§ Orders for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Perhaps it will be convenient for the House if I recall, briefly, the history of the movement which culminates, as I believe, in the introduction of this Bill this morning. It is 60 years ago exactly, namely, in 1873, that the first Bill relating to hours and conditions of shop assistants was introduced into this House, and those who are interested in social legislation will recall that that Bill was associated with a gentleman who was very distinguished in our public life, namely, Sir John Lubbock, afterwards Lord Avebury, who was himself associated in that movement with equally distinguished men, Mr. John Morley, and Mr. A. J. Mundella. That Bill applied only to women, young persons, and children employed in shops. It proposed to apply to them the provisions of the Workshops Act relating to hours and conditions of employment and, secondly, that these persons should not work on Christmas Day or Good Friday, and that they should be allowed holidays for four whole days or eight half-days in the year. That was exactly 60 years ago.
Another attempt was made by Sir John Lubbock in 1884-5, and on that occasion he was assisted by another distinguished Parliamentarian, Lord Randolph Churchill, and by others. That particular proposal was to apply the provisions of the Factory Acts to shops. In 1886 the Shops Regulation Act was carried, and this is rather important, because that Act limited the hours of young persons employed in shops to 74, inclusive of mealtimes. It is important to dwell for a, moment upon that, because it has a great bearing upon our subject to-day, and may I recall to the House, therefore, that on page 5 of the Report of the Select Committee which reported in 1931 on this matter there appears this paragraph upon the point:This is still the only statutory limitation of the working hours of any class of shop assistant, as distinct from the hours 2274 of opening of the shops, if we except provisions as to half-holidays and meal-times, and the special limitation of hours in licensed premises and the Shops Act, 1913.That is to say, there has been no sort of legislation carried in this House dealing with the limitation of the hours of shop assistants since the Act which limited the employment of young persons to 74 hours per week, inclusive of mealtimes. I need not emphasise to the House that a provision of that sort must clearly merit our condemnation, and it is partly on that account that I have the temerity, if indeed it be temerity, to introduce this Bill to-day.
To continue my brief historical sketch, no fewer than 22 private Bills were introduced to deal with shop assistants' hours in the last decade of the last century, not one of which went a single step further. Our next important date is the year 1911, when the Shop Hours Act was passed, but that Act was not substantially different in terms from the previous legislation. That Measure proposed a, statutory half-holiday for shop assistants and also the limitation of hours, but owing to the exigencies of Parliamentary time and conditions, the limitation of hours section of the Bill was abandoned, and the only part of any import carried was the compulsory half-holiday. There is no other legislation to which I need refer except to a short Bill dealing with the limitation of the hours of assistants employed in places of refreshment, whether licensed premises or not, and their hours were limited in 1913 to 65 hours per week, exclusive of meal-times.
We now come to the post-War times. Since the War, as the House knows, repeated attempts have been made to deal with this matter by almost innumerable Members of Parliament, but not one of those efforts has been brought to fruition, until my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, I think it was, introduced a Bill in the year 1930. On the 31st March, 1930, the House, without a Division, gave a Second Reading to a Bill which proposed to limit shop assistants' hours to not more than 48, that is to say, the same as are proposed in this Bill to-day, with certain exceptions, and the Government of the day decided to refer the issue raised by the Bill to a Select Committee of the House. That Select Committee was set up on the 19th November, 1930, 2275 and consisted of 11 Members of the House, five Members of the Committee being members of the Conservative party, five of them members of the Labour party, and the remaining Member being a representative of the Liberal party. That is to say, the Select Committee was set up in such a way as to be thoroughly representative, not only of the respective strength of the parties of those days, but also of the diversities of opinion which were presented in the House during the last Parliament. The terms of reference to the Select Committee are well known to everybody, but perhaps I may recall what they were to the House. They were to inquire:
The Select Committee went very carefully into the questions raised by their terms of reference and presented their final recommendations to Parliament on the 18th September, 1931. It is important to add that they examined no fewer than 89 witnesses in person and heard and considered the point of view of every trade as expressed by the representatives of the employers' organisations and trade unions concerned. Further, individual shop assistants were examined, as well as persons having special knowledge of administration and juvenile welfare. The inquiries of the Select Committee were supplemented by a joint investigation by the Home Office and Ministry of Labour during the summer of 1930 and the report of the Departmental investigation was printed as an appendix to the Select Committee's Report. With the information before them, the Committee were able to reach certain unanimous recommendations, many of which are embodied in the terms of this Bill, but before I pass to a brief explanation of the Bill, I would like to remind the House of the facts that were brought to light by the inquiry.
- "(1) What are the hours at present usually worked in the various distributive trades, both retail and wholesale;
- (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) 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."
2276 If I dwell for a moment on this point I hope that the House will extend to me their indulgence, because it is important that we should have clearly in our minds what precisely is the problem with which we are called upon to deal. There is a good deal of innocent misrepresentation of the position, arising, I have no doubt, from genuine misunderstanding, and I should like to put to the House some of the facts that I have culled, not from my experience, but from the results of the inquiry of the Select Committee. What are the conditions which apply in some trades? Let me read some of the hours of work which I take at random from the report of the Committee. Bakers and pastrycook assistants work from 40½ hours to 75 hours per week; boot and shoe shop assistants 44½ to 56½; butchers 41 to 66½; confectioners and sweetshop assistants 42 to 80; dairy assistants 45 to 70. 1 could go through a whole gamut of trades and produce instances not dissimilar to these. I ought in fairness to add that in the wholesale trades the Committee found that the hours were, generally speaking, much shorter than in the retail trades and that apart from busy seasonal periods the hours of work varied from 39 to 52 hours per week.
I shall surely carry the House with me when I say that these figures disclose human tragedies. These shop assistants are very often people of tender years, and they have to work from 40 to 60 and 70 and even 80 hours a week. Many of them are children, and surely I do not require to argue that youngsters of that age cannot but have their health undermined by these grotesque conditions. If I may use an aphorism it is well within our knowledge and experience —it is cheaper in the long run to preserve health than to cure disease. The conditions of these young people working these long, almost interminable hours must surely make a call upon the sympathy of all Members of the House who have the well-being of those who serve them near their hearts. Apart from the undermining of the health and the deprivation of facilities for physical recreation, the deprivation of cultural facilities is also involved. I do not speak here with firsthand knowledge but from evidence given to me by a friend, who would not have given it except on the closest inquiry. He tells me that in Glasgow the local education authority recently 2277 abandoned technical classes for the grocery trade, because the numbers had been reduced to seven. That is obvious evidence that there is a failure on the part of the young people for whom these classes were designed to attend for one reason or another, and one reason must be the long hours which preclude their availing themselves of these educational facilities. I am told that for the present winter session the London County Council recorded a drop of 11,000 in the number of students enrolled for evening classes. I do not argue that that drop is entirely due to long hours. It is probably due in part to increased fees, but possibly one of the reasons is the long hours worked by the young people.
I want to turn to a subject on which I am sure all Members will be at one with me—the subject of juvenile employés. I have referred to the large number of juveniles employed in shops, and I would commend to the consideration of the House the evidence as to the unsatisfactory state of the law submitted to the Select Committee by the spokesman of the Asociation of Juvenile Employment and Welfare Officers who spoke with authority on this matter. He said:We have all been conscious, as we are now, of a feeling of helplessness when we have come across instances in which employers, without being guilty of the infringement of any Act of Parliament, have allowed young people in their employ to work from an early hour in the morning until a late hour at night week in and week out, without regular or sufficient time for meals, and under conditions of strain and stress that the average working man of today would not tolerate for one moment for himself. It is not generally realised that there are many boys, not long out of school, whose working week is nearly twice as long in actual hours as, for example, the normal week of the joiner and his fellow workers in the building industry. Some employers agree that the customary hours of van delivery boys and errand boys are too long, yet none feels accountable. ' They did not create the abuse, they cannot alter it,' seems to be their view.I hope that the House will forgive me if I recall to its attention pages 40 and 41 of the Select Committee's Report and to give three instances recorded by the Committee from evidence adduced before them.A girl of 14 years of age, employed in Blackpool as a waitress and kitchen-maid at 15s. a week. Her hours were from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. with one hour for dinner, a half-hour for tea, and a half-day on Wed- 2278 nesday. She was not employed on Sunday. The total number of hours she worked weekly was thus 69, inclusive of meal time.Nine boys employed in a butcher's shop in Ashington, where the hours of work were 74, including meal hours, and where the proprietor stated that clearing and cleaning generally kept the stall employed half-an-hour after closing times on ordinary days and longer on certain days.A van-boy of 14 years of age, employed by a wholesale hardware merchant. His hours were 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on five days, and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on one day. His parents took him away as a result of a trip to Yorkshire, when he was on the van—I invite the House particularly to this—from 8 a.m. on one day to 11 a.m. on the next. The boy slept on the van, and the driver purchased meals.Surely instances like these cry aloud to us to do something to mitigate the injustices and the hardships which these young children have to undergo.
The second principle which the Select Committee was called upon to discuss was the probable economic effect of a statutory 48-hour week on the organisation of work, wages, employment, and prices and the method of limitation of hours by the enforcement of the law. I need not cover this whole field except to say that any Member can find on the briefest reference to the Committee's findings that their conclusion is that wages and employment would not be materially affected by the compulsory limitation of hours. The total amount of distributive trade to be done would remain approximately the same; whilst an increase of staff would probably take place in shops which are now understaffed and where long hours and systematic overtime obtain, there is no ground for believing that the volume of employment would be substantially diminished or that wages would be decreased. I do not wish to trouble the House with extracts from communications I have had from individual correspondents both in London and in the country detailing to me the conditions under which they are called upon to work in shops associated with various trades. Perhaps the House will take it from me that these letters disclose a situation of which none of us, I think, could feel in any way proud.
Let us recall once again that no legislation has been passed by this House for 60 years dealing with the limitation of 2279 the hours of shop assistants. The Shop Hours Act dealt with the closing of shops, but after the blinds come down in the shop the work goes on, and often the spirit of the law is defeated though the letter is observed. There is one other observation to make before I explain the details of the Bill. I want hon. Members to appreciate the area of employment with which we are called upon to deal. There are more women and juveniles employed in connection with distribution than in any other single occupation. One out of every three boys and two out of every five girls who entered insured employment go into the distributive trades, and in July, 1932 no fewer than 143,000 boys and 111,000 girls between 16 and 18 years of age were employed in distribution. The total number of insured workers in the distributive trades in July, 1932 was 1,950,000, of whom 748,000 were women. In the last 11 years the number of persons employed in distribution has been doubled, the number of insured workers in 1921 being only 967,000 compared with 1,950,000 to-day.
Incidentally, I may perhaps be permitted to observe that this is an interesting commentary on an economic system which has resulted in the uneconomic diversion of the labour of an additional 1,000,000 workers to the task of trying to get rid of the goods which people would readily purchase if they had the necessary spending power. Owing to the fact that comparatively few women and children are organised, they are at present, with the two exceptions I have mentioned, entirely unprotected in the matter of working hours. In this respect they are in a much worse position than women and young persons employed in those industries covered by trade boards, where a limitation of working hours is laid down. It surely cannot be the desire of this House that shop assistants, who minister so devotedly to the needs of everyone, should be under adverse conditions by comparison with other workers.
Having devoted some time to these observations on the general principles of my Bill, I will now as quickly 'as possible summarise the Clauses. Clause 1 lays down the general principle of a 48-hour working week. It provides, in accordance with the unanimous recommendation 2280 of the Select Committee—I hope the House will note that point—that no young person may work more than 48 hours at any time, but shop assistants over the age of 18 may work for more than 48 hours a week if a local board, composed of employers and employed, as provided for in Clause 2, has agreed to overtime employment and a local order is in force. Overtime employment must be paid for at overtime rates as specified in Clause 7.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Douglas Hacking)
The hon. Member has not made the position quite clear. He started by saying that this was a unanimous report of the Select Committee. The whole of it was not unanimous, part of it is only the majority report.
§ Mr. JONES
Yes, that is quite right. The idea of having overtime pay is to discourage as far as possible the habit of keeping 'assistants employed for an undue length of time in shops, and in that way, by the use of the service of assistants free of charge, providing the employer with an unfair advantage as compared with other employers who get no such assistance. Clause 2 establishes the local boards, which were unanimously recommended by the Select Committee in paragraph 292 of the Report. This form of machinery was recommended in order that progress can be made by agreement and to remedy defects due to lack of organisation. These local boards are to be the machinery through which the varying conditions in different areas and trades are to be met and seasonal overtime provided for. It is assumed that if local or trade exigencies are such that longer hours than 48 are reasonable and necessary the local boards, representative as they are of both sides, will' act accordingly. There are Sub-sections to this Clause defining the constitution and the duties of the board.
Clause 3 enables local authorities to combine for administrative purposes in carrying out their duties under the Shop Act. The point of that is that you often have contiguous areas where one condition of affairs is in being under one Order and a different condition of affairs in operation under another Order, and so we give power for such adjacent local authorities to arrive at a mutual decision to apply the same rules throughout both 2281 areas. The Clause provides that the Secretary of State may revoke or amend local Orders on the application of a local authority. If experience showed that the working of a local Order had been unsatisfactory it would be amended in that way. Clause 5—Sub-sections (1) and 2—is in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee on page 74 of their report, and requires the Secretary of State to set up a National Shops Board within one year of the passing of the Act, consisting of an equal number of shop assistants and employers with a neutral chairman appointed by the Secretary of State. The subsequent Subsections deal with the powers and duties of the National Board.
Clause 6 gives the Secretary of State power to fix the hours of overtime employment which are to be permitted in local areas where there is substantial disagreement on the local board. The Secretary of State will, however, only act after the matter has been discussed by the National Board, the local authority and the local board concerned. It is necessary, before the Secretary of State can make an order under this Clause, for the National Board to have submitted a recommendation as to the terms of any proposed order to be made under this Clause. Clause 7 deals with the provision for the payment of wages at the higher rate for overtime. Clause 8 is in accordance with the unanimous Recommendation, again, of the Select Committee, and is one of the most important Clauses of the Bill. It is necessary for facilitating the application of a 48-hour week in certain trades.
The primary reason for the proposed change is the necessity of safeguarding existing voluntary closing arrangements for shops closing at six or six-thirty. At present no compulsory closing order can be made for an earlier hour than seven o'clock, and consequently no legal compulsion can now be used to enforce a voluntary closing arrangement. One or two obstreperous traders can and do break down a general agreement by keeping open longer than their competitors. To operate a compulsory 48-hour week, it would be an advantage if earlier closing could be compulsorily enforced, and Clause 8 is intended to meet that situation. Clause 9 sets up the penalties for infringement in various directions. Clause 10 does what 2282 I think is long overdue; it provides a definition of the term "shop-assistant" and a definition of the term "shop."
§ Mr. JONES
Well, it requires alteration in many respects. Nothing is so good that it is not capable of a little improvement. Clause 11 attempts to give effect, within the limits of a private Member's Bill, to the following recommendation of the Select Committee on page 59 of their Report, paragraph 240:Your Committee have been impressed with the fact that there is no statutory power lying in any Government Department to supervise the administration by local authorities of the Shops Acts, and are strongly of the opinion that the Secretary of State for Home Affairs and the Secretary of State for Scotland should be specifically entrusted, by statute, with the general supervision of all the provisions of shops legislation.Clause 11 is devised to deal with that situation. Clauses 12 and 13 are just the ordinary Clauses of the kind that are to be found at the end of any Bill.
I am afraid that I have explained the Bill rather hurriedly, and perhaps I have made too severe a demand upon the patience of the House in dealing with its proposals. I have tried to present the general ground upon which the Bill is brought forward by my hon. Friend and myself. The Bill will undoubtedly be capable of a good deal of improvement, but we have tried to embody in its Clauses what we felt ought to be attained. We do not claim that every Clause shall remain inviolate, and we do not regard every comma and every sentence as sacrosanct. We merely invite the operation of the common will and purpose of this House in removing a wrong done to men, women and children who serve us in our daily needs with fortitude and devotion. We invite the House therefore to carry a step further this movement, which, as is well known to those who have studied this kind of legislation and its history, has had associated with it distinguished Members of all parties. I might refer to Sir John Lubbock, Mr. John Morley and Lord Randolph Churchill. Then there were the members of the Liberal Government from 1908 to 1913 and 1914 who introduced a Bill later known as the Shops Act. Many of my hon. Friends have made attempts since 1918. Thus individual Members of all parties have been asso- 2283 ciated in one way or another with attempts, to remedy the state of the law in regard to the employment of shop assistants.
I shall be more than pleased if this Bill is accorded a Second Reading to-day. Its fundamental principle is one about which I do not feel disposed to make a concession, namely, the question of a 48-hour week. Every hour we win for these people is in fact an hour redeemed for freedom. It is an hour dedicated to the rejuvenation of their bodies. It is an hour that can be consecrated to the replenishment of their minds. It is an hour, in my judgment, which, properly used, could be directed to such a degree as to lead to the fortifying of the fabric of society to which we all belong. It is in the confident belief that this Bill is a small contribution in that direction that I invite the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ 11.42 a.m.
§ Mr. MITCHESON
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, whilst recognising the undesirability of shop assistants working excessive hours, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which would not only involve local authorities in increased expenditure in securing its enforcement, but would also add to the existing burdens on industry by hampering business and increasing the cost of distribution, and would be hound to lead either to an increase in retail prices or to a reduction in the wages of shop assistants.I wish to pay a tribute to the obvious sincerity of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) in his able introduction of the Bill. I am sure that the utmost sympathy and consideration would be given by every hon. Member to the question of juvenile employés, but they are not the subject of this Bill. They are the object of negotiations which are now continuing with the Home Secretary, and which will no doubt be the subject of a further discussion. I am opposing this Bill in no spirit of party, or of antagonism to those who are supporting it. I am just as keen and as sincere in my desire to help those for whose benefit this Bill is intended, as are the hon. Gentleman and his supporters. It is only because, from actual and practical experience, I know that this Bill would defeat its own 2284 ends, and would jeopardise, instead of helping, the interests of the shop assistants of the country, that I offer my most strenuous opposition to its Second Reading. I would say here, whilst fully recognising the desires of those who are supporting the Bill, that there is no mandate from the vast majority of the shop assistants of the country for this interference with their occupational conditions. I estimate —and my hon. Friend's figures agree with mine—that there are no fewer than 2,000,000 people engaged in retail distribution in this country. On the average these are of a high standard of education and business ability; they are a body well able to look after their own interests and to overcome any serious or widespread grievance. Yet I am not able to trace more than, at the outside, 200,000 of those 2,000,000 as members of any union or any protective society. It does indeed occur to me that we have in this House quite sufficient on our hands if we will concentrate on the real and crying needs of the community, without taking up our time in seeking to interfere in a direction from which there has been no real call.
As to the effect of this Bill, were it to become law, I will, for the purpose of my argument, divide shopkeepers into two classes. In the first place, I will deal with the large stores and multiple shops such as Harrod's, Barker's, Selfridge's, Woolworth's, and so on; and, secondly, I will deal with the small individual shopkeepers, who represent, of course, an enormous majority of the trade. As to the big stores—and be it remembered that each of these big stores was originally founded by a shop assistant—what can be the effect on them of this Bill? These firms are invariably controlled by boards of directors, who are themselves the servants of their shareholders on the one hand and of their customers, to whom they must render service, on the other. They are bound by their duty to their shareholders and their customers respectively. The directors and their counter sales assistants are separated by managers, departmental managers, buyers, floor managers, and so on. Therefore, while I contend that the standard of employment conditions today is a very high one, and fulfils most of the requirements of this Bill, only 2285 hard, practical facts, without personal considerations, can enter into the discussions of a board of directors. They must look at this Bill purely and simply from the point of view of cost.
Apart from the estimate of the cost of overtime as provided by the Bill, there must be a number of inspectors, variously estimated at from 10,000 to as many as 30,000. They must be appointed, together with local busybody boards, because the busy trader and the ambitious shop assistant will not have the time to devote to these local boards. Then there is to be a National Advisory Board, and I suppose that, if some hon. Members had their wish, there would be an International Appeal Board beyond that. All of these will involve offices, printing, stationery and travelling expenses, which must be a very considerable and substantial item.
The percentage of nett profit on turnover in a business of this kind is, and always must be, an exceedingly narrow one, and every additional expenditure has to be found from somewhere. The directors, therefore, will have to estimate the cost to them of this interference, with the additional clerical staff required, the payment for every minute of overtime, additional taxation, local rates, and so on, and in that estimate they must, naturally, safeguard themselves in every way. The question must then arise, where will the money come from? They cannot buy their goods more cheaply, or they would have done so. They cannot get more from their customers, or they would have done so. They cannot get relief from their rent, rates and taxes. The only possible source of replenishment, therefore, is either by a reduction of staff —thereby increasing the work, the responsibility and the pressure on those remaining, as well as adding to our unemployment figures at an increased cost to the nation—or by a reduction of the salaries and commissions of all those shop assistants whom my hon. Friend is out to help. Is this the way in which hon. Members would endeavour to serve the interests of those whose cause they are claiming to plead? It is no good suggesting that the directors have any other way out; they have not. They themselves are only servants, and have their duties to perform. It is no good saying that they could not either reduce the remuneration 2286 or reduce the number of their staffs; they could. There are, unfortunately, to-clay plenty of good, sound, capable people who would be only too glad to fill any vacancy.
Now as to the small shopkeeper—the chemist, the grocer, the butcher, the greengrocer, etc.—with whom the position is very much more grave than it is even with the large stores. In his case there is a much greater intimacy, a much closer friendship, between the employer and the employé than is possible in the larger stores, for they are almost invariably working side by side. In many cases they are actually relatives—sons, daughters, brothers, nephews and so on. In the case of the small businesses there is a much narrower distinction between employer and employed. It is "The Boss," and "Jack," and "Bill," and "Mary." They are more closely and generally engaged in all the intimacies and details of their business. Each takes the responsibility of his master, pulling his weight generally in whatever work there is to do. He must be thoroughly trustworthy, and can only do his work under conditions of harmony and contentment, because there is little, and that irregular, supervision. The weighing of goods, the measurement of materials, punctuality and courtesy in the service of customers, direct dealing with the cash—this work could not be done by discontented servants; and one of the first objects of a successful business man is to be assured of a willing and harmonious staff, such as can only be obtained by the employer seeing to it that every consideration and good treatment is given.
How can this Bill possibly help here? Think of the irritation to the employer in keeping extra books and details, to be done often by himself, or perhaps by one clerk, almost in the form of police records of his employés. Think of the notices "conspicuously displayed". The Bill says "conspicuously displayed", and it wants them "conspicuously displayed", for employer, employed and customers alike to see and to be unable to avoid seeing them. Every minute he is on the premises, morning, noon and night, the notice is to be "conspicuously displayed". Jack and Bill and all that that conveys must disappear. It will be Mr. John Brown and Mr. William Jones, telling everyone that in this penitentiary he shall only work so many hours and his services shall 2287 be measured, not by the success of his work, not by his degree of intelligence, not by his good will and everything that pertains to good service to employer and employed alike, but by the number of hours that he has stood in the shop looking at the notice in a conspicuous position, quite irrespective of what he has done in the time other than watch the notice. Never mind annoying a customer by refusing to give a few extra minutes. That now becomes the governor's responsibility. No thought of the fact that, if the governor loses his customers, he will not be able to employ the staff, nor even to pay the rent of his premises. No thought that it is only the most obliging firm that will succeed in business. No thought of promotion, financial and otherwise, as the business progresses. No thought of the service that the wise employer would like to give. No thought of anything that in many ways can be and is rewarded by the employer, but only a notice in a conspicuous position.
The law is to come between them. Henceforth, if this Bill passes, friendly and mutual progress and helpfulness must be replaced by a continuous concentration on legal rights, legal obligations, fines and penalties. Imagine a grocer's shop on a busy Friday morning when Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Robinson are coming for their groceries, and the assistants are busy and the governor is busy. Suddenly "Halt. Stand aside." The shops inspector approaches. "Cease delivering the goods. Stand to attention." Where is the notice in a conspicuous position? The inspector has to go up to that conspicuous position. The conspicuous inspector has to see that the instructions are there, and that the marriage certificates and all the other details of each assistant are there. I will tell you another thing he has to do. He has to catch that assistant. The assistant does not want his freedom. He wants progress and promotion. The inspector is not going to be a friend to that shop assistant. He is going to be an enemy and a spy. Be it remembered that from 48 to 50 hours a week—the hon. Member gave the minimum and the maximum possible—is a common practice throughout the land, so that even in this direction the Bill would serve no real 2288 purpose against the enormous harm that it must do to all parties.
May I give an instance of my own actual case. I have not exactly a shop, but I have a business and an office with a staff of employés with whom, in order to achieve success, intimate relationship must exist, for neither office staff nor shop assistants are mere machines that can be turned on or off at will either with an inspector or a conspicuous notice. Our employment is based on mutual respect and regard the one for the other. We have arrangements whereby one-half of the staff is free every Saturday, the other half gladly taking on the additional work that is entailed. Provided that work is not seriously interfered with, an hour away a day is merely a matter of the asking. This privilege has never been refused, and it has never been abused. Tea is provided in the afternoon, not as part of our agreement but as a gesture of good will, which is appreciated. On the other hand, if there is work to do—I should not ask, quite possibly I would not even know it, but the staff would be there doing it. irrespective of hours and without instructions, just because we are all part and parcel of a happy, harmonious and normally successful organisation. Any staff suggestion is given every consideration. In good years bonuses are given to every employé. We have had bad periods and, in fact, owing to unfortunate happenings at about the time of the last Socialist Government my business was practically closed down, from the middle of 1930 to the middle of 1932. I knew it had to be. I could have dismissed the whole of my staff, but I did not. They have been with me all the time. I found the monies for rent, rates, taxes, and salaries for a period of two years with no hope of a return until conditions improved. I still have my staff, their loyalty, their enthusiasm, their interest and their intelligent application. Their training and knowledge of my business has made them valuable. Other people might possibly think it was worth trying to entice them away, but I will bank on the loyalty of every one of them. They know that they will join with me in any further success that I may have.
The importance of this is not the history of my affairs, but the fact that my busi- 2289 ness is only one single instance of similar conditions in many thousands of businesses in the distributing and similar trades throughout the country. Help everybody in every way you can provided that by trying to help him you are not causing greater harm in other directions. We have approximately 3,000,000 unemployed in this country. I would do everything, and I am doing everything in my power, as I know every hon. Member in this House is doing, in seeking a means of reducing that number, and, in the meantime, in alleviating their distress.
Let me, however, remind the House of one point which is forgotten, or very much overlooked, that for the 3,000,000 unemployed workmen we have 300,000 practically unemployed, broken-spirited and broken-hearted employers, the majority of whom have lifted themselves from the position of workman to employer, who have their money sunk in factories and business premises, and who are at their wits end to find customers for the goods which they manufacture or sell. Every ounce of their energy and ability is concentrated on trying to find a way out, which, if successful, must, logically, increase employment. The more goods the distributor can distribute the more people will be. engaged both in manufacture and in distribution. This unemployed employer is without even the pittance offered to the unemployed workman. He is offered no sympathy, no help and no encouragement, and almost every phase of legislation, as in this Bill, would seek to add further to his burdens. If we want to solve our unemployment question, this is the man who, not for his own sake, but for the sake of the nation, should be helped and encouraged in every way. Why hate him? We are all born the same way. We shall all die the same way and we shall all be worth the same price per ton when we are dead. A man can only wear one suit at a time. He can only sleep in one bed at a time. He can only have one meal at a time. There is a great deal of truth in a notice in a north country factory addressed to the men in a conspicuous position:Work eight hours a day conscientiously and do not worry, and one day perhaps you will become an employer. Then you will work 16 hours a day and have all the worry.2290 The only difference between the employer and the employé is that the employer is blessed or cursed with some little restive mentality which will not allow him to be content with a steady regular wage job. He must advance, must organise, must develop, must control, must spread, must sell, and we must encourage that man, for without him the other man would not be able to get any employment at all. The queen bee is a great employer of labour. Under her command and control the bees give us a very valuable article of food in the form of honey, provided, and always provided, that the bees are left alone. If you upset the hive, or if the bees are irritated and annoyed, they will not give you any honey. This Bill is just one of irritation, serving no good purpose whatever. On the other hand, it is bound to have a serious moral effect, and would prove a barrier, dividing and breaking the contact of everything that is good in the mutual interests of employer and employed alike. This continuous and unmerited appeal for justice is misleading. Justice is a cold thing. It is a last resort. What we should work for, every one of us, apart from party and apart from creed, is a greater consideration, the one for the other, employer or employed.
§ 12.12 p.m.
§ Mr. REMER
I beg to second the Amendment.
In doing so, I should like to say that I was considerably surprised that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) had put this particular Bill upon the Order Paper. For the last 14 years during which I have been in this House it has been the invariable practice of the Socialist party, whenever they obtained a first chance in the ballot, to put down on the Order Paper a Bill dealing with the ratification of the Washington Hours Convention which, as the House well knows, is to provide for all industries—not as is done in this Bill merely for one industry—a 48-hour week or an eight-hour day. I hope that the House will note the change which has come about to-day, particularly on the part of an hon. Gentleman who sits on the Front Opposition Bench, that after 14 years of wild dreams they have come back to realities and have realised that the theories which they have held in 2291 the past about the Washington Hours Convention have certain international and national difficulties and have now selected one industry—the distributive trades—for a trial. I can only assume that this is part of the policy which was recommended some years ago by the noble Lord who used to be known in this House as Mr. Sidney Webb—the inevitability of gradualness.
I think that I shall be able to show later that in choosing this industry they will find even greater difficulties of application. I would ask the hon. Member, or whoever is to reply on behalf of their party, why they have chosen this particular industry, and where is there any evidence of any demand for this type of legislation? For over 30 years there has been complete harmony and peace among the employers and employed in the distributive trades. The only exception to that is the case of the co-operative societies who are engaged, and have been engaged from time to time, in various disputes with their employés. There is a very good reason, which has been very well put by my hon. Friend who moved this Amendment, why it is good business for business men to be on terms of happiness and contentment with their employés. Happiness and contentment mean team work, and team work means success. I think that this applies more to the distributive trades than it applies to any others, for the very good reason that the shop assistant has to serve the customers personally, and it implies personal attention for which he gives value. I have no experience whatever of a shopkeeper's life, nor can I claim any very great knowledge of shopping, because I frankly admit that on every possible occasion I avoid shopping, and leave it to other people to do it for me. But there are two commodities which I have to buy myself. One is shoes and the other is hats. As far as shoes are concerned, I must be the most tantalising customer, because I can never remember the size of the shoes I wear, and, as far as hats are concerned, nobody knows better than you, Sir, that the size of a politician's head varies on many occasions according to the success or otherwise which he attains in this House.
I have mentioned that there should be the closest harmony between the shop 2292 keepers and their assistants, and I venture to say that there is no industry in the whole country where there is greater harmony than exists in the distributive trades. I am going, first of all, to refer to the evidence which was given before the Select Committee to which the son. Member in moving the Second Reading referred, and I should like particularly to call attention to the evidence given by the National Chamber of Trade. I am not going to refer to their evidence-in-chief, but I am going to refer particularly to the cross-examination of the two witnesses, Mr. Walter Clark and my very great friend Mr. Patrick Howling. These two gentlemen were cross-examined by three Members of the late Parliament, Mr. Taylor, the late Member for Lincoln, Mr. Oliver and Mr. Charles Roden Buxton. If there is anything more than another that struck me, it was the answer which Mr. Clark gave to Mr. Taylor. It is on page 9 of the Minutes of Evidence. It is evidence of the harmony which exists between the shopkeeper and the shop assistant. He said:I will give you an example: I was with a friend of mine who is a very large employer of 700 or 800 assistants the other day, and I walked through his establishment. Every employee, humble or in a prominent position, spoke to him quite frankly and freely without any fear or hesitation. He answered at once. He addressed many of them by their first name, John ' or Mary ' or whatever it was. We work together. There is a friendly give and take. It is not a rigid, inelastic operation. What we fear here is that if there is going to be so much work for so much pay and so much pay for so much work, it will be very closely defined on both sides.I think that that does really give a very striking example of the relations between the shopkeeper and his assistant. There is the added point, which was very clearly brought out in the evidence before the Select Committee, namely, the position of the small trader who serves at the counter by himself or with one assistant or several assistants. There is the position of the country towns where people come in on market days. There is a rush of work for a very few hours when the shopping is done in one day. Mr. Hirst, in his cross-examination, was at very great pains to show that the cooperative societies and the multiple shops, generally speaking, work less than the 48-hour week. He did not deal with the 2293 very important point that these co-operative societies and the big multiple shops are able to work a shift system, which is utterly impossible for a small trader to organise. This is, I believe, a very important point because in crossexamination—it is on page 13—Mr. Clark said:May I suggest that there is a great difference between one trade and another? Take a small town like the one from which I come, Halifax. We have food traders in a very small way of business, and yet they are food traders and do answer a very real need. We have men who work very awkward hours and women who work very awkward hours for purchasing the necessities of life, and people who live under conditions where they cannot keep food for any length of time. There are very small shops employing no assistants in some cases, or only one or two in others, and they find it absolutely necessary to keep open to the very last moment allowed by the Shops Acts.In further cross examination it was tried to pin Mr. Clark down that the co-operative societies could deal with all this trade, and on the next page Mr. Clark replied:The co-operative society in our neighbourhood do not cater for that class of business. They cater for a very much higher class of business. More motor cars go to our co-operative society than to any other business in the neighbourhood.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I think the hon. Member is not quite doing justice to the body of evidence to which he refers. May I call his attention to questions 72 and 73 in regard to co-operative organisation?I am not in the inside of the co-operative movement, and therefore I cannot speak for them. I can only say we are convinced there will be certain difficulties in the food trades in this country if you bring them within the legalised regulation of a 48-hour week. If I were to tell You that in the co-operative trade generally they do not find such difficulties existing, would you accept that as being a fair statement? —Certainly, I should accept anything you say.
§ Mr. REMER
It is rather difficult to go over the whole of this evidence, but I think you will find it quite clear from Mr. Clark's evidence that he said the co-operative societies, and the multiple shops, could not cater for the tram-driver coming off duty just on time, and the type of workman who could not store food—for that type of workman could not obtain the goods he wanted by any 2294 other means than by the use of these small traders. This Bill would be absolutely crippling to that class of traders. I do not think the hon. Member has seriously taken into consideration the question, which must arise under this Bill, with regard to the rush which takes place every Christmas. At the present moment there is give and take between the shopkeeper and his, employés, who, in return for the heavy rush for a fortnight or three weeks before Christmas, are allowed several days off as compensation for the hard work they put in during that time.
I am more concerned with the observation of the hon. Member when he quoted the hours which are worked by some people. He was careful to say "up to 70," and "up to 80 hours," but he did not make any reference to the regular practice. I venture to say that the number of these examples of hours up to 70 or 80 is so small, and negligible, that it ought not to be taken into consideration. The hon. Member raised an issue which was very largely outside this Bill—the question of juvenile employment. It is a subject which has exercised, and will continue to exercise, the mind of Parliament on many occasions. He raised the point about boys being on vans from eight o'clock to eleven o'clock the following morning. I would say that boys on vans are outside the scope of this Bill altogether, and, in any case, unless I am very much mistaken, the Road Traffic Act, which was passed by this House two years ago, prevents anybody from doing more than eleven hours on a motor vehicle without a considerable interval for sleep.
I am not going to deal with this matter on narrow issues. I am going to deal with it on big, broad issues because it was brought out in the cross-examination by these three gentlemen. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) intervened with two questions on page 23. He said:The Chairman said there are cases where it is alleged they work 76 and 80 hours a week. I notice the term alleged.' Can you give any instances in your knowledge of any shops where the employés are asked to work 76 to 80 hours a week?—I cannot understand an employer working such hours.You do not know any case in your experience?—No. 2295Have you ever had any case returned to you in the form of an answer to a questionnaire or any case in your Association's return?—(Mr. Howling) No.
§ Mr. REMER
Mr. Oliver then said:Mr. Howling was going on to say 'If it is proved that there are excessive hours,' and then he was interrupted?and then Mr. Clark said:I think Mr. Howling would say that if those very excessive hours had existed they are in such extremely isolated cases that legislation should not cripple those who are doing the right thing.These stories are given by the hon. Member, but he gives no concrete example. It is simply a, story which he gives to the House without any data whatever. The cases which he has in mind are so isolated, and so negligible, that it is perfectly ridiculous we should be asked on this Friday morning to pass legislation to deal with such trumpery matters. I said I was laying particular stress on the small trader. May I remind the House that there was one small trader, I believe on Clydeside, who afterwards became famous and known to the laymen of practically the whole world—I mean Sir Thomas Lipton. He, from a little shop in Glasgow, built up a great business which was the marvel of the whole world for its ramifications. How did he build up that business? He did so by his shrewdness, his thrift, and his business acumen, and more than that by his hard work. Now there are people in this House who believe that nationalisation, puting everything under the State, gives an advantage. There are some, even in my own party, who advocate something very like that, but they call it rationalisation and co-ordination. For my part, I must say that I believe in the small unit. The small unit is the more efficient unit. The manager of the small unit can give closer attention to his business. He can provide more efficient organisation, and give that personal touch which is so valuable in securing the trade and commerce which will bring back a state of prosperity. It is the small unit, and not the large one, which has made our British people so successful in the business line. My last words in seconding the Amendment is to ask the House to give the small man a chance, 2296 to enable him to conduct his business free from all these restrictions.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Mr. LEONARD
As the House rises early to-day I think I will spend a little time in paying a visit to the Old Curiosity Shop. The two speeches to which we have just listened take me back to the opinions which were held strongly in the days of Charles Dickens; they certainly do not represent opinions which are held to-day in enlightened business circles. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) is a little perturbed because we have selected this industry, but really no explanation is needed. The point is, does it require attention; and the details which have been put before the House by the hon Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) warrant the claim that it is an industry which does require some attention. It has been suggested by the hon. Member that there is no trouble or agitation anywhere in retail shops and that the only place where there is any strife is in the Co-operative Society. May I tell the hon. Member that there are no fears exercising the minds of employés in the Co-operative Society, there is no intimidation; and because of this freedom they have no hesitation in demanding their rights.
The hon. Member made a reference to the county towns. Apparently he has not read the Bill, because there is sufficient elasticity in it to enable peculiar conditions where they exist to be considered and met; if not under the Bill at any rate by an Amendment. He also referred to the shift system in the Co-operative Society, and just as he asked the hon. Member for Caerphilly where he got his data for the details he gave to the House I should like to ask the hon. Member for Macclesfield where he got his information from. He has put some questions regarding the Cooperative Society to the Government, and I have asked him for the data in regard to those questions. I am still awaiting the apology that is due because the hon. Member has not yet sent these facts to me.
§ Mr. LEONARD
That is a question of fact, but if the statement was true the 2297 facts have not been sent to me, notwithstanding a promise to do so. I shall await with interest the receipt of the facts. I do not think there will be much objection to the Bill because it proposes to give some protection—and this Government believes in protection. The Bill is calculated to protect not only shop assistants but the good small employers, who are now subject to the conditions imposed upon them because of the freedom which is allowed to bad employers-, who have less scruples in placing impositions on their employés. We ask for a 48-hour week, and so far I have heard nothing which goes to prove that it is impossible to apply a 48-hour week. With regard to overtime, I see no reason why payment should not be made to those who are inconvenienced or why a penalty should not be imposed on employers who do not organise their business in such n way as to eliminate the necessity for overtime being imposed upon their employés.
We listened to a humorous speech from the hon. Member who moved the Amendment, but in my opinion there is no more complexity in this Bill than in many of the measures proposed by the Government. Indeed, it is not half so complex as some of the legislation which will have to be introduced by the Government in regard to import duties. No increased costs are involved. They are already being met and paid for by the co-operative movement in this country, and the results so far has not been to entail any increase in price. With regard to the general public there has been a great agitation amongst some people that the general public will be placed at a disadvantage. I cannot see that there will be much inconvenience on the part of the general public. There is a tendency to assume that there is a great mass of purchasers waiting at the stores at the beginning of the day and a great crowd of people standing at the doors just at closing time. That is not the case. The great mass of purchases in shops takes place during hours which can quite reasonably come within a 48-hours week. The number of people who would be at all inconvenienced is negligible, most of the purchases are made at times well within reasonable hours.
It must also be remembered that the public is very adaptable. In the past they had been forced to be adaptable by 2298 changed circumstances; and they can be equally adaptable with regard to any imposition which may be placed upon them through the operation of this Bill. The working population is the buying public, the great mass of the workers constitute the great mass of the buying public, and there is no reason to assume that the buying public are not sufficiently adaptable to meet any changes which may be made. I notice that in the evidence of Mr. Kenneth Thomas given at the inquiry he says:A society trading with its own members can, within reason, make what arrangements it pleases as to the hours and conditions of service rendered.That is to say, that the people who make these conditions are the representatives of the buying public, they are the purchasers of commodities, and it is unreasonable to assume that because they are members of co-operative societies they are going to place hardships upon themselves as purchasers, and are going to insist on their shops maintaining hours which will inconvenience them as purchasers. Therefore if in the case of the 6,000,000 representatives of co-operative societies in this country it is found that they suffer no hardship from the application of a 48 hours week, there can be no hardship in applying it to the general buying public. Further on the same gentleman says:They have, in effect, to go out and seek their customers, and this means consulting the shopping convenience of the public in every possible legitimate way.I respectfully submit that if 6,000,000 purchasers controlling their own shops find that a 48 hours week is sufficient to permit their womenfolk and others to make all the purchases they require, there can be no hardship in applying the 48 hours week to anyone else. This Select Committee had before it many private individuals who gave quite impartial evidence. There was no doubt as to their opinions on the practicability of a 48 hours week, and its desirability from the point of view of the health of the assistants.
Now a word with regard to the shopkeepers themselves, for I recognise that they have to be considered. We have heard a great deal as to the intimacy of employers with their employés. Again that applies both ways; it applies to good employers' and bad employers' shops. We see signs in certain shops 2299 that do not point to such freedom, even in small shops. Among the many difficulties some shopkeepers have to contend with is the fact that there is not so much money coming into the shops, and this may make them a little sore on many points. But they themselves are wholly responsible, because they have been very prominent in the stampede for national and local economy which has reduced the wages that generally go into their shops. The proposal of the Bill gives fair play to the good employer, and we can only get fair play by regulation. I do not think that this House can object to anything in the form of regulations, because regulation is the order of the day now. We are saying to various industries, to agriculture for instance, "Yes, we think you should be helped, and we will help you, provided you organise yourselves, but you must make a start." The shopkeepers are entitled to fair play, and one of the means of giving them fair play is by regulations such as are suggested. I have taken part in negotiations covering the furniture trade, and time and time again the employers have told us how they have been held up because the conditions applied by bad employers absolutely determine the conditions that others have to lay down. It is said that the bad employer ultimately fails, and that may be so, but unfortunately before that comes about a great deal of hardship is inflicted on his employés and he cripples them in health.
With regard to the multiple firms. I do not see that the advantages of organisation percolate through to the employés under their control, but I notice from the Maypole Dairy Report that they paid a dividend of 17.5 per cent. from 1927 to 1930, that the Meadow Dairy Co. paid 30 per cent. during the same period, that the Home and Colonial Stores have been very successful and have paid 25 per cent. during the years 1927 to 1931, and that the International Tea Co. stores have been equally successful, having started with 22 per cent. in 1927 and ended with 30 per cent. in 1932. Those companies might allow the advantage of good organisation to percolate through to their employés.
I want to refer to a suggestion with regard to perishable goods. The assertion is made that any curtailment of hours will penalise those who deal in perishable 2300 goods. There may be something in it, but I do not think the case is as important as it is represented to be. When persons purchase perishable goods they do not purchase them on the basis of the hours a shop is open. It does not matter to them how many hours a shop is open. If a customer wants to make certain purchases he will make those purchases whether the shop is open for eight hours or nine hours. As a matter of fact the shorter the hours the better, because the stuff will be fresher when it comes out of the shop. It is not the co-operative experience that we have had to increase the number of employés because of reduction in hours.
I notice here a statement made by a Mr. Jones, who acts on behalf of the Labour Department of the Co-operative Union. He states that so far as the retail side of the movement is concerned it may be said that the 48 hours week became substantially operative from 1910 to 1912, and that it has been general since about 1916. He refers to the question of the warehouses of the general or wholesale type, and he says that in that class of employment the hours are actually 41 per week. They are also able to recognise the right of an employé to better organisation. The Union recommends that if overtime is not less than one and a half hours, 1s. 6d. shall be paid; if not less than two hours, that 2s. to be paid; if not less than 2½ hours that 2s. 6d. shall be paid; if not less than three hours, that 3s. to be paid; and if not less than 3½hours that 3s. 6d. shall be paid. Those are actual conditions being operated at the present time.
Then there is the case of co-operative societies taking over private stores, not stores with which they were in competition, but stores far removed from such competition. There they apply the new conditions, work the organisation with the same staff, and increase the wages by 2s. to 29s. a week and reduce the hours from 56 to 48. As to the shop assistants themselves, we have been told that there is no mandate for this Bill. I do not know how one would get the voice of the shop assistants. There is only one way in which the shop assistants can tell what they desire and that is through their organisations. This Bill has the support of the shop assistants of this country who are organised in such 2301 a way as to give expression to their opinions. In the past shop assistants in general had been looked upon as persons indulging in light employment, what many people think is light and desirable employment.
I have had experience both as a shop assistant and as a carpenter, and I have felt much more tired, worried and washed-out after a week's work as a shop assistant than after a week as a cabinet maker in the ordinary workshop. I have seen those whose general employment is that of shop assistants going home in the evening so tired as to be unable to take the rest to which they were entitled, let alone any enjoyment. I would like hon. Members to get out of their minds the idea that shop assistants are a privileged class of persons. With regard to the number of hours worked by them, as to which some question has been raised by hon. Members, may I refer again to the minutes of evidence which have been touched upon already. Mr. Kenneth Thomas, who speaks on behalf of the United Kingdom Association of multiple shop proprietors said, with regard to his shops and those of the people for whom he spoke, that inquiries by the association had revealed that the present hours, excluding mealtimes, varied from 50 to 58 hours, with an average of 54 hours, in some instances plus overtime of about three hours weekly spent in clearing up.
I am prepared to accept those figures as representative of the great multiple shop trade and I state quite emphatically that, as a result of my experience, they are far too long and that the multiple shops could very well afford to have the "imposition," as hon. Members call it, placed upon them in order to improve those conditions. The work of shop assistants is also looked upon as a youth's employment. There is evidence to-day in many working-class homes to prove that in large warehouses and shops to-day employers are weighing very carefully in the balance the alternatives of keeping in employment a girl of 25 or putting her out and getting in a girl of 16. They even consider whether they should not bring in girls of 14 and save insurance stamps. That is the condition of things to which your conception of good conditions has led.
2302 If this is to be regarded as a youth's employment, then the vitality of youth is being exhausted by working these long hours. I see in certain trade papers references to the great need at the present time for instruction in the art of salesmanship. When are these young people to be instructed if you keep them at work for 58 hours a week or how are they to be in a fit mental condition to receive any instruction? The difficulty of maintaining health has already been mentioned and I do not touch upon it further than to point out that the gentleman to whom I have already referred said that among the staffs of the firms under his jurisdiction, there was a high standard of health. That may be so, but it is in the main due to the fact that they are absorbing the healthy youth of this country to an extent which they are not entitled to do. If the co-operative employers in this country, covering eight per cent. of the distributive trades, are able to satisfy 6,000,000 people with regard to hours and wages and overtime conditions, we are asking nothing unfair and nothing which is outside the bounds of possibility in asking the House to accept this Bill.
§ 1 p.m.
§ Sir GERVAIS RENTOUL
As the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) has said, those who have been for some years Members of this House recognise in this Bill an old friend. We have been reminded that a Measure substantially similar was introduced in March, 1930, and received a Second Reading without a Division. In order to avoid any misunderstanding on that matter the House ought to be told that that Bill only received its Second Reading without a Division because a distinct and definite pledge was given by the spokesman of the Labour Government, the then Under-Secretary for the Home Department, that an immediate inquiry would be set on foot to examine the whole position. It was after the opponents of the Bill had been fully satisfied that the inquiry would be a proper one and an extensive one that the Bill was formally allowed to pass the Second Reading stage. That point ought to be emphasised, in case some hon. Members imagine that on that occasion the House definitely endorsed the general principles of the Bill when, in fact, it did nothing of the kind.
2303 On that occasion I was privileged to move an Amendment somewhat similar to that which has been moved this morning. It is interesting to observe the changes which have been made in the Bill now under discussion as compared with the Bill of three years ago, but the main purpose of both Bills is the same namely, to establish a compulsory and rigid 48 hour week in the distributive trades. It is easy to suggest that those who oppose the Bill are in favour of long hours of work and are anxious to put back the clock. That suggestion, I, for one, entirely repudiate. I do not, in all sincerity, believe that there is the slightest foundation for it. A genuine difference of view exists between us and hon. Members opposite. We believe that an entirely wrong method of approach is being adopted towards the question of dealing with the evil, if indeed, an evil on any widespread scale exists.
When the previous Bill was discussed I submitted a few reasons why any compulsory restriction of hours was undesirable. I suggested that such a restriction would cut across the whole principle of voluntary negotiation; that it would necessarily increase overhead charges, tend to raise prices and cause inconvence to the customer and that it would create unemployment and promote casual labour. I suggested that there was no overwhelming demand for it, that it would penalise small shopkeepers, add to the difficulties of distribution, upset existing agreements and prevent that reasonable elasticity in the conduct of the distributive trades which, I think, everyone with experience of those trades admits to be essential. Finally, I suggested that it represented mere piecemeal dealing with a question, which, if dealt with at all, ought to be dealt with on broad national and indeed international lines.
If those were the objections which occurred to one three years ago, I confess that most of them are much stronger to-day. A good deal of water has passed under the bridges since the House last discussed this subject. We have, quite rightly, heard a great deal about the report of the Select Committee set up as a result of the previous Debate in this House. I have always admired the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill and I admired to-day, not for the first time, his advocacy. In the most skilful manner, 2304 he skated lightly over the points which were not in his favour or which did not tend to support his argument, and he laid enormous emphasis on one or two matters which he conceived to be in support of his case. For example, time and again throughout his speech he referred to the unanimous nature of the Report of the Select Committee. I was a member of that Select Committee, and so were the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) and several other hon. Members who are here to-day, and I think that they will agree with me in this at all events, that it was very far indeed from being a unanimous Report.
That applied throughout the whole of the proceedings. From first to last there was a fundamental difference of opinion on questions of principle revealed between us. Indeed, the main recommendations of the Report, the substance of the Report—that is to say, the 48-hour week and the question of overtime —were only carried by the Chairman's casting vote. The Committee was split from top to bottom on those two vital matters, and, with regard to the other proposals contained in the Report, the Committee was certainly not unanimous. The Chairman of the Committee would, I think, be the last to deny that he was a strong supporter of the principles embodied in this Bill. It fell to him, in accordance with recognised procedure, to draft the Report, and I do not in any way venture to impugn the accuracy of the Report where it refers to evidence given before the Committee, but I do entirely dispute the emphasis, the wrong emphasis, that has been laid throughout the Report, almost from first to last; and any Member of this House who reads that Report and then will take the trouble to go carefully through the evidence produced before the Committee, upon which that Report is based, will tend to agree that the Report does not substantially represent the evidence and that it leaves an erroneous impression upon the mind.
Therefore, I hope that hon. Members who want to make up their minds on this matter will attach far more importance to the evidence, to the statements of the witnesses, their cross-examination, and so on than to the summary of that evidence as it appears in the actual Report of the Committee. We had, as has been stated, a very great volume of evidence before 2305 us from some 69 witnesses representing the distributive trades of the country, many individual shopkeepers and shop assistants, and others. I confess that much of it tended to strengthen and confirm the views which I had previously held, and I think that was the case with ninny of my hon. friends. It is not that we did not try to approach this matter with an open mind, which is proved by the fact that in some minor respects, as a result of the evidence, we felt constrained to modify our views; but, with regard to the main principles, I am clearly of opinion to-day that the evidence given before that Select Committee strengthened the views that were previously held.
We regret, therefore, that this Bill should simply revive in substance these old controversies and should not have concentrated, as it might have done, on one or two perhaps comparatively minor points where the Committee was in agreement and where, in a private Member's Bill, a proper and very useful advance might have been made along the road of social legislation. If, for example, the Bill had confined itself to laying down some statutory limitation of hours in the case of young persons, it might have commanded a very definite measure of acceptance from many Members of this House.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
Does that mean to say, that if we introduced a Bill dealing with that specific point, we could rely on the support of the hon. and learned Gentleman?
§ Sir G. RENTOUL
It would be a matter of caution on my part to ask to see the terms of the Bill first, but I certainly would not desire to retreat in any way from the recommendation of the Select Committee, where I think there was reasonable unanimity, that a 48-hour week might be justifiable in the case of young persons. Whether it would be practicable is, of course, a matter that would have to be discussed, but at any rate what I say at the moment is that if this Bill to-day had been confined to a matter of that kind, I think, so far as the principle is concerned, it would probably have obtained its Second Reading, and then any questions and matters of detailed administration would have been left to be decided in Committee upstairs.
§ Sir G. RENTOUL
I am only concerned now with the recommendation of the Committee, with regard to which I think there was unanimity in the Committee. Whether the proposal would be practicable, either from a national or an international point of view, is a matter that would need further discussion. Similarly, if this Bill had confined itself to enabling powers to be given for the enforcement of an earlier closing hour for shops than 7 p.m., there might have been some unanimity with regard to that. But when this Bill simply revives the old controversy and the very widespread and important questions of a general 48-hours week for the whole of the distributive trades, which has long been a subject of controversy, in both its national and its international aspects, then it puts the Bill on an entirely different footing; and it is not a matter which ought to be dealt with in a private Member's Bill under any circumstances whatever, apart from any merits that it may have.
The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill created, I think, quite unintentionally, a slightly misleading impression when he said, with a good deal of emphasis, that there had been no legislation for 60 years dealing with this matter. He was referring to the Act of Parliament limiting the hours of juveniles to 74 per week, and he said, "No legislation for 60 years; what a scandalous thing." In point of fact, 12 Acts of Parliament of one kind and another, dealing with conditions and hours, either directly or indirectly, of shop assistants, their health, and so forth, have been passed in the last 30 or 40 years, and it is not in the least the case that Parliament has been unmindful of the claims and conditions of this particular class of worker. The hon. Gentleman ended with a peroration in which he said that every hour that could be won for these people was an additional improvement in their health, their well-being, and so on. Well, of course, if you were to carry that theory far enough, you would finally arrive at a state of affairs where no work at all would be done. I have often wondered whether hon. Members opposite do not 2307 make a fundamental mistake in looking upon all work as an evil. That seems to be their attitude. "Let us have shorter and shorter hours, and let us get rid of this, that, and the other." I totally disagree with them in that view. We do not regard work as an evil in any sense of the word. I have often heard some hon. Members opposite boast in this House about the long hours that they themselves have worked in their earlier life. That may have been a hardship which they do not look back upon with particular pleasure, but it has not apparently done them very much harm or interfered with their health, for it has enabled them to end by sitting on the benches in this House.
This Bill contains three points of substance. The first is the 4.8 hours, the second is the question of the regulation of overtime, and the third is the proposal to set up national and local advisory boards. With regard to the 48 hours, it is admitted that a rigid regulation of hours in the way proposed would be a big interference with trade. It is an interference of the kind that cannot be justified unless it can be proved that the need for it is obvious, and that an evil exists which cannot be satisfactorily dealt with in any other way. Where is the evidence of that? Where is the evidence that a widespread evil exists in the distributive trades It is easy, of course, to pick out isolated cases and say what a terrible thing this, that and the other is, but legislation cannot be carried through on such a basis. I submit that in face of the large body of evidence that was put before the Select Committee, there is no evidence of a widespread evil with regard to the length of hours which would justify the drastic action now proposed. Some reference has been made to the investigation which was carried out at the same time by the Home Office into hours and conditions in shops. Widespread inquiries were made all over the country in regard to every kind of retail trade. What do we find? A large number of shops were visited in London belonging to every class of distributive trade. The result of the investigation showed that 30 per cent. of the assistants worked a maximum of 44 hours a week; 11 per cent. worked 46 hours; 24 per cent. 48 hours; 11 per cent. 51 hours; 6.per cent. 52 hours; 6 per cent. 54 hours; and only 2308 2 per cent. worked a maximum of 56 hours. That disproves any suggestion that there is a widespread evil.
§ Mr. LEONARD
As the figures are so important, will the hon. Member say under whose auspices the investigation took place and if they have been published?
§ Sir G. RENTOUL
The figures are taken from the inquiry which was conducted by the Home Office and I assume that they are available for hon. Members. They are substantially similar to those given in evidence before the Select Committee. They prove that the overwhelming majority of shop assistants do not work anything that can reasonably be described as excessive hours. These figures apply to London, but similar figures are available in regard to most other big towns throughout the country, and they tend to show that the vast majority of workers in the distributive trades work between 44 and 55 hours per week. We know that years ago there was a great scandal in regard to the length of hours. A point has been made that there has been no legislation on this matter for 60 years, and yet no one will deny that a very big improvement has been brought about during that time. It has been brought about, not by any action that Parliament has taken, but by voluntary agreement, by collective bargaining, and possibly in some instances by militant action on the part of shop assistants themselves.
That tends to support the suggestion that there is really no case for State interference, and I take the view that State interference is in itself an evil unless there is a situation which cannot reasonably and properly be dealt with by any other means. There is certainly no demand for it on the part of shop assistants. We know that the trade unions have failed to organise the shop assistants on any widespread scale, and that possibly is one of the reasons why they attach some importance to this particular Bill. Why is it that the trade unions, which have been so successful in organising the workers in other industries, have not been successful on the whole in organising the workers in the distributive trades? It is because there is no substantial cause of complaint and for dissatisfaction on the part of shop assistants. If there were, do hon. Members opposite suggest that 2309 the average shop assistants are such feeble and spineless individuals that they will continue through years to submit to terrible conditions and hardships amounting almost to cruelty, and take no steps in these days of popular education, when the trade union system is so widespread, to combine in order to remedy the evils?
§ Mr. LEONARD
Are the evils in the printing industry responsible for its being organised to the extent of nearly 100 per cent.?
§ Sir G. RENTOUL
I do not want to be led away from my argument. It is always easy to raise a point to distract the speaker from his argument. The trade unions have not been successful in organising the shop assistants on any big scale, and I suggest that the reason is that there is no widespread complaint. The trade unions have in many ways served an enormously useful national purpose, but there is no doubt that they have flourished and do flourish on grievances. Whether those grievances are always as real in these days as is sometimes suggested might be open to argument. Every intelligent person knows that a great deal of improvement has been brought about in many eases by collective action, and I refuse to believe that if these evils exist in the distributive trades on the scale that is suggested, the shop assistants would refuse to take the opportunity and the means that are open to them to combine in order to remedy them.
If there is to be a 48-hour week for the distributive trades, it ought to be only as part of a general arrangement applying to all the industries of the country and to other countries as well. In the distributive trades it is admitted, I think, by those who support the Bill and by anybody connected with the trades that overtime to a certain extent is essential for the competent conduct of business. It is a little significant to compare the provisions with regard to overtime in the previous Bill with those in the Bill now before the House. In the previous Bill it was proposed to lay down a definite maximum limit of 60 hours a year for overtime, and it was suggested that that was a very generous concession. Apparently the promoters of the Bill have now realised that it was nothing of the kind, 2310 and that it would be most inadvisable to attempt to prescribe any rigid limit of overtime, and therefore they endeavour to try to get out of their difficulty by saying, "We will leave it to be settled by the Advisory Board."
Even if the Advisory Board were able to settle it, nothing could be more unworkable than the proposals of this Bill. Some reference has been made to the conspicuous place in which the notice would have to be put up. As I read the Bill, the employer would have to decide definitely a week or so in advance what amount of overtime was to be worked and by whom it was to be worked, and a schedule would have to be put up. That would entirely destroy any elasticity in the general conduct of the business, or any power to deal with a sudden rush of work or a sudden emergency as it might arise. Whilst overtime is admitted to be necessary, the idea of the promoters of this Bill is to make it as burdensome and as unworkable as possible. That seems to be entirely unreasonable. It ought to be a matter of voluntary arrangement. Nothing could tend more to destroy the good feeling that should exist, and which I am sure we all know does exist, in the great majority of distributive businesses, between the employers and the employed. We know, also, that many assistants work on commission. To limit overtime would be to put a definite obstacle in the way of personal advancement and individual initiative.
One matter which I think is often overlooked in these discussions is the interest of the public itself. The public and the community have rights as well as shopkeepers and shop assistants. There is the worker, who can only do his shopping after his own working hours are ended. That consideration applies particularly to foodshops. Even if a 48-hour limit were imposed, shops would have to be kept open for,. longer than that, and some arrangement would have to be made to meet the position, and we should probably have the introduction in the big shops of a shift system such as would be quite impossible in the case of the small shopkeeper and would gradually tend to drive him out of business. All through the inquiry, as in this discussion to-day, the example of the co-operative societies was held up to us as a wonderful thing. The underlying idea 2311 seems to be that the conversion of the whole country to a vast co-operative system is the ideal at which we should aim. But there is plenty of evidence that people who belong to co-operative societies take advantage of other shops which are open for longer hours and at other times to supplement their purchases from the co-operative societies. It is no argument to say—because I do not think it is a fact—that people are perfectly satisfied with a 48-hour week for co-operative societies and therefore should be satisfied with a similar restriction on all other businesses.
With regard to the advisory boards, here, again, I think it is right to make it clear that there was no unanimous recommendation in the report of the Select Committee. We—I mean I and some of my friends—were fundamentally opposed in principle to a legislative 48-hour week, but what we did say was that if, in spite of our objection, a 48-hour week were established by law, it would probably be necessary to have something in the nature of a national or local advisory board to control conditions. but it certainly was not the case that the Committee were unanimously in favour, irrespective of other conditions, of setting up national and local advisory boards to control the distributive trades. There are other minor points in the Bill which I think would need a good deal more consideration before they could be accepted, such, for instance, as the new definition of shops and shop assistants, and the question of bringing in the wholesale shops, a matter which certainly was not considered as fully by the Committee as it would ultimately need to be.
For these reasons I submit that this Bill is not only unnecessary in principle but unworkable in detail, that there is less justification for it after the evidence given before the inquiry than existed when it was last discussed in this House, and that in any event this is the wrong time to interfere in a matter of this kind without grave cause. We are passim through a period of very great trade difficulties, when many shops are having the utmost struggle to keep their heads above water, and this is certainly not the time to place upon their shoulders further burdens which would deprive them of that power of development, that 2312 elasticity, which they must possess. Even if it were justifiable to do it in a time of general prosperity it cannot, to my mind, be justified under present conditions. Therefore, I trust the House will decline to give this Bill a Second Reading, because it is an unjustifiable interference with private enterprise and initiative, and, in my view, merely another example of modern and shortsighted Socialism.
§ 1.33 p.m.
§ Miss PICKFORD
I hope there will be as much unanimity in the House as there was in the Select Committee on the question of young persons engaged as shop assistants, because I cannot help thinking the whole House will agree that a system which permits a boy or girl of only l4 to work for 74 hours a week should not be allowed to continue any longer. It is an anachronism. It is perfectly clear from the statistics which appear in the report of the Select Committee that, normally speaking, in most of the distributive trades, the working week varies from between 46 or 48 hours up to 54 or 56. At the same time the report shows that there are instances, grave instances, in which young persons do work 69, 70 or even more hours. If it is not necessary for the normal working week throughout the country to exceed 48 to 54 hours there can be no justification for permitting young persons to be worked up to 60 and 70 hours. One has every sympathy with the small trader who has to meet the competition, not only of the chain of shops in different districts, but also of the multiple shop which can afford to take a small profit at one branch which competes with the small trader because it gets a larger turnover from the other shops. One wants to do what is possible to help and encourage the small trader, but I do not think that it is possible to justify the small trader working young persons up to hours as long as that.
I hope that before the day is over the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will tell us that it is the intention of the Government to bring in before long a Young Persons Bill which will restrict the working hours of young persons in shops and in other trades as well. The experience of history shows that if you restrict the hours of one class 2313 of workers the hours of those in unprotected trades tend to conform to the hours of the protected workers. By bringing in regulations for the young persons, a great deal will be done to improve the general standard of working hours throughout the country for shop assistants.
When I turn to the Bill, it is with regret that I have to agree with many hon. Members who have found it far too rigid and inelastic. If it had been a reasonable Bill I would have been only too glad to support it, but the hours and conditions that it lays down see to be an attempt to approximate much more to factory conditions than to shop-hour conditions. There is no possible analogy between conditions in shops and in factories. I would be glad to see legislation to make, with reasonable exceptions, a 48-hour week the normal working-week in factories, but that is a very different thing from expecting a 48-hour week to be the normal working-week in shops. The proprietor of a factory has most of the factors of production under his control, and when he shortens his hours of work he can, by organisation and better machinery, speed up his production. He has control of those conditions. The retail trader has not control of all the conditions of his own working. He can, of course, control the hours at which customers come by locking the doors and by saying that his business is not being carried on, but he cannot otherwise control the customers who come to his shop.
It is very often said that the main and the most important occupation of my sex is shopping, and shopping is perhaps a matter about which I have a good deal of knowledge. There is no doubt that, on the whole, women are far better shoppers than men, because, unlike men, they do not take the first thing that is offered to them without asking the price so as to get out of the shop as quickly as possible. What women do is to have a good look round first, and to find out where they can get the best article at the cheapest 'price, and all that takes up a considerable amount of time, a good deal of it without bringing in any profit to the retailer. Any retailer who said: "You have had enough of my shop assistant's time. We must now pass on to the next customer", would soon find that his business would not continue to flourish. It is not possible for the shop- 2314 keeper to have the same control that a factory proprietor has over the conditions in which his business is carried on. The shopkeeper has to conform far more to the wishes and peculiarities of his customers than does the factory manager who, so long as he produces the goods ordered within the contract time, does not have to consider the whims and fancies of the man who has placed the order.
There are other points in which it is not possible to make any clear analogy between conditions in shops and in factories. In a shop there will be rush hours and slack times which cannot be avoided. Therefore, one must in all reason and fairness take into account those slacker times when assistants should be able to get a certain amount of rest. I lay emphasis on the word "should" because although there is legislation for obliging the proprietors of shops to provide seats for shop assistants, the Report of the Select Committee shows that that provision is to some extent inoperative, and that shop assistants get very little chance, even in slack times, of taking rest by sitting down.
I was glad to see that the report of the departmental investigator in London Showed that although 27 per cent. of the shops in Islington did not provide seats, 17 per cent. in Westminster did, and so did 12 per cent. in Hammersmith. I was glad to see that, in common with the County of London, Hammersmith had the best record of London county boroughs in applying the Regulations in regard to seats for shop assistants. It is the practice, unfortunately, that those responsible for the working conditions of shop assistants discourage the assistants from using seats where they are provided. There is the evidence of the select Committee that that is the practice, hut shopkeepers should encourage shop assistants to take every possible advantage of the rest in slack times so that when busy times come they may be fresh and able to cope with their work.
It ought to be agreed that shop hours must have a greater elasticity than should be the case with factories. If we turn to the Bill, we find not only that the limits of hours are less elastic, but that they are even more rigid. When a Factories and Workshops Bill was introduced by two successive Governments, one Labour and one Conservative, to make the nor- 2315 mal working-hours 48, instead of as at present 60, in non-textile factories and workshops, it was recognised that it would be necessary to allow a certain reasonable amount of overtime to all, and not only, as at present, to trades which are subject to special rushes of work. If that was considered necessary for a factory, where the strain is considerably greater and where the concentration of work within the time is much greater than it is in a shop, surely at least as much elasticity should be allowed in shop hours. As we can see, the Bill does not suggest that it should be permissible to have overtime in every trade, but that only the local boards might recommend that there shall be overtime in excess of the working-week of 48 hours in certain trades and businesses, and only within the area of the local authority over which that local board has control. That, as the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) has just pointed out, is making overtime extraordinarily difficult, instead of allowing as the Factories and Workshops Bill allowed, a reasonable amount of overtime to all trades.
There is another curious point that I notice in the Bill. The Report of the Select Committee defined shop hours as being the hours in which a shop assistant should be deemed to be at the disposal of the employer, but with the exception of meal-times. It is true that Sub-section (1) of Clause 1 says that a shop assistant shall not be employed in or about a shop for a longer period than 48 hours, exclusive of meal-times, in any week; but Sub-section (3) of Clause 10 says that:For the purpose of calculating the hours of employment and of overtime employment under this Act a shop assistant shall be deemed to be employed for all such time as he is at the disposal of his employer.I think it must be clear that in those shops—and this would apply to most small shops—where the shop assistant takes his meals on the premises, probably frequently with the family, he is at the disposal of his employer during the time when he is taking his meals, and may be called to serve a customer during that meal-time. Although in large stores it certainly is possible, and probably is the practice, to have definite meal-times for assistants, during which times they would not be at the disposal of their employer, 2316 that would be an extraordinarily difficult matter to regulate in small shops. Therefore, the effect of this Sub-section, as I read it, is to make the working week 48 hours inclusive of meal-times.
On the question of overtime, there is another point that seems to have escaped the attention of other Members of the House. Those members of the Select Committee—which was not unanimous on this point—who advocated extra payment for overtime, advocated it at 1¼ times the usual rate; but the promoters of this Bill go further, and say that, for any periods beyond the first quarter of an hour, not less than 1½ times the ordinary rate shall be paid. I was a little surprised that this question of extra payment for overtime was introduced in a Bill of this kind, because, so far as I am aware, it has not up to the present been the practice to deal with hours and conditions of employment and with payment in the same Bill and by the same Department. For instance, hours and conditions in factories and workshops are dealt with under factory and workshop legislation, and are administered by the Home Office, but questions of payment, which come under the Trade Boards Acts, are administered by the Ministry of Labour, with a separate organisation. The suggestion in this Bill is to include both under the same legislation. I was rather surprised that the hon. Members who have brought forward the Bill should wish to bring in the question of overtime payment in this way; I should have thought that they would have preferred to rely on collective bargaining, while, in those cases where it is not possible to rely on collective bargaining at present, the enforcement of rates of wages and overtime rates is carried out under the Trade Boards Act.
It must be apparent to hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, as it is to myself and others who have had some experience in the administration of trade board matters, that the payment of the rates of wages laid down by a trade board, after they have been settled by the representatives of both sides of the trade, has to be enforced by a special inspectorate, and that, if it were not for the inspectorate, a good deal of that legislation would be ineffective. It is very elaborate, and it necessitates an experienced and fairly large inspectorate to see that it is carried out. A thing which is compara- 2317 tively simple when dealt with by trade boards, of which, speaking from memory, I think there are some 42, would be a very much more difficult matter in the case of retail shops scattered all over the country and having very different methods of working and book-keeping—some of them very large, such as multiple stores, and some very small indeed, such as the shop with a single juvenile employé. I am almost forced to the conclusion that the hon. Members who have introduced and supported this Bill are really not very keen that it should be passed, because I cannot help thinking that, if they were, they would have introduced a Measure which would have secured a considerable amount of support from Members holding the same views as myself who sit on the opposite benches from the promoters of the Bill. The Bill seems to me to be so inelastic and difficult that I fear it is impossible for those of us who have the retail trade at heart, both the employers' side and the employés' side, to support it.
I hope, however, that the question of young persons and their employment will be taken up before very long, because, as is shown in the Report, and as I said at the beginning of my remarks, there is no evidence that there is any necessity for excessive hours in the case of young persons. It is very easy to argue that such cases are exceptional, and I hope they are, but, just because they are exceptional, there can be no hardship in preventing by legislation the continuance of such exceptional cases, because such prevention will not bring any real hardship on those employers—and I believe them to be the vast majority—who would not think of exploiting young persons in this way.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. DENMAN
I would join with the hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Miss Pickford) in inviting the Government at least to deal at as early a stage as they can with the position of young persons in shops and in the distributive trades. So far as this Bill deals with that matter, I believe it will have the general approval of the House as a whole. When, however, we are asked to support an Amendment which condemns the Bill in general, I think we are asked to do something that is beyond what most of us would wish, and I hope that the Govern- 2318 ment, whatever they may say about the Bill itself, will not indicate any approval of the Amendment that is now before us. The Amendment recognises the undesirability of shop assistants working excessive hours, and then proceeds to give a number of extremely bad reasons why we should not support the Bill, which at least is an attempt to fulfil that particular object. It asserts that the Bill would involve local authorities in increased expenditure.
One is bound to comment on the fact that the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment referred very little to the Report of the Select Committee which had this whole matter under consideration. After all, a Select Committee consisting of Members from all parts of the House, and having before it a very large volume of evidence, is in a better position than most of us individuals to make some authoritative pronouncement on the facts before it; and on this first point, that there will be an excessive burden of cost, the Committee unanimously agreed to certain statements which are not consistent with that view. On page 58 there is a very interesting statement about the evidence given by the chief officer of the Public Control Department of the London County Council who, when asked whether any increase of his staff would be necessary if he had the task of enforcing legislation imposing a 48-hour week, said that he thought that any increase required would be only a reasonable one. He stated:From a wide experience of London people I find that, when you get a law into their minds, they are an extraordinarily law-abiding people.Later on:Your committee are of opinion that the closer supervision of shop hours could be carried out without any great increase in the inspectorates. In the County of London 13 inspectors do the work under the Shops Acts; and, normally, every shop and stall is visited once a year.This bogy of a large increase of officials is trotted out whenever any kind of Bill imposing regulations is proposed. All the arguments of the Proposer and Seconder of the Amendment are arguments that we have heard in every Parliament that any of us can remember. If we choose to read the records, we shall see the same arguments applied to the Factory Acts, the Trade Boards Acts and the Shops Acts, and in every case 2319 where it is supposed that any regulation would cause hardships and evils and ruin to employers which, in fact, when the regulation is imposed never occurs.
The Amendment goes on to assert that this will cause an increase in retail prices or a reduction in the wages of shop assistants. What does the Committee say on that point? It was not oblivious to the danger. Why should it be? It had evidence on the point, and it produces paragraphs which are unanimously agreed to.Your Committee believe that a 48-hour week for shop assistants would have no appreciable effect on prices.On the question of the wages of shop assistants, they very certainly point out that, as far as can be judged from the views of representative organisations, the shop assistantswould be prepared to take the risk of the consequences suggested, if risk there be, rather than sacrifice the advantage of a limitation of working hours.The Amendment really neglects the evidence of our own Select Committee who reported to us. The Bill suffers from the defects from which so many Friday Bills suffer. They deal with large subjects which are really outside the range of a private Member's Bill. The promoters must recognise that the Bill has no chance of passing this Session even if it gets its Second Reading to-day. The only effect of it going upstairs will be that a large amount of time will be occupied in Committee, and it will come down and have no chance on Report. It is far too controversial in the form in which it is produced. We are, therefore, in the difficulty of having either to vote for a Bill which we know is doomed or voting against a Bill which contains a principle that We approve. That is an unfortunate difficulty in which we are often placed on Friday afternoons. The Bill has defects which, if not incapable of being remedied in Committee, would at any rate involve an extremely difficult Committee stage.
Let me take one point to show how difficult is the task of a private Member in drafting Bills and getting them through. The Select Committee pointed out that a change of hours from present conditions to 48 per week would not take place suddenly, but would be put into force gradually. I look at the Bill to see how it 2320 carries out that requirement, and I find an extraordinary condition of things. It comes into operation on 1st January next. The local advisory boards have to be set up within six calendar months of its passing. That is to say that, before it comes into force, apparently some authorities may or may not take action under it. Let us suppose that it is passed on the 15th July, then within six months of the passing, that is before 15th January, these boards have to be set up, and yet the Bill does not come into force before 1st January. Let us suppose that in the hectic fortnight between 1st and 15th January local boards are set up to fulfil their task. We are then faced with the further difficulty that a National Board has to be set up within a year after the passing of the Bill. Suppose that is not set up until July, 1934, you would then have a period in which you could not make an order because it could not be made until the National Board has made a recommendation to the Home Secretary, and you would simply have your initial period of six months in which there would be a rigid 48 hours without any possibility of variation. Of course, that is a Committee point which could be put right, but it indicates the difficulty of drafting Bills of this sort, and it indicates much better than any other example that this kind of thing ought to be done by the Government.
On the broad question, this Bill is in the direct Conservative tradition. Act after Act has been passed regulating trades on the principle that bad employers must be brought up to the level of good employers. No one is here asking for a, standard which is not very widely adopted already. We have had figures to show that it is indeed the standard of the great majority of employers. We have had legislation bringing up the standard of the lower grade employer to the standard of the better, the object being in part the benefit of the worker and in part to relieve the good employer from an intolerable competition. That is a very real point that we always have to face of the good employer being confronted with the worse conditions of the bad employer and having a competitor who imposes upon him hours that he himself wishes to resist and to amend. That is in strict harmony with a long series of Acts, and it is generally recognised by now as an old Conservative 2321 principle. I, therefore, hope that the Government will be able to indicate that in due course they will themselves deal with the matter on satisfactory lines.
I end as I began by suggesting that the question, in so far as it relates to juveniles, is extremely urgent. We have had pledges that the hours of work of juveniles in the unregulated trades shall be submitted to regulation, and the ex-Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office even gave us hope that it might be within a very few Sessions. Anyhow, I look to the present Government within their lifetime, and, if possible, in the next Session, to introduce legislation which shall once for all put an end to the gross scandal of the hours of labour which juveniles work in the shops and the distributive trades.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ Mr. BANFIELD
I have listened to a series of speeches from hon. Members, all directed to the one end of showing that a legal 48-hour week in the distributive trades would be harmful to these trades, and to everyone employed therein. I would point out to hon. Members, speaking from an experience as a negotiator in the trade union movement, ranging considerably over 30 years, that every argument used this morning, every doubt expressed, and every fear put forward has been put forward over and over again by all kinds of employers in all kinds of industries in opposition to the 48-hour week, but when a 48-hour week has, by negotiation, been brought into operation all doubts and difficulties have disappeared. The hon. Member for Harrow (Sir I. Salmon) will doubtless, pay a little attention to this point as he and I are rather old comrades and also antagonists in this matter. You get a state of things where certain employers in an industry are prepared to say: "We agree that a 48-hour week is desirable, that it is a decent number of hours during which to work, and we want our people to have a 48-hour week, but our difficulty is that there are so many other people"—chiefly small employers, they will say, if they happen to be large employers themselves—" who will refuse to agree to any voluntary agreement as to a 48-hour week." It is within the knowledge of the hon. Member for Harrow that he and many large employers associated with him have from time to time declared in regard to the question of hours of labour that there can be no 2322 satisfactory conclusion except by way of legal enactment. I believe that to be so. I suggest to hon. Members who have held up their hands with horror at the idea. of a 48-hour week for the distributive trades, that, if the question was more thoroughly examined, if there were not quite so much bitterness and bias, and an entirely wrong conception that the more hours people work the more you get out of them and the more profit in consequence, then, with organised efficiency in industry, a 48-hour week would be desirable in the interests of everybody concerned.
We have heard that the distributive trade is one of those trades which cannot very well carry on unless it is allowed to work its employés as many hours as may be necessary. I heard the very pathetic stories this morning of good employers working alongside their, work-people, and that they were a very happy family, calling one another Tom, Dick or Harry, and giving and taking, though who was doing the giving and who was doing the taking was not really explained. I am very pleased to see the hon. Member for South West St. Pancras (Mr. Mitcheson) in his place. The conception of business being a family concern has disappeared long ago. It may exist in certain isolated cases, but in the main business to-day is not run on the idea that a man comes into a draper's shop or a grocer's shop and that, as a result of hard work and diligent attention to his job, he eventually marries the employer's daughter and lives happy ever after. That conception is altogether wrong.
Emphasis has been laid upon the point that there is no demand for a legal 48-hour week as far as the distributive trades are concerned. The position has been put to us in this way, that if people were discontented and had reasonable grounds for complaint, surely, they would bring the matter to the attention of their trade union and that thereby the discontent would be removed. I say without fear of contradiction that in the distributive trades a dead set is made by a majority of the employers against allowing their employés even to belong to trade unions. That feeling has been expressed over and over again. Further, there has been built up a psychology that in some way or other the worker who serves behind the counter is in a better social position than the common or garden manual worker.
2323 There is bitter discontent among shop assistants of all trades. There is a tremendous feeling that they do not get a square deal and that the machine of modern industry crushes and keeps them down. There is a struggle going on behind the scenes in the big stores in London day after day and week after week, in which men are fighting each other, struggling like crabs in a bucket in an endeavour to come to the top, as a result of the system imposed upon them by employers. They are afraid to express their discontent for fear of being discharged and flung upon the streets. The economic circumstances of the workers employed in the distributive trades are such that they have to keep quiet. Discontent does not make itself heard. They are in the position of the slave who is afraid to open his mouth. If there ever was a trade in which a legal 48-hour week was necessary, it is the distributive trade.
Let me add my voice to the very considerable volume in this House which has championed the cause of the juvenile worker. The report of the committee on the subject proves fairly conclusively that terribly long hours are worked by boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 18. There has been an attempt to suggest that these are isolated instances. From my own experience I can say that there is shameful overwork in the case of boys and girls between 14 and 18 years of age. I go so far as to say that, instead of these cases being isolated, they are the general rule and not the exception. There is no opportunity for these boys and girls to improve their position by education. I read interesting articles from time to time in the Press about the art of salesmanship. Very nice gentlemen give very nice lectures to very nice staffs, telling them how, if they do so-and-so, and study this and that, the road to prosperity to managerships and directorships is open to them. With all due respect, I say it is all bunkum.
The employers in the distributive trade have shown little or no disposition to help any kind of education so far as their juvenile workers are concerned. All that they are concerned about, until such time as they throw these boys and girls on to the street, is to get as much out of them as they possibly can with as little wages as they can possibly give. During the week-end a lady came to me to tell me 2324 about a girl 17½ years of age employed in a warehouse from 7.30 in the morning until 8.30 in the evening, and when the mother complained bitterly to the employer about the long hours, the employer discharged the girl. For all those hours that girl was paid 8s. 6d. a week. It is all very well for hon. Members to come here and theorise, and say that a 48 hour week is not necessary. I would like some of them to go to the homes of the people as I do where they have to put up with this kind of thing.
There is another point I want to put. There has been a tremendous increase in Sunday trading during the last few years. Surely there must be some legal restriction in the number of hours of labour in any particular work. Thousands are being employed on Sundays with no extra pay. It all comes in with the week's work. I have a leaflet here affecting my own industry, issued by a baker in Camberwell. It says:New bread on Sundays. Why buy your week-end bread on Saturdays when you can obtain fresh bread of superior quality here on Sundays?It means that this man employs boys and girls to come along on Sundays, that he employs bakers to make bread to sell on Sundays. This question of Sunday baking is not confined to London. An ever-increasing number of hours are being worked in the distributing trade, and it does appear to me that a sufficient case has been made out for legal enactment. Surely no hon. Member would seriously argue that 48 hours' work is not a reasonable number of hours, fair to the man and to the employer? We have heard a good deal of talk about rush hours in the distributive trade, and that there is nothing to do at some other times. I have never been fortunate enough to experience it. Even when customers are not in the shop there is always found something to do. My own experience is that a 48-hour week—not an 8-hour day—is sufficient to satisfy the public. Surely this House is no longer going to be swayed by the argument that a man who comes in three minutes after the closing time, 8 o'clock, must be served. Hon. Members will remember when shops in London used to be open until 10, 11 and 12 o'clock at night, and I will assert that at that time some man or woman would come in three minutes after 12 o'clock and demand something, and, of 2325 course, the employer said, "We cannot turn customers away." After all, those who serve the country in this industry have some rights as well as the public. It is only fair that the shopkeeper and his assistants should have reasonable hours of labour in so far as the public generally demand reasonable hours of labour.
I know it is unlikely that the House will agree to the Second Reading of this Bill, but I do say that this question of the legal restriction of the hours of labour will have to be dealt with. I agree, possibly, with the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) when he said that this matter ought to be dealt with in a bigger way. But there has been an inquiry by Select Committee and all sorts of evidence called, and is it to be assumed that when a Committee has been appointed to deal with a subject, and it has been dealt with, the subject is to be buried altogether? If anything is meant by a Committee, it means that some legislation should follow, and I put it to the House that this Bill is the logical outcome of the Committee and the evidence given. Therefore, I support the Second Reading.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ Sir ISIDORE SALMON
In listening to the Mover of the Second Reading describing the objects which animated him in bringing forward such a Bill, I waited for him to give some justification on general grounds for the Bill. The major part of his speech, however, was devoted to a, subject with which, I think, we all have sympathy, and I certainly have, for I do not believe in the exploitation of the young person. If the hon. Member had introduced a Bill of that character it would probably have received a different reception than this Bill has received up to now. Some hon. Members who are supporting the Bill argue that the big employers deprecate the idea of men and women joining the unions, and that that is a reason why very few join them. I would ask the House to consider the proposition that, in a number of distributive trades, the shops in this country owned by small traders are out of all proportion to those owned by large firms, or companies. Therefore it is absurd to give that as a reason why trade unions do not receive a larger membership than they do at the present time.
2326 One must admit that there are certain employers who are not good employers, but they are a very small minority when you deal with the whole problem. I do not think any case has been made for proposing a rigid rule of 48 hours in the distributive trades. It is within the recollection of many Members of the House that some three or four Governments have considered the 48-hour week for industrial workers. They could not agree that 48 hours was desirable, or in the interests of the workers of the country. Not that I object to a person working only 48 hours. The great objection I see is that there should be rigidity—that you should be compelled to work only 48 hours. If there is any magic in the proposal that only 48 hours should be worked, why does the hon. Member who introduced the Bill say in another Clause that you may work overtime if you are paid for it? No supporter of this Bill has supplied the House with any real information as to the necessity for such legislation.
The hon. Member who introduced the Bill rather gave the impression that there was a majority in the Committee in favour of the main principle for which the Bill stands. I understood, on looking through the evidence, that there was a majority of one. It does appear to me that the great thing we have to consider is the question of the small shopkeeper of this country. Let me say right away that I am not speaking from any personal desire, or representing the views of any particular body of persons, but I do express the view, after careful consideration, that it is in the interests of this country that we should not kill the small shopkeeper. I see that my hon. Friend rather sneers at that observation of mine. I would assure him that, in my view, the whole structure of this country has been built up by the small shopkeeper, and I think it would be a great pity if we were to force the small shopkeeper out of business and have only large concerns. I say that quite sincerely.
The Bill before the House to-day would have the effect of closing a very large number of small shops. It has been said that the co-operative societies—and there are other people also—work an average of 48 hours a week. One week it may be 48, or 40 hours and the next week a little shorter or longer, but, on the 2327 average, it would probably be 48 hours a week. The hon. Gentleman will say that the co-operative societies are rigid, and do not have more than 48 hours. They can do that because they have large organisations. The point I want to make is that these facilities are not at the command of the small shopkeeper. He cannot organise his industry, shop, or business in the same way that a larger organisation can. You are, therefore, going to strike a very serious blow at the small shopkeeper in this country if you insist upon the rigid 48-hour week. I was rather surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman who spoke last suggest that I concur in the view that to carry out any sort of arrangement you must have a legal enactment. I do not agree. But what surprised me more was that he deprecated the idea of trying to create good fellowship with one's employés.
§ Mr. BANFIELD
May I point out that I did nothing of the sort. I do not deprecate feelings of good fellowship; I do my best to cultivate them.
§ Sir I. SALMON
I am within the recollection of the House. The substance of his speech, if it meant anything, was that it was not honest and desirable that an employer should talk to his employés and try and see if a certain ideal could be obtained. I can understand the mentality of certain hon. Members, because it is only in times of trouble between employers and employés that they are concerned, and it cannot seem to them that there can be good fellowship between employers and employed. I would say, as one who has had as large experience, and more than most Members of this House, in dealing with large numbers of employés, that no business can get on unless good fellowship exists. It is unfortunate that an hon. Member occupying the position of my hon. Friend should rather create the impression that, because an employer is out to show his employés that if they do certain things they can make greater progress, it is not proper. That is a very unfortunate statement. I do not want to labour the point. The hon. Gentleman rather suggested that there was no regard paid to the general employés of this country, and that they worked scandalous hours.
2328 I suggest that a 48-hour week proposed by this Bill really means only working 45 hours. The promoters of the Bill, if he gives a little thought to it will realise that the small shopkeeper will take half-an-hour to prepare and open his shop and half-an-hour to close it and, therefore, you are going to say that the small shopkeepers may open for business only for 45 hours per week. Consider the case of a country district or a seaside town where the trade for eight months in the year is rather quiet. The staff is kept on, but their hours of work are not long and the work itself is not arduous. For the other four months of the year they may have to work much longer hours. If this Bill ever became law the effect would be that staffs would be reduced to the minimum and the full staff taken on only for the busy period. It would have the effect, I am sure, of introducing a system which most people deprecate—casual employment. If you make conditions arduous for the employer you will introduce a system into the trade of this country which will mean that a large number of men will be added to the ranks of the unemployed. Mechanism has been the means in no small degree of creating unemployment, and if you make conditions such that an employer will have to look for other means of giving service to his customers it may mean that you will introduce into this country a system which has already been introduced into America, a system of self service, where people serve themselves. The consequence of such a system would be that less staff would be required and thus unemployment would become greater. No one doubts the sincerity of the hon. Member who introduced the Bill, although one may not always agree with his views, but I am afraid that his Bill would add to the amount of unemployment. I think he ought to have added a paragraph to the Bill and called it an Increase of Unemployment Bill, because the real effect of the Measure, if it became law, would be to increase unemployment, not to decrease it.
The amount of profit in the distributive trades owing to competition is cut to a very small figure. Every successful industry must give service if it is going to maintain its business and, therefore, the suggestion that you should limit the hours which employés shall work and have no regard to the fact that a large 2329 portion of the time is a slack period, if you are to have no regard to the slack periods of the year and the busy periods of the year, and say that the employé must be paid so much more for overtime it will mean, either that the basic wage of the employé must be less or that during the slack period fewer persons must be employed. If the same number of people are to be employed and paid extra money during the busy period someone will have to pay for it; and that someone is the public. If you charge extra to the public, if you charge higher prices, you lose customers and, consequently, there will be more unemployment. I cannot see any virtue in this Bill, nor can I see the necessity for it. It will increase the ranks of unemployment, it will not help industry, and, therefore, I am strongly opposed to it.
§ 2.41 p.m.
§ Mr. HACKING
I interrupted the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) when he was making his speech because I felt that quite unconsciously he was giving the impression to the House that the provisions of the Bill were based on a unanimous Report of the Committee which was set up in 1930, and I thought it right that the House should know the facts. The major provisions of the Bill are based upon the majority recommendations of the Select Committee on Shop Assistants which reported in 1931. There were 11 members on that Committee, which was appointed by the Labour Government, and five of those members disagreed with the two main provisions of this Bill. They disagreed with the possibility of having a 48-hour week, and with the recommendation that overtime should be paid at not less than one-and-a-quarter times the normal rate of employment. I emphasise that one-and-a-quarter times; for in the Bill it says that the hours of employment shall be paid at a rate of not less than one-and-a-half times the normal rate of employment. Those are the two main provisions of the Bill, and it should be remembered by the House that these two main provisions were not the unanimous recommendation of the Committee, but were only agreed to by a small majority.
What does the Bill seek to perform? The normal hours of employment are to be cut down to 48 hours per week. Overtime can only be worked if specially sanctioned by the local authority, in 2330 certain cases by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and overtime so sanctioned must be paid for at one-and-a-half times the ordinary normal rate. Local authorities are able to fix closing hours earlier than 7 o'clock. I suppose that Clause 8 of the Bill means that a local authority could compel shops to close at any hour during the afternoon. And this is what the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr Leonard) calls protection! That may be protection for some people, but it is certainly not protection for the general public. The hon. Member for St. Rollox said that this was a Bill that was giving protection, and that he could not understand why we on these benches, who believe in protection, should oppose the Bill. My retort to him is that I am a little confused that his party which believes in the form of protection that is given in the Bill should in its turn oppose the form of protection in which we believe.
We had a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield). He justified the Bill by asking what was the good of setting up a Committee and not acting upon its recommendations? I reply that the Labour Government themselves did not appear to be very anxious even to set up the Committee, for they gave a promise to appoint the Committee in March, 1930, and the Committee was not set up until November of that year. In any event, I disagree with the hon. Member's suggestion that in every case we on this side, although there has been a change of Government, should adopt the recommendations made by a Committee set up by the Labour Government. We are certainly not prepared to do that.
The provisions of the Bill may or may not be desirable from the shop assistants' point of view, but it is our duty also to consider the public. In theory, the hours of employment of adult shop assistants are unlimited. The Mover of the Second Reading inferred, I think, that the hours under the Acts now on the Statute Book were, in fact, the hours that are being worked to-day. He referred to 74 hours per week which could be worked by young people. He must admit that there are only very exceptional cases in which such hours are being worked. Because we have on the Statute Book an Act which limits the hours to 74 for young people, we must not consider that 2331 of necessity that is the time that is being worked by these people. Of course, that is not so.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
The only reference I made to the 74 hours was in a statement that 74 hours is the only statutory limitation of the hours of juvenile workers. I did not imply that all juvenile workers worked 74 hours.
§ Mr. HACKING
I quite agree, and I wish the House to realise that there are only very exceptional cases, if any, in which such hours are being worked. My point is that whatever theory we may deduce from an Act does not really matter. We have to look at what is happening in practice. If a person is allowed to work for 74 hours and is working for only 48, that ought to give us satisfaction. The statistics furnished in the Select Committee's Report prove that the majority of adults in shops are working between 48 and 60 hours a week, which is an average of approximately 54 hours a week. I repeat that we must consider the general public. But in saying that, I do not desire the House to imagine that the Government have no sympathy with shop assistants. We have. Everyone must have sympathy with every worker who is working unduly long hours.
Many shop assistants, and I suppose most shop assistants, might claim this Bill to be a good thing, but, even if it is a good thing, there are many good things which have to be rejected, especially at the present time, on the ground of expense alone. Even if this Bill were desirable on other grounds, it might still have to be opposed by the Government because it would entail on the part of both local authorities and the national Exchequer expenditure which cannot be afforded to-day. How would that extra expenditure be entailed? The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) attempted to make the case that there would be very little, if any, extra expenditure if the Bill passed. I do not agree. I think there would be very considerable additional expenditure. Think of the elaborate machinery of national and local advisory boards. The enforcement of the limitation of hours clearly presents far greater difficulties than the enforcement of the present closing hours. Think of the inspection and the checking of registers. Think of 2332 the verifying of the hours worked by the individual members of the staff who happen to be on duty at any time. A large staff will obviously be required in order to carry out all this work of inspection.
One complaint that we frequently receive at the Home Office to-day is that the inspection under the existing Acts is insufficient. We are told that there is a non-enforcement of the existing Acts. The closing of a shop can be checked very easily from outside without going into the shop, but the restriction of hours in hundreds and thousands of shops would surely require an elaborate system of inspection and records. Look at Clause 4 of the Bill. There we see the revocation or amendment of a local Order by the Secretary of State. Surely the inquiry in connection with that alone would mean a great deal of extra staff at the Home Office. Clauses 5 and 6, dealing with the appointment of, and the consideration of recommendations by, the National Advisory Board, would also entail a great deal of extra work. Then there is Clause 11, dealing with the enforcement of the Shops Acts by the Secretary of State, to say nothing of the appointment of a factory inspector, whose qualifications would certainly not be suitable for enforcing this Bill. All these things must impose considerable burdens on the Home Office, and if they bring more work to the Home Office, it is obvious that that work would have to be paid for.
These are some instances of the extra expenditure which would be entailed by passing the Bill. But apart from the expense, which alone would make it difficult for us to accept the Bill, is the Bill really desirable `? Let us ask ourselves some pertinent questions. Let us attempt to be practical. Putting the Bill to a certain test, in the first place will this Bill have the effect of increasing employment? I submit that it has little prospect in that direction. On the contrary Clause 1, by limiting the hours of employment and by creating the overtime system, and Clause 8 by indicating the possibility of shorter hours of opening, do one of two things. They either add to the cost of running the business or restrict the volume of business, and it is clear that additional costs or restriction of sales will not add to employment. Invariably these factors, far from creating 2333 employment, cause additional unemployment. Therefore, employment will not be helped if the Bill passes.
Another question which we may ask is: Will the Bill have the effect of reducing retail prices? If it does none of these things, there is not much use in attempting to put in on the Statute Book. As to its effect on retail prices, when you add something to the cost of running any business—everything else remaining the same—the additional cost has to be paid for by increasing the prices of the commodities for sale. This Bill cannot, then, reduce retail prices. Will it increase the wages of the shop assistants? Here again the answer must be in the negative. The employers might well have to meet the situation created under the proposals of the Bill by the payment of overtime rates. That is the only 'alternative for them, if they cannot work 'extra shifts. That, obviously, means additional expense, and a possible way of meeting that extra expense would be to reduce the basic rate of wages of the existing staff. There is nothing in the Bill which would prevent an employer from reducing the ordinary normal level of wages in order to make ends meet, if that should he the only way for him to achieve his purpose. I think I may fairly claim that the Bill will, certainly, not help to increase wages.
I hope I have convinced the House that the Bill has four consequences. It will cost additional money; it will Lot increase employment; it will not reduce retail prices and it will not increase the wages of shop assistants. I submit that by this Bill we might well be damaging, not only the taxpayer but the ratepayer, without, at the same time, conferring much, if any, benefit on the shop assistant. There is another question which we might ask ourselves before deciding how to vote on this Bill. Why should we, by Act of Parliament, distinguish shop workers from other workers in respect of the 48-hour week? Frankly, I cannot answer that question. The general policy of the Opposition surely is a little inconsistent. I understand from speeches which I have heard in the House and in the country from Members of the Opposition that they support the policy of the 40-hour week with the object, as I take it and has been frequently stated, of increasing employment. Yet they pro- 2334 pose in this Bill a 48-hour week plus overtime for the same workers and it is difficult to see how we can increase the number to be employed by employing the same people for longer hours. When I first read the Bill I was surprised that there was no provision in it for fixing the ordinary rates of pay. I do not say that if there had been such a provision in it, that it would make the Bill any more acceptable, but I was a little surprised nevertheless that hon. Members had not gone the whole hog in that respect. We are told in Clause 7 (2):It shall be an implied term of every contract for the employment of a shop assistant that where overtime is worked the shop assistant shall be entitled to receive additional payment at the following rates:—Again, I draw attention to the fact that there is no provision for fixing the ordinary rates. We are simply told that the overtime rate shall be 25 per cent. or 50 per cent. over the ordinary rate. The ordinary rate not being fixed, I suggest that it could easily be juggled with and manipulated so that the total wages paid to any shop assistant, working even 60 hours, need not be any higher than the total wages at present being received. In fact the Bill is so loosely drawn that the whole provision for reckoning rates of overtime might be valueless and unenforceable.
- (a) for the first quarter-of-an-hour… not less than the ordinary rate…;
- (b) for any further period or periods not less than one-and-a-half times such ordinary rates;
- (c) for time worked on Sunday… or for any statutory holiday or any customary public holiday not less than double the rate paid for normal working time."
I think I have said enough to show that at least this Bill has some weaknesses. I should like to close however on a rather more hopeful note. There have been many requests from all sides of the House that the Government should give some consideration or reconsideration to the position of the young shop assistant under 18 years of age. There have been many expressions of sympathy with these young persons and the. Government do not desire to take up a, completely non possumus attitude towards this whole question. The hon. Member for Caerphilly expressed his sympathy with these young persons as 2335 also did the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul) and the hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Miss Pickford) who said she hoped the House would be as unanimous in support of these young people as had been the Select Committee. The hon. Member for Central Leeds also supported this appeal. That was one point on which there was agreement in the Select Committee. I think they were unanimous in recommending a statutory limitation of the hours of employment of young persons as shop assistants. At present the maximum of 74 hours, including meal-times, under the provisions of a very old Act is certainly not applicable to the conditions of to-day. This old Act gives inadequate protection for the young person, and undoubtedly, as I have said, requires reconsideration. As a matter of fact, I am glad to be able to tell the House—and probably the hon. Member who, I believe, will follow me knows this already—we are at this moment giving close consideration to this aspect of the case. Discussions with trade organisations are at present proceeding and have, I understand, been proceeding for some little time past. I can, of course, give no pledge to-day in respect of legislation regarding these young persons. I can only say that this side of the question, which is a very important one, is receiving the active and sympathetic consideration of the Government.
The House realises, from the criticism that I have attempted to make in connection with the Bill, that the Government are going to oppose its Second Reading. During the debate on the Second Reading of a private Member's Bill only a fortnight ago, the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) was good enough to congratulate me on the appointment which I had then only held for a few days, and he used some extraordinary language in his congratulatory remarks. I should like to give his exact words. He said:I wish, however, that he was a Minister in a very much more intelligent Government, but of course that is not his fault. I hope that with his entry into it the Government will be less stupid than they have been in the past."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1933; col. 718; Vol. 275.]With the Government's decision to oppose this Bill, I hope the hon. Member will 2336 realise fully that the Government are less stupid than they have been in the past, than at any rate a Government was which was in existence two years ago. I trust that he has already seen that great improvement which he obviously desired to witness, and I hope he will agree—in fact, I am sure he will, if he thinks this matter over with great care—that the decision which the Government has reached in connection with this Bill is, far from being stupid, an intelligent and a wise decision, and in reality the only possible decision that any sensible Government could take under the circumstances of to-day.
§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
My first obvious duty is to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) for implementing his luck in the ballot by adopting the principles of this Measure, and I venture to convey to him, on behalf of at least 200,000 shop assistants, organised in two trade unions, their thanks for his daring and for the very good piece of work that he has done to-day in helping them, at any rate in their propaganda work.
I hardly expected any other reply from the Government than the one to which we have just listened. If 2,000,000 or even 200,000 farmers, came to this Government and asked for anything to be done for them, there would be no argument about cost, no argument about intricacies of machinery, no argument about 3,000 inspectors, just as there has been no argument about the increase in staff to deal with tariffs on grapes and other foreign commodities. All these difficulties would be set aside at once, but when 2,000,000 shop assistants, the most helpless section of the working class—and they are the most helpless, as I will be able to show later on—come to them, as they do not belong to the class that makes up the Government, they find the door slammed in their faces. That is exactly the position.
Let me deal with one or two of the arguments that the right hon. Gentleman has employed in replying to the discussion. He criticised the provision in the Bill dealing with earlier closing than seven o'clock. Surely he must be wrongly advised in the criticism that he made, because all that this Bill would do would be to provide exactly the same procedure 2337 for closing at six or earlier as is now employed for closing at seven. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well the procedure at the moment, that the shopkeepers themselves, in conjunction with the local authorities, determine very largely the hour of closing. His criticism was a little unfair on that score.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I worked in a shop when the public used to come in at 11 o'clock on Saturday nights. When the War came the public did not matter, and the shops were closed at 7 or earlier irrespective of their wishes. Now shops are closed at 6, and some at 1 o'clock on Saturdays, irrespective of the desires of the public, because the shopkeepers want them closed and the local authorities have issued orders to that effect. If shop workers are to have their conditions of labour determined always by what the public want, shops would be opened every week day and every night and on Sundays as well. If they were kept open even on Sunday nights there would be some members of the public who would go in just to have a look round. We must not view the subject from that point of view.
I will give the House a typical example. When I worked in a shop, we closed at 11 on Saturdays, and there were six old ladies who always came in at three minutes to 11. When we closed at 10 o'clock, they came in at three minutes before closing time. When we closed at 9, at 8, at 7 and at 6 they always came in three minutes before we closed. Twenty-five years afterwards I went down to see the shop and I inquired what had happened to the six old ladies, and I was told that they had departed this life and had landed in Paradise just three minutes before closing time.
There are some members of the community who always go into shops late, and whatever the closing time there will always be somebody there when the door is about to be closed. From Sir Charles Dilke to Lord Brentford every Home Secretary has taken a kindly, almost paternal interest in shop assistants, and I will tell the right hon. Gentleman now why I said that shop assistants were the most helpless section of the community. There are more young people being used 2338 up in the distributive trades than in any other industry. There are more women and young persons employed in the distributive, trades at any given time proportionately to the whole than in any other industry and they are helpless. There are cases where, if a shop assistant dares to join a trade union he will be dismissed, not because the employers are more callous than in any other industry, but because there is a greater familiarity between shop assistants and their employers than there is in the factories and mines. In factories and coalmines the workers often do not know who their employers are, but in the shops the employer generally takes an intimate personal interest in his business.
§ Mr. HACKING
Is the hon. Gentleman inferring that everybody is helpless who does not happen to be a member of a trade union?
§ Mr. DAVIES
Definitely yes; and if the right hon. Gentleman does not believe me, I ask him why lawyers and doctors have joined a trade union.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Of course, the right, hon. Gentleman has got money. A man without riches must join a trade union if he wants to protect his interests. The right hon. Member mentioned the exceptional cases in this Report. I was a member of the Select Committee, and we had a great deal of evidence on this point. Let me say something about the argument that we should not pass this Bill because the cases quoted by my hon. Friend are exceptional. Who is to prove that they are exceptional In view of the ramifications of the distributive trades there is not a man in this land who could say that those cases are exceptional. Whether they are exceptional or not, I think it can be proved very definitely that the conditions of employment in the distributive trades are worsening with the depression that is upon us. Further, Sunday trading is increasing all over the land, and in view of that factor, something ought to be done to deal with conditions of employment in shops.
On the question of the possibility of the Bill increasing employment, I believe it is open to argument as to 2339 whether a reduction of hours does actually increase employment or not, but my personal view is that unless the hours of labour are decreased proportionately to the advance of science and rationalisation we shall soon reach the stage in this country when one half of the population will be at work and the other half will be standing idly by looking on. I thought, when the right hon. Gentleman was taunting us with not having included Washington Hours Convention in one Bill, that he understood more about the terms of that Convention. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) rather implied that the Convention covered shop assistants. It does not. It deals simply with the industrial working population, and does not apply to domestic trades, and shop assistants are included in the domestic trades.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I am sure it is well understood that the industrial population does not include those employed in shops and offices, anyhow.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Yes, and if the hon. Member were more enlightened on the subject he would know that those are covered by the Washington Hours Convention. Everybody employed in a factory or in the manufacture or repairing of clothing in a shop is covered by the Washington Hours Convention, but shop assistants have always belonged to the domestic service class, and arc not covered at all by the Convention.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I am not here to answer that question. The right hon. Gentleman made another remark about wages. I have never seen the wages problem work out as he indicated. I think it can be proved on inquiry that it is where the number of hours are shortest in the distributive trades that the wages are highest. I think that is always the case, paradoxical though it may appear. Let me make this observation in passing.
2340 This Bill would hardly affect at all the best employers in the distributive trades. I pay my tribute to those enlightened shopkeepers who have improved their organisation, because organisation has more to do with the wages bill in the end than anything else. They have done a tremendous amount of work not only in easing conditions and reducing the hours of labour but in keeping up the standard of wages as well. I do not know whether I am giving any information to the hon. Gentleman, but those employers who work their staff the least number of hours a week also pay the best wages and provide the best conditions for their employés.
Every piece of legislation which has been enacted by Parliament has been passed in order to safeguard the good employer against the irritations and unfair competition of the bad employer. That is exactly what we are doing here. The strangest argument that has been used to-day has been that about the poverty of the distributive trade. I would remind them that, when we were dealing with the farmers, the distributive trade was then said to exploit the producer unnecessarily, and that too much profit from the common pool was going to the distributor. That is the argument that is used when the Government are dealing with something in favour of the farmer. If there is one industry in this land that can afford decent conditions of employment and a maximum of 98 hours a week, it is the distributive trade. I am not speaking of the small shopkeeper, but of the large employer.
§ Mr. DAVIES
If they are good employers they will not, but some large employers may be bad employers. Let me give figures in regard to some of the biggest distributive firms in the land, and let us see what they do. Marks and Spencers in 1931 paid a 30 per cent. dividend; in 1930 they paid 20 per cent. Take Woolworths: their profit last year was nearly £4,500,040 and their dividend was 70 per cent. Surely there can be no argument about the poor dis- 2341 tributive trade not being able to meet the provisions of this Bill.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Surely the dividend paid on capital should have no relation to the volume of trade. Moreover, I know of no means whereby you can find out the trade of those firms. You can find out their profits and their dividends, but I know of no means of finding out their trade returns. If they exposed their trading returns they might not get any more capital—or some of them. The right hon. Gentleman will perhaps understand that. Take Lewis & Co. in Liverpool. They are very large employers of labour too, and they are doing well. I repeat that I very much doubt if the best employers in the distributive trade would oppose the main provisions of this Bill.
Let me come to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman about children and young persons. I have heard that argument before, and I expected it to be trotted out to-day from every quarter of the House. Hon. Members have said today "If the Bill was drafted on different lines, we would willingly support it." If we had drafted it on the lines that they now suggest, hon. Members would still have argued that the time is not opportune. For some Members of the Tory party there is no opportune time to do anything for the working-class. There will, however, be an opportune time for the working-class to say something on this issue at the next Election. That will be a very opportune time. I was rather astonished to hear the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft challenging some of the decisions of the Select Committee. He will find that he himself voted for some of them. He may have had qualifications and reservations in his mind, but, when the Vote was taken, he supported them. I am a little astonished that to-day he rather denounced the whole of the Report. He indicated in his speech that the Recommendations of that Committee were not based upon the evidence; that is exactly what everybody says when he puts his own case forward against any recommendation.
I am very anxious that the House should consider two factors in the situation. There is only so much distributive 2342 trade to be done, whatever the hours of labour in shops. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) is a little too clever in his interruptions. Perhaps he will be able to explain to the House, when I sit down, how he can extend the volume of trade in this country by keeping shops open every hour of the day and night, because that is his suggestion. I repeat that there is only so much trade to be done in this country, and it can be done as effectively within a 48-hour week as it can within an 84-hour week. In fact, it is just a very bad habit to shop late.
No one can stand up ill this House and say that the problem with which we are dealing to-day is affected by foreign competition. I cannot see any lady going down Bond Street and, if she cannot find what she wants in a shop window there, flying over to Paris. She must do her shopping, in the main, here. The goods may be purchased abroad, but they are sold retail here, anyhow. Consequently, that argument will not apply. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment made one observation that I could not understand. He said that you cannot put employés on and off at your will. Surely, he has not seen very much of industry in this country if he believes that to be the case. As a matter of fact, in most industries in this country employés are put on and off at the will of the employer. I have been in it myself, and know something about it, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not correct about industry in general.
I trust that the House will at any rate give consideration to what was said by the right hon. Gentleman in the last few words of his speech. Whatever we may think about this Bill, and I very keenly support its principles, I would like to see a start made with a 48-hour week, not only for the sake of shop assistants, but because I dread to see the years coming when, as I already indicated, unless we reduce the hours of labour to conform with the march of science and the introduction of machinery, we shall not stop at 3,000,000 unemployed. I should like therefore, in this most easy industry, the industry that can afford it best, to see the hours reduced to a limit of 48. I rather liked what the right hon. Gentleman said about children and young persons, and I hope that the Home Office will tackle that 2343 problem very soon, because no hon. Member who has criticised this Report can fail to come to the conclusion that that issue brooks no delay at all. We shall probably be beaten in the Lobby to-day, but, if we have done nothing else except to focus attention on these vital issues, we shall be satisfied with what we have done.
§ 2.29 p.m.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
It is always a privilege and pleasure to be permitted to follow the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies). First of all, he always says what he has to say so pleasantly, and, also, he always affords whoever follows him suitable opportunities for comment and criticism. The hon. Member said that there were 2,000,000 shop assistants. I think he slightly overstates the figure, but it is not too far away from that total. He referred to them as a very helpless class, for whom the Government will do nothing because they do not belong to that class. For once the hon. Member was really not playing up to the best of his form. I am quite satisfied that a very large proportion of that class of people are to be counted among those who normally support the parties of which the present Government is composed. A very large proportion of the people with whom I have been actively associated in politics have been drawn from the shop assistant class. He was contrasting them with an unspecified number of farmers whose demands, he said, would be conceded at once. If he was addressing an agricultural audience, I do not think he would get that impression. He spoke as if the public was some mysterious body of people to which none of the working-classes belong. "Working-classes" is an unfortunate phrase, but we know what it means. Does he separate the public from the working-classes? He was speaking as if this evil community, known as the public, which creates these conditions, had nothing to do with the class that he was seeking to protect.
He went on to say that shop assistants are very poorly organised, which means that not many of them are trade unionists, and that, if a shop assistant wants to join a trade union, he is dismissed. He drew a picture of tyranny which had not the slightest foundation 2344 in fact, and he knows it has no foundation in fact. The ordinary shop assistant does not want to join a trade union because he does not see why he should waste his money in that direction. He would rather go to the pictures. That does not mean that trade unionism is not a valuable institution when it does its job properly. Let us see what has happened in the last 10 years. The number of unorganised shop assistants insured against unemployment increased by 58 per cent. between July, 1923, and July, 1932. What happened in the same period to the most highly organised trade, the coal miners. Have they increased their number of insured workers? No. If you want to find a declining industry, take one that is highly organised. If you want to throw your people out of work, organise the industry, and you will organise it out of existence. It is true that those districts from which migration is taking place are precisely the districts which the party opposite dominates. If you want to find where the march of human beings is going, it is from Socialist to Tory constituencies, because they think there is a better chance of getting a job.
We were threatened by the hon. Members with what would happen at the next election if we have the courage to speak against the Bill. That was rather a dangerous thing for him to raise, because this is the Report of the Select Committee. Charles Buxton, William Hirst, Philip Oliver, James Stewart, and Arthur Taylor were among the majority. The only one whose name I cannot read, because it would be breaking the rules of the House, and whom I must describe as the hon. Member for Westhoughton, is the only survivor. Where are all the others who signed the Majority Report on which the Bill is founded? It is a little rash to suggest that that is the proper test. Then the hon. Gentleman says there is only so much trade to be done. That is a defeatist doctrine that exists far to much throughout the world. I believe there is no reasonable limit to the quantity of goods to be produced, distributed and bought. You have at this moment restriction of consumption and a corresponding restriction of production and an apparent glut, because of a variety of causes which have checked the normal flow of commodities, but I 2345 hope the hon. Gentleman is not going to preach to us the defeatist doctrine that there is this limitation. I am satisfied that there is no such limitation. You only have to walk from here to Trafalgar Square, and most people you meet would like to buy a new suit of clothes if they had the money. It is no use saying there is a surplus of commodities.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Whatever sum of money is available for purchase, it can still he spent within the 48-hour week.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If you increase the relative cost of distribution, you may check consumption. You can examine the index numbers of wholesale prices. There is a variety to choose from—the "Economist," the "Statist" and the Board of Trade index numbers. See what happened to them between the maximum level in May, 1920, and the present day. Then examine the index number of retail prices. It is true that they are not strictly comparable, because they do not entirely relate to the same things. Everybody knows that there has been a very much more rapid fall in wholesale prices than in retail prices, partly because—we have to realise it—personal payments, whether wages or salaries, are more sticky than commodity prices and do not respond. The additions to. primary commodities in process of manufacture make the wholesale prices of manufactured article's less liable to fluctuation, and, when you get distributive charges, you have that enormous spread between wholesale and retail prices, which, in the opinion of a great many people, is the oustanding cause of unemployment in the world to-day. If it is true—and I believe that it is—are we going to make things better or worse if we do anything to increase the spread between wholesale and retail prices.
Everyone knows that though this Bill might be a suitable Bill for prosperous times, at this time it would increase the cost of retail distribution, increase relative prices, and therefore throw more people out of work. It is the kind of Bill which the Socialists invariably support when in opposition and take the utmost care that they shall not pass into law when they are in office. On the 21st March, 1930, there was in charge of business, not my right hon. Friend who is there now, but an old friend of mine, Mr. 2346 Alfred Short. We were very good friends. He beat me twice at Wednesbury. He explained that the enforcement of the Bill placed upon the local authorities would involve a heavy burden of responsibility. How the tone changes when the seats arc changed! And then he said that he was instructed on behalf of the Government to say that they would set up a Committee, which is always the way out when in doubt. He said:I am specifically instructed to say that this suggestion, which is made on behalf of the Government, is not a device for delay."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1930; col. 2331, Vol. 236.]On the 15th April they announced that the form of inquiry was to be by Select Committee. On the 8th May they appointed the Select Committee, and then the Committee got to work, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhoughton was a member of it. They worked with such enthusiasm that they had not finshed the job when the Session came to an end, and they had to report that they had not been able to finish it. They begged to be reappointed and that what they had done might be resubmitted to them. They went on and on, and with good fortune reported on 18th September, 1931, when the majority knew that there was not a chance of legislation being based on their Report. Not to be a device for delay! If I believed in a thing I should work for it as if I believed that it would go through.
Their attitude is very similar to their attitude to the Washington Hours Convention. Since 1919 every successive Government has either said, "We will not ratify," or alternatively, "We will" and have taken care not to do so. That Convention would cover some of the people provided for in this Bill, but it would exclude most of them. The Washington Hours Convention relates to industrial undertakings, and they are de- fined in Article I. At that time they thought that it might be desirable to control the hours of employment in the rigid way of the Washington Hours Convention in respect of those people, and there was apparently complete unanimity that to apply the same principle to the distributive workers was impossible. The party opposite never had the determination even to give effect to the Washington Hours Convention. When they were in office in 1924 they introduced a Bill, and 2347 that was the end of it. In 1929, within three days of their taking office, and the hon. Gentleman opposite for the first time, I think, assuming office, their representative at Geneva was instructed to make the public announcement at the International Labour Conference that they would ratify that Convention, taking into account the London conversations of 1926, which involved an Amendment of the Convention, which meant that they could not ratify it.
That is the kind of method the party opposite adopt with regard to these things. They introduce these Measures, tell their people that the purpose is to liberate them from the tyranny of the capitalist, and then when they get into office and discover the real problem with which they are faced, they dodge the issue and use this and that device to explain why this thing for which they sought election is in fact impossible; it would place a heavy responsibility on the local authority, the Bill would need Amendment, it was necessary to have an inquiry, it was not to be a device for delay, and then 18 months pass between the time of announcing the committee and the committee reporting, and within a few days the House has been dissolved, so that there is no danger of any trouble. I happen to represent, I suppose, more shopkeepers and shop assistants than the hon. Member for Westhoughton. I dare-say he has occasionally visited my constituency, which contains some of the finest suburban shops you can find in any part of London, and some of those shops, I believe, employ 700 or 800 workers. One would think that if there were this burning and blazing enthusiasm for the Bill, I should have received a large number of communications from them. I have received none. I have had three or four from people who do not like the Bill.
I have in my constituency a very large branch of the South Suburban Co-operative Society who have been given to passing Resolutions on every conceivable subject under the sun, such as the export of arms to Japan and China. On every kind of trouble throughout the world, I get communications from the South Suburban Co-operative Society. I hope they are satisfied with my replies, but I should not think they are. There has not been a single communication on this subject.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
Surely all the co-operative employés of this country work 48 hours a week or less?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
And it is also true that the vast bulk of the capitalist employés normally work, roughly speaking, the' same hours of labour. We are considering by this Bill whether we are to put people in a strait jacket—not whether the normal conditions which exist to-day in general are not reasonably satisfactory. The position is whether you are going to pass into law a Bill which might make the conduct of business nearly impossible, and I am amazed that the South Suburban Co-operative Society, who communicate with me with such frequency on every conceivable subject under the sun, which has no relation to them as co-operators but only as normal citizens, did not send to me a communication at all on this matter when they do not happen to be employés but employers.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
But if a society never fails to send me, as I think, rather stupid Resolutions on every kind of subject outside their normal purview, I am a little surprised that they abstained from sending me a communication on something which really relates to their daily business. The implication is that the co-operative movement as a whole does not find any particular enthusiasm for this Bill. I think it was both the Under-Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Harrow (Sir I. Salmon) who pointed out one of the consequences of the Bill. This is not a Bill to limit hours to 48, but a Bill to provide for overtime at certain rates, because, obviously, in the long run, what would happen would be that in nearly every case the local advisory council to be set up under this Bill would authorise overtime in accordance with the overtime rates laid down in the Bill. What is the position? In the long run, the rates of pay of people in every occupation are to some extent determined by the efficiency of the average, and not by the very good establishment or the very bad establishment.
Obviously, if you impose these restrictions, the average shop is going to be put 2349 in a slightly worsened condition. You are going to bring about a reduction of the basic rate and so, in the long run, you get people back to where they are to-day. If that is not achieved, you will increase that gap between retail and wholesale prices, and you will aggravate the situation. Excessive hours are very stupid. I do not believe in working them myself, although we all work stupidly long hours in this House. I have never tried to impose stupidly long hours upon anyone. In the long run, I believe, long hours can be avoided by the exercise of common sense. But there are times of emergency when it would be intolerable if the only way to meet them was by someone having to seek permission of someone else outside his own business. That has always seemed to me quite intolerable.
Although strictly speaking the Bill is outside the scope of the Washington Hours Convention, it gives a picture of the mentality of those who favour this kind of legislation. A person may want permission to do an act which is a reasonable act, but which would be unlawful for anybody to do unless he got permission. It is quite obvious that if you proceed with this kind of legislation you will deprive a great number of people of the employment which they at present enjoy. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), in a recent Debate, stated that in distributive trades, customers are more exacting in their demands than they were, and that there was a greater demand for service, spelled with a capital "S"; that, as a result, of this increase of service the whole cost of distribution in this country had increased to a very substantial extent. I believe he was right. I believe that what he said explains to some extent why there has been in the last nine years this increase of 58 per cent. in the number of persons insured against unemployment.
It is also true that at this moment the distributive trades are suffering from a degree of unemployment which for them is unusual. I have not yet got figures up to the end of February, but at the end of January, there were 1,750,000 persons, or thereabouts, employed in the distributive trades. There would be a certain number covered by this Bill, but there are others who would fall into the category of insured domestic servants. Of 2350 the 1,750,000 insured persons in the distributive trades, 13.4 per cent. were unemployed at the end of January. That compares with 23.1 per cent. of persons unemployed in the whole range of industry, including those in the distributive trades. The distributive trades have been much more fortunately placed than the bulk of the other trades of the country.
It is also true that the enormous growth which has taken place in recent years, certainly between 1923 and 1931, has undergone a change. That rapid expansion of employment has come to an end and now, for the first time, there is a substantial measure of unemployment amongst shop assistants. Hon. Members have no doubt received letters from shop assistants, who are finding themselves out of employment for the first time, asking them to find them a job. That is a new phase. At a time when this extension of employment has undergone a check it would be unwise to pass a Measure which inevitably must have the effect of increasing the cost of distribution, hamper the conditions under which distribution is carried on, and, as a consequence, create more unemployment in a trade which for the first time is suffering from unemployment. I join with those who oppose the Bill and if we proceed to a Division I hope it will be defeated by a solid majority.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Sir WILFRID SUGDEN
I have had the privilege of listening to the whole of this Debate, and have heard the various view points which have been put forward in respect to the application of the Bill. We must admit that the status and conditions of life which obtain in respect of shop assistants are certainly not ideal, And I regret that the contribution of the Bill to their status and to their future is such, in my judgment, as will not lead to their betterment; and, what is most essential, will not lead to the betterment of trading in the future throughout this country. Only one hon. Member this afternoon has said anything about the future system of trading. It has been suggested that the co-operative movement requires a certain amount of close scrutiny; and a sense of depreciation and disparagement in certain circles is often unwarranted. I stand self confessed, and without any shame, as a co-operator. I have been associated with the movement 2351 for more than 20 years and I do not find it necessary to apologise for my association with it.
It has been suggested that the co-operative movement may be the last word in supplying the public with what it requires, in a retail sense, but I join with the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow (Sir I. Salmon) in believing that what we have to face, in respect of the retail supply of goods, is the American system: I say, however, a conjoint system of the American and German system is the future of retail trading, and to my mind it spells the elimination of the human employé, in respect of the supply of goods which the public require and desire. The Bill puts certain definite proposals before us in respect of the old-time system of trade and of supply, and if this was a suitable time and opportunity I could in the course of three quarters of an hour, or an hour, show—and I think it would have been admirable and useful if this House had had a correct survey of the methods of trading which have obtained from the fourth century in this country. But I do not think the present moment is opportune. I, like other members of my party, am neither retrogressive nor decadent in my viewpoint for the future of the British shop assistant. No hon. Member has discussed to-day the future method of supplying the man in the street with that which he requires. No one has mentioned the position that is now being assumed by this conjoint, automatic American-German system, under which a customer puts 6d. in a box, pulls a handle, and receives what he wants. The American-German method means simply walking into one of the large emporiums, passing the turnstile and taking what one wants. Under this American-German system 16 assistants are being discharged for every one where these automatic machines installed. The spread of such a system will have the effect of eliminating from our shops those men and women who in
§ the past have so splendidly served us. And for what? A turnstile, with a gentleman in uniform covered with braid, who will check the material from a catalogue, pass a check and then another receives the money as per the amount shown upon the check.
§ I know that the hon. Member who introduced this Bill has mental efficiency and a trained brain for dealing with these matters. I regret that to-day some insidious influence seems to have been placed upon him so that he did not present a Bill to the best advantage of his ideal. Returning to the issue of the cooperative movement in relation to this Bill. When I think of the great and splendid groups of working men and women who, with savings from their hard-earned wages, have set up the system of co-operative shopkeeping, I feel I would have preferred to have supported a Bill which would have introduced the cooperative movement in its more idealistic foam, so that there might be an opportunity for those who are employed, an opportunity to supply the people—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
proceeded to put the Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Major COLFOX
On a point of Order. Did I not understand that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) rose to move that the Question be now put?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is so, but I understood that the hon. Member for West Leyton (Sir W. Sugden) had finished his speech.
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 38; Noes, 119.2353
|Division No. 86.]||AYES||[4.0 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Daggar, George||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Davies, David L. (Pontyprldd)||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)|
|Banfield, John William||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Grundy, Thomas W.|
|Batey, Joseph||Dobbie, William||Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Edwards, Charles||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Hirst, George Henry|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||Jenkins. Sir William|
|Cove, William G.||Gillett, Sir George Masterman||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Parkinson, John Allen||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Price, Gabriel||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley,''|
|Leonard, William||Thorne, William James|
|Lunn, William||Tinker, John Joseph||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|McEntee, Valentine L.||Wallhead, Richard C.||Mr. C. Macdonald and Mr. Groves.|
|Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Albery, Irving James||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Ray, Sir William|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Hanbury, Cacll||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Rentoul, Sir Gervals S.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsf'd)||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Bracken, Brendan||Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Hornby, Frank||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Howltt, Dr. Alfred B.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Brown. Brig.-Gen. H.C.(Berks.,Newb'y)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Salmon, Sir Isidore|
|Burghley, Lord||Hume, Sir George Hop wood||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)|
|Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)||Slater, John|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Kirkpatrick, William M.||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Carver, Major William H.||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunllffe-||Smithers, Waldron|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Lockwood. John C. (Hackney, C.)||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J,|
|Clayton, Dr. George C.||McCorquodale, M. S.||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)|
|Colfox, Major William Philip||McKle, John Hamilton||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)|
|Cooke, Douglas||Maltland, Adam||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Summersby, Charles H.|
|Davlson, Sir William Henry||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Duggan, Hubert John||Meller, Richard James||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Mitchell, Harold P,(Br'tf'd & Chlsw'k)||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wlck-on-T.)|
|Eastwood, John Francis||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Moreing, Adrian C||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||Morrison, William Shepherd||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Nall-Cain, Hon. Ronald||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Fox, Sir Gifford||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour|
|Fuller, Captain A. G.||Nunn, William||Whiteslde, Borras Noel H.|
|Gluckstein, Louis Halie||O'Connor, Terence James||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Goff, Sir Park||O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||Penny, Sir George||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Petherick, M.|
|Gritten, W. G. Howard||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada||TELLERS FOR THE NOES —|
|Mr. Mitcheson and Mr. Remer.|
§ It being after Four of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.2354
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at Eight Minutes after Four o'Clock until Monday next, 20th March.