§ Order for Second Reading read.
Mr. FREDERICK HALL
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I do not propose to detain the House long, because others more capable than myself will explain the contents of this Bill much better than I can do, but I would like to point out to hon. Members that this Bill is long overdue. This question of the hours of employment in shops has been under discussion in the country and in this House as long as I can remember. It is a long time ago since a Measure was first passed by this House for the purpose of dealing with the position of shop assistants, and even when such a Measure was passed it did not contain any Clause for the purpose of enforcing its provisions. Bills like this, or nearly like this, have been before the House at intervals for several years. Only last year such a Bill was before the House of Commons, but, unfortunately, it did not reach the Statute Book. This matter affects some 1,500,000 people, and yet there is no law dealing effectively with the employment of those people, and, although Shops Acts have been passed, they have merely dealt with the question of hours and have not contained provisions for enforcement. What we want is a Measure which will legalise the eight-hours day.
I know that opposition to the Bill will be forthcoming and it will probably be said that we want to cripple the trade of the nation. We want to do nothing of the kind. This Bill differs a little from the previous Bill which was before the House, because it provides for a 48-hours week, exclusive of meal times, so that the opponents of the Bill, whoever they may be, cannot say that we want to close the shops earlier. The shops would be able to keep open for practically the same hours as at present, even if the Bill became law, so that we are not asking for impossibilities. What we are asking for is an enactment to prevent employers from exploiting the shop assistants as 2312 they are doing at present. I could give lots of cases in which shop assistants work overtime and work long hours even after the shops have been closed in the evening. I could give cases from my own locality and from all over the country—I have a list of them here—in which shopkeepers retain their assistants at work from 2 hours a week up to 17 hours a week, over and above the time that they should be at work and after the shops have been closed. We say that this practice ought to be stopped.
I dare say that many hon. Members have received a document which was circulated yesterday in reference to this matter. A copy of this document has been handed to me—it was not sent to me directly, possibly because I was to move the Second Beading of this Bill. This document has been sent out by the drapers of some Yorkshire town, and it tells us what they do with their assistants. If what they say in this letter be true, then the Bill will not affect them one iota. All that we ask the House to do is to legalise those hours of employment. If these people are doing what they say in their circular they are doing, then they are carrying out exactly what we seek to legalise by this Bill, and, if so, they need not be afraid of the Bill. They need not be afraid of having those hours and conditions legalised. I do not know what will be the strength of the opposition to the Bill, but I know that not only has this subject been discussed over and over again, but that Governments at various periods have appointed at least five Commissions to inquire into the hours of employment of shop assistants. Reports have been given by these Commissions favourable to a Bill of this description, and yet no Government up to now has dared to bring in a Bill.
I therefore hope, after all the discussion that there has been in the country, and after all the Debates which we have had in this House about lessening the hours of employment and protecting these young persons in shops and workrooms, that if we get a Second Reading of the Bill to-day the Government will find facilities for it and help to place it on the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment. It is no use appointing commissions or committees to 2313 inquire into these matters unless Governments are prepared to follow out the recommendations of those bodies and pass into law the necessary legislation in order to place upon the Statute Book a Measure which will protect the whole of these people. I do not propose to detain the House longer, but I hope that when the Debate is ended to-day, we shall be able to get the Second Reading of the Bill, and that the Government will give it its blessing, in order that we may have a chance of getting it on the Statute Book.
§ Mr. R. A. TAYLOR
I beg to second the Motion.
I feel sure that the whole House will join with me in offering congratulations to my hon. Friend, the Member for Normanton (Mr. F. Hall), upon the informative speech he has just delivered, particularly in view of the fact that my hon. Friend has had 26 years' continuous association with this House. His interest in the conditions of shop workers is by no means a new interest, for 19 years ago he served as a member of a Committee upstairs which was considering a Shops Bill, and in those Committee stages my hon. Friend pressed very strongly and voted in favour of a proposal to limit the hours of labour as well as provide better facilities for the closing of shops. It is just 40 years ago since a very distinguished physician, Dr. Richardson, in a lecture before the Royal Sanitary Institute, used these words:The effects of shop labour of the kind named on females under 21, or on males under 21, is of necessity injurious, as impeding the growth and the natural development of the organs of the body. To the female, the mischief is of a kind calculated to extend to the offspring which she may bear. In my opinion, eight hours daily is the maximum time during which labour ought to be carried on in shops.Forty years have gone by since that statement was made, and although there has been considerable improvement as a result of a measure of trade union organisation, and as a result the closing legislation passed by Parliament, nevertheless, we are still living in a Britain where women and girls are worked as long as 60, 70, and even 80 hours per week. I am glad to say that that is only a minority of the employés, 2314 and that the great majority of those employed in the distributive trades are working considerably fewer hours than that. Nevertheless there is substantial minority who can only secure an alleviation of their position by the action of compulsion exercised from Parliament.
Now I will refer, very briefly indeed, to a number of recent inquiries conducted by previous Governments. In 1926 the Ministry of Labour published a number of reports into various branches of the distributive trades. Altogether, some 640,000 workers in the distributive trades, apart from employers, were covered by their reports. I will briefly refer, first of all, to that of the drapery and allied trades, dealing with the retail section only of that particular branch of distribution. This inquiry covered some 212,000 workers in the drapery and allied trades, 62,000 of whom were males and 150,000 females. According to the evidence submitted in that report, the proportion of male employés in the drapery and allied trades working 50 hours or over per week amounted to only 14 per cent., and the number of female workers in the same branch working 50 hours a week and over was eight per cent.
But I would draw attention to the fact that in this connection, and indeed in all these reports of the Ministry of Labour the hours refer to a normal working week and do not refer to the overtime worked. So that, quite clearly, in this great branch of the distributive trades, covering 212,000 workers, there would be no great dislocation if a 48-hours week were made compulsory; and I think that the more liberal-minded employers, and certainly the whole of the co-operative societies, would welcome a restriction of the hours of their unscrupulous competitors in order that they might be protected against their very unfair competition.
I now come to the Ministry of Labour report for 1926, giving figures relating to 1925, in regard to the wholesale and retail grocery and provision trade. This inquiry covered some 228,000 workers, 153,000 of whom were males and 75,000 females. In this particular branch of distribution the conditions were not quite so good, some 62 per cent. of the male employés working 50 hours or more per week and 19 per cent. of the male employés working 54 hours or more per week. With regard to the females, 67 per cent. worked 50 hours 2315 a week or more and 26 per cent., or one in four, of the women workers employed in this branch of distribution were working 54 hours or more per week.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
Has the hon. Member any evidence of the very long hours mentioned by the mover of the Motion?
§ Mr. TAYLOR
I do not wish to detain the House, but all the reports are here. The hon. Member can see them for himself, and he will find that my hon. Friend's statement was perfectly correct. I pass now to the report dealing with the wholesale and retail meat distributive trade. This inquiry covers some 99,000 workers, and so far as the male workers were concerned—they comprise, of course, the great majority, being 83,000 compared with 16,000 women—53 per cent. worked for 50 hours per week or more and 25 per cent. for 54 hours per week or more. The number of those working over 56 hours per week in the case of the males was 18 per cent., and in the case of the females 9 per cent. of the numbers employed.
The other inquiry to which I want to refer is that in regard to the light refreshment and catering trades. Here the inquiry was estimated to cover some 100,000 workers, of whom 90,000 were females and 10,000 males. In this particular branch the number working 50 hours and over amounted to 51 per cent. The number of males working 54 hours and over amounted to 24 per cent. In the case of females 26 per cent. were working 50 hours and over, 11 per cent. were working 54 hours and over, and three per cent. were working over 60 hours per week. I do not want to say very much more on this point, except that, as a member of the Home Office Committee of Inquiry of 1927 into the Shops Acts, we took a certain amount of evidence, and elicited a certain amount of information in the cross-examination of witnesses, and it is still true to say that there are in this country women and girls working 60, 70 and up to 80 hours per week. As far as I can see, after a good deal of experience of this particular side of the problem, it is quite impossible to solve this question by ordinary methods of trade union organisation. Owing to the nature of the occupation, the overcrowded state of the labour market, the relatively short time in which these girls 2316 remain in the occupation, it is impossible to establish permanent trade union organisation, and, therefore, it, is only to Parliament that we can turn to deal with this problem.
With the permission of the House, I want to draw attention specifically to the terms of this Bill. I will be as brief as I possibly can, and try to make the intention of the Bill clear. Clause 1 provides for the application of the general principle of a normal 48-hour week for shop assistants as defined in the Bill. Under certain conditions, as defined in Clause 2, a limited amount of overtime is permissible. It was fell; that this elasticity was necessary in order to meet varying conditions in different branches of the distributive trades, but it is clearly intended by my hon. Friend and by those associated with him in the promotion of this Bill that the normal working; week shall not exceed 48 hours.
In the first Clause it will be observed that a slight Amendment of the 1912 Act is proposed in Sub-section (1), in order to sweep away the provision in Section 2 of that Act which is still operative, and which permits the employment of young persons under the age of 18 for 74 hours per week, including meal times. The first Clause of this Bill, proposes to substitute 48 hours per week, exclusive of meal times as the working hours which are legally permissible in the case of young persons. I am sure that the House will agree that 48 hours is much more in line with modern thought and modern needs than the 74 hours which we propose to sweep away. The only other provision in the Clause is in Subsection (2), which is required in order to facilitate administration, and to provide for the observance of the terms of the Bill. This will require employers to exhibit a notice in a conspicuous place in the shop or place of employment, and to keep a record of the hours at which the assistant may be employed on the several days in the week. This is no new principle. Such a provision exists in the Shops Act, 1912, in relation to the half-holiday, and is required in cases under the Factories and Workshops Acts.
I turn to Clause 2, which makes provision for a certain limited amount of overtime, in order that some elasticity may be allowed to deal with seasonal overtime and for unforeseen circumstances. 2317 The provision in Clause 2, if carried into law, would have this effect. Employers would be able to employ assistants, with the exception of young persons, who in no circumstances would be permitted to be employed for more than 48-hours per week—they would be able to employ adult assistants for 48-hours per week, and overtime to the extent of 20 hours in any month, or a maximum of 60 hours in any year. We feel that this would give sufficient elasticity—being an average of five hours a week, which need not necessarily be concentrated in an individual week—that is necessary to meet the varying conditions in different branches of the distributive trades. This Clause leaves the decision as to the necessity for overtime to the employer. The employer or the manager is to decide, just as is the case at the present time when overtime is necessary. The effect of the Clause is to restrict the total volume of overtime permissible in any one month or any one year. I am quite convinced that, as far as the nature of the distributive trade is concerned, the special difficulties in relation to particular trades can readily be met for the most part under the provision, but I have the authority of my hon. Friend, and of those associated with him, to say that if any real difficulties emerge as a result of fuller discussion, my hon. Friend will be only too willing to help to find solutions for genuine difficulties, if, after fuller inquiry, they are found to exist.
With regard to Clause 3, I would just draw the attention of the House to the fact that this Clause lays down the principle that payment for overtime is required at rates higher than the normal rate, except for the first quarter of an hour. The purpose of this Clause is, quite frankly, to discourage the growing practice of systematic overwork and understaffing going on in the distributive trades. The object is to encourage the employer who has been lax in his methods, and has not been as good in his intentions as others. We want to encourage the relatively bad employer to do what the good employer has already done, namely, to organise his business on the basis of a normal 48-hour week. If overtime is necessary shop assistants, like other classes of workers, should be paid at rates higher than the ordinary rate of pay. It will be observed that, in the case of Sunday work, the rates required to be paid are double those of 2318 the ordinary rates. We feel that these provisions will act as a strong deterrent on the growing practice of Sunday labour, and we hope that we shall have the support of many employers in the distributive trade on this matter.
May I refer very briefly to a possible objection to payment of overtime in the distributive trades. It has been stated that it is customary for shop assistants to be given holidays. That I freely admit, but when it is suggested that a week or a fortnight's holiday is given in lieu of limited overtime, perhaps amounting to five or six hours per week, I entirely dissent from the proposition that this is recognised in the trade as being a just and equitable reward for overtime. The railway clerk and the municipal and Government worker have their trade union agreement, and payment for overtime and holidays is part of the conditions of their employment: and we refuse to be threatened or bullied with the idea that the majority of British employers are going to retaliate on assistants by attempting to alter rules which are accepted as being a normal condition of employment in the trade. We see no reason why, if a railway clerk receives payment for overtime besides his annual holiday, the shop assistant should not be placed upon the same terms.
Clause 4 deals with the penalties which are laid down in the Shops Act of 1912. I have been told by a very prominent employer that the vast majority of traders are so honest and law-abiding that once a law is passed they would carefully observe it, and therefore I do not think I need detain the House discussing the penalties which are provided for under Clause 4. Now I come to Clause 5, which which is a rather important Clause, because it amends the definition of the expression "shop assistant" and the expression "shop" contained in the Acts of 1912 and 1928. The effect of this extended definition would be to bring within the meaning of the term "shop assistant" those employed in connection with the shop in the delivery and collection of goods, as well as those employed in connection with the shop in a clerical capacity. That is an extension of the existing definition given under the Shops Act, 1912, which defines a shop assistant as 2319any person wholly or mainly employed in a shop in connection with the serving of customers, the receipt of orders or the despatch of goods.We propose to extend that definition so as to include collection, despatch or delivery of goods and the clerical assistance employed in connection with the shop. I also wish to deal with paragraph (b) of Clause 5 which provides for a new definition of the expression "shop." In this case also, the definition we provide would have the effect of bringing within the provisions of the Shops Act employés in the wholesale distributive trade, that is to say, mainly warehouse staffs and so on. With regard to this extension of the definition of "shop," I do not anticipate that any difficulty will arise, because the majority of those affected are already working a 48-hours week or less, and in a great many cases a 44-hours week or less is actually in operation. The point about this extended definition is that, so far as can be determined at the moment from the terms of the Washington Convention, such workers would not come within the terms of its provisions. I do not speak dogmatically on this point, because we have the Government Bill before us, and it is difficult to see just where they draw the line. It may be more convenient at a later stage to include this particular group of workers under the Washington Convention Bill which lays down a 48-hours week for industrial workers, but in order that this particular group should not be lost sight of, we want to make sure of including them in one Bill or the other.
Now I come to Clauses 6 and 7, which need not occupy much time because they merely deal with repeal, and most of them are consequential. The repeal of Paragraph (a) of Sub-section (1) of Section 1 of the Shops Act, 1913, is necessary because, under the amending Act of 1913, a set of alternative conditions apply to the refreshment trade. Under the Shops Act, 1913, a 65-hours week, exclusive of meal times, is permissible, and, in order to establish the general principle which we are putting forward, it is necessary slightly to amend that particular Act. I think this Bill is relatively simple and straightforward. No doubt faults will emerge when the Bill is submitted to fuller examination and criticism, but the promoters are much 2320 more concerned about the application of the general principle of the Bill than the particular and precise terms in which the Bill is drafted.
I hope the House will see its way to give this Bill a unanimous Second Reading, because there is no question of foreign competition involved in it. We know that the economic conditions of distribution, as disclosed by inquiries, are certainly capable of reorganisation on the basis which is laid down in this Bill. I would once again emphasise the fact that the whole body of workers are in favour of the principle of the Measure. Even at the present time many decent-minded employers have adopted 48 hours or less in the North, where, in fact, it is more general to work 44 hours. I hope that, in the interests of the health and well-being of the thousands of shop assistants and young people affected, the House will agree to the establishment of a principle which is long overdue.
§ Sir GERVAIS RENTOUL
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill that would adversely affect the livelihood of a large number of shopkeepers and shop assistants, would inevitably add to the cost of living, would give rise to widespread evasion, and would cause great practical difficulties of administration.I trust that, because I move this Amendment, I shall not be misrepresented by any hon. Member apposite as being an advocate of unduly long hours for shop assistants, or as desiring a return to what I frankly admit were the cruelties and hardships of the bad old times, because, although I have not the personal experience that some hon. Members opposite have. I am fully acquainted with those conditions both from hearsay and from history. Neither would I attempt to deny that it is the right, and, indeed, the duly of this House to protect any class of the community who are unable to protect themselves from exploitation, provided that it can be shown that that exploitation is general, and that there is no other satisfactory method of dealing with it. On that general question of hours of labour and working conditions, as everyone knows, the party to which I have the honour to belong has no reason to apologise for its record, certainly in re- 2321 gard to factory legislation, workmen's compensation questions, and so on. Nevertheless, I do feel that this Bill belongs to a type of legislation which we ought to examine with the utmost care, and that we should not accept it unless a practically unanswerable case can be made out in favour of it; and certainly I do not believe that anyone will suggest that an unanswerable case has emerged from the two speeches to which we have just listened.
I notice that there are the names of seven hon. Members on the back of this Bill, and I believe I am correct in saying that all of them have had their main experience as trade union officials. I cannot help feeling, by no means for the first time, that some hon. Members approach these questions far too much from what I may call a purely trade union standpoint. They argue these questions as though hours and wages alone were important, and as though they had come to this House simply for the purpose of trying to drive the best bargain that they can on behalf of a particular section of the community whom they claim to represent. I feel, however, that we have to consider questions of this kind, not from the point of view of the interests of any particular section, but from the point of view of the interests of the community as a whole. We have to take a very much broader view, and to consider whether any proposal of this kind is in the national interest, whether it would be beneficial or otherwise to the trade and commerce of this country as a whole, whether it would be fair to the smaller classes of shopkeepers as well as the large businesses, and whether it would be imposing any undue burden on the consumer.
These are all vital questions from the point of view of this House, because I think it ought to be emphasized that, after all, shops exist primarily for the convenience of the public, and not the public for the convenience of the shops. Personally, I should be quite glad to see a universal 48-hours week. In common, I suppose, with most other Members, I have to work a good deal more than 48 hours a week myself, and I do not know that I am any worse off on that account. I have never quite been able to understand what is the special magic in the number 48, but, as I have said, on general grounds and under normal conditions I 2322 would not like to suggest that there is anything unreasonable about a 48-hours week. We all know, however, that the practical difficulties in dealing with this question are very great. Hon. Members opposite know that as well as I do. They know that the practical difficulties of arriving at either a national or an internal agreement on the question of a 48-hours week are in some respects almost insuperable, and certainly nothing would be more unwise, in my submission, than to deal with this question in a piecemeal manner and to apply it right away, in advance of any general decision, to one particular section of the community—and, I think, on the whole, to the section that least requires it. Everyone must realise that the work of the shop assistant is nothing like as ardous as the work of many other classes of the community in this country. They have far more leisure, and although in some cases their hours may be long, and, indeed, unduly long, nevertheless they are not kept at it with the same amount of cencentration as, for example, the worker in the factory.
§ Mr. R. A. TAYLOR
May I ask how the hon. and learned Member arrives at that conclusion if he has had no practical experience?
§ Sir G. RENTOUL
The hon. Member can do a little better than that. I said that I had not the practical experience that some hon. Members have of actually having worked in shops. That is quite a different matter. Of course, every one of us has some practical experience of the conditions under which shop assistants work, and, in addition, a good deal of experience as to the kind of work that goes on in factories. I think that hon. Members opposite must not arrogate to themselves, as they often seem inclined to do, all knowledge and all experience.
The distributive trades are so varied in character that I conceive that there would be very great difficulties in applying a universal 48-hour week, even if it came about through international agreement, at all events without innumerable exceptions and exemptions, and it is noticeable that in this Bill there are practically speaking no exceptions or exemptions at all. I think that the previous Shops Bill, dealing with hours of closing, included many exceptions to deal with particular cases—for instance, with holiday and sea- 2323 side resorts and problems of that kind. Of course, hon. Members say that these questions can be dealt with when the Bill gets into Committee—[Interruption]. That is not the view taken by many people who are in a position to judge. It does affect them very materially. What is the necessity or demand for this Bill? I submit most strongly that drastic State interference of this kind is only justifiable if the necessity is urgent, the demand overwhelming, and the advantage obvious; and nothing of that kind exists in this case.
No one can deny that, whether this Bill be desirable or not, it would impose an additional restriction upon trade, that it would cut across the whole principle of voluntary negotiation, that it would undoubtedly, in many instances, increase overhead charges, and that it would tend to raise prices to the consumer. This subject of the statutory limitation of hours is, as we know, one of the most difficult and intricate that ever comes before the House, and this Bill, a private Member's Bill introduced on a Friday morning, proposes to apply a rigid statutory limit to the whole retail and wholesale trade and business of this country, in other words, to the whole business upon which the domestic life of the nation depends. Such a Bill, I suggest, ought only to be brought in by the responsible Government of the day, and even then only in response to an overwhelming demand, of which certainly there is no evidence whatever before the House now. Further, this whole matter is going to be the subject of international discussion at the International Labour Conference at Geneva next June, and again I suggest that it would be most unwise to anticipate in any degree the decisions that may there be arrived at.
What is the position to-day? We are told, and I do not think it can be denied, that the great majority of the shops in this country had in practice a 48-hours week or less. In the drapery trade, I understand that from 85 to 90 per cent. of the shops already have a 48-hours week in practice, and this has been brought about without compulsion of any kind. There is a closer personal touch possible in the distributive trades than in any others and greater opportunities for direct negotiation between employers and employed, but at the same time there is no 2324 class of business where there is greater necessity for elasticity. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. R. A. Taylor) recognised that himself, and especially is it the case in trades connected with the supply of food. When the Grocery and Provision Trade Board was in existence it recommended, after very careful consideration, a 52-hours week.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
Is it not a fact that the employers were divided on the 48-hours week and suggested 52, on the ground that it would be better to have a general 48-hours week operating in all trades and that 52 was the best they could do if that was not done.
§ Sir G. RENTOUL
That may be so. There is no question that those who will be specially hit by the proposals of the Bill are the smaller shops, those with one or two assistants, where perhaps members of the family are very often employed, the shops which have the greatest struggle to exist in face of the competition with which they are confronted. Unquestionably, their difficulties would be very much increased. Taking the country as a whole, I am told, so far as one can gather from such statistics as are available, that even in regard to those smaller shops the working hours vary from 48 to 54. There are some hon. Members opposite who would quite frankly like to crush this class of the community out of existence. I notice the name of the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) on the back of the Bill. On the Second Reading of the Hours of Closing Bill she referred, in that emphatic manner with which we are familiar, to the small shopkeepers as a parasitic class and suggested that it would be much better it they were blotted out altogether and compelled to join the salaried ranks of the larger concerns. In other words, she would desire to stamp out this foolish spirit of independence. She would desire to compel these people, strangely enough, to join the ranks of those whom she likes to describe in other circumstances as wage slaves, at any rate to get rid of this pernicious system of private enterprise and personal initiative. No doubt it is some feeling of that kind that is at the root of this Bill. The compulsory closing hours for shops 2325 was arrived at to some extent as a compromise after very full and careful discussion lasting over several years. That agreement would undoubtedly be upset altogether if this Bill were carried into Law.
§ Mr. R. A. TAYLOR indicated dissent.
§ 12. n.
§ Sir G. RENTOUL
The hon. Member must look at the facts in regard to the Bill. A universal 48-hours week must mean in many instances an earlier closing hour. The working week now is normally 5½ days. Shops may be open from nine in the morning till eight in the evening, with one hour on the average, I suppose, taken off for meals. The closing hour in many instances would have to be brought down from eight to seven, and in some instances to six, unless the shift system were introduced and, of course, the shift system in regard to many shops is an absolute impossibility. The hon. Member for Lincoln was a member of the departmental committee that inquired into this matter. I notice that on page 9 of their report, paragraph 14, these words appear:We have considered whether this object could not be achieved by limiting the hours of employment in shops while fixing a later compulsory closing hour for shops or without requiring them to be closed at all. Such a solution of the problem would have the advantage of minimising the inconvenience to the public inherent in the early closing method, while affording a protection to shop assistants. This method, would, however, inevitably lead to the introduction of a shift system in a large number of shops. The shift or relay system, which may be suitable for restaurants and other places of refreshment, would be impracticable in certain classes of retail shops and in others inconvenient and costly to the shopkeepers, and thus ultimately tend to increase the price of commodities to the consumer. It would also greatly increase the difficulties of effective administration.That was the view of the Departmental Committee, and, however difficult it might be to apply the shift system in the larger shops, there is no question that in many of the smaller shops it would be utterly impossible. It would undoubtedly increase overhead charges in many instances in the larger shops, and, if overhead charges are increased, that must in turn lead to increased prices being charged to the consumer. Compulsory closing hours have been agreed, and, although there may be objections to that, 2326 in practice they have been working well. The earlier closing, which must be the result in certain cases of the proposals of this Bill, would undoubtedly cause great inconvenience, particularly in industrial and working class areas and in rural areas, where the workers, of course, cannot do their shopping until after six in the evening, or even later. Therefore, I ask hon. Members to face the fact that, if this Bill is carried, an earlier closing hour, whether it is right or wrong, must logically follow, and that, in its turn, would be positively harmful to both assistants and shopkeepers.
The National Chamber of Trade, which represents 350 associations and has a membership of over 100,000 retail traders, stated in evidence before the Departmental Committee that the fixing of a compulsory closing hour earlier than eight would greatly inconvenience both traders and the public in many districts. The proposals of this Bill would go a great deal further than that, because they would not be as beneficial as is suggested, even to the shop assistants themselves. In many cases they would be detrimental to shop assistants. They would tend to lead to lower wages and greater unemployment, because, if hours are to be reduced, and if it leads to a compulsory closing hour at an earlier period of the day, shopkeepers naturally would not be able to pay their assistants the same rates of wages as they do today for a longer working day. That would only be a reasonable tendency, and I do not think any reasonable shop assistant would suggest that, if he is to work several hours less than at present, he nevertheless ought to receive exactly the same rate of wages. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] The answer in obvious. In many cases the economic conditions of the shopkeepers would not stand it. He has in many cases a great struggle to exist as it is, and, if the hours during which he can keep his shop open are to be reduced, his difficulties would be greatly increased, and in many cases he would have actually to cut down his staff. The inevitable result would be that business would contract and the profits would be unable to support, in many instances, even the present staff.
But there are other objections that we find to the Bill. There is a Clause, for example, dealing with overtime. The 2327 permitted overtime is ridiculous. The average of a little more than one hour's overtime per week throughout the year would make no appreciable difference at all, and it would not provide that amount of elasticity which even the hon. Member admits is necessary. The only effect would be to pauperise the shopkeeper by higher wages and diminished returns. One knows well that it is essential, in many businesses, for shop assistants to remain for a short time after the shop has closed in order to settle up and so forth. That is part of one of the ordinary conditions of their life.
We come to the question of penalties. As in all legislation produced by a Socialist party, you have the beginning of an enormously increased bureaucracy, the usual army of inspectors. I suppose that it is the only contribution which hon. Members opposite feel that they can make towards the solution of the unemployment problem. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman who represents the Home Office, when he comes to speak, will be good enough to tell us what is the estimate that the Home Office makes of the amount of increased staff which would be required if this Bill were carried into law. It has to be borne in mind that every shopkeeper would have to keep a detailed log or chart setting out the exact hours when every one of his assistants was to be employed. We are told that already shopkeepers have to keep a chart with regard to half holidays, and, of course, that is a very different matter altogether. It might be a business employing a large staff and where different hours of labour must prevail because of different assistants. If the law has to be enforced, and if there is not to be widespread evasion, there would undoubtedly have to be very considerable supervision by Home Office officials and inspectors. A sort of personal inquisition would have to take place in many instances, examination of the employés as to whether they were being kept beyond their regular hours and so forth. In addition, how on earth can you specify regular and fixed hours in some branches of the distributing trades, particularly those concerned with the actual distribution of goods to the consumer?
There is another aspect of this question on penalties. The penalties, in so far as 2328 they are imposed under this Bill, I suppose, are intended to be a deterrent. I suggest that they would not be a deterrent. For the first offence you have a penalty of £1, for the second £5, and for the third or any subsequent offence £10. There is no alternative of imprisonment under certain circumstances or anything of that kind, and there undoubtedly would be cases where, for instance, it might quite well pay a grocer or a butcher in some very busy area on some particularly busy night or at a special period, deliberately to run the risk of being caught and to keep his shop open and his assistants at work longer than he was permitted by law to do, knowing that, if the worst came to the worst and he was caught, they could not fine him more than £10. From my point of view, the penalties which are imposed in any Act of Parliament are worse than no penalties at all unless they are penalties which will reasonably act as a deterrent against the kind of offences which you desire to stop.
I come to another point in this Bill about which not much has been said by the two hon. Members who have spoken. This Bill, for the first time in the whole history of shop legislation, tries to introduce a new definition of the word "shop," by including wholesale as well as retail businesses. The definition in the Shops Act of 1912 was:The expression 'shop' includes any premises where retail trade or business is carried on.When the Shops (Hours of Closing) Bill was before this House, the right hon. Lady the present Minister of Labour moved an Amendment in the very words of the Clause of the present Bill to try and get those words included. She was resisted by the representative of the Home Office on the ground that it would reduce to chaos the whole existing shop legislation. That was in 1928, and it was the official view which was put forward at that time on behalf of the Home Office. This brings me to another question, which I respectfully put to the hon. Gentleman representing the Home Office here to-day. Has the Home Office view altered since then, or is it still the official view of the Home Office that, if this definition of the word "shop" were enlarged in the way which is suggested, it would be unworkable from the Home Office standpoint and would reduce shop legislation 2329 to chaos? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will answer that question, because to my mind it is a very important one, when he comes to speak.
I have endeavoured to show some of the more obvious disadvantages of this Bill. It would unreasonably hamper shopkeepers, especially of She smaller class, and the general public It would increase prices, it would be made more difficult for the small man o compete, and it would destroy the present reasonable settlement. I have yet to hear that there is any demand for the Bill from the shop assistants themselves. It seems to be generally admitted that there are less than 200,000 shop assistant who are organised in any union, and et I am told officially that there are 1,67,000 shop assistants in this country, people engaged in the distributing trades.
There was a pamphlet, circuited, I suppose, to all hon. Members, from one of the unions representing shop assistants in which this sort of statement was made:Hundreds of thousands of overworked shop assistants are looking to this B[...].Where is the evidence of that? There is no evidence. The figures which were quoted by the hon. Member for Lincoln are, if anything, proof to the contry; they are not evidence to support any suggestion of that kind. I hope that hon. Members who speak subsequently, if tre is such evidence, will give the House he advantage of hearing it. All of us [...] brought more or less into contact w[...] shop assistants. We know the kind [...] work, generally speaking, which they ha to carry out, and, certainly, if 48 hou a week are the right amount of work [...] be carried out by shop assistants, I thin that a very good case indeed could b[...] made out for a far less working week for many other classes of the community. I am in no sense an advocate of unduly long hours, but I am not at all sure whether in this country some trades, at all events, are not approaching the other extreme. It has been said that there are trades in this country in respect of which, if the present tendency to reduce hours continues, the workman when he goes to work in the morning will be in danger of meeting himself coming home to dinner. Certainly, we have arrived at a period when we ought not to expect that shorter hours are more desirable and
2330 that shorter hours mean greater progress. I do not believe for one moment that that is the case.
To summarise the position, I say that many of us on this side of the House regard this Bill as unsatisfactory, particularly because it would destroy the satisfactory existing settlement which has been arrived at with regard to the compulsory closing hours; because it would penalise the small shopkeepers, and because in many instances the shop assistants would receive lower wages and there would be increased unemployment; because it would require multifarious inspectors to be appointed if the Bill is to be made effective; because the penalties are inadequate and set a premium on dishonesty; because the extended definition of the word "shop" is totally unsatisfactory; and because this matter is such a complex and complicated one that it ought only to be dealt with on some national, or, indeed, international basis.
§ Captain CAZALET
I beg to second the Amendment.
It has been moved ably, clearly, and moderately by my hon. and learned Friend. This Bill in its present state is purely a theoretical Bill. If it is a Bill introduced solely for the purpose of asserting a principle, there are many of us on these benches who would support and extend much sympathy towards that principle, but if it is introduced as a practical Measure, which the Mover and Seconder desire the Government to take up and pass through Parliament in the the present Session, then it is a very different matter, and it is the duty of hon. Members on these benches to examine it very carefully in order to show some of the pitfalls which obviously await any Government or any Department which is going to try to make this Bill in its present form the law of the land. We have heard something to-day about the Washington Convention, was one of those who in the late Parliament always hoped that the Conservative Government would have been able to see [...]eir way to sign that Convention. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Yes. We heard on [...] occasions criticism and abuse of the [...]thetic attitude which the Conservative Government took up in regard to that [...]ention, and we were told that as so as a Socialist Government came into 2331 office, the Convention would be signed. It was mentioned in the King's Speech, and here we are, nine months or so later, and nothing has been done. There could not be a better illustration of the difficulties which confront those who are responsible for putting this kind of legislation into practice, than has been exhibited by a Socialist Government who are unable yet to ratify the Washington Convention about which they talked so much a few months ago.
Yesterday, I asked the Prime Minister a question in regard to another Measure relating to the nationality of married women, whether he could see his way to give further facilities for its passage. His reply was that it was impossible for the Government to take any further action in that matter because it was to be discussed at an International Convention shortly. The subject of the present Measure, I understand, is down for discussion either in July or in September at the League of Nations. Therefore, the same principle applies here as applies in regard to the other Bill. The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson), some of whose characteristics and qualities have been cited this morning by my hon. and learned Friend, has the quality of logic. She has enthusiastically supported me on the other Measure. Surely she can carry her logic in exactly the same direction towards this Bill, and realise that if it is to be discussed and the whole question surveyed at Geneva, in the course of the next few months, it is obvious that this is a very inopportune moment to introduce a Measure of this nature into the House of Commons.
I listened with great care and attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. R. A. Taylor). I was no[...] amazed at the figures he quoted, because we accept those figures. Those figure seemed to me to prove the case that [...] are making to-day on these benches. T[...] hon. Member demonstrated by facts [...] figures that a very small proportion [...] shop assistants would be affected [...] Bill of this kind, and therefore there [...] be a very small number of that se[...] of the community who are demandi[...] a Bill on these lines. Under these ci[...] stances it is pertinent to ask why [...] is that in these relatively few cases [...]ep- 2332 tional hours and more work is demanded. We have had no evidence that the public are not being served in some special manner by this small number of people who work ar additional number of hours per week. We have had no evidence produced this norning to show that there is any reasonable demand for an alteration of the exising system, nor have we had any evidene to show that the public will not be serbusly inconvenienced if alterations take place as suggested in this Bill. It is the duty of some section of this House to ook after the interests and convenience f the public.
These [...]atters are regulated and settled by the Shops Act of 1928, and this Bill will des[...]roy that Act. That Act was only agreed pon—may be it was a compromise which [...]id not please everyone—after patient long and exhaustive inquiries and discussion. The consideration, the arguments, and the evidence which forme the opinion of those who introduced that Measure are just as weighty and [...]serving of the same consideration to-day as they were a few years ago. The hon. Member who seconded the Bill to-day said that the Act of 1928 was only pro[...]ced after five Commissions had met and [...] discussed the subject. I suggest that it [...]ould take the evidence of another five Commissions to discuss the results and inconvenience to the public due to the suggested alterations, in order to prove [...]us the necessity for a Bill similar to [...]s one only two years after the passing [...] the Shops Act, 1928.
What is the work which the majority of these shop assistants do? I have made [...]quiries—of course, I do not speak with the wealth of experience of some hon. Members opposite—from big shops and small shops in London and in the country districts, and I think it is a perfectly reasonable and fair statement to make that, on the whole, the conditions of labour of the majority of shop assistants are such that they have a reasonably satisfactory and comfortable occupation. At least, it is an agreeable occupation when compared with many other walks of life. We all know perfectly well that in the large proportion of shops to-day special facilities have been provided, seats have been provided and rest-rooms in the bigger shops. With regard to the smaller shops, which always form the subject of attack by the hon. Member for East 2333 Middlesbrough, it is obvious that at the present time, when trade is so bad, during a large proportion of the hours when the assistants are in the shop, they may have nothing to do; they may have to rise from their chair only once or twice an hour to discuss with a customer a prospective purchase. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I wish it were not so; I wish trade was better. But for the pessimism which has been created throughout the country by hon. Members opposite trade would no doubt be much better than it is.
It is obvious that the conditions in large and small shops are on the whole reasonably comfortable, more agreeable and better than those which prevail in many other walks of life. What will be the result if this Measure becomes law? My hon. and learned Friend has said that it will either increase unemployment or decrease wages, because the economic position of most small shops, especially at the present time, will not enable them to bear the additional cost which will be put upon them by this Bill. The right hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) interjected a remark that if you do not lower wages you put up the prices of the commodities. We do not want the principle of the Coal Mines Bill introduced into other industries as well, but that is the logical and only possible consequence if we pass a Bill on these lines. It is clear that many hon. Members have a determined and persistent enmity against the small shopkeeper; he must not be allowed to live. Obviously, if a Measure of this kind is passed imposing further and additional obligations on the small man, it will mean that some of them will have to go out of business. That is not a consequence or a policy which we on these benches desire to encourage.
In many cases this Bill will necessitate the introduction of a shift system in some shops, which again will throw a further burden of expense on the business. It is no use passing a Bill of this nature unless it is going to be carried into effect. The great difference between legislation passed in this country and legislation passed in other countries is that we do make it the law of the land. Anyone with any experience of how international agreements are carried out in other countries knows that the large number of exceptions which are given very often nullify the effect of an international con- 2334 vention. It is also clear that unless there is an adequate staff of inspectors there will be innumerable evasions of this Bill. If this Measure is passed it will inevitably, in the words of the Amendment, add to the cost of living, give rise to widespread evasion and cause practical difficulties of administration. For these reasons we think it should not be accepted by the Government.
§ Mr. MANDER
The hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul), in opposing the Second Reading of this Measure said that we had to look at it not from any sectional or trade point of view but from that of the national interest. I entirely agree with him, and it is from the national point of view that I desire to say a few words in support of the Bill. It has been suggested by hon. Members above the Gangway that work in a shop is, on the whole, a very easy matter, that it is not hard, and, therefore, that no special facilities should be given to shop assistants. I would ask them to remember that "they also serve who only stand and wait." Anyone who has a knowledge of work in shops will know that while there may be times when things are slack and little to do that when the busy time comes and the shop is crowded shop assistants require all their wits. They have to be accurate and concentrated, they must not miss a single moment, otherwise they miss the opportunity of selling something. A greater combination of qualities is required in shop assistants than in the case of many people who do mechanical work inside a factory. No case can be made against the Bill from the point of view that it is easy work and that no special facilities are required.
Something has been said about international conventions, and the hon. and learned Member has said that the case, in his opinion, ought to be unanswerable. Surely, it has been the accepted view in this country for a good many years that eight hours is to be the normal working day. You have the Washington Convention; and I desire to associate myself with the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet), of regret at the failure of the Government to carry out their promise to carry an Act putting into force the Washington Hours Convention. It is to be regretted, and I hope it is 2335 an accusation which it will not be possible to level against the Government much longer. We have not only the agreement of Washington, but in the year 1919, those generous days after the war, there was a National Industrial Conference of employers and employed, when it was unanimously agreed by the representatives of both sides, that there should be an eight hour day, including an eight hour day for these very shop assistants. For ten years it was accepted by the employers. Are we in 1930 to say that the case is altered and that we want to go back? What reason can there be for saying that because a man or a woman chooses to go into a shop instead of a factory that they must work longer hours. The case is unanswerable. There is no logic in the argument that because a person chooses to enter one occupation they must work longer hours than if they had gone into another occupation.
The hon. and learned Member quoted figures designed to show that very few shop assistants in this country are organised in a trade union. If that is so then, I think, it is a strong argument in favour of the Bill. In factories it is possible for the workers to organise, and they are able to get these conditions for themselves by joint action through the trade union. That is the best way of dealing with it, but where you have these shops all over the country, individuals isolated, with no opportunity for trade union organisation, it has been the custom for the State to step in and lay down the law, and say that they shall have those conditions which others are able to get, but which they, through weakness, are not able to obtain in the same way as other workmen. The hon. and learned Member has really strengthened the case in favour of the Bill by the figures that he quoted about trade union organisations.
There is another way of dealing with this matter. You might have a trade board. I regret very much, again, that the Government have been so backward in taking steps to extend the trade boards in this country. I regret, too, that the trade unions have not been more active in stimulating the Government to put into operation the trade boards in many fields where they might properly be appointed—the grocery trade, the drapery trade, and other trades dealt with by 2336 this particular Measure. If for any reason this Bill does not pass, I hope that hon. Members in the trade unions will see whether they cannot get the ground covered to a very large extent by pressing for a trade board to be established for this purpose. It has been said that in a great many cases—the hon. and learned Member said 80 or 90 per cent.—the 48-hours week was already being worked. What we desire is surely to find out what is the practice voluntarily carried out by the best establishments and to make that the common law throughout the land? We are simply proceeding along the ordinary evolutionary lines of legislation in this country in taking a step forward in this matter.
It has been suggested that shoppers might be inconvenienced by any change, but if, as the hon. and learned Member said, most shops are already working only 48 hours, there is nothing in that argument at all. If shoppers realise that by the existing arrangement of hours they are causing their fellow citizens to work unnecessarily long hours and are depriving them of facilities of leisure that others enjoy, they will willingly submit to such changes as are necessary. Another argument related to the question of efficiency. I do not think you get the best labour or the best results by working people long hours and depriving them of the opportunities of recreation and physical exercise. All experience goes to show that you get the exact opposite. From the employers' point of view there is a great deal to be said for passing the Bill and allowing the shop assistants to come to their work in the morning fresh, more active, more intelligent and more alert.
It very often happens, particularly in these days, that shop assistants do not live in the town where they work. I know of a great many eases where they live in a neighbouring town and have to take a 'bus or train journey every day. That cuts into their leisure and makes it all the more necessary that they should not work more than eight hours a day. Surely there is no reason at all why we should deprive these particular people of the facilities that other people have? Would not they enjoy, just as much as others, playing a game of tennis in the evening, doing a bit of gardening or going for a ramble or cycle ride? They 2337 are deprived to a very large extent of the opportunity of doing these things under the present system. We shall be taking a great step forward by allowing them to get on a level with others. I support the Bill as an act of justice to an important and deserving class of the community.
§ Miss WILKINSON
The hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Capt. Cazalet) said that he was willing to give sympathy to this Bill so long as he was assured that there was to be no practical result. Could we have a more perfect definition of a progressive young Tory? The only difference between the old Tory and the young Tory is that the young Tory gives sympathy, but both are equally concerned that nothing should be done. The hon. and gallant Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) said that they had gained experience of shop life by going into shops. What kind of shops do men go into? They decide to buy a tie. They go into a shop in Jermyn Street. They are led into a perfectly appointed establishment with a thick carpet, with perfectly shaped mats. They are attended to by young shop assistants dressed in whatever fashion the Prince of Wales has lately popularised, and then they think, as they leave that soothing atmosphere in order to come down to the industrial arena of the House of Commons, who would not be a shop assistant? They perhaps go with their wives to buy a hat [Interruption.] I understand that many Members of this House are referred to as hon. and gallant Members, and that is why I suggest that they may take on even that occupation. What do they find? They accompany a lady to Bond Street. They find there the same atmosphere as in Jermyn Street, the only change being, perhaps, the slightly lighter decorations and the more exquisite scent. Then they say, Who would not be a shop assistant?
I would remind them that that is not the type of shop assistant for whom we are legislating. I should be surprised to learn if those shop assistants in the West End work 48 hours a week. Probably their hours are less, only 44. These darlings of the profession are not as a general rule in trade unions, and I can assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that they have no desire whatever to be associated with such bodies. Let us come to the other side of the picture. Go into a 2338 working-class area, such as you get in big shopping streets like Commercial Road, Whitechapel High Street, or further down in Shadwell and Stepney. Just imagine what it is like there on a Saturday night, when assistants have been at work the whole week and night after night until the doors are closed. They are working in bad air very often. People are coming in with the dust of the streets on them. There are the bright are lights, the tiring effect on the nerves, of standing up to that strain day after day. Let hon. Gentlemen opposite go in there and merely stand at the counter and buy something in that crowd, and they will come out after a quarter of an hour feeling that something like a 20-hours week should be laid down. I do like hon. Members whose touch with life is so slight to come and lecture us and state that we know nothing about the conditions of which we talk!
The hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham said that we should not deal with this problem because it was the subject of an International Labour Conference, and he quoted a Bill in which we are both interested, the Nationality of Married Women Bill. I am sorry the hon. and gallant Member is not present at the moment. He kindly paid a complement to my logic, but said that I have lapsed from grace. The hon. and gallant Member has lapsed from grace in this particular matter, because this House has over and over again expressed its opinion on this particular Bill. It has passed a similar Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule and given it a First Reading, and has passed a Resolution. The Government should go to an international conference backed by unanimous opinion; that is what we want to secure through this Bill. It may be that the state of legislation is such that it is not possible to get this Bill through this Session, but that is no reason why, when the Government go to the International Labour Conference—as they soon will—to deal with this matter they should not have the strong expression of this House that 48 hours for shop assistants is desirable. What would be the position if the House turned down the Bill on the ground that it ought to be dealt with by the International Labour Conference, and the Government had to go there and say that they had no mandate from the House?
2339 The hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft said that shopkeepers could not afford to pay the wages if the hours were cut down. That was the sort of argument that was used when it was possible for shops to be kept open until 11 and 12 at night; it was the sort of argument that was used against the first early closing legislation. It was that, if you would not allow these people to work 12 or 16 hours a day, they would have to have less wages. What are the actual facts?
The hours have been cut down very considerably, and in most cases wages are very much higher than they were. The hon. Gentleman says that this is not an early closing order, and that it does not touch the one-man business. This Bill is concerned with people who are employed; it does not concern itself with the man who owns his own shop and works in it himself. If he does not employ labour, this Bill will not touch him. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about his errand boy?"] If he employs an errand boy, he cannot employ him for more than 48 hours. After that, he must deliver his own parcels, and then he can see what sort of work it is.
I generally find this class of people the most sympathetic. The small shopkeeper has been behind the early closing orders, and it is not in the retailers associations that you find objections to the present early closing legislation. I admit that there is a difficulty in this question of shop hours which you do not find in factory hours. In dealing with factory legislation you have only to deal with the employer and worker, but, when you deal with shops, you have to deal with a third factor, the public, and it is more often a case of workers and employers versus the public than of employers versus the workers. The point of view of the large number of factory and office workers who are employed for 48 hours, and who, if the shops are open only during the hours when they are at work, will have difficulty in doing their shopping must be considered. It is a serious matter for these workers. It is not so serious for men who are married, whose wives do the shopping, as for the younger people who want to do their own shopping, and have no one else to do it for them. I must admit that is a 2340 difficulty. That is why I emphasise that this Bill is an hours Bill and a closing Bill.
The employers in the retail trade are organised very strongly, and are perhaps the best organised employers in any trade. On the other hand, the workers are the worst organised, and the conditions of their work are such that; it is difficult for them to organise against the hostility of their employers. When a man is working in a factory, he is not working with his employer the whole time, whereas a man working in a shop, where there are two or three assistants, is employed very often cheek by jowl with his employer. The obstructionist and reactionary attitude of many of the employers with regard to their workers joining a trade union is responsible for some of the difficulties in which they find themselves. It would be much better if the employers' side recognised the need for training many of their workers in organisation; you would then get the position that, if both sides were organised, they could meet and discuss the very real difficulty that arises, and it might be possible, with proper organisation on both sides, to make such a reorganisation of the 48 hours within the prescribed limit that would make it possible for shopping facilities to be offered to those who are working within the same limit of 48 hours.
The shift system is frequently advocated, but it would be difficult to work. It would be easy to work in the large shops such as those in Regent Street, Oxford Street, or Brixton Road, but in the case of shops with only one or two employés there would be no guarantee that the same workers were not employed on all the shifts. I heard a highly ingenious way of getting over that difficulty. A friend of mine suggested that it should be made compulsory for employers to employ only light-haired workers on one shift, and dark-haired workers on another, so that the shop inspectors would have an easy method of deciding.
§ Miss WILKINSON
I am not putting that forward as a suggestion, but to show the difficulties which shop inspectors would be likely to have if the shift system were worked. I want to impress upon the House one other section of the Bill. The 2341 hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft took great objection to the fact that we were extending this Bill in order to include workers on the wholesale side. There we have a very real evil, which I feel that it is necessary that we should cover. We have this class of worker who is not in the public gaze, and who is not touched by ordinary legislation. These workers are working in many cases under very bad conditions, in underground store rooms, in electric light all day, and they are very often called upon to work excessive overtime in bad conditions. This is a side of the trade in which I am particularly interested, and in which I have done a good deal of work, and I can say from my own experience that I have been horrified at some of the conditions in warehouses. The tightening-up of that section of the trade is very badly needed. The statistics of our trade unions, both of the Distributive Workers, of which I am an official, and of the Shop Assistants, of which other hon. Members are officials, show that phthisis is very bad, and as bad as in some of those trades that are considered bad.
We are not legislating against the good employer, I have in my hand an agreement that we reached between the employers in the London warehouse trade and the trade unions concerned, but there is always the necessity to legislate for the man who is anxious to take advantage of conditions for his own personal ends. These workers very badly need protection and I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading with a very large majority. If employers take this Bill and work it in the spirit of seeing how it can best be used in the interests of the trade, of the workers, and of the public at large, they will find there is a principle in it which does make for elasticity.
§ Mr. ARTHUR MICHAEL SAMUEL
I think the hon. Lady struck the right note in her speech. It was an amiable and an attractive speech, in strong contrast with the speech of the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill. Although I do not wholly agree, with much that the hon. Lady said, I think her speech was conceived in a judicial spirit, and it will be received on this side in the spirit in which it was delivered. Speaking as one who was 2342 brought up in trade, I can say that we regard our shop assistants as men and women who provide some of the most valuable and useful elements of national commerce. They are loyal, industrious, honest and praiseworthy people, whose interests are looked after and must be looked after by their employers. I regret very much the tone which marked the speech of the hon. Member who moved the Bill. It was unkind and uncharitable, and I think those who will most resent it will be the shop assistants themselves—hardworking, invaluable people who stand loyally by their employers, and who strive to help national trade and their employers. I took down some words of the hon. Member. He spoke of "employers exploiting shop assistants as they are doing at the present moment." I deny that. I am sure that shop assistants themselves will be the first to resent such an accusation against their employers which in turn reflects on the independence of action and thought of the shop assistants.
In my opinion this Bill holds up a mirror to folly. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment spoke in very careful and restrained terms, dealing in detail with all the points of each Clause which ought to be put before the House, and I do not propose to go over those Clauses again. The Bill reminds me of one of the legends of Greek mythology. I refer to the legend of Procrustes, who had a bed and compelled those who were too short to be stretched to fit the bed while those who were too long had their heads or their legs chopped off. Traders and public are to be stretched or shortened to fit the views of the promoters of this Bill. This Bill discloses the mentality of hon. Members opposite, who seem to hate personal liberty and seek to make all action conform to rigid Procrustean rules laid down by themselves. I do not like to go too far, because I am not accustomed to using strong language, but really I must say this is a tyrannical Bill. It is the shadow of "Dora" again. If there has been one thing which the House and the country have desired to get rid of, it has been "Dora," but here we have "Dora" again. I shall be very much interested to listen to the Under-Secretary to the Home Office. If I 2343 gauge his opinion aright, he will not touch this Bill with a 40-foot barge pole. He may bless it with his tongue in his cheek, he may suggest a Select Committee or a Royal Commission, but, depend upon it, the Government will take very good care that the Bill never becomes law, because it is not workable.
Let the House consider how it could be operated if it were passed. Take Clause 5. My hon. and learned Friend drew attention to it, but so strongly do I agree with him that I feel constrained to weary the House by reading it again. The definition of the words "shop assistant" includes not only those engaged in serving customers, but those who are dealing with orders, with the collection, with the dispatch or the delivery of goods and in any clerical capacity. The definition of the word "shop" includes not only retail business premises but also wholesale business premises. The Bill is trying to put wholesale and retail trade into a strait waistcoat. How will the Bill be administered if it be passed? That is the crux of the matter. I hope the Under-Secretary will deal with that point, and say whether I am wrong. The 3,000 coal pits in this country have to be kept under strict supervision by a number of inspectors in order to see that the regulations passed for the purpose of protecting life and preventing accidents are properly carried out. Do hon. Members realise how many shops there are in the country, and how many more shop inspectors we should require? I have not had time to turn up the authority, but I think I am right in saying that it was stated in the journal of the Royal Economic Society last September that there are 500,000 shopkeepers in this country. The coal mines of the country are concentrated in groups in certain districts of the country, but our shops are spread all over the country. Some of the 500,000 shopkeepers have more than one shop, and probably there are 1,000,000, or perhaps 1,500,000, shops spread out from John O'Groat's to Land's End.
I am not arguing for the moment about the merits or demerits of the Bill, but I want to show how difficult, how impossible almost, it will be to operate it. It 2344 is to be supposed that all the inspectors who are already carrying out the duties imposed upon them by existing laws are fully occupied, or the Public Accounts Committee would want to know the reason why, and if the shops owned by 500,000 shopkeepers, and numbering perhaps 1,500,000, are to be supervised, I make so bold as to say that we shall require something like 5,000 to 10,000 additional inspectors.
What are you going to pay the inspectors? You cannot pay them less than £4 or £5 a week, and there will be travelling expenses, printing, office and other charges. Thus you have at once an annual expenditure of probably about £1,500,000 for the inspection of these shops. Let us be realistic about these matters. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to be idealistic, but let us see how their proposal is going to work out in practice. Then, with 500,000 to 1,000,000 shops, are you going to stop evasion by any means? What is more, when you have summoned a man for evading the law, what will be the charge against him? Will it be a charge of murder or of theft? No. The charge will be that he was trying to earn an honest living by honest work—by working a little harder than his neighbour.
I am, like many hon. Members opposite, a magistrate, and on the bench of which I am a member there are a certain number of supporters of the Labour party, some working-men or business men, and some shop-keepers. Is it to be thought that they will convict and punish a man for working a little harder in order to earn an honest living? Preposterous! The upshot will be that the law will never be put into operation, and these penalties will never be enforced after you have employed and paid your 10,000 inspectors, and enacted all these penal measures. Even if a breach of this law were committed by a trader's staff in working too long, it would be revolting to loyal and hard-working assistants to have to come forward to give evidence against an employer. Very probably the assistants would refuse to give evidence. They would feel that they had been helping their employer in a perfectly innocent and proper way. They would refuse to go to the police court to give evidence against their employer and be parties to causing him to be punished for carrying on his 2345 lawful trade. I think the Under-Secretary for the Home Office will find that these are obstacles which it will be very difficult to overcome.
There is another objection, on general principles, to which I would draw attention. The shop assistants are the people and the shops are the channels, for turning into money the labour and the work of our factories. Any clog on the selling of goods in retail shops hampers the process of turning the labour of factory workers into money, and any clog which prevents the sale of goods produced in our factories is, in itself, a cause of unemployment. These reasons alone are sufficient to show how ill-advised it would be to pass this Bill. Moreover, what are we complaining of to-day? Why is it that we cannot sell our goods abroad? It is because of the high cost of production. Why are we complaining to-day of the high cost of living? It is because of the difference between wholesale and retail prices. But look at Clause 5. Directly you put a Bill of this kind into operation the cost of inspection and all other cognate expenses go on to the cost of wholesale production, and, in addition to that, you hamper the retail shopkeeper and compel him to put up the price of his goods in order to compensate himself for what he loses by this strait-jacket legislation. Those who are least able to bear the high cost of living will be compelled to pay more for food and necessities. The hon. Lady, the member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) talked as if this Bill would affect people throughout the country in the same way as it affected people in Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool or London and other populous cities, where there is a constant stream of people in the shops morning and evening, and where she described the poor assistants as not having time to sit down and rest. That may be so in certain parts of the country. But you can no more generalise about shop-keeping than you can about anything else. There are other places besides London and the large provincial cities. In places like Norfolk and Surrey there are numerous towns and villages in which there are shopkeepers who employ assistants. But there is no continuous stream of customers going into those shops day in and day out. I have a letter here from a shopkeeper who writes:— 2346The average shopkeeper is also a shop assistant as I am myself, and is therefore interested in the keeping of the hours of 'open shop' to a minimum, and it is for this reason that traders' organisations have at all times pressed for the restriction of shop hours rather than the hours of labour, and incidentally, the Departmental Committee which considered the Shops Acts three years ago concurred with them on this point.Then, he writes this very human and attractive paragraph:—The average shop assistant's conditions can scarcely be compared with those of her sisters in industry: for the most part it is neither so arduous nor so continuous. As examples I might mention that my own assistant has spent a considerable portion of the afternoon reading a novel, and that my wife did a large part of her pie-marriage needlework during shop hours.Are we to crib, cabin and confine these provincial retail shopkeepers in the way suggested by this Bill? Then when I come to Clause 2, I find this:—Provided that no shop assistant shall be employed in overtime employment in accordance with this section for more than twenty hours in any month or for more than sixty hours in any year.Only 60 hours overtime in a whole year! That is really tyrannical. Why, that is Procrustean action at its worst. But the complete condemnation of this Bill lies in the Report of the Departmental Committee on the Shops (Early Closing) Acts, 1920, and 1921, and although it has already been referred to, I feel that I must, in justification of my objection to the Bill, ask the House to allow me to read one passage:In considering the general question of shop hours we have had regard to the interests of the shop-keepers and the 6hop assistants as well as the convenience of the general public.Then the report proceeds on page 9:We have considered whether this object could not be achieved by limiting the hours of employment in shops while fixing a later compulsory closing hour for shops or without requiring them to be closed at all. Such a solution of the problem would have the advantage of minimising the inconvenience to the public interest in the early closing method, while, affording a protection to shop assistants. The method would, however, inevitably lead to the introduction of a shift system in a large number of shops. The shift, or relay system, which may be suitable for restaurants and other places of refreshment would be impracticable in certain clases of retail shops and in others inconvenient and costly to the shopkeepers and, thus, ultimately, tend to increase the price 2347 of commodities to the consumer. It would also greatly increase the difficulties of effective administration.That is my case. I need say nothing more than that, and I shall be amused and interested to hear how the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office will be able to "shunt" this unworkable Bill without offending his followers. Accept it he cannot.
§ Mr. CHARLES BUXTON
It has been said that all the spokesmen for the Bill on this side of the House have been personally concerned, most of them as officials of trade unions, with organising shop assistants, and that a limited point of view has been presented by them, which does not take sufficient account of the needs, requirements and susceptibilities of the general public. Perhaps it is not inappropriate if a Member who does not come within the category mentioned, who is not a specialist, who is perhaps not even an expert on the various questions coming under this Bill, should take part in the Debate in order to show that on this side of the House there is no lack of appreciation of the public aspects of this vital matter. There is no social question on which I feel more strongly than that of the hours of labour. When a Member of the House in 1923 I introduced a Bill for the establishment of a 48-hours week in industry and, at all times I have felt it to be a vital matter—even more vital than is sometimes realised by those directly concerned.
I have taken some part in what is called, not very appropriately, working-class education, and in helping to bring certain opportunities of knowledge within the reach of those who would otherwise have difficulty in getting them. Among the many difficulties confronting the person who tries to do that work, especially at evening classes, the greatest of all, without the slightest doubt, is that the persons who come to these lectures or classes or whatever they may be, come to them tired with excessive hours of work. It is not their want of capacity or the want of previous opportunity but the sheer simple fact that they come there tired—intellectually tired or physically tired, and in either case I believe you draw on the same sources of vitality—which is the serious difficulty in that kind of work. I believe there is a public conscience which 2348 is alive to this question. I believe there is a feeling which extends far outside the ranks of those directly concerned on this matter. These workers are of a class with whom the public personally come in contact, and that is a very important point when considering legislation of this kind and in particular when considering the question of enforceability. The case of such workers as these differs from the case of the factory worker or the miner who, broadly speaking, are not seen at work by the ordinary men of the public. But the public see the shop assistant at work and come into personal contact with the work of the shop assistant.
The uniformed staffs on the railways represent another class with whom the general public come into personal contact, but for the moment we are dealing only with the shop assistants. Here is a case where the general public are very much in touch with the workers, and are very much alive to the evils of fatigue which are sometimes only too painfully evident in the faces and attitudes and even in the tempers of shop assistants at times. The general public know what allowance has to be made for them, in view of the inhuman conditions under which they work, and it is for that reason that the conscience of the genera) public on this matter is perhaps more alive than it is in the cases of other classes of workers. This also affects the question of enforceability for the very obvious reason that these people work under the eye of the general public almost all the time.
In pleading for a limitation of hours we are not merely pleading for something negative—for the abolition of a hardship, great as that hardship is. We are pleading for something positive. I always formulate this question in my own mind as being not a question of whether we are to get less hours of work, but a question of whether we are going to get more leisure to live. Let us look at the matter positively. Are we going to give these people more time to live, more time to develop? That is what we are positively trying to do.
The objections which may be raised to the limitation of hours in productive work are one thing, and the objections which may be raised to the limitation of hours in distributive work are quite a different thing. It may be con- 2349 tended that limitation of hours in productive work will seriously diminish production, though I am prepared to contest that view and to argue, as many great economists have argued, that in the majority of cases limitation of hours is compatible with the maintenance of and even the increase of production.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
Let us take that matter to its logical conclusion. Does the hon. Member contend that a man can make as much in 3 hours as in 10 hours?
§ Mr. BUXTON
The hon. Gentleman inputting an exaggerated case, and if I were to answer him directly it would throw no light on the question at issue. I will most gladly give the hon. Gentleman reports of commissions on industrial fatigue and other matters in which it has been proved that shorter hours are compatible with increased production, but I have not those reports with me now. However, that is merely an incidental question, and those considerations, whether right or wrong, do not apply to distributive work. Broadly speaking, the public will manage to get its shopping done within a shorter time just as it will get it done within a longer time. There may be some slight differences of convenience, but in regard to those slight issues of convenience the interest of the public should give way to the interests of the workers who have a much stronger and deeper concern in the matter, who have their health and their conditions of life to consider. Clearly, where small questions of convenience arise, they should give way, and of course they will give way, to these stronger considerations. The limitation under the previous closing Acts proved that there is an adjustability in this matter. The public itself, in fact, adjusts itself to the conditions. It always does, and will do so in this case. Broadly speaking, I venture to claim that the actual process with which these workers are concerned, namely, the process of distributing goods among the public, which, from the housewife's point of view is conveniently summed up in the word "shopping," will get itself done in these hours just as in the longer hours. There is no question of the shortening of hours diminishing the volume of work that these workers will be called upon to do.
There is a very marked difference between distributive and productive work, 2350 and as there is no serious possibility of diminishing production, or inflicting any loss upon the nation, is it not all the more deplorable, all the more tragic, that we should be inflicting long hours and painful conditions upon more than a million of our fellow-countrymen for nothing at all, for reasons which could be avoided by a mere improvement in organisation? I say that it is disgraceful, that it is intolerable that we should be imposing these conditions of ill-health, suffering, irritability, the ruin, very often, of family life, and the denial of educational opportunity, not because of any real economic reason, any economic loss that we fear from the abolition of these conditions, but solely because in this nation we are such fools that we cannot organise ourselves sufficiently to abolish conditions like these. It is purely a matter of failure to organise, of inefficiency, of waste, and if we have the opportunity of a system whereby we can exorcise this demon of unrestricted competition, and introduce the elements of order, I will venture to say decency, in our national life, we ought to welcome those who offer us so valuable an opportunity.
§ Sir JOHN WITHERS
I will not attempt to follow the exaggerated language of the last speaker, but will support the Amendment simply from the point of view of a practical outsider who is looking at the matter without any feeling on one side or the other. I sympathise with the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. C. Buxton) in what he says about the difficulties of teaching classes at the end of the day. I, myself, in the past have gone through the same experience, but I must point out to him and to the House that at the end of an honest day's work everybody is, or ought to be, tired. I support this Amendment on the ground that, first of all, the Bill cuts across the whole idea of the principle that we have been adopting in legislation in the past. Except for one provision, as to the limitation of hours in shops as regards young persons, the whole system of the statutory provision has been based upon the closing of shops. I have always understood that has worked so far very well, but now we are trying to do something quite different: we are trying to put the number of hours on top of that.
Either of those courses may be right, but it seems to me that when you put the 2351 two together, it becomes a very serious hamper to retail trade, and entirely a new provision against the views of the Departmental Committee. I do not think that there is any need for it, first of all, because the big concerns themselves, large shops in London and Glasgow which have been talked about, have a large number of employés, and collective action by those employés is quite sufficient to deal with any matter that might arise. With regard to the little shops, which, after all, form the great majority of shops, I do not know what the experience of Members of this House is, but I very frequently, in a country town or village, walk into a shop and find no great crowd there; probably I am the only customer at the time. The young lady who is going to serve me gets up, puts down her piece of knitting, gives me what I want and says, "Good-bye!" and, as I go out of the shop, she sits down again. That is the sort of general view of the average shop in the country. There is no great crowd, except on Saturday afternoon, market day, and so on.
If we limit the hours in the way proposed ex hypothesi there must be extra expense. As regards the big shops, if they wanted to extend the hours—I do not know whether they would—they would have to put on shifts. That is a new idea altogether, and, naturally, would have to be taken into consideration. The little shop would have to take an extra assistant, the result of which must be a greater cost. The price of the retail goods which come into the hands of everybody throughout the country must be raised. The price of every little thing must be raised, with the result that either the shopkeeper will carry on at less profit—and it is very difficult now to carry on at all—or he will close his shop and dismiss the assistant, which means that both he and the assistant will go out of employment, or he will carry on without the assistant, which means that the assistant will be unemployed. Therefore this must result in increased unemployment.
It seems to me that the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) said what is absolutely right. There will be an enormous number of inspectors, when you come to think that the fact that any- 2352 body about the shop, for instance, I suppose, an errand boy employed for a quarter of an hour after his time, has to be recorded in a book. Naturally, from time to time, inspectors will have to go about inspecting all these things, and looking into these books to see that they are kept, interrogating people, and so on. Assuming half the number of shops which the hon. Member for Farnham mentioned, the number of inspectors would be enormous, and the expense to the ratepayers—because I understand that this is an expense which will fall upon the rate payers—will be very large, indeed. Even if it is not very large, it is one of those things which I think will be evaded a good deal. Shopkeepers will say "Miss-So-and-So worked half-an-hour overtime last night, but I do not think you need put that down." A large number of hon. Members have to deal with little tradesmen in village shops, and I am always very much amused when I get a small village shopkeeper's bill written out in a simple way, and I cannot conceive of those small village shopkeepers keeping these elaborate records, which would mean a tremendous amount of trouble.
I think such a proposal is an absolutely unnecessary interference with business. It is not as if the trade of a shopkeeper is anything like that of a miner, who has to work amid abnormal surroundings, nor is it the same as those who have to work in factories where machinery is running all day, and where the attention of employés has to be fixed the whole time on their work or there will be a danger to everybody concerned. The retail trade cannot be run on those lines, and there must be some elasticity under which the assistants work harder at such times as market days, while on other days they are very slack. Personally, I think this Bill is oppressive. As every hon. Member knows, the shopkeepers in towns and villages are trying to do an honest day's work, and to put the burdens entailed by the operation of this Measure upon them would be a hardship.
§ Mr. PHILIP OLIVER
There is one sentence in the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers) to which I should like to refer. It is that in which he said that those who do an honest day's work ought not to have the burdens of this Measure 2353 placed upon them. It seems to me that here we come to something which is fundamental. Many people do not believe that after a day's work one ought to be tired, even if is is an honest day's work. One labours in order that one may live. Life consists of leisure, and why should one commence life tired? Therefore, I am afraid that the conflict of philosophy between the two sides is rather deeper than it seems to be. I did not however rise to deal with matters of philosophy but to deal with one or two matters of detail and especially some details of importance which arise under Clause 5. It is not often that a definition Clause is the most important clause in a Bill but Clause 5 in this Bill as we have already been told by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. It. A. Taylor) who seconded the Motion for the Second Reading does introduce a very definite alteration in the law and I gather from the speeches of the Conservative Members who have opposed this Bill that they view these changes with considerable alarm.
One change which is proposed is in regard to the definition of the word "shop." In this definition we are now including not only retail but wholesale houses and warehouses. So far as the great number of warehouses are concerned no complaint whatever can be made either of the condition of the premises or of the hours of working. I think some of the most wonderful places in the world are the modern warehouses which have been erected with admirable facilities for the employés and where there are short hours of work. But side by side with the modern warehouse and the reputable and large firms, in nearly all commercial centres, there are other kinds of warehouses. In some of them you go down creaking stairways where the only light is artificial, where it is either too hot or too cold, and where the atmosphere is always vitiated. That kind of warehouse does exist in large numbers in almost every commercial town, and for that reason I welcome most heartily the inclusion of the warehouse and wholesale premises in this Bill.
We have been told by the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) that this is an innovation, and that this is the first time that the word "warehouse" has been introduced into a Shops Bill. I am sorry to differ from 2354 the hon. and learned Member, but this is by no means the first time that warehouses have been dealt with in shops legislation. The original Act which limited the hours to be worked in shops was the Shop Hours Act of 1886. In the Shop Hours Act of 1892 there is a definition of "shop," and it was the first amending Act which limited the hours to be worked by any persons in shops. That definition included retail and wholesale shops, market stalls, and warehouses in which assistants are employed. Therefore, when we first legislated for the restriction of hours in shops it included not only retail but wholesale warehouses. This remarkable chapter of legislation conveys to us a very strong lesson, and we ought to inquire how it is that the rights obtained by assistants in warehouses in the past have been taken away from them by legislation.
The Shops Act of 1911 dealt with early closing, the half holiday, seats for shop assistants, and such matters concerning the retail trade, but the definition of "shops" was limited in the Act of Parliament to retail shops. The Act of 1912 was expressly stated to be a consolidation Act. It was not only that, because it was really a consolidating Act and an amending Act. The Act of 1911 dealt with other matters, and only one of those definitions was taken from the Act of 1911. In the 1912 consolidating Act the question of early closing was dealt with, and it took away from persons employed in warehouses certain rights which they had enjoyed since 1892. We are now simply going back to the old legislation of the Victorian era of 1892, and I am glad that this change is going to take place.
Equally important, I think, is the alteration which is made in the definition of a shop assistant. So far, in all this legislation dealing with shops, a shop assistant has simply been the person who works in the shop, serving customers or receiving orders. If this Bill becomes law, the term "shop assistant" is also to include, not only the man who works in the shop, but the man who works in connection with the shop—not only the man who despatches goods, but the man who delivers them and collects them; and, for the first time in any protective legislation, we 2355 admit the van boy, the delivery boy, and the errand boy. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) asked, in an interjection, when we are talking about the small shopkeeper, what would happen to the young people. I think that one of the most disgraceful things in our civilisation, if we can yet call ourselves civilised, is the way in which we have treated some really young people, such as the van boy, the errand boy, and the garage boy.
As far back as 1913, there was a Departmental Committee on the hours and conditions of employment of van boys and warehouse boys, and that committee advised that the Hours of these boys should be regulated, not by Statute, but by by-laws and that there should be a maximum of 70 hours. Even that beneficence was not followed. I should like to direct the attention of the House to the interesting revelations contained in a report which was issued by Sir Wyndham Deedes in 1928. Sir Wyndham Deedes was a great Dominion administrator, and, when he had finished his work for the Empire, he carried out a very careful and most interesting investigation into the question of boy and girl labour in Bethnal Green. He took 200 boys and 200 girls who were leaving school in Bethnal Green at Christmas, 1924, and Easter, 1925, and he kept watch on them and tabulated their history; and in his report he tells us what these boys and girls were doing two years after they left school. He found that 95 per cent. of the boys and 94 per cent. of the girls were working over 48 hours a week inclusive of mealtimes, while 49 per cent. of the boys and 31 per cent. of the girls were working over 48 hours a week exclusive of meal times.
That is altogether wrong. The worst cases that were discovered, and there were a number of very bad cases which seem to me to be absolute abominations, were that of a van boy of 10 who was working 78 hours a week, that of a boy in a fish shop who was working a minimum of 81 hours, and that of a boy in a garage who was working 86i hours. That shows the need that there is for legislation. I do not know what the Government are going to do with this Bill, but I hope that they are going to take it up entirely. I would 2356 ask them especially to see that the garage boy does not fall between this Bill and the Bill which will be introduced to confirm the Washington Hours Convention. I am not sure that he tails within either. He may fall within both. But I would ask, as a matter of practical detail, that careful consideration should be given in order to see that the garage boy is provided for in one or the other of these Acts of legislation.
It is said that there is no demand for this Measure. Of course, there is no demand for it from these van boys and errand boys and garage boys. It is because there is no demand that I am in favour of legislation. Where there is a demand, where legislators can be approached and circularised, either by employers' federations or trade unions, I always look upon these demands with a certain amount of suspicion, because people who can print circulars and post them to Members of Parliament can usually look after their own interests. Where, however, you have these poor boys and girls who are obviously unorganised and cannot express their demand, it is for us not to wait on these seats until the demand comes, but to go down to Bethnal Green and elsewhere and see the conditions which make that demand, and, having seen them, to remedy them.
§ Dr. ETHEL BENTHAM
At this advanced hour I am not going through the many points that have already been put, probably in ways in which I could not put them. I want to limit myself to some matters that are within my own personal experience more, perhaps, than that of anyone in the House at the moment. For many years I have been a panel practitioner, having on my list large numbers of both men and women, including men of all the ordinary London trades; and I can say that the health of the shop assistant compares extremely badly with that of people in almost any other trade of which I know anything. Shop assistants suffer a great deal from varicose veins, flat foot, and all the disabling things which make life a misery. They age very early, and break down very early. That has been my experience of them as compared with even painters, and with omnibus conductors and drivers and people of that kind. There is no comparison between shop assistants and people in these other trades as regards 2357 early ageing and the many disabilities from which they suffer.
With regard to women, the matter is even more important and vital. I well remember a married woman coming to consult me about certain disabilities, and I asked her if she had had any children. She said: "No; I was in the drapery for 11 years, from 15 to 26, and nobody who has been in the drapery trade like that ever has children." Of course, she was stating something which is not actually the fact, but that there should be enough truth in the statement to have made it a perfectly widespread idea through the trade is very striking. Of course, I have had a wider experience of women, but I have no kind of doubt as to the conditions under which both men and women work in these shops, which are necessarily very often ill-ventilated, especially in the packing and despatching departments, which are out of sight of the public. Moroever, they have to stand for many hours at a time, for, with all our talk about shop seats, which I can remember to have heard for as long as I can remember anything, we know quite well that shop seats are an absolute fraud and delusion. It is impossible for anyone to use them except on very rare occasions.
I have no hesitation in saying that the real reasons for these excessively bad conditions of health are to be found in the excessively long hours, the hours behind the scenes after the shop is closed, the bad ventilation, and the extremely bad lighting in very many cases, which is designed more to show off goods than to make things easy or possible for the employés. In the packing department, particularly, it will often be found that the light consists of a flaring gas jet, a fish-tail burner, or something of that sort. Even in the West End of London, where my experience has chiefly been, the conditions of life for shop assistants are such that I have never found them having reasonable conditions of health. I am limiting myself to this one point. I believe, from my own knowledge, there is a greater necessity for protection for this class of worker than for any other who has come within my experience, except perhaps the miners.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I thing I can claim something that has not been claimed by many speakers. I have had 2358 practical experience not only of shop life as a shop boy, a shop assistant, and a shop proprietor, but also of factory life, and I know the difference in the conditions of factory life and of shop life. On the question of the closing and the hours of labour in shops, I have taken a very active part in the promotion of shorter hours all round. I have had to defend against Members of my own party the provisions of the Shop Hours Act, because I did not want to work the long hours that we used to work in the old days, neither did I want my assistants to work them. We have always laid down the principle that you must synchronise the hours of labour with the hours of opening and closing of shops, and that is the right way to tackle the question.
This Bill is going to land us into far greater difficulties than we are in at present, because we are steadily going forward. In spite of frantic opposition from outside, and in spite of newspaper agitation against what was called Dora regulations, and in spite of all kinds of prejudice that were brought to bear, we got the House of Commons to agree to a reasonable measure dealing with the opening and closing of shops which has been a boon to shopkeepers and shop assistants. If this Bill reaches the Statute Book, we are going to put back the clock of the movement for earlier closing of shops, to give not only shop assistants but shop proprietors a little more leisure for many years.
§ Mr. R. A. TAYLOR
In what part of the Bill is there any reference to the closing of shops at all? It does not affect it.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
That is my complaint. That proves my case. If this Bill said that shops should close at a certain hour and no one should be employed after that except for a reasonable time for clearing away, I should be actually supporting the Bill. But it does not. It simply deals, with the question of assistants and assistants' hours. It is going to hit hardest of all the small trader. The firm with which I am associated do not employ any of our people more than 45½ hours in any week except at Christmas, when we have to work a few hours longer. Imagine the position if the Bill is passed. Those who, like myself, believe in short hours for assistants, as well as for themselves, will have to keep an elaborate set of books in 2359 which to enter the hours the assistants are working, and when it comes to an extra little bit of rush at Christmas there is the payment of overtime and so on. In the majority of shops at present commission is paid on sales, and if the assistants have a busy time at Christmas their commission will go up. In the shops I am connected with the assistants who do these extra hours, get their benefit in another way. They get their holidays on pay and they receive consideration in many other ways. I do not think the custom is unknown of rewarding the shop staff at Christmas in a suitable way according to the work that has been done.
We have been told the number of assistants who belong to the Shop Assistants Union, and hon. Members have tried to convince us that the reason the numbers are so small is that they are scattered and they are difficult to organise. It is nothing of the kind. The bulk of the members of the Shop Assistants Union are those connected with the co-operative movement, and they are always having trouble and difficulty as between the Union and the Co-operative Society. What makes for trade union strength? Trouble and nothing else. If there is trouble in industry, trade union strength grows. The reason why you cannot organise amongst shop assistants is that there is such a friendly feeling between employed and employers. There is that personal touch that you do not get in so many other industries. That is the reason why those who are responsible for organising shop assistants cannot get them into the Union. They are satisfied with their conditions.
I was very interested in the speech of the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson). She stated her case very fairly indeed and there is no doubt she has made a deep study of the question. She sees the difficulties we shall have to face if the Bill is passed. If she had altered one or two aspects of her speech, it would have been a vary fine speech in favour of the Amendment. She painted a picture, with which I am not going to agree, of lurid conditions in certain shops in the outer parts of London and, I take it, in some parts of the provinces. That was a little bit of exaggeration. Those conditions really do 2360 not exist. She talked about reactionary employers who prevent their assistants from joining the Union. I have never met any of those reactionary employers. If there is to be any advantage gained by the assistants joining the Union, employers, as far as I know them, never put any objection in the way of them joining. Why should they? There is no reason at all. On the other hand, no one is going to compel them to join.
Another reason why so many assistants do not link up with the trade union is that every shop assistant is a potential shopkeeper. He has his ideas fixed upon becoming a man of business. He knows that there is an opportunity. He knows also that, if the political doctrines of hon. Members opposite were carried out to the full extent, there would be no avenue at all enabling a man to rise from the bottom to become a worker on his own account, and try and better his position. It is the one real avenue of escape from the ordinary drudgery of being an employed person which is open to him at the present moment.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I am not admitting it. I say that working for the State is drudgery in many ways. I do not want to have to work for a State employer, I can assure you. I prefer to work for myself, even though I have to work twice the number of hours that I should have to work if I were working for a State employer. When I speak of drudgery, I speak of it in the sense of having to perform a mechanical duty at the instruction of somebody else, whether it be an ordinary employer or a State servant who is directing. When I speak about freedom, I mean the freedom of a man to carry on his business in his own way in order to do the best he can for himself, his wife, and his family by his own exertions. If a boy wishes to earn a little extra money by doing a little work during his holidays, when other boys, perhaps, are engaging in sport, because he likes to do so, why should he be prevented? It shows the right spirit, and that he wishes to advance in life by his own exertions and not climb on somebody else's shoulders? The reason so many shop assistants do not join the Unions is that they hope before many 2361 years are over that they will be in business for themselves and climbing the ladder of success.
I was very interested in the speech of the hon. lady the Member for East Islington (Dr. Bentham) who spoke from the medical point of view. She stated what I have no doubt is a fact, that she had met many shop assistants who have shown signs of indifferent health. There is a good explanation of that and one to which, perhaps, hon. Members have not given much thought. I am speaking from my own practical experience. I know this sort of thing to occur. There is a family of five boys. Four of them are strong healthy boys, and the remaining boy is what is known as a weakling. The father decides to put the four boys who are strong and healthy to trades, knowing that they will be all right, and he decides that the one who is not very strong shall go into a shop, because he regards it as easier work and work undertaken indoors. I was an assistant in a shop in former days. I was not sent into a shop because I was a weakling but because I desired to go into a shop. Nevertheless, it is a fact that many boys are sent into shops, because it has been thought by their parents that they were not strong enough for outdoor or for heavy work. That is no doubt one of the reasons why the hon. lady has come across so many cases of ill-health among shop assistants. I do not agree for a moment that their ill-health has been brought about because of the conditions of their work in the shops.
Speaking from practical experience and as one who knows something of factory life, I was jolly glad to get out of the factory into a shop. I should not like to go into factory life; I prefer to do what I shall be doing to-morrow afternoon, namely, serving behind the shop counter. I congratulate the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. F. Hall) who moved the Second Reading of the Bill. Considering that his experience has been that of a miner, he handled the subject very well indeed, but he did show that he had had no practical experience of life in a shop, and rather went beyond the mark by speaking of the "terrible conditions" under which some of these shop assistants were employed. He spoke about their having to work from 60 to 80 hours per week. I was very much interested in 2362 what the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. R. A. Taylor) had to say on this point, because he is a man of practical experience. He spoke about the many hours that were being worked, but he did not quote from his own experience—I should have preferred instances of his actual experience—but from reports presented by the Ministry of Labour in 1926. He could not give us any specific cases of shop assistants having to work from 60 to 80 hours a week. I want to know where they come in?
§ Mr. R. A. TAYLOR
The hon. Member has asked me whether I can give him the cases. I refer him to the Ministry of Labour reports in order that he may see for himself. If he wants to find instances of shop assistants having worked 60 or 70 hours a week, he will find them in those reports.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
It is no use the hon. Member for Lincoln trying to ride off in that way. I know him well enough to realise that if he had had any really good cases to put before the House he would not have failed to do so.
§ Mr. W. J. BROWN
I am an ex-shop assistant, and, when the hon. Gentleman sits down, if the Deputy-Speaker will call upon me, I shall be very happy indeed to give my personal experiences as a shop assistant, in support of what my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. R. A. Taylor) has said.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
That is exactly what I wanted the hon. Member and the hon. Member for Lincoln to say. I have worked from 70 to 80 hours a week as a shop assistant, but not during the last few years, not since Parliament sanctioned in a right and proper way, by Act of Parliament, the limitation of the hours of opening and closing of shops. When I spoke on the Shop Hours Bill which was introduced into this House, I cited the case of my own experience when I had to work from 8 o'clock in the morning on Saturdays until 12 o'clock at night for years. I agree that those conditions existed in the old days. If hon. Members can bring cases now where people are being employed such long hours we shall have something really tangible with which to deal. The figures which the hon. Member for Lincoln quoted show that there is only 14 2363 per cent. of the assistants in the drapery trade working over 50 hours a week, and he informed us that there was 8 per cent. of the females working over 50 hours per week in that particular trade. If you have a small percentage like that, the percentage is going to be narrowed down very considerably when applied to those who may be working 56 hours a week and over. He mentioned the grocery and provision trade. One of the difficulties about the food trades is that there are so many conditions attaching to those trades which do not apply to other trades, and it would be found very difficult to work a Measure of this kind giving uniformity of working to all trades simply because those engaged in those trades happen to be termed "shop assistants." Even in these trades the figures which the hon. Member quoted did not by any means show that excessive hours were being worked in many cases.
It is very foolish to try to legislate and upset the whole of the arrangements existing between shop assistants and shopkeepers simply because of a small percentage of cases in a trade which has been stated time after time in this House to be one of the very worst of the distributive trades. I refer to the light catering and kindred trades. The figures there are more complete, because we have the percentages up to 60 hours per week. The hon. Member for Lincoln quoted that only 3 per cent. of the assistants in the distributive trades could be found to have worked more than 60 hours a week. A large percentage of them work less than 50 hours a week.
If this Bill is passed into law, it will create a state of chaos. If there is one thing more than any other in the distributive trades which requires to be considered it is that you must serve the public and serve them in a way which is acceptable to them. There are certain times of the year—I have already referred to the Christmas holiday season—when the public expect the shops to remain open longer than usual. It would be very difficult indeed to increase staffs for that period, though it is done in many cases. I do it myself, but it cannot be done in the case of the small people, and it is on their behalf that I am making my plea before the House. I am not speak- 2364 ing on behalf of the multiple firms, because they can look after themselves and take good care of themselves.
From the personal point of view and the selfish point of view, the passage of this Bill into law would be of great advantage to me, because we—myself and those associated with me in business—are already working our assistants far less hours than this Bill provides for, while our competitors are working their assistants possibly a little more. We must, however, take into consideration the position of the small shopkeepers. Talking about small shopkeepers and long hours, one case was brought to my notice in my own town of a case where a girl was employed excessively long hours. I made inquiries and I found that the proprietor of the shop was the father of the girl. He was a trade union official and had been all for eight hours for everybody. After he had saved a little money and bought this business he put his daughter into it and kept her working excessively long hours, and she threatened she would go on strike against her own father.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I could give the name. We must give consideration to the small trader. I would ask hon. Members to visualise the position of the small man who employs one assistant or one assistant and an errand boy. The question of delivery arises. It is all very well to say that it does not matter, and that the goods can be delivered the next day. One hon. Member suggested that the shopkeeper should deliver the goods himself. When I was in a small way of business I often pushed a handcart, after I had closed the shop, in order to deliver goods, and I have been none the worse for it. You cannot expect the proprietor of a shop to refuse to deliver goods to his customer. If he did refuse the customer would soon find somebody who would see to it that the goods were delivered. Unless it can be proved that there has been any grave abuse in this matter, hon. Members have no right to try to bring these people under this Bill.
The question of administration is important. In this respect we are up against a very serious matter. Speaking as one who has had a great deal of ex- 2365 perience as a member of a local authority, I can say that in the bulk of areas throughout the country the provisions of the Shops Acts are not being properly carried out, because of the lack of supervision. There are not enough inspectors to keep their eyes upon those who wish to infringe the law. Only this week hon. Members below the Gangway opposite moved an Amendment on the Air Estimates to reduce the Air Force by 30,000 men. I have been wondering if it was the idea of the Movers of that Amendment to use the redundant 30,000 men as inspectors if this Bill becomes law.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
At least that number will be required to deal with the shops throughout the country if this Bill is to carried out properly. It will add a great deal of expense in administration by the local authorities, which the local authorities do not desire. If we spend a great deal of money in providing the necessary supervision, we shall be dealing with only about 3 per cent. of the shop assistants, so we are told, and that 3 per cent. is a diminishing quantity and will soon die out. Public opinion is against the overworking of shop assistants. We have had no practical proof brought forward this morning that there is any great amount of excessive hours worked by shop assistants. We have to take, also, the international aspect. This question was considered last year at an international convention on the question of the distributive trades, and it is to be considered again during this year. Our own Home Office sent out a questionnaire on the matter, which was answered by the National Chamber of Trade and other organisations representing the distributive trades in this country. They pointed out thatthe normal hours of work, excluding intervals for meals, of shop assistants and others embodied in the distributive trades vary according to location and business and the class of trade.That is a point that has not been taken into consideration by those who framed this Bill.In general, the usual practice is to begin at nine o'clock and to finish at seven o'clock on four days in the week, and to finish on one day at one p.m. and on one day at nine p.m. which, allowing for meal 2366 times of one and three-quarter hours for five days, works out at 47 to 48 hours a week.That is the general custom throughout the country, and that evidence has never been refuted. When we come to certain forms of distributive trade, particularly the provision trade, it is a fact that the hours are extended from 50 to 51. Why? Because it is absolutely necessary, as hon. Members who have had any experience will know, that after closing the shop it is necessary to cleanse the counters and put away certain commodities in places where they will not be contaminated, if you are, going to provide the right and proper goods for the customers next morning. It is a small matter but it has to be done, and it is necessary to give some little latitude in that respect. The majority of the shops throughout the country conform in their hours to the Closing Order of 1928. The Act of 1928 has made such a vast difference to the conditions and the hours of shop life that there is no need to bring forward this Bill. In the report which I have quoted there is this information, which is valuable, that overtime is very exceptional and that when it is worked it is usually compensated for by extra time off on other special occasions. That has been the experience of those who made a careful investigation throughout the country into the conditions obtaining in shop life.
A good deal that has been said this morning on the opposite side has been exaggerated. When we get right down to the real thing we find that we have a complicated Bill which I am sure the Under-Secretary to the Home Office will tell us needs to be drastically amended. The Bill has been very badly drafted. It is not in any way a workable Measure as it stands at present. It will not deal with the great evil that hon. Members opposite have tried to make us believe because, narrowed down, we get only 3 per cent. of shop assistants affected. It will, however, cause a good deal of expense to local authorities and a good deal of inconvenience to the shopkeepers. I ask the House to agree with those who have supported the Amendment that it is an unworkable Bill and ought not to receive a Second Reading. To proceed further with it would be a waste of the time of Parliament. The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) said that she knew that the state of 2367 public business was such that this Bill would not get much further, even if it gets its Second Reading, and that it was purely a demonstration. I suggest that it is a demonstration on behalf of the Shop Assistants Union. That is what it amounts to. It is an attempt to vindicate their position to a certain extent, but I am afraid that it is a sorry attempt because it will not help the people they have in mind.
We have quite enough to do in this House in dealing with matters of urgency. If we only exercise our minds and devote our time to finding a solution of the unemployment problem rather than trying to create another problem by this Bill, we should be better employed. I agree with the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough that Parliamentary business is congested. In this Session we have plenty of work to go on with in Committee without sending a Bill of this kind to Committee, particularly when those who have brought it forward have no hope of the Bill getting any further. They know that it requires to be drastically amended before it can be described as a workable Measure. It would be folly to send this Bill upstairs. It would be far better for the promoters to take back this Bill and let the Government bring forward a Measure. This is not a suitable question for a private Member's Bill. We are striking out on a new principle entirely. Parliament, so far, has not interfered with the hours of those engaged in the distributing trades, and I suggest that it is the duty of the Government to deal with such a matter and not leave it to a private Member. If the promoters are wise they will withdraw this Measure, re-draft it, and bring forward proposals which will be acceptable to all sections of the House. It is possible to do this so long as you keep in mind the principle of synchronising the hours of labour with the hours of opening and closing. I shall be opposed to any Measure which divorces these two questions.
§ Mr. HOFFMAN
The hon. Member for. Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) spoke about the difficulties of administering this Bill, if it is passed. I do not know whether the hon. Member is aware that 2368 under the present Shops Act local authorities have to deal with hours of work of young persons, shops seats, shop closing, and half holidays. All these matters are dealt with by local authorities now with their present inspectorate, and by adding the question of hours of employment there should be no difficulty at all in administration. The hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) stated that a settlement was reached in 1928 in respect of these closing Acts. By whom was the settlement arrived at? As far as we are concerned, the shop assistants, we have always repudiated any legislation which did not include the fixing of the hours of employment. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. R. A. Taylor), the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) and the hon. Member for one of the Glasgow divisions signed a Minority Report that the hours of work of assistants ought to be restricted. The terms of reference to that Committee precluded any review of the question of hours of employment, but the association to whos brief the hon. and learned Member has been speaking this afternoon, the National Chamber of Trade, put forward their spokesman in this House on that occasion, Sir William Perring, and upon the Second Reading of the Bill he said this: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1928; col. 1460, Vol. 214.]In the Committee stages of that Bill he repeated his statement and said that he adhered to what he had said in the House of Commons. In other words, the National Chamber of Trade felt that the restriction of hours of work ought to be dealt with in a separate piece of legislation. We are producing this separate piece of legislation, and the National Chamber of Trade briefs the hon. and learned Member, and circularises all hon. Members, to refuse to have anything at all to do with the restrict on of hours because of the damage it is going to do to them and to the country, because of the amount of unemployment it will entail and the high cost of living it is going to create. We heard all this years ago when the first Committee was appointed by the House of Commons to inquire 2369 into this question. What has been the approach of this House to the question of shop hours? In 1886 a Select Committee of this House was set up to inquire into the whole subject, and this is what they said:In conclusion, your Committee, being satisfied that the hours of 6hop assistants range in many places as high as from 84 to 85 hours per week and being convinced that such long hours must be generally injurious and often ruinous to the health, and that the same amount of business might be compressed into a short space of time, recommend this Bill to the favourable consideration of the House.That was a Bill to restrict the hours of employment of young persons to 74 hours per week. Tradesmen came before the Committee and said that if the Bill was passed they would be ruined and a large number of assistants thrown out of employment. The next attempt to extend the legislation was in 1891, when Sir John Lubbock brought in a Bill for the purpose of extending the same provisions to women. Unfortunately, the Committee of this House decided on that occasion that all they could do was to confirm the previous Act restricting the hours of employment only of young persons. The approach to this question after that date became different. There is not the slightest doubt that in the minds of all those dealing with it, you can read it in the evidence and in the questions and in the Report itself, the intention was to experiment by reducing the hours of work of young persons and then gradually extend it to adult people. It did not happen that way, because the House turned down the proposal to restriet the hours of women and the pro-motors of that Bill went in for voluntary closing proposals. A Committee was set up in 1895 to go into the question and report to the House, and in 1901 a Select Committee of the Lords was set up. In their Report, on pages 3 and 4, they say:The evidence has satisfied the Committee that the subject is one of urgent importance and that the existing evils show no general or sufficient sign of amendment. In many places the hours which shops are open range from 80 to 90 per week.In consequence of that report, a permissive closing Bill was passed. It did not deal with the hours of employment of those in shops, and I want to draw the attention of the hon. and learned Mem- 2370 ber for Lowestoft who has said that shops were open from 9 o'clock in the morning to 8 o'clock at night to this fact. There has been no legislation at all to deal with the opening of shops. They can open immediately after midnight, and I can take the hon. and learned Member, when cup ties are on and the crowds are pouring back to the great termini, and show him shops which have opened just after midnight. There has never been any approach to this question either by limiting the time when the shops shall open, certainly not for restricting the hours of employment by saying that assistants shall not be employed half an hour after the shop has shut; or something of that sort.
In 1911 the first attempt was made by the Liberal Government to deal with this question along the lines already referred to. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), that lath painted to look like iron, that versatile, ubiquitous Boanerges, stated, in introducing the Bill, that as far as he was concerned the only thing he cared a straw about was the Clause in the Bill which restricted the hours of employment of assistants. Strangely enough, between the Committee stages and the Report stage of the Bill the very Clause for restricting hours was dropped from the Bill, and all that we got was a husk, the mere fixing of meal times and of the compulsory half-holiday. What has been happening since? During the War we were able to secure the compulsory closing of shops. Ever since hon. Gentlemen opposite have sought to do away with that compulsory closing legislation. They have said, "We do not mind restricting the hours of employment of assistants." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Very well, I hope they will follow us into the Lobby to-day. But what did the House do? In 1921 this House took from under the protection of that compulsory Act those employed in sweet shops and fruit shops, and allowed these shops to be kept open until 9.30 at night, without giving the slightest compensation to those who were employed in the shops.
Take the Bill introduced last year by the Tory Government. When it was going through the Committee stage Members on the Labour Benches pointed out that the Bill would make it possible for tobacconists to be brought from under the com- 2371 pulsory closing provisions and would give assistants nothing at all in return. That is what has happened. In place after place the effect of last year's legislation has been to increase the hours of those employed in tobacconists' shops by as much as six, nine and ten hours per week. We say that the time has arrived for this House to tackle this question in the right way. What are the facts? Tobacconists may be open from 8 a.m. to 9.30 p.m., and there is no restriction in respect of Sunday closing. Without Sunday work the hours may be 70 a week. Take sweet shops, in which only girls are employed. They can be open from 9 a.m. to 9.30 p.m., and many of them open on Sundays. Without Sunday work and without overtime the hours may be 67½ per week. Is it not right and fair that these people who have not organised yet—[Interruption]. I do not understand hon. Gentlemen opposite. They are always inveighing against the wicked trade unionists, who get these people together in their unions and have a strike in order to bring about altered conditions. We come to this House and say, "We do not want a strike or anything of that sort. We do not want agitation and violence. We want to redress a grievance which has been admitted since 1886. We want you to remedy that grievance by legislation." Hon. Members opposite then say, "Why are you not in the trade union? Why do you not try industrial action in order to get a remedy?"
Then there are those who constantly refer to the international "aspect of the question, as though Mrs. Brown, who is giving a tea party, is going to send over to Ceylon to buy a pound of tea, or a" if Lady Blank, who wants some Brittany butter, is going to send to France for it. There is no foreign competition in respect of the distributive trade. Nevertheless other nations have progressed a jolly sight better than we have. I shall not refer for the moment to the Continent, as that might upset hon. Gentlemen opposite. I will go to the Empire. Let us see what has been done in the Empire, first of all by our own Colonial Office by ordinances. In Jamaica shop assistants cannot be engaged at work before eight or after four o'clock; in Fiji no assistant can be detained after closing time, which is five 2372 o'clock, in British Guiana no assistant can be employed more than half an hour after closing time, four o'clock; in Trinidad employment is prohibited outside closing hours; in St. Vincent no assistant may be employed after the hours fixed by the Government. If we come to Australia we find that New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland are splendid examples in synchronising the opening and closing of shops and fixing the hours of employment. Throughout Australia shop assistants' hours are fixed by law in the industrial courts at 44 per week. In New Zealand they have elaborate codes and a large number of Acts. The maximum working week is 48 hours. In the Transvaal, Natal and the Orange River Colony the hours are 48 per week. In the United States there are 12 States that have legislation restricting the hours of employment of women to 48 per week.
I ask the House to give us the Second Reading. We are not unreasonable. In the Committee stage we would be prepared to meet any genuine difficulty that might arise. Employers' associations already operate the 48-hours week. The Drapers' Chamber of Trade has an agreement with the organisation of which I am an official for a 48-hours week in drapers' shops. The London Employers Association has an agreement with us for a 48-hours week. If these people can work a 48-hours week without difficulty, it can be worked in any establishment if people will put themselves up to do it. All the fears that hon. Gentlemen opposite have expressed will vanish like snow in the sunshine once they have this Bill to operate.
I have been a shop assistant. I have worked not merely till 11 o'clock at night, but when "living in" have often, after my work, gone round to my sleeping quarters and have been locked out for the night, because I had been working too long. I do not say that that sort of thing occurs so much to-day. I have been all over the United Kingdom, and have been in the closest touch with all kinds of assistants. I have been in the shops after the shops are closed, and I have seen the assistants working. I am confident in saying that there are hundreds of thousands of shop assistants who will thank the House if this Bill is passed. Indeed, it is long overdue. It will bring light and life to large numbers 2373 of those who to-day are overworked, and it will help to put the distributive trades in a proper state of organisation, which is also very badly required.
§ Mr. SMITH-CARINGTON
I am afraid that I cannot follow the hon. Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Hoffman) either in the historical disquisition or in the long voyages to other countries which he made during his interesting speech. We are all in general sympathy with the purpose of a Bill for making the conditions of a large class of the community more comfortable, but, when we come to consider this particular Measure, we may rightly regard it perhaps as a propaganda Measure, or as a trial trip. It is customary, when a ship goes into commission, to send it on a trial trip, and, if it does not come up to expectations, it goes back to dock, and is brought out again at a later date. I have little doubt that this Bill will have an opportunity of being brought out again at a later date, but, to-day, I throw in my lot distinctly for the Amendment, which faces a great many of the realities of the case. It summarises them very clearly and the speeches we have heard have amplified those points. There is one conclusive reality, and that is that, thanks to the congestion of Parliamentary time, there is not much likelihood of this Bill becoming an Act of Parliament during the present Session. During the time we have been discussing this Measure, I have come to the conclusion that those who promote the Measure do not contemplate any reduction in wages arising from the shortened hours of work. Indeed, the overtime provisions that are introduced rather contemplate that the wages, taken over a long period, may tend rather to rise. All this must, of course, add to the cost of distribution.
We have at various times during the Debate considered the position both of the larger shops and of the smaller. With regard to the larger shops, we seem to have come to an almost general agreement that it could be done. It would be a question of employing, perhaps, more assistants, and of re-organisation to some extent, but, at any rate, it could be done, though at some increase of cost. I am particularly interested in the smaller shops, and I would like to remind the House of the extraordinary difficulties of the smaller shops. There is the 2374 menace of the multiple shop always before them. There is always the risk that those who have founded a good business may, before very long, find themselves confronted with the direct opposition of the multiple shop which, owing to the strong finances behind it, is in a position to crush out, to undersell, and to remove their business from them. As taxpayers, the ordinary small shopkeeper has a very real grievance when he considers the privileged position of the Co-operative stores, and the way in which Chancellor of the Exchequer after Chancellor of the Exchequer confirms them in the privileged position that they enjoy. Then, as a ratepayer, he has a grievance in the fact that the municipality to which he pays his rates gives licences to street hawkers to compete with him on terms which enable the hawker to undercut him in a great many of the cheaper articles with which he would stock his shop. His troubles do not even end there. Many of his best customers are curiously importunate in asking him to supply prizes for whist drives, or in starting bazaars which must detract to some extent customers from his shop. I think, in that particular instance, that very often some of the shops more than get their money back by a bit of cheap buying at the end of the day.
In spite of these difficulties, these small shops have struggled on, and the success that has attended them has been due to personality. What we want to develop is individual enterprise and personality, which I fear that hon. Members who sit opposite do not value at their full worth. They would like to see these small shopkeepers extinguished, so that they could start the municipal shops which they tell us they would like to see. They have said little about municipal shops to-day. Perhaps they fell that it would prejudice this Bill to run that hare at the same time. It seems to me that at a time like this, when business receipts are going down, when taxation is going up, when unemployment is going up, and the cost of living is going up. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is going down!"] It has gone up since the present Government came into Office. It fluctuates to a certain extent, but it is on a higher level than when the Government came into Office. In view of these facts, it is a pity to embark on a Measure of this kind, which must in- 2375 evitably mean further costs in the distributive trades, for these must ultimately be passed on to the consumer.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Short)
I must congratulate the promoters of this Measure upon their success in securing, for the first time in recent years, a discussion of the problem of the hours of employment of distributive workers. We have had no such opportunity for many years, and I cannot help but think that the interesting and at times illuminating, discussion which we have had this afternoon will undoubtedly concentrate, not merely the attention of the House, but the opinion in the country, upon the conditions under which many of these workers are at present employed. I can speak from personal experience, for although prior to entering this House I spent my time in the great factories, since that time I have done useful work in the organisation of clerical workers. I have been very frequently in contact with those employed in the distributive trades, and therefore I am not unfamiliar with the conditions. No doubt there has been some improvement in conditions in recent years.
It is interesting to note that as far back as 1910 and 1911 Bills were introduced by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) to fix the weekly maximum of hours at 60 for shop assistants, with a certain limited allowance of overtime. To-day, 19 or 20 years afterwards, the proposal is for a 48-hours week. The improvement made in the conditions of these workers is due in large measure to the activity of trade unions and to the co-operation of sensible employers. Having regard to all the facts further legislation is essential to ensure that these workers shall not be employed for excessive hours, and such legislation would undoubtedly be welcomed by those employers refered to by the hon. Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Hoffman), who have voluntarily entered into agreements fixing, say, a 48-hours week, but who have no power to ensure the adoption of similar hours by more unscrupulous competitors. This Bill, I am advised, having regard to the 2376 definitions it contains, would affect between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 workers.
Reference has been made to the legislation dealing with the closing of shops, and the effect of it on the employment of these persons. While it may be admitted that those Acts have been contributing factors in securing an improvement, I have to say that in themselves they afford by no means adequate protection for the workers who would be covered by this Bill. Various trades are excepted from the legislation dealing with general evening closing hours. The catering trades are a notable instance, and there are other trades in which later hours are, or may be, permitted, including the confectionery trade; and even in trades subject to the general closing hours it is quite possible for an assistant to be regularly employed far beyond the maximum of 48 hours a week. For example, if a shop is kept open on each weekday from 8.30 a.m. to the closing hour fixed it is calculated that the working hours of an assistant employed during the whole time would be, after deducting the meal intervals prescribed by the Act, in the neighbourhood of 55½ hours a week. Further, there is nothing in the Acts to prevent the employment of assistants before the opening hour or, except on the day of the weekly half-holiday, after the closing hour, and it is well known that assistants often work extra time in this way. I am not suggesting that there are no exceptions to these cases. No doubt there are voluntary agreements which limit the hours of work, but the fact remains that, despite the present law, those engaged in shops and in the distributive trades can be employed for hours far in excess of 48 a week. In the trades exempted from the general closing hours an assistant may well work 60 hours per week. I cannot help recalling to the attention of the House the position as it affects young persons. In the case of young persons, the hours are subject only to such limitation as is provided for by Section 2 of the Act of 1912, which says that no young person shall be employed in or about a shop for a longer period than 74 hours, including mealtimes, in any one week, so that a young person may, so far as the Shops Acts go, be employed up to 67 a week 2377 exclusive of mealtimes. Having regard to these facts, are we not entitled to ask that these workers may be brought within our code of law affecting hours of labour, brought into some measure of conformity with the recognised practices of our economic and industrial life.
I shall, of course, have to make some little criticism of the provisions of this Bill. My hon. Friend opposite, the Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) seemed, if I understood him aright, to be more interested in the view of myself, or of the Department, or of the Government even, than in the opposition that he himself offered to the proposal. Any criticism of this Bill which I put forward is made in no spirit of hostility, but I hope it will be recognised that I have a duty to perform, and I have to call attention to the effect of certain provisions of the Bill and to indicate what would confront us if and when it reaches the Committee stage or recieves a Second Reading. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. R. A. Taylor) called attention to the definitions in the Bill, and indicated that the definitions of "shop-assistant" and "shop" cover a very wide field indeed, and were, in a way, new definitions as compared with those in the legislation upon the Statute Book; and I have to call attention to the fact that these definitions would apply the proposals in the Bill not only to shop assistants in retail establishments, but also to large classes of other employés, as, for example, those engaged in the collection, warehousing and delivery of goods and clerical workers employed in connection with such a business.
It is also to be noted that Clause 5 proposes to apply these extensive definitions in connection with the Shops Acts, 1912 to 1928, and Clause 7 proposes to construe this Measure with those Acts. The effect would be to apply to the wholesale and other premises proposed to be included all the provisions of the previous Acts, including the early closing provisions so far as those are applicable. What would be the actual effect of this proposal it is impossible to say without further information. A shop, at present, is only required to be closed after the closing hour, for the serving of customers, and it may be that the application of this requirement to wholesale establishments would not affect them in 2378 practice to any appreciable extent. That is a conclusion which might be drawn as to the extension of the provisions and definitions in this Bill, but, as I have said already, we are lacking in the information which would enable us to draw a proper and correct conclusion.
The hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) asked me what was the opinion of the Department at this stage, having regard to the opinion which was offered in 1928, when the Bill of that year was before the House. The Amendment to which my hon. and learned Friend referred was opposed on the ground that it would be quite wrong to extend the evening closing hours to these places without inquiry, without knowing what would be the effects, without knowing how the proposals would affect the interests and the trades concerned in such a change in the law. There is another provision in this Bill to which I must refer and that is in connection with overtime. My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln was very careful to recognise that it would be necessary to import some measure of elasticity into this Clause. That is to say, if it were to be effective it would have to meet the varying conditions of the trades and industries concerned. Le me say at once that, as far as I am concerned, and as far as my right hon. Friend is concerned, we should desire to see some restriction of overtime in the interests of the workers and in the interests of the good government of the industries concerned. But these proposals as they are now drafted do not contain that elasticity which is essential and desirable. For instance the proposals would not enable any distinction to be drawn between different classes of establishments, or between different classes of employés, or between different localities. It would be impossible for extra overtime to be allowed, even under agreement between employers and workers, in a busy refreshment house at a seaside resort in the summer, or for the delivery of goods during the rush of the Christmas season.
I am conscious that all these things can be rectified by Amendment and my hon. Friend, the Member for Lincoln, indicated that the promoters of the Bill would be ready and willing to consider the desirability of so amending their pro- 2379 posals, and that brings me to another question which has been the subject of consideration and discussion in the course of our proceedings. I refer to the enforcement of the hours to be worked. Under the provisions of the Bill, the responsibility for enforcement is placed on the local authorities. That will involve a heavy burden of responsibility and I do not think that we can say that the duty could be carried out in the same manner as the duty of seeing whether a shop is closed or open is carried out at the present time. It would entail a greater measure of supervision and it might well be—it would be foolish to burke the question—that it would require the employment of further labour. If, on the other hand, the safety and the welfare and the health of this large body of workers, numbering close on 2,000,000, who are affected by the Bill, are to be the paramount considerations then I have no doubt that Parliament in its wisdom, and at the proper time, would quite willingly approve the expense if they were satisfied that the evidence upon which the Bill is based is satisfactory.
That brings me to what is possibly the more important part of my speech. I opened by expressing complete sympathy with the purpose and the object of the promoters of the Bill. I have indicated that in the opinion of the Government there is a case for legislation. I have also indicated that there are certain provisions in the Bill which would need to be very thoroughly overhauled and which indeed, appear to need drastic amendment. Now I come to indicate the attitude of the Government towards the Bill. As I have said, it affects almost 2,000,000 workers, and it also affects large trade interests. Despite the references which have been made to previous efforts to deal with this problem, there has been no real comprehensive inquiry into the question of the effect of legislation of this kind upon those interests to which I have referred. For instance, the promoters of the Bill, and, indeed, all those who are interested in this matter, will remember that the Departmental Committee of 1927 on the early closing of shops was not empowered to consider the question of the statutory limitations of the hours of employment of shop assistants as distinct 2380 and apart from the compulsory closing hour, and, as the question did not come within their terms of reference, they did not make any investigation, and no comprehensive inquiry has, in fact, been undertaken up to the present time.
§ Mr. HOFFMAN
As a matter of fact, when Mr. Herbert Gladstone introduced the Shops Bill in 1909, ho held that the inquiry of 1901 was quite sufficient to cover both the reduction of hours of work and the compulsory closing of shops.
§ Mr. SHORT
1909 is a long time ago. Great changes have taken place in our economic and industrial structure since then. There has been a revolution, indeed, in the business in which shop assistants have been employed, and I cannot think that the same conditions operate to-day, or, indeed, that the information at the disposal of His Majesty's Government is sufficient to deal with the situation. Let me say at once that the information we have in respect to the effect of this legislation is entirely inadequate from our point of view, and, unhappily, our workshop and factory experience is of no real and adequate guidance in these matters.
I could not help thinking, as I listened to the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft, and others who spoke from the opposite benches, that there is no real volume of opinion against the fundamental principles embodied in this Measure. That is to say, I believe that if legislation could be promoted which would be in accordance, as they believe, with facts which had been properly sifted, which had been the subject of a comprehensive inquiry, I think that we should secure unanimity. I welcome the statement of the hon. and learned Member that he was not one who wanted to see long hours operating or continued. In these circumstances, I have to make an offer to the promoters on behalf of the Government, and I hope it is an offer which will be acceptable to them, and will, at the same time, afford some solace to those who have thought fit to oppose this Measure. I think that the House, generally speaking, is in favour of some legislation embodying the fundamental principles of this Measure. I have stated that, as far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, we are lacking in information.
2381 We, therefore, propose, if the promoters are willing, the House assenting to the Second Reading of this Measure, to set up an inquiry. It is a curious thing that the legislation of this country has invariably been based upon comprehensive inquiries which have taken place time after time, and those inquiries have fully justified the legislation which has followed. Consequently, I have no apologies to offer for suggesting an inquiry into this case. I say to the promoters that I am offering an inquiry into this question, and the Home Secretary is willing to consult the promoters as to the form and nature of that inquiry. I am specifically instructed to say that this suggestion, which is made on behalf of the Government, is not a device for delay, and it is not intended for the purpose of dishing legislation upon this subject.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
Do I understand that the Home Secretary will be willing to consult those on this side of the House as well as the promoters?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Does that mean that the Home Secretary will put anyone on this committee representing those opposed to this Measure?
§ Mr. SHORT
I cannot go so far as to say who would be appointed on this committee, and I am not prepared to shoulder a responsibility of that kind, but the House may rest assured that, if this proposal is accepted, a representative committee will be formed. A committee of inquiry would be no use unless it carries with it the consent of the House. That is the proposal which I have to make. As I have already stated, that is not a proposal for delay, and it is not a device for escaping from the responsibility of introducing legislation. Under these circumstances, and having regard to the facts which I have frankly placed before the House, I hope the promoters will accept my suggestion.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The hon. Gentleman has made an offer which is appreciated on this side. I accept his statement that he can take no responsibility for giving the names of the people who will sit on the committee, but, in order that there may be no misunderstanding, may I ask him whether it is a Select Committee or a Departmental Committee of inquiry that is contemplated?
§ Mr. SHORT
I am not empowered to commit myself on that matter. I have spoken of a court of inquiry, and have left it there. My right hon. Friend desires to leave the matter free for consultation, and, whatever form of inquiry is thought best by those most vitally interested, within the limits of our Parliamentary procedure, I understand that my right hon. Friend will willingly assent to it.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I think it is only right to say that we consider the offer to be a very courteous and reasonable one. We thank the hon. Gentleman for it, and accept it.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I have listened to many debates in this House on the question of the hours of labour of those employed in the distributive trades, and have had something to do, on Committees of the House from time to time, with Bills dealing with this and kindred subjects. Among the speeches which have been made to-day on this very interesting topic, the most important of all was, very naturally, the one just made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the Home Office. I want right away to say, and I am speaking now on behalf of the promoters of the Bill, that, very naturally, we are a little disappointed at the attitude of the Government. We had expected one of two things—either that this Bill would secure to-day a Second Reading, as I think it would have done in any case, and that it would take its course into law in the ordinary way through a Committee upstairs; or, if that were not secured, we thought at any rate that the Government might see their way to include shop workers in general within the provisions of the Bill to ratify the Washington 48 Hours Convention.
We have failed, apparently, on both points. We are not going to get the Bill without an inquiry, and we are not going 2383 to secure the inclusion of our people within the ambit of the Washington Hours Convention. We are thrown back, therefore, on the suggestion made by the Under-Secretary as to a Committee of Inquiry. Obviously, if there is no other way, and apparently there is no other, we can do nothing but reluctantly accept my hon. Friend's suggestion. That is our position; and I take it that any Member of the House, in any quarter or in any party, similarly situated, would likewise feel that there was no other alternative. We shall, however, be very interested to learn what type of Committee will be set up. I have sat both on a Departmental Committee and on a Select Committee, and I know the great difference between the life and powers of the one and the other. The promoters of the Bill will now have to discuss what form they think the Committee shall take. I think I may also say, on behalf of the promoters that we are very pleased to hear that the Government are not proposing this Committee of Inquiry merely as a means of torpedoing the Bill. We are not of course without appreciation of the difficulties of the Government in finding time for the Measure; but I would ask that the Committee should be set up as soon as possible in order that this great task of inquiry may be undertaken, and ultimately legislation passed on the recommendations of that Committee.
I have not addressed the House for a considerable time, and, therefore, I may be pardoned if I now deal with one or two points that have emerged from this Debate. In spite of what the Under-Secretary has told the House, I do not know exactly what the Movers of the Amendment may do. I sincerely trust that they will allow the Bill, to secure a Second Reading; but there are one or two points that ought to be cleared up in connection with this problem of shop hours here and now. I was very happy to hear the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul). who moved the Amendment, say that he was not anxious to go back to the bad old days of shop life, and that he was not opposed to legal restriction of the hours of labour in shops. But he said one thing that hon. Members 2384 on this side would strongly object to, that because we are trade union officers we are doing something very selfish in backing this Bill. I could reply to him that it is rather extraordinary that of the opponents of the Bill one is a barrister, another a solicitor, another a shopkeeper and the gentleman who has been the most vehement of all against the Bill to-day does not seem from the records to have any occupation at all. I think we shall be able to deal with one statement he made later, probably when a General Election comes along. When hon. Members say it is inconvenient to the public to limit the hours of labour in shops, I would remind them that there are 120,000 co-operative employés, not one of whom works normally more than 48 hours a week, and about 20,000 co-operative employés in Northumberland and Durham who have not ordinarily worked more than 44 hours a week for the last 10 years. Apparently there is no inconvenience to the shoppers there. The argument as to loss of trade seems to me a very foolish one. If titled ladies go to Oxford Street or Bond Street and find the shops closed, they cannot very well go to Paris or Berlin to do their shopping. All the shopping that is to be done must be done in this country. What we have to do therefore is to make the hours of labour in shops universal, so that all traders will have an equal opportunity of securing the trade that is available. In my younger days, I worked in a shop for five years, and the closing hour on Saturday was a quarter past 11. I remember that, when we tried to reduce the hours, we were met with the argument that trade would go elsewhere. That was in Wales, by the way. I have been an official of the Cooperative Employés Trade Union for 23 years, and I have seen this happen, that as the hours of labour in co-operative stores have been reduced, the trade of those very co-operative societies has increased. It is strange; but it is true. I thought the argument of the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench very weak. Be is very much afraid of the Bill, although he has accepted a Committee of Inquiry. We cannot get into the banks before 10 o'clock in the morning, and unless we are there before three o'clock in the after- 2385 noon, we cannot do any business with them, and the hon. Gentleman opposite is a banker himself.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
An hon. Gentleman opposite was in my family's firm when I was a boy, and he will tell the hon. Member that I have had nothing to do with a bank.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Let me come back to my argument. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) has been interested for years in this problem of the hours of labour in shops, and he said two things to which, I think, a reply should be given. One was that there is a splendid relationship between the shop assistant and his employer because the shop assistant knows his employer. That is news to me, in some cases anyway. I should like to know how many of the thousands of employés in, for instance, Harrods know who are their actual employers. I can understand that where a man employs two or three shop assistants there will be an understanding between them; but in the great multiple firms I am sure that there are very few-shop assistants who know who are their employers, the shareholders. The hon. Member made the astonishing statement that every shop assistant is a potential shopkeeper. I have tried to interest myself in this question for many years, and I believe that owing to the growth of cooperative societies and multiple firms the number of men becoming independent shopkeepers to-day is very much less than ever before; and as the years go by the small private shopkeeper is being crushed between the co-operative society on one hand and the multiple firm on the other. I am not sure, therefore, whether the hon. Member for Grimsby will not have to go out of business himself before long.
A very strong argument has been used to-day with regard to the capacity of shopkeepers to pay wages, and I have been at the trouble to find out what profits are being made by leading multiple 2386 firms of the country. It may interest the House to know the profits which are made by these people and of their capacity to pay wages. The Maypole Dairy Company has just issued a statement to the effect that its dividend is to be 17½ per cent.; Peter Robinsons are paying 12 per cent.; Liberty's, 20 per cent.; Dickens and Jones, 12 per cent.—there are many Welsh people apparently amongst them—Jones and Higgins, 17 per cent. The value of Harrods shares in the market to-day stands at 68s. 6d. It cannot be argued, therefore, that these firms, at any rate, cannot afford to pay a better wage even for a shorter working week than at present.
What has astonished me since I have been in public life is the fact that these huge distributing firms are capable of paying enormous dividends while the people who produce the goods they sell are totally incapable of making any profits at all, or of paying adequate wages to their employés. In fact, the nearer you get to production the poorer you become; and the further you get away from the production of the necessaries of life the better off you are. I do not know whether the time will not come some day when Parliament will be compelled to find out why those who produce the absolute necessities of life cannot get a livelihood while those who distribute them are very well off. [Interruption.] I am sure that Toryism cannot attain the object I have in view.
This is one the best Debates on shop hours that I have ever heard in the House of Commons. The opposition has been weaker than ever, and the little opposition we have had has followed the old familiar lines. I notice that one of the bodies opposed to the Bill has its headquarters at Hackney, and all their arguments are hackneyed too. A good deal has been said to-day about international conventions, and that we can only proceed when all the countries of the world are able to limit the hours of labour in shops. Great Britain prior to the War was always in the forefront in connection with social legislation. Even now Great Britain is, so far as I know, the best country in the world in relation to social insurance schemes; but in relation to legislation affecting shop hours I am sorry to say that this country is becoming one of 2387 the most backward in Europe. There is a long list of countries which have established a minimum number of hours for shop workers. In one country, the name of which I forget at the moment, the hours of labour are limited by law to 45 per week, yet we are talking in this country to-day, in the Mother of Parliaments, about the difficulties of a 48-hours week.
I trust that after what I have said the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. It is a very important matter to those who labour in shops. As stated, I have worked in a shop for five years myself, and know something of the conditions. The hon. Member for East Islington (Dr. Ethel Bentham) touched a very important point. If hon. Members will inquire into the ratio of people suffering from consumption in this country they will find that the highest percentage prevails amongst the tin miners of Cornwall and the next highest is in respect of shop assistants. If for that reason alone, I trust that the House will read the Bill a Second time. We accept the promised committee of inquiry reluctantly, but we sincerely hope that ultimately the principles of this Measure will be translated into law.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
This is a Measure dealing with the hours of shop assistants. I resisted the Bill to restrict the opening of shops because I considered it was an intolerable proposition for any Parliament to say how long a man should be allowed to work for himself. That Act ought never to have been permitted to be placed upon the Statute Book, and I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) say that up and down the country that foolish legislation is not being obeyed. Parliament had no right to interfere. It had no more right to interfere and to say how long a man should work for himself than it has to interfere with a man's religion or his politics. It is the man's own business, and Parliament ought not to interfere with individual rights in that respect. I am glad to say that in many districts of Scotland where they have not a shop inspector and the village policeman is the local inspector, he has more sense than Members of Parliament; he just ignores 2388 the provisions. If the shopkeeper has shut his shop, they knock him up and get the goods that are required.
If a Measure to limit the hours of shop assistants had been promoted long ago it would have been an entirely different matter. A shop assistant is not the owner; he can be exploited. A man does not exploit himself. The purpose of the previous restrictions on hours was undoubtedly to promote the interest of the co-operative societies and the multiple shops. The object was to kill the small shopkeeper. This Measure gives him some little chance. The hours of shop assistants are to be limited to eight, and that is quite long enough to stand behind another man's counter. It is a very different thing when you are working for yourself. When I started to work nine to five seemed an intolerably long day—I was working for another man. Sixteen hours a day was nothing when E was working for myself; a totally different proposition. Suppose a shopkeeper opens at nine o'clock and his assistant goes at five. The small man can take an afternoon off and carry on until eight o'clock at night, and it will give him a chance against these large concerns which hon. Members opposite do everything to assist. The body called the Early Closing Movement should be called the association for the purpose of assassinating the small shopkeeper. He will now get the chance of the extra hours. Very few small shops are able to employ two sets of assistants. There may be a few cases in which it would be found profitable to open 16 hours a day and employ two sets of assistants. They could do that but for the Shop Hours Act, which now prevents them.
This Bill is only going to make an eight-hours day for shop assistants. I do not think shopkeepers will lose money over it. When a similar experiment was tried on licensed premises they did not find that there was any serious loss of money. The public came in and took what they wanted, though perhaps at a little accelerated speed. I see that the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrym-geour) nods his head. He has a vast experience in that matter. This is the one honest Bill on this question that has been promoted. Previous Bills were all wrong. If you take one of the large multiple 2389 shopkeepers in London to-day, you will find that his parents kept open day and night; like Ruth, they gleaned when others closed down, and that is why this firm have so many shops to-day. People make progress in this world by working a little harder than their neighbours. That is all right when you are working for yourself, but a totally different thing when you are working for another man. When I first brought in my Bill in 1922 under the Ten Minutes Rule, proposing that shop assistants should have an eight-hour day it met with such a storm of indignation from the Early Closing Movement that I was in some difficulty as to whether I should get my Bill through. The hon. Member for Wales—[Interruption.]—was one of those who opposed it bitterly; and I regret to say that the then Home Secretary carried his point of view against me to the rapturous applause of his and my political opponents. I do not know why he did it, but that was the result. This will give the shop assistant another chance.
It is no use pretending that all shop-keeping cannot be done in eight hours, but I should like to see the hours of opening spread over a longer period because there are many people who cannot shop until the evening. It might be possible for the shop assistant to get off for a good interval in the middle of the day, so that his eight hours may be made to coincide with the shop remaining open until eight p.m. One of the mistakes in hours of work at the present time is that they are too concentrated. If we could have some variation of hours so as not to have the peak traffic in the tubes and omnibuses in one particular hour, and if people could start work at different hours of the day, we should do a great deal to solve both the housing and the traffic problems. I hope that these matters will be taken into consideration if the Bill goes into Committee. I am sorry that the proposers of the Bill have consented to an inquiry. Inquiries are of very little use. The public and the general view of the community are not represented in the evidence given. It is always some association that is adequately represented. I doubt whether an inquiry would bring out any facts that we do not already know.
§ Sir G. RENTOUL
In regard to the offer made by the Under-Secretary to the Home Office, I would ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, but only on the clear understanding that this inquiry will be a really comprehensive one, representative of all interests, both employers and employed. I assume it is understood that if we allow a Second Reading to the Bill without opposition, no further stages of the Bill will be proceeded with until the inquiry has reported. If we can have an assurance on those two points I shall ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Mr. SHORT
Of course, I have already assured the House that the inquiry that my right hon. Friend has in mind is a comprehensive one. While I do not know the personnel, all interests will have an opportunity of laying evidence before it, and so forth. I can satisfy the hon. and learned Member on that point. As to his latter point, the promoters of the Bill having accepted the offer of an inquiry, as I gather from the speeches they have done, I take it that the Bill will practically come to an end. I am expressing only my own personal opinion. I cannot control the promoters of the Bill, but I cannot think that, the inquiry having been accepted, my hon. Friends will go to the needless trouble of fighting the Bill through the Committee stage, especially after the statement that I have made.
§ Mr. R. A. TAYLOR
With regard to the possible form of the inquiry, I understood the Under-Secretary to state that he was authorised to say that the inquiry was to be no device for delay, and that the Government considered that a case existed for legislation on these lines. Am I to understand that the Government have in mind a long drawn-out departmental inquiry or are they prepared to deal with this question along the lines of the Bill?
§ Mr. SHORT
Of course, I have not committed myself to any particular form of inquiry whatsoever, and I hope that my hon. Friend will not press me to say whether it is this, that or the other. My right hon. Friend has undertaken to consult the promoters of the Bill. I have given an undertaking that the interests of the other side will be consulted as to the form and nature of the inquiry, and the words that I used must not be re- 2391 garded as a device for delay. I have been asked to make that statement and I have made it. I cannot think that the Government or my right hon. Friend will seek in any way to evade the obligations that my words impose upon the Government.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Does the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) withdraw the Amendment?
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.