HC Deb 16 May 1928 vol 217 cc1044-7

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make better provision for regulating the employment of young persons in particular occupations; and for other purposes connected therewith. The object of the Bill which I desire to introduce is to enable local authorities to regulate the hours of labour for young persons. There is a definite gap in our social code regarding hours. Whereas children under 14 are safeguarded and protected by the employment of Children Act, and the labour of those over 18 years is protected by the Factories Acts and by trade regulations, the labour of young persons from 14 to 18 years of age in certain occupations is entirely unprotected and unsafeguarded. The occupations which are definitely outside labour regulations or the Factories Acts, the Shop Hours Act and the Education Act are those of van-boys, errand boys, warehouse boys, young persons engaged in refreshment houses, page-boys engaged in hotels and night clubs, and young persons engaged in cinemas. I do not wish the House to infer that all the boys working in these particular occupations are subject to abnormal hours, but the present state of the law gives opportunities to employers, perhaps more through carelessness than anything else, to work their young employés for hours which are obviously detrimental to their health and welfare.

I do not want to make reckless charges. This question has been carefully investigated by charitable societies, and well-qualified individuals. Investigations have been conducted by the Wage-Earning Children's Committee, by Miss King, of the Women's University Settlement, Southwark, by Sir Wyndham Deedes, of Oxford House', and Miss Gardner, Secretary of COPEC, and there have come to light hours which, I think, are scandalous. There are cases of van-boys working from 6.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m., from 8 a.m. to 8.30 p.m., and from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m., while page-boys have been found working in restaurants until well after midnight and in night clubs up to 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning.

I cannot believe that there is any real economic necessity for these abnormally long hours, and I submit that we ought to think less in terms of economic necessity and more in terms of the moral welfare of these young people. Certain occupations are entirely exempt from the operation of this Bill—namely, agriculture, railway services, except service as van boys; the transport services, except service as van boys and messenger boys; employment in offices and shops, domestic service and the building and engineering trades. This Bill, which seeks to give power to local authorities to draw up regulations, follows established precedents in relying on local initiative, local public opinion and local conscience. If there is a sufficient local opinion on the subject then the local authority will be empowered to take proceedings and draw up by-laws, but, in order to obviate any abuse and to provide against any rash or over-zealous action, it is provided in the Bill that no by-laws shall become operative unless they are sanctioned by the Home Secretary. If he is not satisfied the Home Secretary will have power to hear objections and cause a local inquiry to be held.

I should like to draw the attention of hon. Members to the fact that the Bill has been drawn up in clear collabora- tion with Government Departments. The Home Office, the Ministry of Labour and the Board of Education have been extremely helpful and sympathetic in the matter. In fact, I can claim that the Bill, so far as Government Departments are concerned, is entirely an agreed Bill. I may also claim that we have the sympathy of the Home Secretary himself, for in a reply to a Question about a year ago he said that he recognised the need for fuller powers to regulate the classes of employment referred to in the Bill, and Lord Desborough in another place, when this Bill was being considered, speaking for the Home Secretary, said that it was a matter which they meant to take up at the earliest possible opportunity. It shows, at any rate, that the object of the Bill has the goodwill of the Government Front Bench and generally throughout the House, and I hope there will be an opportunity for this modest yet very necessary piece of social reform to be read a First time and passed into law. I beg to move.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, Mr. Ammon, Mr. Briant, Mr. Morris, Sir Robert Newman, Sir Wilfrid Sugden, and Mr. Snell.

  2. c1046
  4. c1047
  5. BILLS REPORTED. 39 words