HC Deb 30 June 1932 vol 267 cc2107-21

(1) Subject to the provisions of this Section, a local authority may make by-laws with respect to the employment of persons under the age of eighteen years, but not being children.

(2) By-laws so made may distinguish between persons of different ages and sexes, and different localities, trade, occupations and circumstances, and may contain provisions for prescribing—

  1. (i) the number of hours in each day or in each week for which and the times of day at which they may be employed;
  2. (ii) the intervals to be allowed to them for meals and rest;
  3. (iii) the holidays or half-holidays to be allowed to them;
  4. 2108
  5. (iv) any other conditions to be observed in relation to their employment.

(3) Nothing in this Section shall empower a local authority to make by-laws with respect to—

  1. (a) employment in or about the delivery, collection, or transport of goods except in the capacity of van boy, errand boy or messenger;
  2. (b) employment in or in connection with factories, workshops, mines, quarries, shops, or offices, not being employment in any capacity as aforesaid;
  3. (c) employment in the building or engineering trades, not being employment in any such capacity as aforesaid;
  4. (d) employment in agriculture;
  5. (e) employment in domestic service except as non-resident daily servant;
  6. (f) employment in any ship, as denned in Section four of the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act, 1920;
provided that this Section shall not come into operation until a Resolution has been passed by both Houses of Parliament.


I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords Amendment, in line 33, to leave out from the word "ship" to the end of the paragraph, and to insert instead thereof the words: or boat registered in the United Kingdom as a British ship or in any British fishing boat entered in the Fishing Boat Register. Both in Committee and on Report this subject received a great deal of discussion and consideration. The Government took the attitude that, although at the moment it was impossible to carry out proposals of this kind, yet they were fully in sympathy with them and pro- posed, as soon as the industrial situation improved, to implement their promise and the Committee, and the House subsequently, had sufficient faith in the genuineness of the Government's promise to accept the rejection of a similar Clause although many of those who went into the Lobby in favour of its rejection were in favour of the principle of it and wished to see it carried out at the earliest possible moment consonant with the national welfare. It is no good disguising the fact that I have been put in an extremely difficult position by the action of the Noble Lord who moved this new Clause and by its acceptance in the other House. I regret, of course, that they were not prepared to accept the pledge which was given in this House and which was repeated in the other and have seen fit not only to move this new Clause but to make the position even more difficult by adding the rider to it. This new Clause is wholly bad. It has no redeeming merits whatever. To start with, when we were discussing the matter on Report, in many quarters of the House which were favourable to the proposal itself doubts were expressed as to whether the local authority was the right body to carry out these duties, and from other quarters it was said very strongly that we had already gone too far in the direction of placing obligations of this kind upon local authorities and that the time would come when, if we were going to do things of this kind, the central Government which ordered it must take the responsibility of carrying it out.

I promised at the time that the interval that would have to elapse before the industrial situation improved and the Government was able to implement its pledge would be used by me in examining alternative methods to see if we could not carry out the pledge, when the time came,, in a way that would be acceptable to the whole House. I was in the course of making arrangements for what I believe is the only way to get these proposals on a proper footing, and that is to meet personally the trades chiefly concerned with these various unregulated employments, and I hoped, by means of personal consultation with them, to devise some method which would enable me to present to the House something that was agreed to by the employers, which was not objectionable to Members of the House and which all parties could join in sup- porting. My position has been made infinitely more difficult by the passage of this Clause. I have not doubt Members are already getting communication from various trading organisations which feel that in some way or other faith has been broken with them. They refer to a statement which I made, and to which I adhere, that I want this thing to be done, when it is done, with the consent and not in the teeth of the employers concerned. I shall have some hesitation in approaching them and probably some difficulty in dealing with them when they feel that the case has been judged over their heads and that there is not much good in discussing something that is already on the Statute Book. For that reason I feel that the Clause is actually a hindrance in the way of ever getting the thing that the Clause expresses done.

But there is an even more serious objection. The Clause sets out the machinery for dealing with unregulated employments. It goes on to say that this machinery can be brought into operation by a simple Resolution passed by both Houses of Parliament. The similar Clause was defeated in this House and was never inserted in the Bill. Therefore at no stage has there been any opportunity for Amendment or criticism. It would mean that the whole of this machinery could be brought into operation by a simple Resolution without those in this House who happen to disagree with it ever having had a single opportunity of putting down one Amendment to one of its provisions. Whether hon. Members support these proposals or not, they will all agree that it is not fair to the opponents of a Measure of such importance as this that they should be deprived of legitimate opportunities for Parliamentary discussion. As far as the merits of the Clause are concerned I should be asking the House not to amend it but to reject it, because I feel that it is of no assistance. In fact, to the supporters of the proposal, if anything, it is going rather to hamper them in their work, whereas it may seem to those who are opposed to it that the proposal is in some way a breach of faith and a deprivation of their natural Parliamentary rights.

On the other hand, I have to consider the very difficult position in which it would put many supporters of the Government, who want to see this thing done as soon as they can who have loyally, under great difficulty, accepted the assurance that I gave, if we have a quarrel with the House of Lords over a thing of this kind. The outside public does not follow the little niceties of politics. Even organised bodies, such as Chambers of Trade, which have been circularising Members of Parliament do not realise the significance of the rider that is tied to the end of the Clause. It will be represented in the country as a struggle between the House of Lords, which wants to be progressive and to help these poor people, and the House of Commons, which is so reactionary that it will not assist them. That seems to me a position in which it is very hard to put a great number of supporters of the Government who have been very loyal

It is necessary, before I ask the House to pass the two Amendments which I am going to propose and then to agree with the new Clause, that I should make a perfectly clear statement of the intention of the Government. Of course, the fact that our pledge should be disregarded, that over our heads this Clause has been passed, would, if we were standing upon points of punctilio, have relieved us of the pledge we had given. We should be under no necessity now as a matter of honour to carry out the pledge we gave to the House that we would, as soon as the industrial situation improved, carry out the proposal. After all, when we are dealing with these young persons and with matters of great moment to them, no Government is going to stand on punctilio. It would go on with equal sincerity to try to bring it to the appropriate stage at the appropriate time. I must warn the House that the presence of this Clause upon the Statute Book does not commit us for one moment to the acceptance of this particular machinery to deal with the problem when the time comes. There was a strong feeling in the House against this local by-law method. I am at liberty, even if the Clause is passed, to pursue my inquiries and, if necessary and advisable, to ask the House, when the time comes, to adopt some quite new machinery. In no circumstances, even if this goes on to the Statute Book with a rider attached to it, amended by an Amendment which makes it necessary that the Resolution which brings the Clause into force shall be moved by the Government, for that is, in fact, what it means, should it be open to any back bench Member at any hour of the night and on any day of the Session suddenly to get up and move its amendment.

I would make it clear that even if it goes on to the Statute Book this Government have no intention of moving the method provided by this Clause, which is to say, by passing this Clause into law by a simple Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. We feel that it would be most unfair. It would be depriving those who were in opposition or who had a desire for friendly criticism or amendment of the Clause, of their ordinary Parliamentary rights. So that when the time comes and we are ready to introduce legislation to deal with this problem, even if the legislation we finally decide upon takes the exact form found in this Clause, it is the intention of the Government to introduce that legislation in the ordinary way and allow it to pass through all the ordinary stages of Parliamentary procedure, and give to friends and foes alike the ordinary opportunity for Parliamentary criticism and debate. The position in which we find ourselves is inevitable. On the whole I think that the solution which I am proposing to the House is the best. I believe that it will reassure those who feel that they are being deprived of their rights. It will, at any rate, make some gesture. Though it does not in any way strengthen the declaration we have already made, it will avoid what I think would be very unfortunate, a dispute with the noble Lords on this question, which would only be misunderstood by people outside.


I sympathise very much indeed with the position of the Under-Secretary. Really the situation has been very difficult for him. I will state the attitude of my hon. Friends and myself towards this problem. It has to be remembered that the new Clause deals only with approximately 400,000 young persons, between 14 and 18 years of age, in employment in the unregulated trades. It has nothing to do with young persons employed in factories and workshops. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the new Clause he will see that it proposes to do something on the one hand, and then, on the other hand, it makes sure that it is not done at all. Members who sat on the Committee upstairs will remember what we would have liked to do. We said that the only way to settle the problem was to set up a maximum 48-hours week for those young people. We were defeated by the Government. They would have none of it. I am certain now that it would have been very much better if we had adopted a maximum 48-hours week in respect of those young persons. The weakness of the new Clause is obvious. It says, in effect, that the local authority may make by-laws. Let us ask ourselves how many local authorities would make such by-laws, and, if they did so, how many hours would be set forth as the maximum for those young persons.

Hon. Gentlemen will realise how very weak the Clause really is. It throws upon local authorities a duty which ought to devolve upon Parliament. The hon. Gentleman must have in mind, in this connection, the report of the Select Committee on Shop Assistants, which deals with part of this problem. We shall continually be pressing the Government to do something in the light of that report, and at that stage the whole of the problem dealing with the 400,000 young persons engaged in unregulated trades can be dealt with. Finally, we say of the Clause that, in spite of all its weaknesses and the fact that it may not do very much, it has one thing in its favour. It sets forth in legal enactment the idea that local authorities ought to take the initiative to regulate the employment of those young persons between 14 and 18 years of age. It comes to this, that if the local authorities do not carry out the duties suggested in the new Clause it will be their own fault, and nobody can do otherwise than accept their decision. We support the Clause, not because we think that it will do very much, but as a small beginning in the right direction.

Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

The Minister has made a very long statement on the subject of the Clause, and the hon. Member for West-houghton (Mr. R. Davies) has again dealt with the main subject of the Clause. I think that that is generally for the convenience of the House, but I must safeguard the position of the Chair and point out that if we take a discussion on the Lords Amendment on this Amendment, we cannot have a second discussion on the Question "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."


We certainly seem to have got into an extra-ordinary position with regard to this Clause. Any merits which it had—and it had certain strictly limited merits—have been completely done away with by the reservation which the hon. Member the Under-Secretary has had to make, which in effect washes out the whole Clause. He made it clear, as far as the Government are concerned, that they have no intention of taking the one action which would give it the force of law. I do not complain of what they are doing. In the circumstances it may be the best result. I have always been one of those who, through thick and thin, have stood by the hon. Gentleman and thought that the policy he was pursuing was, on the whole, the best in trying to get the desired results. In these altered circumstances, in the little rebuff which the Government have had in this Clause, whatever form it takes in the Bill, is he prepared, in spite of this, to go on, and are the Government prepared to go on just as firmly in their negotiations with the different parties interested and bring forward the necessary legislation dealing with the matter in a much wider and bolder way Are they prepared to do that as if the little episode had not taken place at all? I want a definite assurance from my hon. Friend, and if he can give it I shall be satisfied.


The Undersecretary has met what I thank is an unparalleled Parliamentary situation with his usual agility and his usual air of sweet reason, but the attitude which the Government propose to adopt places a great many of their most ardent supporters in a position of very considerable difficulty. We had a prolonged Debate on the Report stage of the Clause as it was then proposed, and I pointed out a number of difficulties that must arise. I also said that a great many of us desired that this question of blind alley occupation should be dealt with adequately and in a national way, which was possible, in order to ensure that we should have some uniformity throughout the country. After Chat prolonged Debate and after certain pledges had been given by the Home Secretary, added to by the Under-Secretary, the House thought fit to reject the Amendment. I made an appeal to the Noble Lady who moved the Amendment, pointing out that she was placing those who believed in this proposal, in principle, in a position of great difficulty, because we should have to vote against an Amendment when we were in favour of its principle. We had to survive that difficulty and we did so, and now we have been placed in another.

We are now placed in a situation in which this, apparently, is to happen. We are to be invited to pass legislation which is to take its place on the Statute Book of this Realm and we are to be told at the same time that it means nothing, is never going to be enforced and that nothing is to be done about it. I do not care what Government is in office, I protest against this House being dealt with in such a manner. I believe that if the Government's pledge, which I accepted before and which I am ready and willing to accept now, were given again the fear that the people in the constituencies will not understand what the National Government are doing and will, apparently, be minded to support another place instead of supporting the National Government, would not be worthy of our consideration. To add to the legislation that we are passing something which stultifies that legislation and to have at the same time a pledge from a responsible Member of the Government that no attempt at all will be made to implement that legislation and to make it effective, is merely to place those of us who come here with a desire to grapple with the problems of the country in a position of considerable difficulty and even to place us in a position of complete nonentity. Such a proposal I should think has rarely if ever been submitted to this House. I believe that if the Government made a plain statement on this matter with the same courage that it shows when it refuses to act about some things we desire them to act about, there would be no misunderstanding in the country and no misunderstanding in the constituencies.

9.0 p.m.

When this matter was raised on the Report stage we had another example of Front Bench agility. This time it came from the Home Secretary on the 12th May. In page 265, col. 2150 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, he explained why it was that the Government felt that they could not deal with the matter in this Bill and at this time. He pointed out that the Measure was introduced as a non-controversial Measure. So far as I am concerned this topic is not a matter of controversy. I was interested to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that, apparently, it was a matter that might be a topic of controversy. He went on to say that: The Bill went through Second Reading with universal approval. No opposition was raised on this ground. That is, on the ground that this topic was going to be dealt with. Suppose we now say, Very well, now that we have got through the Second Reading, in Committee or on the Report stage we will put in this controversial matter, would that be dealing fairly with the House or with the interests outside that had objected to this provision? I am not much concerned with interests outside, but I am pointing out what the right hon. Gentleman said as the reason for the attitude which the Government then adopted: I think the provision is a good one, but there are others who object. Suppose some hon. Member, of a suspicious nature, had risen on Second Reading and said, 'There are some hon. Members who desire to have in the Bill a Clause to which we object. The Government have introduced this Measure without that Clause, and have said this is going to be a non-controversial Bill. If I allow the Second Reading to go through without opposition, of course you will not afterwards come forward and say, "We are very sorry, but we find it necessary to introduce this controversial Clause." 'If any such assurance had been asked for, a representative of the Government would have given that assurance. We could not at one and the same time say, 'This is a non-controversial Bill, pass it on that basis, but later on, after it has passed through one or two stages without being obstructed, we may—' An hon. Member asked whether that was a hypothetical question or was that assurance given. The right hon. Gentleman continued: No, there was not an hon. Member who would have thought it possible. The hon. Member then said: "It is hypothetical," and the right hon. Gentleman replied: Quite. No such assurance was given, because no such request was made. The matter was dealt with at very considerable length, and a full explanation was given. A little later in the Debate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary again referred to it. He said: In moving the Second Reading I gave the reasons why we had omitted it, and it was in those circumstances that those who are not particularly interested in the rest of the Bill and who would have been violently opposed to such a provisions as this, took none of the steps which are open to the Opposition to any particular proposal and did not oppose the Second Reading."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1932; cols. 2150–2151, 2195, Vol. 265.] I want to make it plain to the House that I am not one of those who was opposed in principle to this proposal and I cannot help feeling that as we were warned on that occasion by the right hon. Gentleman that some opposition had been lulled to sleep by virtue of the form that the Bill took, we as private Members ought not now, although we may believe in this particular proposal, as a principle, to take any part in committing what I believe would be a breach of faith with those persons whose opposition was lulled to sleep on the basis that this was non-controversial and that this controversial thing to them would not be included. Speaking for myself, I suggest to the Government that to invite us now, in face of what two representatives of the Government said on the Report stage, to go back on all that and accept a Clause which was riddled with criticism at the time, and has been riddled by the most powerful criticism of the Undersecretary of State in the course of the last few moments, to ask us to do this practically without debate and without any real opportunity of welding this legislation into something like a useful shape, is to invite us to stultify ourselves and the whole proceedings of this House.

I regret extremely the attitude which the Government have adopted. They are straining the loyalty of people who have been brought here with a desire to support them to the last degree in everything they do, and I ask them to consider whether it is not possible, instead of passing legislation with a stay of execution upon it in order to prevent the Lords being misunderstood in the constituencies, to take the obvious and proper course, to disagree with the Amendment and consider the introduction of legislation which would be acceptable to all and which would really grapple with a problem which this House ought to have grappled with long ago.


The Under-Secretary of State will no doubt have realised that the speech he made in moving that we disagree with the Lords in this Amend- ment was controversial and has invited a good deal of debate. I only want to add one word because I think the quicker we get on with this matter the better. I join in the protest against the procedure of accepting something put in by the other House on the understanding that it is not to be operative. The attitude of the Government in relation to this Clause has been something of a strain on those who value the constitution. What right have the Government to say to the people outside that they introduced the Bill on certain conditions and that they would not tolerate an amendment of a certain kind. That Amendment happens to have been made, and they now say that this House and the other place are not entitled to make this Amendment because of some understanding with people outside. If that is the attitude of the Government towards the constitution—


There was no understanding; and I made the position quite plain to the House.


The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Groom-Johnson) quoted from the Home Secretary to the effect that there was an understanding—I do not mind whether it was inside the House or outside—that the Bill was to be in such a form that a certain Amendment was not to be allowed. I protest against the theory that this question (has not been adequately discussed. It has been before the House for the greater part of 20 years. It first came up in a Home Office Bill in 1913, and to say that it has not been adequately discussed in that time is an exaggeration of language. Actually, this particular Clause was discussed in Committee at undue length, for which I was partly responsible, and those who attended the Debate in the Lords heard one of the most interesting discussions on the Bill. It was the deliberate decision of the House of Lords. In those circumstances to accept it and say that we accept it only on the condition that it shall in no circumstances be put into operation seems to me to be a violation of the working of the two Houses. Having said that let me close on a less controversial note. Surely the whole House is agreed on one great simple fact—namely, that here is an old and crying evil, substantial in amount, with which we all want to deal. We all want the same thing; we want the best possible method of dealing with it. Let us accept the proposal and the Government's continued pledge that they will do their best to find the best possible way of dealing with it, and all unite in a common endeavour to get rid of this old and intolerable evil.


I join in the protest against the Government's proposal to agree with the Lords Amendment, subject to it being altered in the way the Government desire. I supported the Clause brought up on Report stage because I thought something should be done and because it called for immediate action. When this Bill gets to another place the Clause is altered, and the words are added— provided that this Section shall not come into operation until a Resolution has been passed by both Houses of Parliament. That means that this new Clause is purely an academic resolution, and nothing more. It is a complete farce with these words at the end. The Government's suggested Amendment is merely another method of continuing in the same path. I would rather they took the only proper course, and that is to disagree with a Clause which is a farce.


I desire to associate myself with what has been said by the hon. and learned Member for Bridgewater (Mr. Croom-Johnson). I yield to none in my desire to protect young people in their employment. The possibility of the over-employment of young persons has aroused the interest of a good many people for many years, and those of us who desire to safeguard the conditions under which these young people are employed feel that it is the duty of this House to grapple with the realities of the case and not put forward anything which leaves the situation just as it is. The Government ought not to put on the Statute Book something which seems only a sham. As supporters of the National Government in all its undertakings, we feel that if there is to be legislation to remedy what is said to be an existing abuse of the employment of young persons, then the remedy should come by legislation of this House. Speaking for myself, I feel strongly that to put on the Statute Book a Clause of this nature, with a rider at the end, which makes it completely inoperative, is to put an end to all attempts to deal with the problem. There is no intention, according to the Under-Secretary of State, to put into operation the machinery of this Clause which is designed for the protection of persons against over-employment. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir. W. Greaves-Lord) that if there is something that wants to be remedied let us pass legislation and remedy it.

I think I am right in saying that this Clause was discussed in this House for some six hours. Every possible angle was reviewed, and after a very long and careful investigation it was rejected. I do not like to think that this bad Clause should now be accepted by this House merely to prevent some misapprehension by the country as to our position with another place. Our duty is to deal with the position as it is, to pass a Measure Clause by Clause which will be effective, and above all, while we desire to safe-guard the interests of the young person in employment, not to put any harassing restraint on trade which would bring about the very evil which we are trying to prevent, namely, the depression of industries throughout the country. One can conceive a local authority, if it had the power to pass these regulations, making a set of laws directly at variance with those of a neighbouring authority, and the young person would be at a complete loss to know how he stood. Particularly as it is intended only as a sham, and in no way to deal with the position, I hope the hon. Member representing the Home Office will not try to get behind the decision of this House, when it was proposed some time ago by a private Member and refused by the House. I hope this Clause will be either withdrawn or rejected in the interests of the work of the National Government and of this particular object.

Amendment to Lords Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made to Lords Amendment: In line 36, leave out from the beginning, to the end of the Amendment, and insert the words: (4) An order of the Secretary of State appointing a date for this section to come into operation shall be laid in draft before both Houses of Parliament, and the Secretary of State shall not make the order until the draft has been approved by resolutions passed in the same session of Parliament by both houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Stanley.]

Subsequent Lords Amendments to page 61, line 30, agreed to.

The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Mr. Baldwin)

I beg to move, "That further Consideration of the Lords Amendments be now adjourned."

My purpose in doing so is to enable the Government, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to make a statement of much importance.

Lords Amendments to be further considered upon Monday next.