, as a matter of fact, undermine the progress of the last 50 years. Clause 2, if put into operation, would at once lead to a demand for the revocation of existing closing orders under the 1912 Act, and it would make it practically impossible to establish any new general closing orders under the machinery of that Act, because the whole principle upon which the closing order system is based, and upon which its success has been developed, is that, by the principle of compulsion, you bring into line that limited number of avaricious individuals who, by a selfish desire to take advantage of their competitors by keeping open a little later, prevent their competitors from being able to close their shops at a reasonable time, to enjoy reasonable leisure and reasonable opportunities of recreation and of education.
I can tell the hon. Member that the overwhelming majority of small shopkeepers are the most determined and bitter opponents of this Bill, and among those most determined and bitter opponents of Clause 2 are those ex-service men who during the war acquired a liking for the open air, for a different kind of life from that which they had previously 1413 known when they were working the enormously long hours that were general in shops before the War.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
I am afraid that in this matter my hon. Friend has not displayed that discretion which we usually associate with his name. He has suggested, and the Seconder rather supported the view, that there was a great, inarticulate mass of small shopkeepers who were so moved by the injustices that they suffered that they did not bother to write, and that it was only the organised opinion which was receiving any consideration.
Let me put this point to my hon. Friend: Whose voice is properly entitled to the most serious consideration? Is it the voice of the individual, narrow, self-contained, selfish, who looks at his own limited problem and refuses to associate with his fellows in his trade organisation in order that he may intelligently discuss the problems of his trade and act jointly with other people in it? Is not the organised type of opinion, formed as a result of discussion and of interest in the problems of life, entitled to more consideration than the opinion of an isolated individual, who sees his own limited problem, and the possibilities perhaps of individual gain to himself, providing he can be left open and other people can be closed? What advantage can come to any ex-service shopkeeper or any other shopkeeper once you break down the principle of compulsion and anybody is entitled to open? They are exactly, in a sense, from a competitive point of view, where they were before, because while it is true that a certain class might increase their takings because another class were compelled to be closed, it is equally true that the force of competition itself would soon destroy that temporary advantage. It is quite a fallacy to assume that shops are closed merely when the proprietors of those shops like to close them. Speaking as one who has had practical experience of shop life, I can assure my hon. Friend that the closing of a shop is dependent upon the conduct of the competitors in that trade, and before there was any system of general compulsion, assistants were sent out of the shops to walk along 1414 the street to see what Mr. Brown or Mr. Smith was doing at half-past ten, at half-past eleven, or at midnight even, in order to see whether a proprietor could dare to close his shop. That is the kind of thing that obtained, and that one-man shopkeepers do not want to come back. The one-man shopkeeper is the man who appreciates, more perhaps than any other section affected by this legislation, the advantages of the position which was put into operation with the system of compulsion.
I think it is quite wrong of my hon. Friend to deal with this question from the rather prejudiced point of view which visualises it simply as a problem of abolishing wartime restrictions. As a matter of fact, early closing has been a development of 50 years of effort and energy by people who have been interested in this problem, to the great benefit of the health of thousands of young people, and particularly girls, employed in the distributive trades, and even if a good thing did begin out of the war, why should it be destroyed merely because it happened to begin out of wartime necessities? I sincerely hope the Home Secretary will be able to give us some assurance that the case for limiting the hours of labour of shop assistants may be either fully considered in connection with this Bill, if it gets a Second Reading, or as the result of Government action.
In suggesting that there is a necessity for the legal limitation of hours, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that because a shop is closed at 8, or 9.30, or 10 o'clock, that is no indication necessarily that the assistants in that shop are being employed for a reasonable period, because I am sorry to say that in some firms it is the general practice to keep their assistants behind, for purposes of stock-taking, of checking or preparing goods for the work of the next day, long after the shop has been closed for the entry of customers. The best firms in the trade, the co-operative societies and the more enlightened employers, would, I am sure, appreciate some measure of protection against the unscrupulous methods of unscrupulous competitors.
I think the Government particularly, and Parliament generally, have a very bad record so far as the interests of shop 1415 workers are concerned, especially when we remember that the distributive trades employ such a large number of young persons, particularly women, who are not organised, in a trade union sense, to a sufficient degree to protect their own interests without legislation. There was a hope, before this Government came into office, that by means of Trade Board legislation we should abolish the worst evils as far as excessive hours of labour were concerned, but the Government abolished the Grocery Trade Board, and had inquiries into other trades, but took no action. My hon. Friend who, I think, will follow me. knows so much about that question, that he will, perhaps, deal with it as an indication that the hopes of improvement have been very largely destroyed by Government action. I should like to direct the attention of the Home Secretary to the hours of labour still prevalent for such a large number of young persons as disclosed by the evidence at the inquiries in the distributive trades. It may, perhaps, surprise the House to know that at the present time there is no legal limitation of the hours of shop workers, with two exceptions. Those two exceptions are that, in the Act of 1912, young persons under 18 may not be employed for more than 74 hours a week, inclusive of meal-times. My hon. Friend talked about antediluvian restrictions. I think that 74 hours in these days is antediluvian.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
There are antediluvian anomalies if you compare restriction of this kind with opinion as it exists to-day in relation to these matters. The other exception is that under the Act of 1913 the hours of those in the catering trades are restricted to 65, exclusive of mealtimes. I think that this inquiry which the Government held has produced evidence that there still exists a problem to be dealt with by means of legal limitation. I would like to draw the attention of the House particularly to the evidence on page 61 of the Report of the Edinburgh Juvenile Organisations Committee, the Edinburgh Women's Citizens' Association and the Standing Scottish Committee of the National Council of Women. In giving evidence 1416 regarding conditions of employment in the catering trade in reference to the question of hours, they say that they vary from 44 to 70 hours a week, and in some cases the day is stretched out for a period of 15 hours. I hope the Home Secretary will seriously consider this problem, and see whether it is not possible to do something by means of Government action.
The Bill does not in any way meet that body of criticism about which we have heard so much in the press, and from the hon. Member himself and the hon. Member for Berwick (Mrs. Philipson). The Bill will perpetuate the confusion that exists in relation to the problem of mixed shops if it remains as it is at the present time. As to the position under Clauses 3 and 4, I would point out to the hon. Member that the irritation which the public are said to feel so much, although I think the extent of public irritation has been enormously exaggerated, when they go into a shop which sells a number of commodities—say, a shop which sells newspapers, sweets and tobacco—under Clauses 3 and 4, as they stand, you will still have a situation of that kind. You may have a newspaper sold, say, at 8 o'clock; you may have the legal selling time for sweets at 9.30 or, possibly, 9 o'clock or 8.30. You may have the legal selling time for tobacco possibly at 8 o'clock, or 9 o'clock, or 9.30—I am referring to ordinary days, and not to the late night of the week. That will still be the position of the public in relation to mixed shops of this character. The hon. Member has not taken the guidance of the evidence presented to the Committee, and which, presumably, he has read. Almost every person who spoke with authority on this matter—the Association of Municipal Corporations, the Society of Weights and Measures, and those concerned with the administration of the Act—were unanimous, just as nearly all the traders' organisations were unanimous, that what was the trouble, and what made it difficult for them, was having these different times fixed by law for different commodities, that their difficulty was to get the public to understand the necessity for these different hours, and that they were very often driven against their will to break the law because it was regarded as foolish.
1417 The hon. Member instead of getting rid of D.O.R.A., proposes to perpetuate this state of affairs. Not only does he do that, but he proposes machinery for dealing with this problem in the confectionery and tobacco trades based on entirely two different principles in the same Act of Parliament. In the one case, 9.30 will be the legal closing hour for the sale of confectionery, unless a, majority vote for shorter hours. In the other case of tobacco, the legal selling time will be 8 o'clock, except where a two-thirds majority vote for longer hours. So that the thing will be complicated still further. What I suggest is required in the interests of the public is the abolition of as many exemptions as possible, and particularly those exemptions which apply to a mixed shop, so that if the 1921 Act were abolished the general closing order would be fixed at 8 o'clock for all the commodities sold in that class of shop, and any departure from 8 o'clock would be when there was evidence of real injustice in a particular locality, rather than, as now, deliberately fixing in the Bill two different hours based upon two different sets of machinery, for determining the hours in particular localities.
§ Sir P. GOFF
I do not think the hon. Member realises that in the Third Schedule the whole of the 1920 and 1921 Acts are repealed.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
I realise that perfectly well. It is exactly what I am trying to explain to the hon. Member, that this Bill, instead of dealing with the situation created by the passing of the 1921 Act, will perpetuate that difficulty, and, to some extent, confuses the issue. The hon. Member proposes in the Schedule of the Bill to extend to theatres, cinemas and licensed premises the right to sell tobacco and confectionery at hours later than those that will be applied to the legitimate trader outside those places. The retail tobacconist will have a justifiable cry of complaint if cinemas and theatres, whose main purpose and business is to provide entertainment are to be given by Act of Parliament privileges to sell commodities which are denied to him. He will be entitled to grumble, and I fear that, in practice, this proposal will lead to a demand for longer hours by the tobacco trade, with the consequence of longer hours being im- 1418 posed upon a large number of assistants. Even if the machinery of this Bill be utilised to the utmost, there will still be this disparity as between the theatres and cinemas, and the tobacco trade.
Is it really such a serious hardship to deny people in the theatre an opportunity of purchasing a packet of cigarettes or an ounce of tobacco or a cigar? It is foolish to say that it is, and in the absence of proper protection for shopworkers, once the problem is dealt with merely by the method of compulsory closing hours, it is essential that these closing hours should be made to apply all round. Theatres and cinemas are not allowed to sell alcoholic liquor after licensed premises have closed. Why should they be allowed to sell a commodity which is not their main means of livelihood, after the legitimate trader has been compelled to close. The extension of hours in the 1921 Act to 9.30 in the confectionery trade was brought about largely as the result of the agitation carried on by the cinema and theatre interests to secure the privileges that they had before the War. The confectioners, feeling the injustice of the proposal to give cinemas and theatres the right to sell at hours later than they were compelled to close, agreed, after negotiation and agreement with the interests concerned, to the extension to 9.30 as a compromise. If this Bill be passed as printed, it will probably set in motion a similar claim by the confectioners for an extension of hours.
I hope that the Home Secretary will be sympathetic to the point which I have raised, particularly in view of his recent promotion and the honour that has been conferred upon him by his chief. I notice in the newspapers this morning that the Home Secretary has been given the mantle of Joshua, and that his purpose in life from now onwards is to lead the flappers into the Promised Land. I cannot help thinking that, with that wise political discrimination which he sometimes displays, he was moved to make that statement on Clauce 2 to a deputation last Monday because he realised that both the flappers and the shopkeepers' organisations would perhaps be very much opposed to this Clause. Perhaps it was his desire to maintain these early closing restrictions in order that he might reach the Promised Land 1419 in daylight that led him to make this announcement. I would remind him that it took Joshua seven years, I think, to reach the Promised Land, and he found quite a lot of trouble when he got there. But, to be quite serious, I hope that the Home Secretary in his new role will have some regard in this Bill to the interests of the many thousands of young women who are still unfortunately the victims of long hours in the distributive trades.
§ Miss BONDFIELD
I beg to second the Amendment.
The hon Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill referred to the antediluvian anomalies that exist, but he has had an extremely short experience of the whole question, and it makes me feel very venerable when I remember that this question came before me in a very personal way in 1886, and has been with me ever since. I entered the trade in that year, and it was very long before any question arose of the regulation, of hours at all. It is with peculiar interest that I have listened to the rehashing of exactly the same kind of arguments which were used against the attempts which we made to place some limit upon the absolutely unrestricted hours that were worked. I have worked in shops that were kept open for 74 and 75 hours a week, and many shops were kept open longer than that. I was one of those who was sent out, when I was a junior, to scout round and find out whether so-and-so across the road showed any signs of putting up his shutters, because, as soon as he began to show such signs, we put up our shutters. I cannot imagine anything more hopeless than the attitude of mind which would call that state of affairs free. It was the worst kind of slavery, both for the owners of the little shop, and for the assistants. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading referred to a small shopkeeper who was able to voice 10,000 opinions. I do not understand how he collected those 10,000 opinions—
§ Miss BONDFIELD
Well, as a Somerset woman, I have very grave doubts of that figure of 10,000. Of those who have been given an opportunity to join in the ordinary amusements of the 1420 people I believe the little shopkeepers are one section of the community who are probably most grateful; the shop assistant has also reaped that advantage, but in the case of the little shopkeeper, not only has he been on the job all the time but he has had to carry all the worry of the business. Now, at last, he has been able to close his shop a little earlier than would otherwise be the case.
A great deal has been made of inconvenience caused to the shopping public. That argument leaves me absolutely cold, especially as I know, again from personal experience, of the shopping habits which were prevalent before there were any regulations. They were rotten, they were based on thoughtlessness and selfishness, upon absolute bad management of the household itself, for the most part. Great and representative bodies like the Women's Co-operative Guild, and the Standing Joint Committee of the Women's Organisation representing wives and mothers, these women representative of the shopping public, of all who would be likely to be most inconvenienced, have given their testimony that the regulation of shop hours has led to a reform of shopping habits which has been to the great advantage of the household. In many industrial centres wages often used to be paid late on a Saturday. To-day it is much more common for wages to be paid on Friday, and sometimes even on Thursday, in order that the housewife shall not be driven to take what is left on Saturday night because she did not get her husband's wages before. The regulation introduced into the distributive trades, although far from perfect have undoubtedly improved the domestic habits of our people in a most extraordinary way.
The desire for an extension of opportunities for sales in theatres and other places of amusement seems to me to be based upon a very vicious principle indeed. I have received, as I daresay other hon. Members have, a circular from the Variety Artists' Federation which finishes up by saying that the extension, while it, would enable these places to supply the wants of their patrons, would also enable theatre attendants to augment their salaries by way of commission and would help the management to pay adequate salaries to the performers en- 1421 gaged there. I regard that circular as a disgrace to the great music hall profession, and I cannot believe that it represents the point of view of the people who are responsible for running the entertainments. When one realises the amount of money spent on these entertainments, and recalls the sums that are known to be paid to certain sections of the profession, it ought to be a matter of honour with them to secure that those persons whose services are required for the convenience of the public during a performance ought not to have to depend upon commission derived from a subsidiary business in order to secure an adequate living.
I think it is a disgraceful thing to drag in this subsidiary business in this way, and from that standpoint alone I should oppose any suggestion for increasing the facilities for sales in theatres, but I also want to say a word or two from the standpoint of the theatregoer. To anyone who is really interested in a performance, whether it be a musical performance, or whatever it may be, I cannot imagine anything more exasperating than somebody pushing along and calling out for sweets, or for tobacco, or for something else, and in that way disturbing the performance. On the ground that one goes to a theatre to listen to a performance I should certainly object very much to an extension of these opportunities for disturbance; and from the standpoint of the trade itself it seems equally unfair that these people—they are only a minority, an infinitesimal minority who want this disturbance—should in that way make themselves responsible for setting up additional competition with outside shopkeepers. People ought to he trained to think a little beforehand of their wants.
Take the case of smokers. I speak as one who has smoked; though I do not smoke now, I have in my time done my share, and I cannot imagine a more futile and stupid argument than that used by men and women who say they must be able to buy a packet of cigarettes at any moment when they remember they have forgotten to buy it at the proper time. There are already enough conveniences for buying these things; tobacconists' shops and automatic machines are so prevalent to-day that it is just sheer carelessness if any smoker finds himself at 1422 any time of the day without cigarettes. But even suppose you do belong to that small minority of completely thoughtless persons who never think about a thing until they actually want to use it, and never plan beforehand, there is no need to have these complaints of deprivation, because automatic machines can be adapted to whatever the demand happens to be.
In connection with this Bill, which is a Bill of exceptions, and is so shockingly reactionary because it is a Bill of exceptions, I would remind the House that the history of the attempts to regulate this trade is a very sad story indeed. The Act which regulates the hours of juveniles employed in the trade permits 74 hours a week. That Act is still on the Statute Book. It lays it down that young persons under 18 must not be employed for a longer period than 74 hours a week. For a short time we had a trade board in the grocery trade. When that trade board was set up in 1920 its regulations included a 48-hour week for the trade. That was proposed by the employers themselves and supported by the employers themselves, but, owing to a set of circumstances for which we cannot hold the Government entirely free from blame, that board was broken up and no longer exists. When the Department set up an inquiry into the drapery trade the evidence for setting up a trade board to regulate the hours of the drapery trade was overwhelming. Unfortunately, that project also never matured, and we have not had a trade board for that trade. In 1919 there was an inquiry, what was called an industrial conference, at which many trades were represented, including the distributive trades, and we got a phrase included in the report of the conference which for the first time in history would have meant a definite regulation of the hours of labour for shop assistants. The phrase used spoke of "all employed persons." That did away with the distinction which now exists between those employed in industry and those employed in the distributive or commercial occupations. That Report, however, was abortive.
I have recounted this list to show what a steady pressure has been kept up, and I do not need to take up the time of the House by referring to the continuous and never-ceasing campaign of shop assist- 1423 ants' unions in order to try to get some definite regulations of the hours of labour in the distributive trade. So far all efforts have failed to give us a definite regulation of the hours. [Interruption.] Any definite regulation throughout the trade. Whatever has been done has been a question of local arrangement under local orders. We welcome that as an advance over the previous position, we do not minimise the importance of having secured Closing Orders, but we feel the time has come now when a much wider survey should be taken and a much more rational and a more logical method be adopted for regulating hours in the distributive trades. I feel that this is a very important matter, because we have seen during the present generation the hours of labour in shops result in the most terrible physical deterioration and handicap to the persons employed. We have gone through that period, and we now find ourselves at a stage when there are regulations dealing with the closing of shops. This Bill attempts to go back upon the position which has been gained after a struggle lasting for two or three generations, and I ask this House earnestly to make it definitely clear that if this Bill goes through we shall have an opportunity of securing that the position of the distributing trades will not be worsened as a result.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I have listened with great interest to the speech which has just been made by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield). We have had two speeches in opposition to this Bill and, through both of them, there has been only one note, namely, that the public exist for the benefit of the shopkeepers and the shop assistants. That seems to me to be the atmosphere in which the opponents of this Bill exist. Judging from the communications which we have received from innumerable associations, the secretaries appear to have been rather busy. From their communications, one would gather the impression that the customer is a person who does not matter from their point of view. The arguments we have heard so far take up, the point of view that was taken by the Secretary of the Early Closing Association in his evidence before the Departmental Committee, and they seem to treat shopkeepers like you 1424 treat some domestic animal which has a certain hour at which they are fed, and which if you pursue that a few days, will learn to come for their food at the same particular hour.
That is the attitude which has been taken up by the opponent of this Bill, and it is the attitude taken up by the Labour party. In this way, they are showing an entire contempt for the interests of the working-classes, and this is Labour gratitude to those whom they profess to represent. By taking this course, they are not showing any desire to help the working classes in their domestic difficulties. Anybody who knows anything about working-class life and sympathises with them knows perfectly well that the little shop run by a shopkeeper and his wife, and perhaps one or two assistants, is really the storehouse of the working-class housekeeper in a residential district. These people are in the habit, of buying their goods in small quantities, and it is well known that there is no storage and no accommodation for storing provisions is working-class houses. It is very regrettable that it is so. When the breadwinner has returned home, washed and dressed himself, and had his tea, instead of the wife having an opportunity of going out in order to buy her little stores at a small shop, she is obliged to purchase at a less convenient hour at some multiple shop in the main street where the rents and taxes are very high.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The little shops are closed after the breadwinner comes home. An enormous number of workmen do not get home until late in the evening, and they want the small shops to remain open. There is plenty of evidence that the people wish the small shops to remain open. If it be true that no poor people want these small shops to be open then there is no evil in the proposals contained in Clause 2. If, on the other hand, the public want to shop after certain hours, then it is in the public interest, in fact it is the duty, of the small shopkeeper to be in his shop to supply their wants.
If a small shopkeeper has an assistant, or if he has a member of his own family 1425 to assist him, then he does not need to be in the shop very early in the morning or in the afternoon, but only at night. A competent assistant can carry on the duties of the small shop for a large part of the day, and the shopkeeper be taking that open air exercise about which we have heard so much in this Debate. This is almost like the principle adopted in the working of other businesses on two shifts, the only difference being that the proprietor is to have the opportunity of himself going upon the night shift or the evening shift. What hardship can there be in an arrangement of that kind? It is said that if a small shopkeeper remains open after the ordinary hours his next door neighbour will also have to keep open. My point is that if there is business for those shops to warrant them keeping open then it is our duty to supply them with the opportunity, and we have no right to close them up compulsorily. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote the opinion of Mr. Gordon Selfridge which appeared in the "Times" of yesterday:The arguments which have led to early closing have been based upon the case of the shop assistant, his need for legal support against an employer who might wish to exploit him. These arguments have no application to the owner-shopkeeper. Their only application would he that he must be protected against exploiting himself—against working too hard. That is the reductio ad absurdum of paternal legislation. Every shopkeeper should have the right, as every doctor and lawyer and politician has, to work as long and as hard as he pleases.We would consider it no argument at all to show that this store lost some trade to the one-man shop. We are quite willing to face that situation without the help of legislation.My support for this Bill is due to the fact that it contains Clause 2. The other Clauses would not be tolerable if it were not for Clause 2, because they seem to me to re-enact D.O.R.A. These D.O.R.A. Clauses were not passed with any idea of limiting the hours of opening and closing, but were passed during the War because we wanted to save coal and light, and for no other reason; and, in the interests of ordinary Parliamentary fair play, they should have been allowed to lapse at the conclusion of the War, with other War legislation, so that we could start afresh. If that had been done, I feel perfectly sure that this House would have recognised that, if it is de- 1426 sired to benefit shop assistants by restricting their hours of labour, the proper way is not to do it by this circuitous process.
This Bill proposes to restrict the hours during which shops may be open. What are you doing when you do that? You destroy the possibility of a man making full use of his capital, of getting the full benefit of his rent, rates and taxes. I know of engineering works where three eight-hour shifts are worked, and where, therefore, the full benefit of the whole of the 24 hours in the day is obtained. It is only by exploiting their capital to the full that they are able to carry on and compete. The same applies to some extent in the mining industry, where there are different shifts. What would be said if we were to suggest that, because some particular number of mines or engineering works find that one shift is most convenient for their purpose, all others were to be closed down to one shift also? The individual shopkeeper, who is the small capitalist, ought to be able to carry on after his workers have left. That is only giving him the liberty which is fundamental and essential to every British citizen. I do not care how many small shopkeepers, or other shopkeepers, may say: "We want to shut this man down because we want to close." That is the curfew, which is a most intolerable thing, and it is capable of application to every possible industry and occupation and walk of life.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I do not know to which bar my hon. Friend refers; I will leave it to him to make his choice; perhaps he has had a little experience of both. That would mean that members of the Bar would be deprived of their liberty to work, and that solicitors and law offices of all kinds would be closed down. That is the mark of the Socialists, because they do not believe in liberty and freedom; their one idea is to dragoon and tyrannise over the working man and all other classes. That is the mark of the co-operatives, because they do not run small shops; and the multiple shopkeeper also does not like it. It is no use giving him that liberty, because he could only be in one shop, and these are 1427 really the people who are at the back of this idea; the shop assistants are only being used as a stalking-horse for the ambitions of the multiple shopkeeper.
Only the other day I came across a passage in the Press headed: "Fortunes from Food." It mentions that one multiple shopkeeper has died and left over £1,200,000. Then it records that another multiple shopkeeper left very nearly £1,000,000, a third, £189,000, and another nearly half a million—all out of the food of the people, all out of this multiple shop business, all as the result of this class of restrictive legislation. These gentlemen were keen for this class of legislation, because they knew that if, while the hours of labour in other industries were shortened, the hours in their business continued to be long, they would have great difficulty in getting the same class of labour in their occupation, they would, perhaps, have to pay higher wages, and they might even be compelled to pay overtime. Therefore, they seized upon this particular legislation, because it extinguished the small shopkeeper all over the country, so that he or she could not get a chance.
Among a number of striking cases to which my attention was called was that of an elderly woman living in a furnished parlour at the back of a shop. She supplied the domestics in her district with their caps and aprons and other commodities of linen. All her work was done at 10 o'clock at night, when the girls were returning, after their evening out, to the places where they worked. They then went into the shop and took the parcels home. This woman had no assistants: she could not afford them: she was making a bare subsistence by selling these things at moderate prices. When this legislation came upon her, she had to close at eight o'clock. Her customers were all people who only came in between half-past nine and half-past ten. They did not come earlier in the evening, because they did not want to carry the goods about with them, and so they simply went to some big store and paid more, while this poor woman was reduced to a state of semi-starvation. [A laugh.] The hon. lady the Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) laughs unfeelingly. She is safe in her job. I think it is a very 1428 tragic thing, but it shows the tyrannical nature of the Party opposite. They have no bowels, no compassion for the poor or for the working man.
§ Miss WILKINSON
On a point of personal explanation, I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely unfair to suggest that I was laughing at the plight of this unhappy woman, if she existed, which I very much doubt.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The hon. Lady has added discourtesy to her previous heartlessness. It is only what I expect from anyone of that type. [An HON. MEMBER: "Give us the name of the woman."] I could take you to the shop. I cannot give her name at the moment, but. I can easily ascertain it.
§ Mrs. PHILIPSON
May I say that I have here this budget of letters from women who do not want to live on the dole, but who want to carry on their little businesses?
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I will give another instance from a letter which reads as follows:It is, I think, commonly recognised that the small shops rely mostly for their trade on being situate in the heart of a residential neighbourhood, where they act very largely as a convenient store for the housewife, for the purchase of commodities of which she may have exhausted her supply or omitted to purchase from the market centre when in town. For this reason I strongly urge that the small trader should be at liberty to fill this want unhampered, which constitutes his greatest source of trade. Without this, our greatest business asset, we are faced with unfair competition in the form of the multiple shops and cooperative stores. Take a firm of multiple shops If a net profit from, say, twelve shops is secured of say 30s. per branch, this will give the Head or Principal an income of £18 per week. Place these twelve shops in the hands of twelve small traders and 30s. a week net profit would be insufficient to afford a living to the shopkeeper. They would have to work and secure to themselves a net profit of at least £3 a week each. It follows, therefore, that longer hours are necessary to do this, particularly as I am having to constantly turn trade away from my door owing to the Shop Hours Act. I am quite satisfied, after exhaustive inquiry, that, the Shop Hours Act is nothing but a conspiracy between the big combines and the multiple shopkeeper.There is no doubt that the agitation in the early closing movement does not come from shop assistants, but is kept up by all this vast paraphernalia of agita- 1429 tion and circulation of letters and postcards and so on, and is entirely a conspiracy against the small man. I have innumerable letters here, some of them very pathetic. I remember one striking case in the poorest quarter in Glasgow. It is true that the woman might have taken out a licence if she wished and paid a guinea or more and perhaps kept open. She made soup out of fresh bones she got from the butcher for the poorest of the poor, supplying her customers—it was in a slum area—with bowls of soup for a penny, and for children small bowls for a halfpenny. She had on electric cooker from the Glasgow Corporation. Her electric cooker broke down, and it took a corporation official two hours to put it right while her people waited all round for their soup. She went on with her cooking, but was arrested and brought before the Sheriff for carrying on her business after closing hours. These are monstrous proceedings.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
It was under D.O.R.A. I agree with the criticism of the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield) in regard to the scope of the inquiry. There is not a word from the general public. It is admitted on page 62 that in a matter of this kind the public is unorganised and it is difficult to obtain any direct evidence. Of course, the public cannot give evidence, though they represent the vast majority. It is impossible for one individual to come out and say he wanted to buy what is contemptuously referred to by the Secretary of the Early Closing Association when he said no one had any right to want a kipper after eight o'clock at night. It is impossible to run along the streets and look for an individual here and there. If you got a dozen it would be said, "You are only a dozen, whereas we claim to represent all these shop associations." On page 43 there is a small shopkeeper who says when the proposal to close shops was first made, he thought he was ruined, but he changed his mind as the result of experience. He found it had not led to a reduction of trade. If there is no need for these shops to open they will not open. If there is a need for them to be open they ought to be open, but they need not have shop assistants. I am perfectly 1430 willing to assent to an eight-hour day for shop assistants which will not injure the small shopkeeper and will supply a public want without the exploitation of labour at all. It will keep them off the dole. I have letters from people saying, unless some alleviation of the law is given they will be driven on to the dole.
It is intolerable that a Member of the House should come here and abuse the public and say they are bad housekeepers. If she had the opportunity of a house of her own and raising a large family she would not get these old maid's tantrums and she would have some sympathy with working class mothers instead of being simply one of the organisers of dissatisfaction. My name is on the back of this Bill, but I only supported it, and the reimposition of D.O.R.A., because I saw that the interest of the public was going to be served whilst giving relief to the small shopkeeper. Why is it that out of 24 hours only four hours are to be sacred? It is only from eight to 12 that it operates. Under the present law, or under this Bill, anyone can open at midnight. Messrs. Lyons open some of their shops for late workers at 12 o'clock. Why is there nothing about that, and why there is nothing about morning opening? Shop assistants may be hauled in at all times. The whole of this shop legislation from start to finish has been more or less an imposture. It has been seized on by commercial interests and shop assistants have been given the bone of shorter hours, but the meat has all gone, and the big trader is extinguishing the small man. I obtained leave by a majority to introduce a Bill in the 1918 Parliament, in spite of the opposition of the party opposite, to free the shopkeeper, his wife and members of his family from the restrictions of the Shops Act, but the Home Office objected that it would be difficult to administer because inspectors would have to ask for birth certificates and relationship and that sort of thing. I was prepared to accept the rest of the Bill re-enacting the D.O.R.A. restrictions, because the Bill leaves liberty to the shopkeeper, realising that he would be assisted in the daytime by his family and he could carry on at night if he thought it worth his while to do so.
1431 Think what it means to the shop assistants. Go into any of your big multiple shops and stores. You hear about the young person but you never hear about the old person. What, becomes of all these bright young men and women whom you see in these multiple shops, highly paid, for which the public probably are charged? When they get on in years they go to the scrap-heap just at the very time they would be in a position to start a small business and work for themselves and glean the field after hours. They could make a reasonable and respectable living and yet be freed from being under the orders of any employer. After all, when a man comes with middle life he does not want to he ordered about. He wants to be his own master. There is many a man who could run a small shop who would not be considered of a standard good enough for a big shop. That is why the small shop is such a convenience to the worker and the working-class woman.
I have an enormous number of letters—I have not storage for them—in which they complain that it is very difficult for a working-class person to go into one of the bigger places because they are conscious that the man who is serving them is of a superior status. He is supercilious and will say, "Madam wants something cheap," and working women are compelled, through class consciousness, to make more expensive purchases than they otherwise would do. Whereas if they go into a little shop, run by one of their neighbours, in their own back street, they find friends there, and they stand and have a talk about events in the locality, and the shop becomes a small centre of social life. After all, if a shopkeeper was able to have a stately home to which to go and a library in which to sit down, or something of that kind, he might be said to be happier in his little home than in his shop. But I cannot imagine a better place for a man to be in during his evenings than in his own business, especially if he is making a little out of it, and has an opportunity of getting off in the afternoons. That is the most enjoyable place, because he is there, not under orders, but behind his own counter. I have every possible sympathy with the work of the shop assistant. He gets very tired, and it is very tedious to have to stand behind 1432 another man's counter. That is well illustrated in the Old Book, which states that it is the hireling or servant that earnestly desires his shadow, while of the man who is his own master it statesSeest thou a man diligent in this business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.I believe it is better to give the shop assistant the opportunity to rise in the world and better himself than to hold him down by the heel of legislation behind which there lurks the sinister grabbing combines who wish to annihilate him and prevent him from rising in life. It would be a sad thing if my party were to attempt to limit, as the Home Secretary has indicated, this Clause which gives an opportunity to the worker to improve his lot. It will be a terrible thing if the Conservative party are a party to it. But I have hopes that there will be sufficient intelligent men in the Committee upstairs who sympathise with the desire of a man to improve his lot and who know the hardships and difficulties he has in running his domestic affairs to keep this Clause in. I am satisfied that if there is a satisfactory representation of Members of this House, that that Clause will be kept in and prove to be one of the greatest benefits to the shop assistants and to the shopping public that has been passed in recent years.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I find myself in this position: I am not prepared to support the Bill as it stands, and I do not feel inclined to support the Amendment. The Bill as presented to us, with the exception of Clause 2, is in accordance with the Report of the Committee, and I realise that, the Committee did their work very well indeed, and that any recommendations by them ought to be taken into account. But with Clause 2 in the Bill, I feel that I cannot give my vote in favour of a Second Reading, unless we obtain an assurance from the Home Secretary that the Government will make themselves responsible for the deletion of the Clause in Committee. I certainly read a report in the Press that the Home Secretary had made such a statement to a deputation, and I think that we shall probably hear from him to-day that he re-affirms that statement, and then we shall know where we are. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Cleveland 1433 (Sir P. Goff), in introducing the Bill, gave a little historical survey of the Shops Acts under which we have been working for some time. I think it is desirable that we should go into the position of affairs which existed in pre-War times, just as he went into affairs during the War-time period and since. I wish he had gone a little further back, because in dealing with this subject it is as well to understand and to know exactly how the agitation for shorter hours came into being.
The Mover of the Bill said that the House would always listen to a man who spoke on a subject that he thoroughly understood, and he told us that he did not understand the subject about which he was speaking. I am going to claim that this is a subject, at any rate, about which I can speak, and I hope the House will excuse me for being a little personal, because it is really necessary to show why I feel so strongly on the subject. At 12 years of age, I went as a shop boy, and I worked as an assistant until I reached man's estate, when I commenced—and the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) has stated that the shop assistant should be in business for himself—business on my own account. I had a long and varied experience of conditions in pre-War times as an assistant, and experience as the proprietor of a shop during the War period and since. There were no restrictions in the old days, and at whatever hour in the evening a shop was closed, there would always be one poor old lady or gentleman who had forgotten something, and who would come in just as the shop was about to be closed. I can confirm from my own experience the statement that has been made twice in this House concerning the man who stood at his shop door waiting to see if his neighbour would close.
We tried all sorts of methods in order to get an improvement. We made organised efforts. We sent round our own people to canvass the shopkeepers in order to try to come to some agreement. Very often we got them to come to an agreement, but the difficulty was to get them to carry out the agreement afterwards. We had no half-day holiday in those days, and we thought that if we made an attempt to obtain a half-day holiday it would be a step in the 1434 right direction. We could not even get that. We then tried the expedient of sending round a band to play "Work for the night is coming," outside the shops of the worst offenders. That did not have the desired effect, because some people's skins were so thick that they took no notice of it. Some of us felt that we wanted more leisure. In those days it was not an uncommon thing for me to have to walk home at one or two o'clock on the Sunday morning.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
And for something else here. I would not have minded spending that time in my shop if I had been doing business or doing work. I was simply waiting, and there is nothing more tiring than waiting, as hon. Members of this House know when they wish to make a speech and have to wait an opportunity of being called. This sort of thing is far more tedious than doing actual work. Some persons would come into the shop occasionally. It did not matter what time one closed there was always someone who would come in and say "You close too soon."
We tried to get voluntary closing for half a day weekly. We succeeded in getting most of the shops in the town to close. Some shops did not close, and we smiled and said: "Let them carry on; they will not do much business." This is the point I want to make. I happened to purchase one of these businesses a year or two afterwards. I had the books handed over to me, and I found on looking through the records that that shopkeeper was one of the most inefficient shopkeepers against competition that I ever knew in my life. When I went through the books I found that his business on the half-closing day was extensive, and that for the rest of the week, when he had to compete with his neighbours, he did practically nothing. The point is that he was a monopolist in the sense that he was the only man in that district who opened during the half closing day. He did considerable business because he had this monopoly, but on the other days when other people were competing against him his monopoly vanished and it became a question of fair competition of ability against ability, and the public discriminated and went to the man who could serve them 1435 best. What will the position be if Clause 2 becomes part of the proposed Act? We should be in exactly the same position, because no hon. Member will suggest that if we pass Clause 2, only one man in a district will be allowed to keep open. If that were so, I should say that that one would have a monopoly.
Dealing with the historical survey of this movement, I would point out that the first Act, which was passed dealing with shop hours, in 1892, laid it down that no shopkeeper might employ any young person for more than 74 hours a week. That will give the House some idea of the hours that the shops were open in those days. In 1897, and again in 1900, Sir Charles Dilke made an attempt to legislate on behalf of shopkeepers, but he had no success. In 1904, Parliament passed an Act which was introduced, I think, in another place by a Noble Lord, and that was the first definite Act to regulate shorter hours, apart from the one regulating the hours of shop assistants. That Act provided that two-thirds of any particular trade could get an order by applying for it. There were many reasons why that Act was not a success. There were the varying trades. Some trades applied for orders, and others did not. There were also complications in regard to the mixed shops. Consequently, the Act was very unsatisfactory.
The agitation went on on behalf of those interested in shop-keeping life, and in 1909 Mr. Herbert Gladstone, who was then Home Secretary, brought in a Bill which provided for 60 hours a week for shop assistants, who were not allowed to work later than eight o'clock at night on three days a week. Although Mr. Herbert Gladstone introduced that Bill he did not see it passed into law, because he was appointed Governor-General of South Africa, and it was left to his successor, the right hon. Gentleman who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer, to deal with the question, as Home Secretary. He tried to carry on the good work that Mr. Gladstone had initiated, and after three years of continuous controversy between the traders, Members of Parliament and others, the Act of 1912 was placed on the Statute Book. This Act provides that every shop, with certain exceptions, must be closed for one half- 1436 day a week. That was a great step forward, which we in the shop-keeping world welcomed. It was provided that every assistant, whether the shop was closed or open, must, have one half-day holiday per week, and also that if the local authority are satisfied that the occupiers of at least two-thirds of the shops affected in an area are in favour, they may make a closing Order for an earlier hour than seven p.m. on any day not being a closing day.
The reason I have mentioned that particular Act is because under that Act in many districts closing Orders are now in operation, and those Orders are for hours earlier than the hours laid down in the Order in 1916. The great difficulty that we find is the confusion owing to the number of compulsory closing hours. You have in one district where there is an Order, a closing hour of seven o'clock, and in another district there is an Order for eight o'clock as the closing hour, and in some places on Saturday the shops close at different hours. Therefore I welcome the Bill in so far as it makes provision for dealing with that question, but, on the other hand, we ought to take a good deal of notice of the Report of the Committee which was set up by the Home Secretary, a very wise proceeding, to make a thorough investigation on this subject before bringing in legislation. That Committee held 21 meetings; they sat in public on 14 occasions, and examined over 100 witnesses and undoubtedly went very deeply into the whole question. I am not in favour of all the recommendations of that Committee, but I am prepared to support a reasonable compromise.
The introduction of Clause 2 in this Bill, upon which the discussion to-day seems to have centred is destructive of the chance of the Bill getting through this House unless, of course, the hon. Member who has introduced the Bill is prepared to withdraw the Clause. The hon. Member would act wisely if he were to give an intimation that he is prepared to withdraw the Clause; then, possibly, he will get on with the Bill without much trouble. The Committee reported on this particular matter and pointed out the difficulty of an operation such as Clause 2 would allow. That is, to enable a man to keep open, so long as he does not employ assistants. 1437 The administrative difficulties would be enormous. Look at the absurdity of the position! I claim that, possibly, I have helped the small man, about whom the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire is so much concerned, as much as anyone in this House. Immediately the War was over, I was connected with an organisation whose duty it was to try to reinstate men in the businesses they had left before joining the forces. During the War, we carried on many of these businesses on their behalf. Our association was known as the One Man Business Association. I had to deal with many cases of men who had been shopkeepers prior to their enlistment, and who wanted to become shopkeepers again after demobilisation.
Let me tell of some experiences which throw a little light upon the complaints from ex-service men who say they are not able to make a living. Many of these men came to me. They had their little gratuity. In some cases, particularly men discharged from the naval service, the gratuity amounted to £100, and they thought that if they got a little shop they would be able to make a living, without any difficulty. They were rather inclined to that belief because of certain specious advertisements which were appearing in the Press, offering wonderful businesses for the small sum of £80. I made it my business to investigate every case where a business of this type had been offered, in order to find out whether there was a chance of the man earning a living. I knew from my own practical experience how impossible it was for a man to be able, without any previous experience whatever to earn a living. The art of shop-keeping is just as much an art as the art of manufacturing goods. Some people think that all that a man has to do is to stand behind a, shop counter and he will do a prosperous business, without having any previous knowledge or any aptitude for business. That is not so. You have to understand what you are doing, and you have to understand the goods in which you are dealing. These men had had no experience.
Sometimes, acting against the advice of members of my committee, they would purchase these businesses, with the result that they did not make a living but lost all that they had. I found that 1438 these men who had bought businesses in this way, or who commenced new businesses without having had any experience, when they found that they could not make the business pay, would say: "It is because I have to close at eight o'clock at night. If I could keep open until nine o'clock or ten o'clock I should do a good trade." I have addressed meetings of shopkeepers in many parts of the country, and have invited the shopkeepers to put their criticisms and questions to me, and I found that in every case where the shopkeeper criticised the closing orders it was a shopkeeper who had commenced business since the War. Those who were in business prior to the War and who knew the conditions then, did not want to come back to the old conditions, because they knew that unless they could have a monopoly they had no chance whatever.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Is it not a fact that those who were shopkeepers before and during the War made such fortunes that they are determined that no one else shall come in?
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
The hon. and learned Member knows a good deal about many subjects, but he knows absolutely nothing about this subject. I can justify my remarks. The hon. and learned Member says that these people made fortunes before the War. Let me tell him that reliable official figures have been published, and they point to this fact, that 85 per cent. of the people who commence business in the retail trade are out of the business in less than 20 years. They do not go out of business when they are making fortunes. The inference is that there is no such thing as making those vast fortunes as the hon. and learned Member seems to think. I admit that he can quote cases where a fortune has been made, but it is an exceptional case, and he must have been an exceptional man. It is not sheer luck. Some members of the profession of the hon. and learned Member make fortunes; others leave nothing but debts. It is a question of a, man's ability and being able to satisfy the public that he is the right man with whom to do business.
Let me give you another case to show what I mean by the question of 1439 monopoly. There is a certain district where the police put into operation the Sunday Observance Act. The highest fine that could be imposed was 5s. It seems absurd, because 5s. is really no deterrent at all. It was not the 5s. they worried about but the fact that they had to appear in court on the following Wednesday. But certain people did open on Sunday in that district, went to the Court and paid their fine and grumbled; but they continued and prospered. They said that it was unfair that they should have to pay this fine, and they started an agitation against the action of the police and, having obtained a certain amount of support from the public, the police authorities decided that they would not prosecute any more under the Sunday Observance Act. The result was that summonses were no longer issued and fines were no longer imposed. What happened? Almost every small shopkeeper opened on Sunday, and the very people who had agitated for the fine to be done away with now turned round and said that they wished the police would prosecute again and make the fine £5. They had been doing a big business when only half a dozen shops were open, but this vanished when 40 or 50 other shops trading in the same goods opened on the same day. That is the position in which we shall find ourselves if Clause 2 is passed. No one is going to sit tight and see other people doing business when they themselves have to close.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I close at 6 o'clock, not for my own benefit but for the benefit of my assistants. That is the position you will be in with the selfish shopkeeper who says that he is going to have his share of whatever business there is to be had. A man wants to make a living and if he finds his neighbour is getting an advantage he will defend himself.
§ Mrs. PHILIPSON
The hon. Member said that he started as an assistant, pre-war. Why has he any objection to other assistants getting the same chance as he had, by reason of individual liberty, of rising to the same height.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I have no objection to any assistant doing well for himself. In fact I would help him, and no one has done more to fight the co-operative concerns and multiple firms than I have. If he can compete not merely by being given a monopoly of hours but because of his business knowledge and ability then by all means give him the chance. There are more small shopkeepers now than there were in pre-war days, the number has increased enormously. Let me deal with the question of the small man. A good deal has been said about the organised opposition to Clause 2. I belong to one or two of these organisations, and I say that there is no organisation of the multiple firms at all because they are outside these organisations. They have an organisation of their own which has made no representations on this matter to anybody. The question of the small person keeping open does not affect them in the slightest degree. The people it affects are the smaller type of shopkeeper who employs one or more assistants, or the man who believes in having a little leisure in the evenings. The opinion of the small shopkeeper was put before the Committee through their own organisation, and the evidence stated distinctly and definitely that they did not want a later opening of shops. Then you have the question of the organised people in a small way. Take the newsagents. Their association is a very powerful body, inasmuch as it embraces practically the whole trade. This is what they said:It must be obvious that if early closing legislation is to be a success it must be dealt with on a uniform basis and any attempt to exempt one-man businesses or ex-service men will merely result in chaos and disaster to the whole principle of early closing. Our own national federation, which is now the second strongest shopkeeping movement in this country and is built up entirely upon democratic lines, contains 95 per cent. of one-man business members. We also carry the usual quota. of ex-service men and we have a large proportion of widows of ex-service men whose interests we are protecting. Since 1919 our federation has declared itself strongly in favour of early closing and at succeeding conferences this principle has been unanimously endorsed. We have 280 branches covering the whole of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. and we have not yet had an adverse resolution sent from any of these branches. Accordingly, being in a position to judge as to the opinion of the smaller class of shopkeeper, our national council asks us to put 1441 before you a strong request that you will be present on Friday next and that you will vote against the Second Reading of Sir Park Goff's Bill unless the obnoxious Clause re exemption for one-man business type of shop is withdrawn.That is an organisation which the hon. and learned Member will not deny does represent the smaller type of trader. But I have another letter here which will be of some interest to the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Mrs. Philipson). It is from the Secretary of the Grimsby, Cleethorpes and District Grocers' Association—there are no multiple firms in that association. They are individual traders, working in their own business, and they represent a large number of small shopkeepers. This is what they say:If Clause 2 is retained it will mean that we who employ assistants will be compelled to let them leave at the closing hour and then if we would keep our business together have to keep our shops open by ourselves. The argument put forward by the supporters of this Bill, viz., that the smaller shopkeeper depends upon the trade done after the bigger shops are closed, is fallacious. There is an increasing volume of trade being done by the back-street shops. Mrs. Philipson should know"—This is what they say, not what I say—that nowadays our womenfolk will not go shopping in the main streets unless they have their best bibs and tuckers and silk stockings on, but they will, and do, pop into the back street shop from their housework. No, all the advantages are not with the front street traders. So far as the public is concerned there is no need for any retrograde movement regarding shop hours. We have proved up to the hilt that the people can obtain all they want under present conditions, and those who would go back to the bad old system of long hours would do so from selfish motives and not from any desire to serve the public.That is from a man who, I know, works hard in his own shop, is a good citizen and does not desire that there should be any such alteration of the Shops Act as is suggested in Clause 2. I want to give another little bit of testimony from the real experience of the people concerned. This is a communication from a fishmonger who carries on a business at Harrow. He says:I hope you will offer the strongest opposition to all stages of the Bill promoted by Sir Park Goff, and I wonder if you would care to have my experience to bring to his notice. I have to rise at 4.45 a.m. to enable me to get to Billingsgate in time to buy my fish and get back to the shop in 1442 time to get the morning orders out. I close at 7 o'clock on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, at 8 o'clock on Fridays and at 9 o'clock on Saturdays. Of course, there is always a certain amount of clearing up to do, so you can generally reckon it is half an hour after closing time before I can get away from the shop, and then there is a certain amount of booking and accounts to be done at home, so that on the average … I put in even now 13½ hours a day. Surely no one is going to ask me to work longer than that to earn a living. I have three assistants who get to the shop at 8 o'clock and work till closing time.This correspondent does not want his assistants to be employed any longer hours. He says further:The condition that only the owner of a business may work in a shop after a certain hour is no safeguard at all, as in this case, by taking two hours off after tea time and leaving the shop in the care of his assistants it would then be possible for the owner to carry on for another two hours and keep his shop open without doing any more work, and in this way make it possible for those thoughtless members of the community, who will never shop until the last minute, to put their shopping off for another two hours.He goes on to say that he hopes Clause 2 will not be accepted by the House. The opposition to this Bill is not by any means opposition from the multiple firms; it is from those who have practical experience of the business and who are keenly desirous of maintaining reasonable hours and conditions for their assistants; who know that the public are being served and served well with the present hours, 8 o'clock in the evening and 9 o'clock on Saturdays; and who know that there is at least two hours in some cases and an hour in others during which the smaller shops can keep open later than the larger ones. We say that there is no demand from the public for these longer hours, and we hope at any rate that the House will not agree to Clause 2.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
There is no doubt that the present law on this subject is unsatisfactory. There is equally no doubt that the Bill is also unsatisfactory. The truth is that any Measure that proceeds on the principle of the present law and on the principle of the present Bill, will create annoyance if not distress. The best that can be said for the Bill, which I am inclined to support is that it does remove a certain number, though by no means all, of the anomalies 1443 which at present exist. If this Bill becomes law it will be possible to buy chocolates and cigarettes in the theatres. It will also be possible to purchase a cigar in licensed premises. It will also be possible for the one-man shopkeeper to do his business. Very strong arguments must be produced before we can interfere with the liberty of a citizen to work as hard as he likes in his own interests, provided he does not tread on the corns of others or exploit those who work for him. In every single profession the practitioner is at liberty to stay up as late as he likes at night, or to rise as early as he likes in the morning, and that same liberty should be open to every man, whether he is engaged in a profession, business or trade.
Those are the advantages of the present Bill. It must also be said that the Bill has disadvantages, because many of the restrictions under which we now suffer will be perpetuated until goodness knows when. You will be able to buy partly cooked tripe, but not uncooked tripe. You will be able to buy a cigar in licensed premises as long as those premises are open, but in temperance premises you will not be able to do so. Peter drunk will be better off than Peter sober in that respect. These and other things are indefensible in common sense. They are perpetuated by this Bill. Nevertheless, in spite of that I am going to support it. But I wish some other method could be found, because if this principle were applied logically to the whole of the national life, the world would come to a standstill. Every omnibus would stop, every garage would close, every train would stop, and the man who was ill could not call a doctor. No man would be permitted to go out or to do anything after the hour of eight o'clock. We should be back in the days of the old curfew. Why is this principle put into operation in regard to shops and not in regard to any other industry? The railwaymen are not asking that trains should stop at eight o'clock. The garages have to be exempted under this Bill. Every other trade in the country asks for a limitation of the hours of work. It does not ask for the closing down of the premises in which the work is conducted.
Why cannot that principle apply to shops? This is an illogical world, and 1444 the test, I suppose, must be not its logicality but its efficacy. Does the law protect the shop assistants? It does not even protect those to whom it applies, because there is nothing to prevent shop assistants being kept on after the shop is closed, nor is there anything to prevent their coming in the early hours of the morning before the shop is open. There is nothing to say at what hour a shop may be opened. Therefore the assistant is not protected by the present law. Only a limited number of assistants are claiming to be protected at all under the law. You are compelled to make so many exceptions in favour of garage proprietors and others that this quasi protection is purchased for a number of traders by excluding very large numbers and making it impossible for them ever to get any protection at all.
What is the method of escape from this impasse? We want the shop assistants to be protected, but in my judgment they could be protected more efficaciously than they are under this Bill, by one of two methods. Either you should limit the hours of shop assistants instead of limiting the hours of shoes, or you should do What was done in the Middle Ages and raise these trades to the status of guilds. To limit the hours of shop assistants, would, we are told, entail a system of shift assistants and then again we are told that the public have been educated to shop early. If that were so, there would be no need for the shift assistants, but, if a garage can work with shift assistants, and if other trades can work with shift assistants, I cannot see why the principle should not be generally applied, There is no doubt the majority of the big shops—those in the drapery and grocery trades—would not desire to keep open. If you cannot apply that principle then let the trades look to themselves for protection. They spend half their time protesting against Government interference and claiming that they are capable of running their own businesses and when this House intervenes with Merchandise Marks Acts or Weights and Measures Acts, these trades are up in arms.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I know what I am talking about. Only last week I was at the Grocers' annual dinner and in 1445 the annual report the strongest exception was taken to these Acts of Parliament. It will be found that most of the other retail trades take the same attitude. They say they are capable of looking after their own business. They spend half their time in saying that, and the other half in asking for protection. It seems as if they want the protection of Parliament when it protects them against something, but not when it protects the consumer against them. Surely they ought to apply some kind of logical reasoning to this matter. Surely they ought to accept either one principle or the other. If they are capable, as they claim to be, of running their own trades, let them do so as barristers, doctors, veterinary surgeons, opticians and many other professional bodies, are doing or are trying to do, namely, by seeking the interference of Parliament once and for all—by seeking the interference of Parliament, once, in order to protect themselves against its interference in the future, and by acquiring a professional status for their associations as the Medical Council, the Bar Council and the Council of Engineers have done. These people discipline their own professions, but the shopkeepers ask for this kind of thing because they cannot trust one another.
The whole tenour of the speeches we have heard, particularly the speech of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), went to show that it was necessary to go about with brass bands asking shopkeepers to close their shops. They cannot trust one another and they never will be able to trust one another as long as they are represented by associations which are concerned only with seeking to acquire something from the community, instead of trying to establish a professional conscience and to exercise discipline in their own trades. In the Middle Ages, this was the function of the guilds. The guilds saw to it that the customer had good quality; they carried out inspections and they actually resorted to whipping in cases where tradesmen sold their customers inferior goods. Let the trades seek this solution for their difficulties. Let them try to raise each trade to the level of a profession with a professional conscience and with a guarantee that the community will be protected, and if they do so, they can come 1446 to this House and seek the same powers for their associations that other professional associations have already obtained once and for all. We shall then be free from this kind of ridiculous legislation, which must be perpetuated as long as thousands of illogical exceptions are allowed.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I listened with some surprise to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. HoreBelisha) because the Bill is based on a report of the Departmental Committee, which considered the shop hours question, with the sole exception of Clause 2.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I was surprised because my hon. Friend signed that report, but his speech has been one long attack on the Bill.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I said that all legislation of this character is open to the same objection. I think it is all illogical, but I support this Bill because it puts the public in a better position than they were in before in a few small particulars. To abolish the whole of this legislation, without doing what I have suggested, would be to throw back many shop assistants.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I also wish to refer to what has been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten). I do not want to do him an injustice, but I gathered that he accused those who are in favour of the principle of compulsory early closing and of the elimination of Clause 2, of being the representatives of the big multiple houses, though he did not go so far as to say that we were the paid agents. I repudiate his suggestion very strongly. Whatever hints or outside information might be given to me, I would never suggest that any hon. Member in this House represented any particular organisation.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
My hon. Friend is quite wrong. What I said was that these associations which sent out all these circulars and conducted the vast propaganda to which we have been subjected, represented these monopolistic associations, and they influenced the simpletons in the House.
§ Mr. RADFORD
One of the simpletons will now seek to reply to the hon. and learned Member—although I may point out, incidentally, that he would not give way to me when I asked him to do so during his speech. I take it that one of the organisations to which he refers is the Early Closing Association. If he thinks that that association merely represents wealthy multiple shops, I suggest that he should come to the annual meeting, which will be held ten days hence, and to which I will secure him an invitation if he promises to use it. There he will see thousands of shop assistants thronging the room and all exceedingly enthusiastic. If he does not accept my statement as to that organisation, will he accept my personal experience as the representative of one of the poorest industrial districts in Great Britain? There are as many small shopkeepers in my constituency as in any part of the country, but although it has been known that I was a member of the Committee concerned with early closing, and that I was connected with the Early Closing Association as its Parliamentary chairman, I have not had a single representation made to me by any of my constituents in favour of the exemptions for which the hon. Member for Berwick (Mrs. Philipson) and the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire have been pressing. Speaking of ex-service men, in the village where I live there is a little stationery and tobacco shop kept by a disabled ex-service man and his wife, and he urged me that we should not give way in the directions proposed. The speed of a fleet is that of the slowest ship; and the length of shop hours in a district must inevitably be the length which any one shop keeps open in that particular neighbourhood. Those who will be compelled to remain open against their will are the smallest and poorest. Already we have proof of that. The big powerful co-operative societies and multiple shops close already at 6 o'clock or 6.30 o'clock. It is the little ones who must keep open as long as their competitors near them are open, and if Clause 2 were passed, it would inevitably mean that the smaller shops, against their will, would have to keep open to the same hour as those that kept open longest—all night, if necessary; and already under this Bill, 1448 without Clause 2, they can keep open for 20 hours out of the 24. I would invite the attention of the House to the wording of Clause 2. It says:Any shop may be kept open during the general closing hours if no person other than the owner of the shop is employed or engaged in or about the business of the shop during those hours.In every other Clause of the Bill where there is any reference whatever to persons carrying on shops, they are described as the occupiers. I wonder whether the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire has some sinister reason for having the word "owner" inserted here, because presumably the owner would be, not the tenant of the shop, but the person who owned it, the landlord, the superior landlord, in some cases the very superior landlord. I cannot say if possibly this word may not indicate a new step in the direction of society people going into trade. It may be that if the Bill were passed into law and Clause 2 were part of it, we should see, between seven and eight in the evening, streams of luxurious motor-cars moving from the West End to the little shops in the East End, where the proprietors would then carry on individually after eight o'clock!
This Bill, apart from Clause 2, is an attempt to carry into law the recommendations of the Departmental Committee, of which I had the honour to be a member, and which sat for many, many weary months. We endeavoured as far as possible in our recommendations to give fair play to shopkeepers, to shop-assistants, and to the public, and as far as possible to eliminate those little petty irritations and anomalies which tend to bring the law into disrepute with the public. It seemed to all of us on that Committee that it was important that our law should be respected, and I, individually, as regards this extension of the right to music halls, theatres, and other places of amusement to sell confectionery, tobacco, and other articles after the existing hours, gave way on something on which I did not like giving way, because I felt that it was one of those petty irritants, one of those trifles which was bringing the law into disrepute. People were saying, "What is the sense of this? There is a girl selling programmes, and she could quite easily hand me a box of chocolates at 1449 the same time. I may go to an automatic machine and get cigarettes, so why should not the attendant, who in any case would be working on the premises, be permitted to hand it to me in my seat?" There were many members of the Committee who gave way on these trifling points for that reason.
The Newsagents Association was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), and I am sure that it is within the knowledge of every hon. Member that if there is one class of shop that is generally kept by small people of the one-man or one-woman variety, it is these small newsagents and sundries shops that are represented by members of this Association. This Association is whole-heartedly in favour—and from not one of its 280 branches has come any resolution to the contrary—of the elimination of Clause 2; and let me remind the House that at present these very small people have an exemption as regards newspapers. They are allowed to sell newspapers after the closing hour of 8 o'clock. That exemption is being taken away from them under this Bill, yet they are whole-heartedly in favour of it, except that they wish for the elimination of Clause 2. In conclusion, I hope that all Members of this House, whatever may be their particular reason for dissatisfaction with the Bill as it stands, either that it does not go far enough or that it contains Clause 2, will give the Measure a Second Reading to-day, because I feel that it is most important that it should get a Second Reading and then be dealt with in detail upstairs.
§ Mr. MARCH
I want to say a few words against this Clause 2 on quite different lines from any that have been taken by previous speakers. We strongly oppose Clause 2, which allows the opening of small shops which are supposed to be owned by the persons in them, simply because there are other people to be considered in this matter than shop assistants. There are wholesale distributive trades where they are making up parcels all day long. Men are frequently carting goods and material to and from the railways and docks to their centres, and the goods are being made up into parcels to be despatched all over London and Greater London. I had some experience of this work many years ago, and it is 1450 still in vogue very largely, although we now have in the trade a working number of hours per week, but the employers have such a fine way of working their men that many of them are out late at night. You cannot deliver goods at the multiple shops after the closing hour, because usually they are run by a manager, who does not live on the premises, but there is a very large number of small shops and shopkeepers who will take in goods at any time during the evening, or even the night, and it will mean, if we accept Clause 2, that these people will require their parcels to be delivered to them, and the employers who are sending them out will say, "You can get on with it, because the shops will be open and you can deliver there." In that way you will again be attempting to extend the hours of those men in that distributive class of work.
Further, we have several of these cases where wholesalers have in years gone by kept their men late, and not only does it affect the men who are taking out the goods, but it also affects those working in the stores making up the parcels, and the general clerk, who is booking them up and in many instances making out the accounts for the driver to take with him. In the case of many small shopkeepers, it is cash on delivery, and unless the driver takes the account with him and collects the money, the goods cannot be left. The result is that if you accept this Clause, you are extending not only the hours of shop assistants, but also of storekeepers and of clerks in the stores, and I hope the House will see that we are going back instead of going forward if we pass this Clause. It is a retrograde Clause, and I think I can honestly say that we have as many small shopkeepers in my division as any division need have or can have, and I have not heard anything from any of them to the effect that they are desirous of keeping their shops open longer. It would also add to their administrative overhead charges, because of the extra light and heat that would be used.
Again, I have had, as the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) mentioned, letters coming in from various quarters, some asking me to oppose and others to support this Bill, but this one attracted me as much as any. It is from the National Federation 1451 of Retail Fruiterers, Florists, and Fishmongers. We heard the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire say how awkward it would be if a person came home late and could not get a kipper. These fishmongers are anxious that we should support the elimination of Clause 2. This federation of the whole of the retail fruiterers, florists and fishmongers do not desire to oppose the Bill in its entirety, but they do oppose Clause 2, and I hope the promoters of the Bill will agree to take out that Clause, because it will be strongly opposed by myself and, I believe, by all the Members on this side and many other Members who are desirous of not going back, but still want to go forward.
§ Major MacANDREW
As one of those who had the honour to be on the Shop Hours' Committee which last year inquired into the problem of the closing of shops, I would like to say one or two words about this Bill. I intend to support the Bill to-day, but on the understanding that the objectionable Clause 2, which is contrary to the findings of our Committee, is to be taken out. The Home Secretary said on Monday that he intended to use his influence in that respect. Listening to this Debate, there would seem to be two reasons for opposition. One reason is advanced by people who think that there should be no restrictions, and the other by those who would like to see still more restrictions. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) would like to see the 1920 and 1921 Acts abolished altogether. I think if that were done, probably for a little time, at any rate, one would find that shop hours would not be altered from what they are at present. When I was put on the Committee, I visited my own constituency and went round a number of towns, going into shops at random to find out what they were doing in regard to shop hours. In all cases I found that the shop was closing before the statutory time, so that probably if restrictions were taken off there might not, perhaps, be any difference made. I have, however, had brought to my notice lately a case where, in a certain town, all the confectioners' shops closed at the same hour as other shops, until someone arrived 1452 and insisted upon keeping open, with the result that all those who before were perfectly happy to close at the earlier hour naturally wanted to keep open as long as he did, so as not to lose any business.
It seems to me that the objections of those who put forward the Amendment, which really amounts to not giving the Bill a Second Reading, would be very nearly met if Clause 2 were taken out of the Bill. In the Committee's terms of reference hours of labour did not come into it at all, so that, as far as the Committee is concerned, this Bill very nearly meets what was our point, and I think, as other speakers have said, a very even balance has been kept between the desire of the shopkeepers and what is the legitimate demand of the public, because the public, of course, has also to be considered. If the Bill does not get a Second Reading, it is difficult to see what will happen in the near future, because the 1920 and 1921 Acts have to be continued each year, and if we throw out this Bill and these Acts are allowed to drop, it will be, indeed, unfortunate. On page 10 of the report will be found exactly what the Committee thought about Clause 2, the objectionable Clause, if I may so call it. The Committee said:We think such a method would give rise to serious administrative difficulties, and would, in addition, be open to other objections.I think the administrative difficulties would be very great. It would be very difficult to prove whether a person was the owner of a shop or not; fictitious owners might be brought into partnership. Coming to the question of theatres, one of the chief objections to D.O.R.A. is that people cannot buy chocolates, cigarettes or other things they may happen to want at a theatre, and it seems perfectly reasonable that theatres should be exempted. The objection, of course, on the part of traders is that it would be undue and unfair competition, but I cannot imagine that the amount of chocolates or cigarettes sold in theatres is going to make any difference to shops outside. No one is going to a theatre in order to buy such things. They only buy them if they find themselves short of them while there.
There has been a certain amount of comment on the Bill to the effect that 1453 tobacconists, if they want to keep open longer hours, have to ask specially for it, and that confectioners, if they want shorter hours, have to ask for it, and that in one case there has to be a two-thirds majority and in the other case a bare majority. The reason for that is that the Committee thought tobacconists would not want to keep open longer, and the only reason for giving them that option was to come more into line with theatres and cinemas. On page 15 of the Report in reference to this question we say:We do not think that sales of tobacco, limited in the manner suggested, would result in injury to the trade of tobacconists.We had evidence from a number of small confectioners, who pointed out that a great part of their business was done in the evenings by people going to cinemas and other places of entertainment, and if that be not so, they are given permission to close earlier if they want to do so, and we suggested this method because at present confectioners, under the 1921 Act, are allowed to keep open. The idea, therefore, was to leave it as it is, and if they want it altered, they can have it altered. This Bill is not perfect, as the promoters said, and, of course, it is a compromise. But I do think we should give it a Second Reading. The habits of the people are changing, and this Bill, I think, inflicts no hardship on the public; it certainly safeguards shop assistants, and gets rid of the most general complaint about the buying of cigarettes and chocolates in theatres. I hope, therefore, that it will get a Second Reading to-day.
§ Miss WILKINSON
I want to make it clear that the Members of this party are opposed not only to Clause 2, but are equally strenuously opposed to the whole Bill from beginning to end. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), whose speeches are some of the best museum specimens we have in this House, thought that the only reason for these restrictions was to save coal and light in war-time, as though health ought not to be considered at all, and as if in all civilised life there is not such a thing as wise restriction of the individual in the interest of the community. There is one point which has not been touched upon in this Debate, and that is the growing public uneasiness at the 1454 costs of distribution. The costs to-day are going up by leaps and bounds, and one of the causes put forward by manufacturers of unemployment in the factories is the high charges of the retail shop to cover the cost of distribution. The most uneconomical type of distributor is the small shopkeeper. In an ordinary street in any town are not one or two, but six, seven, eight and nine shops of exactly similar character; all of them have to pay rent and lighting, to deal with overhead charges and to provide somebody with some sort of living. Consequently, they have to add to the producers' costs in order to cover their overhead charges. If it be true, as has been stated, that the number of small shopkeepers is growing, it is a bad sign, because the retail industry up to a certain point is a parasitic industry. Many of the small shopkeepers, however hard they work, however meritorious their individual lives, are unnecessary, for they only add to the cost of distribution. It is a retrograde step to allow this to go on, for it injures the general community because of the high prices that have to be charged. I know that this is not a popular thing to say. It is always easy to speak about individual cases, but we have to look beyond the individual case to the interests of the community. It would be definitely beneficial for numbers of these small shopkeepers, especially the younger people, to be salaried employés of large concerns, with decent hours of labour and decent wages, rather than that they should attempt to struggle on and work all the hours that there are, making slaves of themselves and their families in order to scratch a living. Once Clause 2 is allowed, the way will be open to a general extension of hours. The point has been raised about the ridiculous anomalies that arise in the mixed business. It is ridiculous that you cannot buy one thing without buying another, but that is not an argument for creating more anomalies, but for removing anomalies and putting all the articles on the same basis. The exceptions are made, not in matters of vital necessity, but in matters of the most casual luxury. You may put up an argument that you cannot do without herrings or bread, but surely no one is going to argue that you cannot do without cigarettes or chocolates, although I 1455 might argue that I cannot do without chocolates, for my affection is much more for chocolates than for cigarettes.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)
If I may say so, so is mine.
§ Miss WILKINSON
I am glad to find, not for the first time, that the right hon. Gentleman and myself are in agreement. About the only affection we do not share in common is our affection for champagne. The only people who are making the fuss about these restrictions are those who demand these luxuries. The hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) spoke about the impossibility of storage. The question of the storage of cigarettes and chocolates is not going to inconvenience even the smallest flapper in these days. That is not an argument, and has nothing whatever to do with the case. I want to impress upon the House with all the earnestness that I can that, once you allow more anomalies, you get the thin end of the wedge for the extension of hours all round. It is the mixed business and these anomalies which supply the driving force for this Bill. If you give the privilege of opening so long as only the owner is in charge, you will have the sentimental person, who can only see the immediate individual case, urging that the man with one assistant, or the man with two assistants, might be allowed to open; then we shall have the same difficulties all over again. The Bill is very carelessly drawn. If in Committee the word "occupier" is substituted for the word "owner," immediately the way will be thrown open for the big combine, which owns perhaps 100 small shops, such as Salmon and Gluckstein, to put in a manager as the nominal occupier. This big combine would be able to keep a large number of shops open, and then we should have once again the cry that this Act ought to be extended still more.
I want to point out the effect of these long hours. Work in shops needs a good deal of standing, and the effect upon women is very bad. I am an official of the National Union of Distributive Workers, which has an efficient department dealing with sickness and disease, 1456 and our statistics show that the numbers of shop assistants suffering from varicose veins and tuberculosis are higher than among any other class of worker. Those conditions will be perpetuated by long hours. Those engaged in the one-man business are such a helpless class in the community, because obviously the one-man owner or occupier cannot work all these hours, so he brings in his wife and children whom no one can protect. We have already had to protect children against the father and mother, and in this case we shall have to protect them against the pressure of the poverty of the father and mother. It means that as soon as the children come home from school they have to go into the shop to relieve their parents, and, before they can go to bed or do their homework or have necessary recreation or get into the open air, they have to stay in the restricted atmosphere of the shop and work. The House has a responsibility to protect a section of the community who cannot protect themselves. You cannot talk about freedom unless there is some kind of power on the part of the individual to protect himself, and it is these children of the one-man shop who would not be able to protect themselves under Clause 2.
Much has been said about old shopping habits and it is literally true that if we kept shops open till 12 o'clock at night someone would come in about two minutes past the hour and demand to be served. In the co-operative movement, with which I am intimately associated, we get decent conditions of labour; have 90,000 employés working under conditions which will give them superannuation when they become too old for work; and have a reasonable minimum wage secured by negotiations between a fully recognised trade union and the employers. The result of all this is that we see the co-operative movement going ahead by leaps and bounds all over the country, as it ought to go ahead, and as those multiple shops which do give decent conditions ought to go ahead. Yet here we find Members pleading for this anarchy of the small business, pleading for a man to be allowed to go on working all hours, depriving himself and his family of cultural opportunities and of recreation. While I give the fullest credit for sincerity to those who have spoken in support of this Bill, I do ask the House, 1457 before it is too late, to throw this Bill out altogether. If we are to have a Shop Hours Act it ought to be on a much more scientific basis; we ought not to add to the present piecemeal legislation a hotchpotch such as this Measure is, which would bring all sorts of undesirable tendencies into the distributive trades.
§ Mr. FINBURGH
I rise to support this Bill, and I welcome it because it will help to remove very many of the anomalies associated with D.O.R.A. We have borne long enough the trials and tribulations which we accepted so readily when the present restrictions were imposed upon us during war-time. This Bill is a step in the right direction, but I regard it only as an instalment, because there are still very many anomalies to be removed. For instance, we all know the irritation which we suffer when we find that we can buy one commodity in one shop but dare not purchase it in another. We have become the laughing stock of visitors from many parts of the world, and it is only our constitutional forbearance which has allowed us to tolerate these inconveniences for so long. We do not want to interfere with the legislation which prevents employés having to work long hours, we support that legislation to the fullest extent; it is on account of the anomalies which have been explained to the House so fully that I welcome this Bill.
I would like to say a word upon Clause 2, which I regard as being the most important part of the Measure. I am placed in a peculiar position, because only a short time ago a good many of my constituents, who consist mostly of poor people, and include many small shopkeepers, asked me to try to help them in this very direction, not through Parliament but through the municipal chamber. I told them then that it was impossible to do so, and therefore I now welcome this opportunity of pressing forward their claim, that is, the claim of the poor shopkeeper to be permitted to continue his business if he so desires and provided he does not employ any assistants. We know the hardships from which the great majority of these shopkeepers are suffering. Owing to the extensive unemployment they have been forced to give long credit, and large numbers of them are also in such difficulties that they have 1458 been hauled before the magistrates because of their inability to pay their rates. I have had personal experience of those cases, and I shall certainly do all I can to assist the poor shopkeeper to tide over these difficult times. He is working under a great strain, and if he is called upon to close his little shop at eight o'clock he runs the risk of having to close down his business altogether. In his case there is no hardship in keeping open beyond eight o'clock. His sitting room adjoins his shop, and he can smoke his pipe and read his newspaper and at the same time attend to his business. It is at the special request of a great number of my constituents that I speak in support of this Measure. I am sorry that the hon. Lady is leaving the House—
§ Mr. FINBURGH
—because I wish to ask her whether she was really serious when she treated the claims of the small shopkeeper with such scant ceremony. While weeping tears over the great multiple shopkeepers, she ignored the claims of the little shopkeepers, and, in fact, almost seemed to expect from them an apology for living. I could hardly believe my ears, particularly as the hon. Lady represents a working-class constituency. I hope her constituents will take note of the great interest she displays in the welfare of little shopkeepers. I hope the Home Secretary will recognise that a great part of the poor working class, consisting of shopkeepers, are keenly interested in this Measure. They welcome it, they have been looking forward to it, and if they have not made their voices heard, probably it is because they have no organisation similar to that of those great associations which have paid officials to look after their interests and present their case in the best possible way. Actual information, seeing and hearing on the spot, is worth to me more than all these circulars and letters and so forth. I have no hesitation in assuring the Home Secretary that Clause 2 is the most important part of the Bill, and does that which is right and proper, and in the present distressing circumstances of the times it will help the shopkeepers to help themselves and keep their businesses going and so to avoid bankruptcy. I support the Bill wholeheartedly.
§ Sir WILLIAM PERRING
I do not propose to detain the House for very long, because most of the arguments for and against the Bill have been stated, but on behalf of the traders of the country, for whom I am privileged to speak, I should like to say that we are anxious for the Bill to receive a Second Reading, subject to the pledge given by the Home Secretary on Monday to a deputation which I had the pleasure of introducing, that Clause 2 will be deleted. The hon. Member for North Salford (Mr. Finburgh) said that if Clause 2 were not retained it would bring bankruptcy and ruin to a larger number of small traders. May I remind the House of what the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) said? There are more small traders in the country to-day than there were in 1913, and this in spite of the fact that we have had eight o'clock closing since 1926. In view of the experience of those 12 years, and in view of the evidence submitted to the Committee on Shop Hours, how people can argue that the small trader is going to be ruined by this Bill I cannot understand. Many hon. Members have expressed a deep interest in the ex-service man, but I would remind them that Clause 2 does not help ex-service men, as they seem to think; rather it is designed to do injury both to him and his widow. It will be quite possible under this Bill, if Clause 2 is retained, for two men or two women to act as partners and carry on a business to the detriment of an ex-service man who employs an assistant. In the same way two men might conduct a business as partners and keep open from 10 o'clock in the morning till 11 o'clock at night, while the ex-service man who employs an assistant would have to stay after hours himself, and this would prevent him from enjoying the advantages of recreation which the Summer Time Act has provided. We passed the Summer Time Act in the conscious belief that we were going to render a service to all sections of the community. By that Act, the small trader has benefited to a much greater extent than anybody else.
I suppose I am one of those simpletons to whom the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) has referred. I know the hon. Member holds certain views on this question, but if he 1460 had been 50 years in the distributing trade, and if he had been obliged to do drudgery work for 50 or 60 hours a week, he would probably hold different views on this subject. When I was 21 years of age I worked 84 hours a week, and I worked until 12 o'clock at night on Saturdays. We had no early closing in those days. We have heard a good deal about educating the public on this question. As a matter of fact, we have carried on a propaganda for years to educate the public and induce them to get rid of very bad habits. This Bill cuts at the root of the great agitation we have been conducting with the object of lifting up the retail trade, and we must not allow that trade to be dragged down by the least efficient members of it. The most efficient members of the trade who have conducted their businesses on lines which have brought them increasing custom, and who have been able to make better terms with their assistants, are all opposed to this Measure. It is the lower strata of traders who are always trying to dictate what those who have been successful should do. On behalf of traders all over the country, I want to impress upon hon. Members that it is our desire to give better conditions to our assistants. Speaking for the retail distributing trade, I have no hesitation in saying that we have no desire that our assistants should work more than 48 hours a week, and we shall be quite prepared to support a Measure for achieving that object.
For years we have been urging the Government to embody the Defence of the Realm Act restrictions and regulations, in a permanent Act, and as a result of our efforts the Home Secretary appointed a Committee which took the broad view that we have put forward to-day, and did not take the narrow point of view of the one-man shopkeepers. Anybody who has read the comprehensive report issued by that Committee will recognise that those who listened to the evidence, and afterwards drew up a report, gave full consideration not only to the shopkeepers and the shop assistants but to the needs of the public as well. The Members of this House who have formed their opinions without hearing the evidence have no claim whatever to voice the views of the one-man shopkeeper. Only last month I 1461 had placed before me the views of the Chairman of the one-man shopkeepers in Birmingham and he claimed to represent 5,000 shopkeepers. He told me that before the war the one-man shopkeeper was opposed to early closing because they thought it would ruin them, but after 12 years experience of early closing he said that the public can get all they desire during ordinary shopping hours. This gentleman told me that the early closing restrictions had done one good thing for the shopkeepers, namely, that it had taught them that business could be done within reasonble limits and reasonable hours. To suggest that small shopkeepers should have preferential treatment and keep open when everybody else desired to close is quite an absurd argument. The suggestion that the small shopkeeper can only prosper by being allowed to carry on his business when everybody else is closed is a reflection upon the small shopkeepers. We have in matters of this kind to legislate for the masses, and we should not give special consideration even to ex-service men. We must recollect that masters and shop assistants are ex-service men, and to suggest that a Bill of this kind should be adopted to meet the convenience of a few shopkeepers in Berwick is stretching the matter a great deal too far.
I know the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Mrs. Philipson) has received a number of letters on this question and so have I, but anybody who has read the report of the Committee which considered this subject must be convinced that the time has arrived for maintaining resrictions in regard to the opening of shops. The right hon Gentleman the Member for South Hammersmith (Sir W. Bull) said that we had far too many restrictions and regulations dealing with shops. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that he was one of the pioneers of these regulations and restrictions. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) said that shopkeepers should have a free licence to do as they liked. I would like to ask the hon. Member if he suggests that public houses should go back to pre-war conditions and long hours? The time has gone by for talking about the abolition of these restrictions. Society has to be protected against itself. We have to 1462 have regulations and restrictions applied to our industries because they are for the benefit of the community and why should the shopping community be made an exception to the rule.
We have now had a long experience of reasonable hours for shop assistants, and those who have gone through the agony of working long hours in shops are determined never to go back to those long hours. We are going to carry on the agitation which has been going on for the last 50 years. I am sorry to see some of my hon. Friends opposite associating themselves with a retrograde movement of this sort. On the other hand I am pleased to notice that the Government have more vision and are looking further into the future than some of my hon. Friends. The Government are looking at this problem from a broader point of view, and not from the narrow point of view, of the ex-service men. I am glad that the Government have decided not to support Clause 2, which contains stupid proposals that are opposed to the interests of the community generally.
I welcome this Measure because, although it removes some restrictions, I recognise that the Committee had to deal with the community as well as with the shopkeepers. As a member of the Committee, I took a broad view of my responsibilities, in common with other Members, and we made certain recommendations in the Report, believing that, although the shopkeepers might desire many things which would have suited their own selfish interests, it was necessary to compromise on this question and make concessions to the community in regard to restrictions which have been irritating in the past, and which it is desirable should be removed. Therefore, although the Bill contains a Clause which, personally I would rather it did not contain, yet, recognising, as I do, that all sections of the community have a right to be considered in the promotion of legislation of this kind, I am prepared to say, on behalf of the shopkeeping community, that they accept these modifications in the Bill, which, perhaps, are not entirely in their interests recognising that the public have same claims, and if, before the end of this Debate, the Home Secretary gives us the pledge for which we ask, we shall give the Bill our encouragement and support in Com- 1463 mittee, and shall hope that it will be placed on the Statute Book, subject to the deletion of Clause 2.
§ Mrs. PHILIPSON
As I understand that the Home Secretary is not likely within the year to bring in a Bill follow the Report of the Committee, and as I was informed by another hon. Member that it was not likely to be brought in until I was 21, there seems to be only one thing for me to do, and that is to give my whole-hearted support to this Bill, which I do. I have rather been made a butt of by a good many hon. Members this afternoon, because they know how keen I have been in fighting for the individual freedom and liberty of the subject, of the small shopkeeper, and, above all, of the public and the working women. The hon. Member for North Paddington (Sir W. Perring) referred to the question of attendances in the Committee, of which I was a member, and I think it is only fair and just to myself in this House and to my constituents that I should point out that, during that time, my small son had to undergo an operation, and I had to be away from some of the meetings of the Committee. My constituents fully understood, when I stood for Parliament, that in any case of illness or danger to one of my children it must be considered that my first duty was to them as a mother. My constituents fully understood the reason why I was away from the Commitee on those occasions, and, in spite of Mr. Larking's letter in the papers, I feel sure that, at the next Election, my constituents will again return me to this House. Therefore, I forgive the hon. Member for making that reference.
He also remarked about the number of letters received, and said that any hon. Member could bring forward letters. I have only brought a few, but I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that I am getting tired of opening letters from the public. I do not wish them to cease sending me letters, but I would like the papers to say that Mrs. Philipson fully realises the importance of this matter, and that no more letters need be sent, as she is going to stand firm in her fight to get something done about the Shop Hours Act and the D.O.R.A. Regulations. It has been suggested, too, that 1464 people should not be allowed to read letters, but I do not think it is fair, when the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) speaking for a federation of fishmongers, reads a letter which pointedly mentions my name, that I should not be allowed to read a letter from another fishmonger. He says:Dear Madam.—I beg to thank you for your opposition to the restriction of shop hours by Act of Parliament, and hope that you will succeed in somewhat restoring the freedom we hitherto enjoyed in this respect.I may say that this is from a firm of fishmongers, poulterers, dealers in game and ice merchants. The letter goes on:In our position in the West End, serving clubs and restaurants, it is most difficult for us to supply the wants of our customers, as it is often eight o'clock or past before they know their requirements, and then we are unable to do anything to help them under pain of a fine, although I am always willing to do so. I would like to say that Captain Larking is wrong in saying that he has the majority of the small shopkeepers with him. It is nothing of the kind. In fact, most of them are quite against any interference in the matter, but the people whom he is helping, and who are supporting this movement, are the big stores, to whose benefit it is that all shops should come into line with him, and it is only after the big stores close that a smaller tradesman can get a living. Although I have been in trade for 30 years, I have never been approached to join the early closing movement, nor have I ever discovered among my numerous acquaintances any tradesman who has, although I have for years made diligent inquiries.This is only one of hundreds of letters. Then the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) mentioned the poor working woman and the poor working woman's children. Being a mother, and having been a great deal amongst the working men's wives, I think I have a right to speak on this subject. I will only read one working woman's letter, which, again, is one of hundreds. It is a very amusing letter. She writes:Mr. Larking states that people do not want bloaters after eight p.m., and that late shopping is merely a bad habit. I should like Mr. Larking to know that it is not what the working people want, it is what they are compelled to put up with and forced to accept.I will not read the whole of the letter, but it says later:We are not like people who can keep their maids to do all the work, and probably a housekeeper to give the orders to the tradesmen when they call each day. The wife does not have to be nursemaid, housemaid, cook, general and washerwoman besides being the errand girl all combined.1465 Perhaps, if they were, they would realise that what is often not taken into consideration is the position of the working women of the country, who have to feed their children and get them ready for school, and bring them up so that they will be able to follow out their business in life. There are hundreds of letters like that and very sensible letters, too.
The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough also mentioned the co-operative movement. I do not wish to go into that, because I am hoping that something will be done on this Bill, and that we shall have the support of hon. Members in giving the Bill a Second Reading, so that it may have a chance. If they are really keenly desirous that something should be done, for the sake of the working women, the ex-service men and, their wives who are running small shops, and the public generally, to get a decent Shop Hours Bill passed into law, I hope they will support the Second Reading of this Bill, and give it a sporting chance of being passed by this House, thus putting an end to some of these bad D.O.R.A. Regulations. I had no intention whatever of reading these letters, but the points in them are all points that have been raised against me during this Debate. Another hon. Member mentioned that he spoke for a Federation, but I have another letter here which says:There are hundreds of places like this, where businesses like mine—newsagent, confectioner and tobacconist—do practically nothing until after six, when the miners turn out for a little recreation. I, perhaps, would not have bothered you with this letter, only I see, on reading my trade paper of last Saturday, that the Federation to which I belong to are to send three witnesses to give evidence before the Committee. They will state that they represent 15,000 members who are in favour of eight o'clock closing. Now I am a member of the National Council of this Federation (Retail Newsagents), and I can say, although I admit that the majority on that Council state they are in favour, no steps have yet been taken to get the voice of the rank and file on this matter. Moreover, fully 80 per cent. of this Council who are in favour (or state they are) open their shops as early as 6 a.m., fully two hours before the retail tobacconists and confectioners open theirs, and a large number of them, after closing their shop, place cigarette machines at their door to catch the passing trade.That is from a member of a Federation.
§ Mrs. PHILIPSON
I shall be delighted to give the name and address of the Federation to the two hon. Members who have asked for it, but I do not wish to give it to the whole House. I have another letter from a working man:A point you have missed: What about the working man who is dependent on his daily wage and cannot get back home before closing time? Are he and his family to starve till morning?[Interruption.] The hon. Member who laughs so loudly informed us that he was once a shop assistant. He has not done so badly to be in this House. He also said that he worked when business hours were much longer. Judging by his appearance, he is far more healthy, and probably he did not work as long hours as I did. Every small trader pays rates and taxes. Everyone wants to earn his living and does not want to take the dole. They want nothing from the country except their freedom and their individual rights as Englishmen. I hope all Members of the Labour party—we will call it a Labour party as this is a Labour question—will vote for the Second Reading, so that we can fight it out in Committee and do away with these absurd restrictions, give individual freedom to our working-men and women, and also help the country. Every shopkeeper is a purchaser of commodities which have to be made by someone. It is employment all the way round. I hope everyone will support the Second Reading and, in spite of the sarcasm of many Members, I shall still take my stand and fight, and I hope we shall get something done for our British people and for the small traders of the country.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Sir GEORGE HUME
I think the House owes a great debt of gratitude to the introducer of the Bill. It is practically on the lines of the Report of the Departmental Committee. When I went to the Committee I was rather dismayed, because I found the protagonists on both sides were very keen. I went there with a common jury mind, ready to listen to the evidence, and prepared to take any line along which the evidence led. During that time, hearing many witnesses, and 1467 in the course of the discussions between the evidence, it was found the opposing elements gradually began to modify their views and to realise that is was possible to proceed along one common line, and it is remarkable that the Report was signed by every member of the Committee, even those with extreme views on either side. I make no attack on any member of the Committee, because there is not the slightest doubt they were doing their duty. Anyone who has been accustomed to working out problems on a Committee must know how vitally important it is, if you are going to arrive at what I may call a Committee result, to be present and to hear the evidence and to be in a position where you can effect a compromise without going too far in giving up the principle for which you stand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) spoke as if we were dealing with a new principle. This is no new principle. All we had to do was to examine the difficulties that had arisen under the working of the Acts of 1920 and 1921 and decide whether the principle embodied in those Acts should be continued, and, if so, how we could get rid of all the irritation that has undoubtedly arisen. I very much welcome that spirit which is still innate in Englishmen which hates control and all sorts of small pinpricks and exceptions. I am very glad to see the spirit is so alive among us to-day. When it comes down to a practical question, when we find the feeling so absolutely overwhelming throughout the country on the part of everyone who has anything to do with trade, when we try to see what the individual consumer wants, getting practically no evidence from that direction, and when, at the same time, we try to find out which way the drift is going, when we find the big stores are voluntarily closing earlier and earlier and that the co-operative societies, which interest huge numbers of wage earners, are shortening their hours, surely we can say: "This is not being imposed by force on the public but the public is consenting." There is no real difficulty from the body of the public. The outcry has been very largely political. If a Measure of this sort is passed, no real harm is being done to the public. I quite agree that 1468 we do not want to lose our liberty, but, after all, in life, while maintaining liberty, there must be an element of discipline. The strange thing is that the Bill is backed by those who attack its principles, while in other quarters, where the Bill is welcomed, there is really an attack. In spite of that, I hope the Second Reading will be passed so that it can go through Committee and be dealt with along the lines suggested by the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I have listened to the whole of this Debate on what to me is a very important question indeed. The Bill divides itself naturally into three parts. It makes permanent the temporary provisions relating to the closing hours of shops, and that is a very important feature in it as far as shop-workers and shopkeepers are concerned. But when we come to Clause 2, that is a distinct violation of practically everything else contemplated in the Bill. As a great deal has been said against Clause 2, I would like to add a few words against it myself. Strangely enough, those who have supported it to-day have done so on the presumption that it would increase trade if shops were kept open longer than hitherto. Let us take a typical case of a town of 50,000 inhabitants. Supposing there are 100 shops in that town; there is only so much trade to be got from the 50,000 inhabitants. Our contention, therefore, is, that if there is only so much trade to be done, it might as well be done by the 100 shops in 48 hours per week as in 84. As far as I have been able to gather, all the shopkeepers I have met in regard to this subject are against Clause 2. I feel sure that if a plebiscite were taken in any town of the country, the majority of the shopkeepers themselves would be against the provisions of the Clause. When we understand that point of the volume of trade, I think we can get away altogether from the idea that the ex-service man can benefit by keeping his shop open. He can only benefit, of course, by keeping his shop open when all the rest of the shops are closed.
I will give another illustration, if I may. The hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Mrs. Philipson) would have it that the working-class women of this country are very much annoyed because they cannot shop later at night. That is the first time I have heard that argument. 1469 I will give the hon. Member an answer in this form. There are 6,000,000 customers in the Co-operative Societies of this country, and those 6,000,000 are, in the main, working-class wives. These 6,000,000 who obtain their goods from the Co-operative Societies obtain their requirements within 48 hours per week. There are, I should imagine, at least 500,000 customers in Co-operative Societies in Durham and Northumberland who obtain their requirements from Co-operative Societies within 44 hours per week.
I will put another point on that score. It is very strange to hear people arguing about the disadvantages of closing shops early. I do not want to be too personal, but I noticed to-day that five of the hon. Gentlemen who supported Clause 2 are in the legal profession. I would like to ask what would happen to me if I had a dispute with my neighbour and walked into a lawyer's office at 8 o'clock at night? I am sure I should not get legal advice even if I offered to pay for it, and I am sure I should have to pay for it whenever I received it. I very much doubt whether any lawyer in the land would keep his office open after 6 o'clock at night—[Hon. MEMBERS: "Oh, yes."]—Only by arrangement beforehand.
As I have said, the two points which affect Clause 2 are these. First, that only so much trade can be done, and that it might as well be done in a short time as in a long period, and, secondly, that when the Co-operative movement has solved the problem of hours without legislation there is a fear that if you begin to extend the hours of opening shops it will ultimately affect adversely the Co-operative movement and Co-operative trade. It would be a very serious thing indeed if, after the Co-operative movement has accomplished what it has done in regard to the closing of shops, the present state of things were to be broken down merely by devices of the kind mentioned in this Bill.
The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill was frank enough to tell us that Clause 2 was the thin end of the wedge. I take it that he is one of those gentlemen who believe that shops ought to be open at any time, day or night. Let me remind him of what actually happened prior to the War. In 1470 seaside resorts it was quite common, although it was not generally known, that some grocery and provision shops were open all day and all night, Sunday included, for about three months in the summer. The late Sir Charles Dilke did much in regard to the problem of Shop Hours. I do not care what his politics were; I desire to pay my tribute to his memory. He brought this issue to its proper focus. No man, surely, whatever may be the colour of his politics, wants to go back to those days of which we have heard so much to-day, and which Sir Charles Dilke exposed to the world.
I should like to ask the Home Secretary to be good enough to reply to one or two questions. I suppose he will announce the decision of the Government on Clause 2, as he did to the deputation last Monday? There are, however, other points in the Bill which we do not fully understand and to which we may be opposed later. Clause 2, by the way, does not provide for a plebiscite. In a case like this, if the local authority are allowed to take a plebiscite of the shopkeepers on one issue, they ought to be allowed to take one on every other issue, and particularly under Clause 2. I should like the Home Secretary to turn his attention also to Clause 3. We shall determine whether we divide on the Bill according to the answers we get from him on these important points. Under Clause 3, the local authority will not be entitled to issue an Order to compel the closing of shops before eight o'clock. That is a new provision. Hitherto, the local authority making the Closing Order, endorsed by the Home Office, has always been entitled to indicate the hour of closing any time before, say, eight or nine o'clock, as the case may be, but a Closing Order has never before, to my knowledge, included a provision that it cannot be made to apply prior to eight in the evening. When you stipulate that a shop cannot be closed until after eight o'clock, you reverse the Order entirely. I shall be glad for enlightenment on that point from the Home Secretary.
It has been said that the public should have a say on this subject; and quite rightly so. If I tell the House a humorous experience of mine it may help hon. Members to understand how some people behave in doing their shopping I worked in a shop for four years, and I 1471 remember that when we closed at 11 o'clock on Saturday night there were always half-a-dozen old ladies who came in at five minutes to 11. When we closed at 10 o'clock, they came at five minutes to 10, and when we closed at nine o'clock they came at five minutes to nine. After 25 years' absence I went, the other day, to the village where I used to work as a shop assistant, and where the closing hour is now six o'clock.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I waited at the door of the shop to see what would happen at five minutes to six; and at five minutes to six, five old ladies arrived. I asked where the other had gone, and was told that she had just landed in heaven five minutes before the golden gates were closed. Everybody who knows anything about shop life know that it does not matter when you close the door of the shop, somebody will arrive about three minutes before closing time. The same thing happens in regard to trains. How often do we see people running to the train just when it is about to leave? I failed to understand the speech delivered by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). What did he say? He said that we ought to limit the number of hours to be worked by shop assistants. He should obviously join the trade union movement and help to organise shop workers. Anyone who takes a keen interest in shop life knows that you can never divorce the closing hours of shops from the hours of labour of those employed in the shops.
§ Mr. DAVIES
If the hon. Member tried to run a shop himself he would soon come up against the problem. You cannot apply the shift system in a shop as you can elsewhere. He also protested against the idea that we were taking away the liberty of the individual by saying that shops shall not be kept open later at nights. If he went to Lancashire and tried to argue with the employers and operatives that the textile mills should be kept open any time day or night he would not be returned to Parliament.
1472 The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading wants, apparently, to do away with D.O.R.A. altogether, but, strangely enough, he is not going to do that by this Bill. In his enthusiasm, and I congratulate him upon his humour, he wants to burn D.O.R.A. at the stake of an ice-cream shop. He is going to allow ice-cream to be sold, and tobacco and confectionery too. There is no doubt that there is a very strong argument in favour of the sale of chocolates and tobacco in theatres and places of amusement; but really, the House must understand that the trouble of those who keep establishments for the sale of these commodities just outside the theare is this, that once you open the door for anything of that kind inside, there is immediately the cry, why cannot we do the same outside, with the result that the whole building you have erected under the Shops Acts is shaken to its foundation.
I do not want to deal at great length with this subject; but let me put one more point. The argument has been used two or three times this afternoon that Mr. Selfridge does not object to Clause 2. Why should he? If all the one-man business establishments in London and throughout the country were open they would not affect Mr. Selfridge's business. There is not a single one-man business in Regent Street, Bond Street, or Oxford Street. The problem is this. Take a shop in a mining village as an example. You have a shop there, maybe a cooperative branch stores, or a private establishment, employing six assistants. According to Clause 2 the fifty small shops owned by private individuals, the one-man business shops, are open: but, lo and behold! the shop employing assistants must of necessity close.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I expect my hon. Friend would be glad if he were the owner. That is the answer to the case that has been put forward in favour of Clause 2. There is no individual owner of the co-operative society's branch, and hon. Members who have drafted the Bill 1473 know well that it would be impossible to conduct business in an ordinary mining village or industrial town on the basis of Clause 2. On this one occasion during a period of four years of Tory government, the Home Secretary, if I might say so, has shown extraordinary wisdom. I trust that he will tell the House that, in common parlance, he intends to stick to his guns. Let me come to the argument of the Seconder of the Motion for the Second Reading. He is an hon. and learned Gentleman too. He told us that he went to Euston and could not get a cigar or a glass of bitter beer, and he, because of that, called the restrictions that prevented him from getting these things, childish restrictions. I thought, what childish tastes to start with. If a man cannot buy his tobacco and cigars and cigarettes before six o'clock in the evening he had better go to a medical expert.
I want to conclude on this note: I really have some hesitation about the Bill. I have tried to argue against Clause 2, which has been the pivot of most of the discussion to-day. But very little attention has been given to the other Clauses, about which I am still very doubtful. We have argued a little the case about confectionery and smokers' requisites, but nothing has been said about granting special exemptions to exhibitions. I wish the Home Secretary would deal with that subject when he replies. Then there is the question of holiday resorts. There have been cases in the past, in connection with shops at holiday resorts, that have provided scandals of long hours of employment. I hope that if the Bill goes to a Committee, we shall be able to bring pressure to bear on the promoters to change some of these Clauses and bring them into conformity with modern tendencies.
I made inquiries in 1911 into the relative figures of the death rate from consumption among the several sections of the working people of this country. I was appalled to find that the death rate from consumption among shop assistants was the highest of all, except that among the tin miners of Cornwall. In fact, that is the main point that those of us who are interested in shop life at all would like to put to the House. The vast majority of shop workers are unlike workers in any other trade. They 1474 are young men and women who are very difficult to organise, and in some of our towns they can therefore he exploited at will by unscrupulous employers. That appeal alone should be sufficient to warrant that the House, in dealing with this Bill, will see that, while the interests of the public and the shopkeepers are at stake, the interests of the million young people employed in shops are not forgotten.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The House has to-day shown itself to be a good debating assembly, as it so often does on Friday. There has been a small streak of levity in some of the speeches; but they have been none the worse for that. We are discussing a Bill of great importance to the community as a whole as well as to the shopping community, and it is one which we are discussing without any party politics on either side. I should like, in the first place, to pay my testimony to the work of the Committee on whose Report this Bill is founded. The House knows that for some time past a great many objections have been taken to some of the D.O.R.A. Regulations, which I gather are to be practically buried this afternoon. The Home Secretary being much worried took a course which is not unusual with a worried Minister and appointed a committee to go into the whole question No fewer than nine Members of this House were on that committee. I think I may say it was a very representative committee—I tried very hard to have all sections of the House represented upon it, and there were on it persons from outside who would, I thought, be able to take an independent view. The committee sat 21 times and examined over 100 witnesses and produced a very valuable report which is not only a compendium of the law upon the subject but sets out certain conclusions and recommendations almost unanimously. It is quite true that in regard to some of these, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taylor), the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Mrs. Philipson), and the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) have made certain reservations, but, on the whole, the committee were able to put before me a more or less unanimous report on the main question. I wish to express my deep gratitude to the members of the committee, both those from inside the House 1475 and those from outside the House, for the very great care they have taken in dealing with this very difficult subject.
The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) has quite truly said that the Bill divides itself into three parts. When I heard him say so I thought the hon. Member was commencing a sermon and I had intended to commence my sermon in the same way, by dividing the Bill into three parts. Before doing so, may I congratulate my hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading not only for the good-humoured way in which he did so, but for the manner in which he stuck to his pledge. He told us he was bound to put Clause 2 in the Bill, because it was an almost lifelong Parliamentary pledge on his part and he felt it his duty when bringing in a Bill on this subject to include such a Clause. I respect him for his fidelity to his pledge. We often find our pledges somewhat difficult from time to time—[Hon. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—I am speaking for others as well as myself. I therefore congratulate my hon. Friend on putting this matter before the House. He has not only kept to his pledge, but he has adduced, from his point of view, good arguments in favour of it. The three parts of the Bill which I wish to consider were quite frankly stated by the hon. Member for Westhoughton. The first deals with what the general law on the subject shall be and the proposals which the committee make and which are embodied in the Bill, that this law should be made a permanent part of the statute law of the land. The second part is Clause 2, dealing with one-man shops, and the third is the abolition of certain insensate restrictions contained in a Schedule to the Bill. I can understand that the hon. Lady, the Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield), will not join in my description of them as insensate, but that is from my point of view.
Let us take these three divisions of the Bill in their order. I think it is highly desirable that the long controversies in regard to shop hours should be brought to an end. There were Acts in 1912, 1920 and 1921. The House knows that under the law as it stands, shops are closed at 8 o'clock at night with the exception of one night, when the closing hour may be 9 o'clock, and also that 1476 there must be one half-holiday in the week. The former restriction we imposed during the War. In the Act of 1912 there was no general closing provision at all. Closing orders could be and were made by local authorities if particular trades had been canvassed and by majorities had decided in favour of closing at a particular time or on a particular day. There were 600 local authorities which had made orders of that kind for closing at one hour or another. All those orders are, as it were, different in various parts of the country.
Then came the War and the proposal during the War for closing shops generally. Those restrictions were, after the War, embodied in the Act of 1920, but that Act was for only one year—I think, perhaps, wisely. I think it was desirable that the Act should be made for one year and that it should be renewed, as it has been, year by year in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, in order that this House might have the opportunity of deciding from year to year whether or not those restrictions were being satisfactorily carried out, and whether in effect the country desired still to continue under those early closing restrictions or wished to go back to the old 1912 proposals, whereby restrictions had to be made by individual local authorities. That Act of 1920 has been continued regularly for seven years, under different Governments. I can only suppose, therefore, that the House as a whole—and there have been General Elections in the interval—had come to the conclusion that it was desirable that those restrictions should be continued, though I admit that there is a question in regard to the restrictions more commonly known as "D.O.R.A.," but on the main lines the House year by year came to the conclusion that the restrictions imposed in 1920 should be continued for another year.
How long does the House want to test these restrictions, which have been in existence now for seven years, before making them permanent? Are we to go on for another seven years imposing those restrictions by the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and having, as the House knows, a very perfunctory debate indeed on that Bill as to whether they should be included or not? The Committee came definitely to the conclusion—and Conservative Members of the 1477 Committee as well as Liberal and Labour Members came to the conclusion—that the time had arrived when these restrictions should be made permanent. That is done in the part of the Bill which makes a definite statutory regulation regarding shops over the whole country, that shops should be closed at eight o'clock on five days a week and that they might be closed as late as nine o'clock on one day of the week, reserving, of course, under the unrepealed portion of the Act of 1912, the weekly half-holiday. I cannot conceive it possible that there will be anybody in this House to-day who will object to that. I cannot conceive that any section of the community will object to it, subject, of course, to what my hon. Friend said about Clause 2 and one-man shops, with which I will deal in a moment. Certainly nobody so far has advanced proposals that the time has now arrived to abolish these restrictions altogether and leave, subject to regulation by the local authorities, unlimited hours for the shopkeepers in any town of the land.
That, I take it, the whole House will agree is impossible, and it is impossible because during the last few years there has been, not merely a tendency, but a great awakening of public feeling in regard to hours of labour throughout the whole country. [Interruption.] May I remind the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) that the Government itself works from 14 to 16 hours a day?
§ Mr. T. SHAW
May I also remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Government have had many years in which to pass the Washington Hours Convention, but have not done so.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I think the right hon. Gentleman would be well advised to leave that subject alone. It would be a retrograde step to cast back the whole shopkeeping community and the whole of the shop assistants to longer hours than they have worked, quite satisfactorily to the general public, during the last seven years. I have seen no complaint at all on the part of the shopkeeping community or on the part of the general public that these hours are too short. I was very much struck by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Sir G. Hume), who occupies such an important position 1478 in the government of our great Metropolis, who supported the Bill and was a member of the Committee itself, and I am quite sure that everybody in touch with local government would be satisfied, from the shopping as well as from the community point of view, that the hours suggested in this Bill should be made permanent.
Now I come perhaps to the more debateable point about the one-man shop. My hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading of the Bill lays very great stress on that Clause. The Committee went into this matter very fully. It was not their pre-conceived opinion. Everybody knows that the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Sir F. Meyer) merely took up this question some months ago as an out-and-out opponent of D.O.R.A., and his one desire was to go on the Committee in order the smash D.O.R.A. The hon. Member, however, was convinced by the evidence, and signed the Report of the Committee without any reservation of any kind. That shows the importance of men who hold a very strong view having the opportunity of being put on a Committee to hear the evidence. I am not at all sure if the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) had been on this Committee, although I admit that some of the witnesses might have had rather an awkward examination from him, and he had heard all the evidence, as did his hon. Friend and colleague the hon. Member for Yarmouth, that he would not have been inclined to support the whole recommendations.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I should like to deal with that point. The members of the public are represented by the Members of the House of Commons. I think I heard my hon. and learned Friend in his speech say that he, as a Member of Parliament, represented the public. There were nine representatives of the public who were the judges on this Committee. They had the power to report, and they were convinced, as members of the public, by the evidence put before them by the various shopkeepers' associations, and they came to the conclusion, as members of the public, as Members of the House of Commons representing vast numbers of the public, that the view of the Committee was the right one. Let 1479 me read some short portions of the evidence put before the Committee. The National Chamber of Trade represents over 100,000 retail shopkeepers, and the Committee reports:Dealing with the alleged failure of small shops carried on by the proprietor without assistance and the suggestion that they should be exempted, the witness said that his organisation included a substantial number of small traders, and after making specific inquiry on the point they could find no evidence of ex-service men and other small shopkeepers being unable to make a living owing to compulsory closing. On the contrary, these small traders supported the policy of the Chamber, which was opposed to the granting of any exemption in such cases.The Retail Traders' Section of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, representing about 200 retail traders hold exactly the same point of view. The experience of that organisation was:that the desire for the continuance of statutory closing was shared by the great majority of the smaller traders.Then there is the London and Suburban Traders' Federation, which most London Members know well, which has done a great deal for the good of the shopkeeping community, and represents over 10,000 shopkeepers, the majority of whom own one-man businesses, which is the cause of this particular Clause 2. Here are 10,000 shopkeepers, the majority of whom own one-man businesses, and the Federation entirely supports the complete closing, including the one-man businesses. Hon. Members may say that these are organisations, but organisations could only exist to incorporate the views of those who belong to them.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
It occasionally happens that Members of Parliament do not represent the views of their constituencies. I will not say for a moment that that happens in Argyllshire, because I know how very popular my hon. and learned Friend is. I have carefully considered this Bill. It really would destroy the provisions of the Act for compulsory closing. If you permit the one-man shopkeeper, whether he sells whelks or whatever it may be, to keep open, human nature being what it is, the next door one-man shop is bound to keep open. If you are going to accept the principle of 1480 the Bill which is compulsory closing for the well-being of shopkeepers as a whole, it must be done as a whole.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I understand that the principle of the Bill was compulsory closing in the interests of the assistants.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The hon. and learned Member is wrong. The principle of the Bill is that it is in the interests of the community as a whole that all shops should be closed at 8 or 9 at night. There is no reference to shop assistants at all. There have been attacks on the Bill because it does not deal with the position of the shop assistants, but that is another question outside the Bill altogether. It might be the subject of another Bill if necessary, and the hon. and learned Member might want to bring it in. The principle of this Bill is that it is in the interests of the community that shops should close at 8 or 9 at night.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman said a few moments ago that it was not desired to throw the shop assistants back to the conditions that existed before this legislation.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Shop assistants and shopkeepers as well. There would be great difficulty in carrying out Clause 2. Inspectors are not popular, and many complaints are made by my hon. Friends of the worry to the trading community caused by inspection of all kinds. Think of the number of inspectors who would be required under this Bill! If this Bill were passed, and an inspector saw a shop open, he would have to go in and find out if it were a one-man shop.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
He has only to find out whether the man in the shop is the owner of the shop, and that is known to everybody.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I should like to see a prosecution of a one-man shopkeeper for keeping open after hours and the hon. and learned Gentleman appearing for the defence and saying, "Where is the evidence that this man is the owner of the shop?"
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
To say that the policeman would not know is absurd. Besides, there could be a register of owners kept.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The hon. and learned Member knows perfectly well that registers have to be proved, too. He cannot get out of it. But I take this a step further. Suppose it is a mixed shop, part of which is allowed to be open, in part of which an assistant may serve and in the other part of which only the owner can serve.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
That is the situation which the hon. Member wants to perpetuate in the case of all these one-man shops. I can tell the House quite definitely, after having gone into this very fully indeed, that in order to carry out a Bill of this kind with Clause 2 in it there would have to be an army of inspectors to try to find out whether a shop was kept open by the owner of the shop, or by somebody who was not the owner, or possibly by a partner, and in the case of mixed shops it would be a case of confusion worse confounded. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Hammersmith (Sir W. Bull) complained—not unkindly, but he did complain—that I had made a statement to a deputation on Monday last in regard to the views of the Government upon this Clause. I need hardly say that in making that statement I did not intend to show any lack of courtesy towards my right hon. Friend or to the House of Commons. Of course it would have been, from a rhetorical point of view, better for me to have kept the matter up my sleeve, and at five minutes to four to have had the whole House of Commons agog to know what was the position of the Government. But that is not really what I desired. The country wanted to know, and hon. Members who perhaps would not have found it necessary to be in the House of Commons this afternoon might have wanted to know, and did want to know. After the Cabinet had quite definitely considered the point, after the Cabinet had quite definitely made up their minds on the subject, I think it was just as well that an important decision of that kind should have been made public to the community. I can assure my right hon. Friend that I had not the least idea of showing discourtesy to the House of Commons, of which I am very proud to be a Member.
1482 With regard to this Clause, I would answer the questions put to me by the hon. Gentleman and others by saying that I cannot accept it. I hope the Bill will achieve its Second Reading, but the Government reserve to themselves the right to move in Committee the deletion of Clause 2. I hope its deletion will be carried in Committee, but, if it is not carried in Committee, the Government will move its deletion on the Report stage. We have taken a definite decision, and we cannot run away from the decision we have made. We believe that decision to be the right one, and we shall ask the House of Commons, and not only the House of Commons, but we shall ask our own party, to support us on this point.
The third part of the Bill deals with what various people would call the reactionary tendencies of the Bill. The hon. Member for Lincoln, the hon. Member for Wallsend, and the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Miss Wilkinson) seemed to be against removing all the restrictions in the Schedules of the Bill. I say quite frankly, in regard to them, that these miserable restrictions on the liberty of the subject must be done away with. It really has been for some years quite absurd that chocolates could not be bought in a theatre during the second entr'acte whilst they could be brought during the first entr'acte. The hon. Lady opposite was quite frank in saying that while she objected to it, she did, I think, prefer chocolates to cigarettes.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
That is a matter upon which the hon. Member can give an opinion, but I cannot. I think it must be realised that the promised land includes chocolates. If the hon. Lady opposite did me the honour of going to the theatre with me I should not think that I had carried out my responsibilities if I did not provide her with a box of chocolates. With regard to the other points raised, after all cigars and cigarettes are not an iniquity. If people are allowed to have meals in restaurants and happen to find themselves without cigars or cigarettes, surely the time has come to sweep away all these ridiculous restrictions. The removal of those restrictions will not do 1483 any harm to the shopkeepers, and there has been no opposition from that quarter.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
The Home Secretary has given us the decision of the Government upon Clause 2. Is he now giving us the Government's decision about the other restrictions relating to tobacco and chocolate?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Certainly. Let me put it quite clearly. On behalf of the Government, I appointed the Committee which dealt with this question. They drew up a Report, and this Bill has been based upon their Report. I propose, on behalf of the Government, to accept that Report and accept the terms of the Bill based upon the recommendations of that Report. I not only ask the House to eliminate these restrictions, but I shall support the Schedules which deal with them. All of the other provisions of the Bill are in the hands of the local authority, who represent the people of the neighbourhood, and can, I think, be fairly trusted to do what is right in the matter.
I venture to hope that hon. Members opposite will not oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. I cannot do more than ask them not to do so, but I believe that, from their own point of view, they ought to be very grateful for the earlier part of the Bill, which stabilises and stereotypes this great question of the early closing of shops. I think that that, from their point of view, is worth all the rest of the Bill put together, and I think it would be very wrong from their point of view if they opposed the Second Reading. I hope they will not. On the other hand, I hope that my hon. Friends on this side of the House will not be too angry with me for what I have said in regard to Clause 2. Really, a great principle is involved in Clause 2. I fully appreciate the earnestness with which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyllshire made his speech. I listened to every word of it, and I know he believes every word of it. At the same 1484 time, I want him to realise that the less is included in the greater, and that it is for the advantage of the community as a whole that these restrictions should be established. My hon. and learned Friend shakes his head, and he may have the opportunity in Committee of opposing the alterations which I shall ask the Committee to make, but perhaps, between now and then, he may think the matter over a little more fully and perhaps read the evidence given before the Committee a little more carefully, when I think he will perhaps come to the conclusion, as a Member of Parliament representing shopkeepers, shop assistants, and also the rights of the general community, that the Bill as it is drawn, without Clause 2, is a good Bill, which we shall be glad to see on the Statute Book, and one which, when it is on the Statute Book, my hon. and learned Friend will do his best to take credit for when he goes back to his constituents.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
In view of the statement of the Home Secretary with regard to Clause 2, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment, because the other points can be fought out in Committee.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
In view of the statement of the Home Secretary with regard to Clause 2, I reserve to myself the right to vote against the Bill on the Third Reading if Clause 2 is deleted.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned accordingly at One Minute before Four o'Clock.