HC Deb 08 May 1930 vol 238 cc1323-8

Ordered, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report upon proposals for limiting the hours of work of shop assistants and improving the conditions of their employment, and for that purpose to inquire—

  1. "(1) What are the hours at present usually worked in the various distributive trades, both retail and wholesale;
  2. "(2) What would be the probable economic effects of a statutory 48-hours week (with a limited amount of overtime) upon the distributive trades as regards organisation of work, wages, employment, and prices; by what methods it could be applied to various kinds of trade; and what arrangements would be feasible for enforcing it;
  3. "(3) Whether conditions of employment exist in any classes or descriptions of shops in respect of matters affecting the health and welfare of the assistants which make it desirable that powers of regulation and supervision should be given by statute:"

Ordered, That the Committee do consist of Eleven Members. Major Braithwaite, Mi. Charles Buxton, Mr. Rhys Davies, Lieutenant-Colonel Gault, Mr. William Hirst, Sir Alfred Law, Mr. Philip Oliver, Sir Gervais Rentoul, Mr. James Stewart, Mr. Arthur Taylor, and Mr. Womersley, nominated Members of the Committee.

Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records."—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Three be the quorum."—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]


I beg to move, to leave out the word "Three," and to insert instead thereof the word "Five."

May I ask for some explanation as to why we should have three for a quorum? It really does not seem adequate that with a Committee of 11 members the quorum should be only three. It seems a most disgraceful state of affairs. Would it not be possible to have some other figure such as five or seven which would be much nearer to what could fairly be considered a quorum for so large a Committee? I think I am entitled to raise this very important matter now, and to ask whether the Patronage Secretary could not accept my Amendment. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that?


I beg to second the Amendment.


The number of three constituting a quorum is, I think, customary and I really do not see any reason for varying the number in this case. In the circumstances, I hope that the Amendment will not be pressed.


I honestly think that though it may not be customary, there is no reason why we should not improve on the custom. Some of my hon. Friends feel very much on this matter.


As one of the members nominated to act, I should like to press the point that five would be better than three. If hon. Members will look at the terms of reference upon which this Committee has to act, they will find that they go far beyond the scope of the Bill originally introduced. I am referring to paragraph 3, which is a very important matter. It is going to affect a large number of people in this country if the Government decide to carry their recommendations into legislative effect, and I think that really on this matter there ought to be five members.


The report may have a very vital bearing on a large number of people, and I hope that the Amendment will be pressed.


I hope that the House will not accept this Amendment. A very considerable part of the time of the Committee will be taken up with detailed evidence from a number of traders' organisations. If the House will insist on a quorum as large as five, all that the opponents who do not desire the Committee to continue its work have to do is for five to stay away and it will be impossible for the Committee to carry on its work. Therefore, I suggest, in view of the nature of the work, that it is much better to allow the inquiry to cover a comprehensive field by being able to rely on three members being present.


I think that the hon. Member was slightly wrong in his arithmetic. Five from 11, quite obviously, leaves six. I am sorry to burden the House at this late hour with that small detail, but it seems to me very important that when you get a Committee deciding on the important subject that this Committee has to decide, there should be a thoroughly representative report produced by the Committee. If one considers the names of the persons appointed to the Committee it seems likely that you are going to get at any rate five good-hearted men who will be able to be present to carry on the important work entrusted to the Committee. I am certain that if we look through the names we may be quite certain that whenever they can get there, the members of the Committee will be there. It is important to have in this case a larger quorum than three. There are some occasions when hon. Members who have other things to do than their work in this House find it impossible to attend these Committees, but it is important to us as a House to know that there has been a sufficient number of Members at the meetings of the Committee to give real authority to the opinion that may be given to us from that Committee. I hope that the Patronage Secretary will see fit to accept the Amendment, but if not, I hope that the Members who propose it will see fit to take the matter to a division.


There is a very important point that should be brought out in deciding whether or not a quorum should be three or five. If the quorum is five and there is not that number of persons present, the Committee would automatically require to suspend its work. If that work were the taking of evidence, it does not seem necessary to have a large number of Members present. When the report has to be submitted to the House, it will be done by all the Members, but the evidence that has been taken will be available for their consideration whether they were present when the evidence was taken or not.

Amendment negatived.

Ordered, That Three be the quorum.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

It being after half-past Eleven of the clock upon Thursday evening, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Two Minutes after Two o'Clock a.m.