HC Deb 05 February 1930 vol 234 cc1989-2001

Order for Second Reading read.

Ordered, That Clauses 5, 6, 7 to 17, inclusive, Part IV, and Clauses 46 to 52, inclusive, and 54, and in so far as they apply for the purposes of the said Clauses 5, 6, 7 to 17, inclusive, Part IV, and Clauses 46 to 52, inclusive, and 54, the Preamble, Part I, and Clauses 69, 72, and 79 of that Bill, be committed to the Committee of Selection."—[Mr. Parkinson.] (Liverpool Corporation (No. 1) Bill.)

Remaining Provisions committed (Liverpool Corporation (No. 2) Bill),


I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Liverpool Corporation (No. 2) "ill to leave out Clauses 63 and 68. It is not in any spirit of captiousness that we are opposing these two Clauses, but because we feel that there must be an objection on broad principles to Clauses of this nature creeping, very often unnoticed, into the Bills of local authorities. It is a case where the vigilance of Parliament is needed to the utmost. Let us compare the innocence of the remaining Clauses of the Bill with the two Clauses which we wish to see omitted. The other Clauses provide for such things as these: that vehicles may not be left standing in the street, that unauthorised riders of vehicles may be fined. Personally I have considerable sympathy with unauthorised boys who ride vehicles. Clauses such as these are perfectly innocent and are such as a local authority has a right to demand for itself. When we come to Clause 63 we find that the Corporation wishes to make, at its own instance, provisions for the regulation of labour of boys under under 18 who do certain jobs, such as errand running. I have every sympathy with provisions drawn up on a national basis in this House for regulating the various conditions under which boys under 18 may work, but when a single corporation seeks to establish provisions of its own the vigilance of Parliament is demanded.

We cannot have a local authority dealing with matters of this sort and remain entirely ignorant of where we may land in the end. The present proposal relates to boys under 18. Next time it may very well be boys over 18. It may be that a local authority in future would prescribe conditions of labour which would make it extremely difficult to regulate those conditions throughout the country. Nobody, of course, supposes that the Corporation of Liverpool would use this authority to the detriment of its people, but it is perfectly possible for such authority to be abused at any time in the future, and it is equally possible that there would be serious detriment to trade if proposals like this were allowed to creep into an Act. Liverpool is a clearing port for an immense industrial area behind it, and the possible reactions of these particular Clauses are worth watching.

As regards Clause 68, nobody is more anxious than I am to see sanitary regulations made about the sale of food, but regulations so far-reaching as those proposed in the Clause ought not to be a matter for a municipal authority, but ought to be a matter to be dealt with nationally and with the authority of Parliament. Let us consider what is involved. It may be that there is no actual expense to the big firms in having to sell bread in airtight covers, but a large number of reputable small firms in the bakery business may be affected by having to employ either hand-work or expensive machinery for this purpose, thus materially increasing their costs of production. Hon. Members opposite as well as on this side, know the cry which we all fear at Election time: Your food will cost you more. I am not going to suggest that this regulation is necessarily going to affect the price of bread, but it is one of those matters in which Parliament ought to guard against a local authority introducing unnoticed, rules and by-laws which may upset conditions of sale and affect whole populations. We have heard lately, and I believe rightly, of the dangers of bureaucratic control by State Departments which override Parliament or at least limit the power of Parliament to express its own will and act as trustee of the welfare of the people. My experience of local authorities leads me to the conclusion that bureaucratic control by the officials who are responsible for the general machinery of local authorities, must be just as carefully guarded against as bureaucratic control of the kind which may creep in as regards national affairs, against the wishes of this House. For those reasons, I ask the House to assent to the deletion of these two Clauses.


I beg to second the Motion.

Personally, I am not at all concerned about Clause 68, and if it had been possible to oppose Clause 63 without opposing Clause 68, I would have done so. I am very sorry to have to oppose any Corporation Bill. I have had 17 years' experience of local authorities; I am a vice-president of the Municipal Corporations Association, and I claim that I have as close and intimate a knowledge of local government work as any Member of the House.


Does the hon. Member claim to speak for the Municipal Corporations Association in this matter?


I never claimed to do so.


That was not made clear.


If the hon. Member has a little patience he will hear me develop my argument, and he can express his own views in due course. I have a perfect right to make my position quite clear, and I am stating a fact which he cannot deny. I want the House to understand why it is that I regret to have to oppose any Corporation Bill, and surely it is right that I should give as a reason the fact that I am an official of an organisation which has been formed to look after the interests of municipal corporations. But when I saw Clause 63 of this Bill I felt that it was my duty, as one deeply interested in local government work, to oppose that Clause. When objection was taken to this Bill, the Lord Privy Seal took exception to hon. Members objecting to any Bill which he had certified.

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that merely objecting to a Bill is necessarily delaying that Bill's progress. No. Bill can go forward before 12th February, the last day on which petitions can be laid against the Bills, and it is not right or fair to ask the House to pass Bills in a slipshod fashion, with Clauses which may be detrimental to the interests of many people, merely because certain portions of those Bills have been certified by the Lord Privy Seal. If the promoters of these Bills are anxious to get the Clauses relating to the provision of work for the unemployed, they ought not to tack on other Clauses such as this, which are highly controversial and introduce new principles, and then ask us to pass them without discussion. We were exercising our duty in opposing this Bill until such time as we had an opportunity of debating these controversial points.

What are the objections to this Clause? In the first place I agree with the Mover that this is a national and not a local question. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. R. A. Taylor) introduced a Bill dealing with shop hours which I supported because it was to apply to the whole country and not to one locality. There are Education Acts which deal with the employment of boys in the evenings as errand boys, and, if we get, as we are promised, a Bill to raise the school age, further regulations will be introduced as regards juvenile labour. We already have Shop Hours Acts and various by-laws and regulations affecting juvenile labour, and, lastly, there are the Factories and Workshops Acts regulating hours and conditions for those employed in such places. The Corporation of Liverpool seek permission to make by-laws of their own on this subject and what those by-laws may be, we do not know. Nothing is said in the Clause as to what hours or conditions are to be imposed That is not a matter for the Liverpool Corporation or any other corporation to decide. It is for this House to decide as to the conditions of labour either for juveniles, or for adults and juveniles alike, in any trade which is to be regulated.

There is another grave objection. There are other municipal authorities whose areas come right up to the borders of Liverpool. They will not have these powers, and, thus, confusion will be worse confounded. There will be regulations operating in one district, but not in adjacent districts. A local authority in asking for such powers as this, is asking too much. In justification of my plea that this Clause should be deleted, I would recall to hon. Members a Debate in this House on 29th November, 1929, on a Bill introduced by the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), called the Children and Young Persons (Employment and Protection) Bill. The promoter of the Bill on that occasion thought fit to move the adjournment of the Debate in order that he might take into consideration certain suggestions made by the Home Secretary and the suggestions made by the Home Secretary on that occasion, apply, I submit, with even greater force to the Clause which we are debating than they did to that Bill. The hon. Member for West Leyton mentioned the employment of boys for excessive hours as van boys, and related his own experiences as an errand boy and made out a very good case for Parliament considering the subject seriously. The Home Secretary suggested that it might be wise for the hon. Member to postpone the Second Reading of the Bill if not to withdraw it altogether. The Home Secretary said: The attitude of the Government, then, is that of asking the promoters of this Bill "— as I am going to ask the promoters of this Clause— whether their purpose will not have been served by the Debate to-day and by trusting to the several separate Measures which the Government already either have introduced or have announced their intention to introduce. If this Bill were given a Second Reading and sent upstairs, I fear that the time of many Members of this House would be consumed in fruitless debate, for three-fourths at least of the ground covered by this Bill has already been covered by the other Bills to which I have referred (the Bills already mentioned dealing with juvenile labour). The suggestion has been made, and it is well worth serious consideration by the promoters, that the better course would be to withdraw this Bill and to rely upon the good will of the House and the desire of the House to carry these proposals as far as is practicable through the agency of the other Bilk to which I have referred. Then the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) said: Besides the Factories Bill, there was, I think, in preparation in the Home Office during the last year or two a Children's Bill, supplementary to the Factories Bill. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when he hopes to introduce that Bill or the version of it that the present Government decide to bring forward. The Home Secretary's reply was: I could not say precisely when, but we are anxious to get ahead with that Bill as early as possible, and, when we 6ee and know the course of public business on resuming after the Christmas holidays, I hope to be able to make some announcement about it. Later, the hon. Member for West Leyton put this question to the Home Secretary: Can he give me an assurance, if the categories which I suggest are not included in his prospective Bill, that they will be covered by legislation at an early date? The Home Secretary's reply to that question was: It is a fact that the primary conditions of that group of workers referred to by my hon. Friend have already been under consideration by the Government. Naturally, we do not want to overweight any particular Bill which we intend to introduce, but I can give him a friendly assurance that when we have disposed of the Factories Bill, which covers only those employed in factories as they are known, we are quite eager and ready to try and cover the remaining groups by a separate Bill which would be introduced as early as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1929; Cols. 1833–1836–1844, Vol. 232.] 8.0 p.m.

In view of that pronouncement by the Home Secretary, that the Government have on the stocks a Bill to deal with this question, not in any parochial fashion, but in a national way, as it ought to be dealt with, surely it would be better for the promoters of this Bill to withdraw this Clause and let the Home Secretary have a free hand to deal with the question as it should be dealt with. On the 12th December last a notice was put on the Order Paper withdrawing the Bill which had been introduced to deal with this question, and the only conclusion that I can come to is that the Home Secretary, after making this promise in the House, had reaffirmed it to the hon. Member who introduced that Bill, and that it is the intention of the Government, as I hope it is, to introduce a Bill to deal with this very vexed question in a national way, and not leave it for local authorities such as Liverpool to come along, at very great expense, in order to get these powers from this House.

Speaking as one who is keenly interested in local government being carried on in a right and proper way, I cannot see why the authorities in Liverpool are asking for this Clause. When we are dealing with this question—and I am speaking now as an administrator—it is surely far better that our police authorities should take their orders from the Home Office which has to administer these national Acts of Parliament. You are going to make confusion if you allow this Clause to go through, and you will make it far more difficult for those who are keenly interested in this question of the regulations of juvenile labour. I want to see the Liverpool Corporation get on with the projects scheduled in this Bill for the relief of unemployment and with the other powers that they seek which may be right and proper, but this House has always been jealous of granting to one Corporation something entirely new that has never been discussed and approved by Parliament. It is not right to smuggle a small Clause such as this into a large Bill such as this, when we know that the Government themselves are dealing with this question in a national way.


I think it may be for the convenience of the House if I make some observations immediately in connection with Clause 63, which particularly concerns the Department with which I am associated. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) seemed to deprecate the action of the Liverpool Corporation in seeking to acquire the powers set out in Clause 63, but there is nothing unusual about their action, because over 30 years ago they sought to acquire powers to deal with street trading, and certain powers were embodied in a private Bill. Those powers received the approval of the Home Office, and the experiment was a great success, the example of Liverpool being followed, I am advised, by many other local authorities. I have no doubt that the Liverpool Corporation had to make out a very strong case indeed for the acquisition of those powers, and I assume that if this Bill, including Clause 63, is sent to the Local Legislation Committee, it will be incumbent upon the promoters to make an equally strong case for Clause 63.

I venture to say that this Clause, seeking, as it does, to better the conditions of van boys and errand boys, will attract the sympathy of Members of all parties. It is a step in the right direction; but, at the same time, I have to point, as the hon. Member for Grimsby has already done, to the attitude of the Government in connection with the problem involved in this particular Clause. It is true that in a Debate on the 29th November last year, on the Second Reading of the Young Persons (Employment and Protection) Bill, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made reference to future legislation on this subject. In fact, he made two references. He said first: When we have disposed of the Factories Bill which covers only those employed in factories as they are known, we are quite eager and ready to try and cover the remaining groups by a separate Bill which would be introduced as early as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November. 1929: col. 1841, Vol. 23–2.] That is a quotation which also fell from the lips of the hon. Member for Grimsby. Later in the Debate the Home Secretary said: ' I have undertaken to deal with the other matters in a separate Bill, and I have the van boys specially in mind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1929; col. 1868, Vol. 232.1 So far as the detailed nature of the proposed legislation is concerned, I am not in a position to make any direct statement, for, of course, we have not yet had an opportunity of coming to a decision upon the points at issue, but at any rate those statements did and do in fact indicate the attitude of the Government on this question. It may well be that, as the hon. Member for Grimsby suggests, some feeling may arise in connection with the proposed granting of these powers to a local authority, in advance of general legislation. That, as I gather, is his view, but, on the other hand, from the evidence in our possession, I think we must admit that Liverpool would appear to have a problem peculiar to itself, having regard to the nature of its trade, its commerce and its transport; and I must confess, despite all that I have said in reference to the attitude of the Government, that I did not hear any real, substantial argument as to why this Clause of the Bill should not go to the Local Legislation Committee for consideration.

So far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, we feel that this Clause ought to be permitted to go to that Committee. It will be for the promoters to make their case, and I have no doubt that they will have to make a strong case, to secure these powers, particularly having regard to the proposal of the Government to introduce legislation at some later date, whenever that may be, upon this question. Therefore, despite the attitude of the Government so far as the future is concerned, I have to urge the House to allow this Clause to go to the Committee and to allow the promoters to make their case, such as it may be. It may be that the Clause as drawn is not perfect, but those points will be brought out, I have no doubt, in Committee, and the Committee will be able to make such Amendments as in its wisdom it may think fit to do. Under these circumstances, I venture respectfully to suggest that the House should permit this Clause to remain in the Bill.


I rise to oppose the Instruction. We have had the general principle enunciated that the matters that are raised in these two Clauses should not be dealt with in a private Bill, but should be dealt with in a Bill covering the whole country. That is quite intelligible and, up to a point, very sound, but I have to put two or three points in that connection. The first is this: When will that general Bill come forward? However willing any Member of the Government, or the whole of the Government, may be, there is no certainty when that Bill will come forward. I know I may be chaffed when I say that we have heard promises or suggestions about a Factory Bill for some time past, but we have not seen that Bill yet, and the difficulties of making good a promise are even greater at the moment, in view of the burden of legislation and other hindrances in the way. Therefore, it is only fair to consider this quite apart from the general principles which have been enunciated. We have an old motto, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," and we have another motto, "Anybody's business is nobody's business."

Liverpool, as has been said already, is in a special position in this matter, but in any case Liverpool has brought this proposal forward, realising the need at the moment to be a very crying need. Why should Liverpool be put off until the opportunity offers, perhaps years hence, to get a general Bill, when Liverpool has already proved itself in many different ways to have led the van in many of these social matters? I can quite understand the hon. Members for Basingstoke (Viscount Lymington) and Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), who speak for certain comparatively small boroughs. They may be most excellently managed boroughs, but I am speaking for one of the largest boroughs in England, which is capable of a very large extent of self-government and which deals with a very large area and with very large funds. You have quite a small Parliament in itself there, and it is quite capable of facing this matter.

We have heard a suggestion that the thing crept into the Bill. Anybody who knows what is taking place knows that it is perfectly ridiculous to speak of such a thing. It has all been done in the open, all thrashed out in the City Council and in the papers; everybody knows of it, and every hon. Member has in his possession communications of various kinds calling attention to the Bill, either in favour of it or against it, and pointing out these Clauses in a particular way. We can therefore dismiss any suggestion about these things being done in the dark or subtly or unknown. We can also put aside the suggestion that this area, which is so well governed, and which has been in the van of progress for many years, should be asked to sit down and wait for years for a remedy for what they know to be a crying evil. Even if it were not, the position in Liverpool is different from that in the rest of the country. Those who know the geographical position of Liverpool as a commercial and a distributing centre know that the question of van boys is important. People must realise that in a peculiarly situated city like Liverpool, which has no centre, and lies lengthwise on the Port, enormous distances are to be travelled, and, unless there is a watchful eye on the youth of the city and a deep interest in them, as there is in Liverpool, to see that they do not suffer through their meals being neglected, or through their systems being overdone, or through lack of education, proper and humane consideration is not given to these matters. The question arises in Liverpool owing to its peculiar position.

Under these circumstances, who are the proper people to discuss this matter? Can the Bill be thrown out by the House after a few hours' debate, when there is a local legislation committee, consisting of capable people, where the pros and cons can be thrashed out and every point argued? Why should the whole House be troubled with these details? Why should not those who are experienced in studying these matters have it before them? Why should not the Liverpool Council, which has studied this matter, and has not put it in the Bill suddenly, but only after protracted study, be allowed the opportunity of submitting their case to the Committee? I am speaking at the moment about the van boys, who are covered by Clause 63, about which I feel strongly, for the problem calls for immediate attention, and I say, "Let Liverpool have the opportunity of once more showing the way." It is within the power of the Committee—and I expect that they will do it—to put a limiting Clause in the Bill, so that, when there is general legislation the particular Clauses concerned will be overridden by the general legislation. There is no demand for these powers in the rest of the country, and we say that here is an opportunity of allowing Liverpool to deal with what they know in the City Council to be a genuine need. We are prepared to do it, and it will be a test and a help to the country in judging this question. Something has been said about bylaws, and the powers of the City Council to draw up bylaws. But is it overlooked that these bylaws must be submitted for approval to the Home Office?


Unless you have legislation in this House on the matter, what bylaws have the Home Office to work on?


We have power to draft by-laws, and they will be submitted to the Home Office for approval, and no by-law can be passed which is not in accordance with the general approval of the Home Office. With regard to Clause 68, the hon. Member for Grimsby said that the would rather support Clause 68 than Clause 63.


I said that I was not concerned with Clause 68 in any way.


The Noble Lord, the Member for Basingstoke (Viscount Lymington), spoke about Clause 63, and said it was going to involve considerable cost. All I can say is: let Liverpool have the opportunity of putting before the Local Legislation Committee a chance of studying this matter. I am sure that hon. Members, on whatever side they sit, would not at this moment, or at any time, willingly do anything that would raise the cost of food to the consumer, but I understand from the promoters of the Bill—and I know something about the City Council, having just retired from it—that that matter has been studied, and they see no reason whatever why it should cost the consumer any more. There, again, surely it is a Committee point. I agree that it is desirable that these sanitary regulations should operate throughout the country, but why wait, when Liverpool is prepared to do something in the matter? It is undoubtedly for the benefit of the people, and it is our particular responsibility to see that the people are helped and cared for. I oppose this Instruction, because there is every opportunity to deal with all the points that have been raised, and many others which may arise, by the expert Committee to which this House has delegated the general responsibility of examining such Bills. They are qualified to do it, and they have the opportunity of having the question properly ventilated. There is nothing in principle in these two Clauses which the House, as the guardian of the nation, has any need to take objection. I urge, therefore, that the Bill should take its normal course.

Question, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clauses 63 and 68," put, and negatived