HC Deb 30 April 1934 vol 289 cc71-120

Order for Second Reading read.

5.26 p.m.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Gilmour)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I have the privilege of moving the Second Reading of the Shops Bill which comes from another place, and I feel sure that, in so far as its general principles are concerned, it will command the general support of all parties in this House. I think it is true to say that for some time there has been a growing feeling throughout the country that there is a need for the further protection of young people. What is described as the new charter for children and young persons, as the House is aware, has been brought into operation and embodied in the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933. But, so far as young persons are concerned, much remains to be done to prevent employment putting an undue strain upon their health, and it is the purpose of the present Bill to tackle this problem. The objects of the Bill are two-fold. In the first place, it contains provisions for regulating the hours of young persons, that is, of young persons between 14 and 18 years of age employed in the distributive trades. The scope is wide, as the provisions apply, generally speaking, to all young persons employed indoors, in retail and wholesale shops and warehouses, and also to those employed out of doors about the business of these establishments, such as van boys, errand boys, etc. Secondly, the Bill provides for improvement, in various directions, of conditions affecting the health and comfort of all shopworkers, that is to say, all persons, of whatever age, employed in retail and wholesale shops and warehouses.

The House, I am sure, is also aware that there was a Select Committee on Shop Assistants which reported in 1931, and it is upon the unanimous recommendations of that committee that this Bill is based. The House will recollect that the committee was not in agreement on questions of the limitations of hours of shop assistants as a whole, but they unanimously recommended the limitation of hours for young persons in shops to 48 hours a week exclusive of meals. The committee took a wide range of evidence in coming to their conclusions, and they were assisted by inquiries carried out by the Home Office and by the Ministry of Labour. The committee found that, while in certain cases a 48-hour week was being worked by shop assistants, in a great number of cases, I am afraid, it was clear, that the majority of the assistants were working longer hours. It appeared that the figures lay somewhere between 54 and 58 hours a week, while there were some who were really working the same number of hours as adults, and in some cases, I am afraid, they were working hours very much in excess of those which I have mentioned.

I do not think that I need trouble the House with details of these cases, which were fully set out in pages 40 and 41 of the Select Committee's Report. It is, I think, quite clear that grossly excessive hours were being worked by young persons, both up to the present legal limit of 74 hours, inclusive of meal-times, and, in some instances, even beyond that period. One can see from the report that that state of affairs applied more particularly to the class of boys employed as van boys and messengers. It is quite true that the young persons may not be actually at work for the whole time, but, as the Committee pointed out, they were in the intervening hours at the beck and call of the employer, and were not free to obtain reasonable recreation or to try to improve theft knowledge by attending educational classes. I think it is Very desirable that a problem of that kind should be dealt with.

Before proceeding to describe the proposals in the Bill, it may be well to remind the House briefly of the existing legislative provisions which affect the hours of young persons employed in shops. There are only two provisions which directly limit the number of hours to be worked. The first is contained in Section 2 of the Shops Act, 1912, and provides that no person under the age of 18 years may be employed in or about a retail or wholesale shop or warehouse for a longer period than 74 hours a week, inclusive of meal-times. This provision dates from 1886 and is, of course, quite out of keeping with modern ideas of what is correct. The second is the limitation to 65 hours a week, exclusive of mealtimes, applicable to adults as well as young persons under the Shops Act, 1913. This is an adoptive Act applicable to catering establishments, and the limit imposed by the Act applies, therefore, only in cases where the occupier of the establishment has elected to come under the provisions of the Act.

There are certain other provisions which affect the hours of retail shop workers, namely, those relating to general evening closing hours of shops, under the Shops Act, 1928, local evening closing orders under Section 5 of the Shops Act, 1912, and half-holiday closing orders under Section 4 of the Act of 1912, also the provision in Section 1 of the latter Act, under which the shop assistant must be given a half-holiday in every week. These provisions have proved to be of the greatest benefit to the employé, but it is well to point out that, so far as the closing hour is concerned, employés do not necessarily cease to work when the shop actually closes down. There is another provision to which it is necessary that I should refer, Section 19 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, which empowers local authorities to make by-laws regulating the employment of persons under 18 engaged in certain occupations. It has been explained that we do not propose to utilise that power, and I think there has been general support for that decision. Our view is that the machinery for the regulation of hours by means of by-laws under Section 19 would not be a satisfactory method of dealing with this very important problem.

This brings me to the general question of the employment of young persons in what is generally described as "unregulated" occupations, a certain proportion of which come within the scope of Section 19 of the Children and Young Persons Act, to which I have just referred. This field is understood to include young persons other than those employed in agriculture or domestic service, whose hours are not subject to any, or to any sufficient, legislative regulation. The Government have promised that they will take steps to deal with these young persons when the industrial situation permits, but I think it will be admitted that the present Bill represents a very considerable step along the road. So far as we can estimate, the number of young persons in these unregulated employments amounts to 700,000 and the Bill will cover at least 400,000. Therefore, the Bill deals with by far the largest part of this problem.

The fact that the provisions of the present Bill are confined to young persons employed in the distributive trades must not be taken to imply that the Government will not at some future time consider the cases of all others in unregulated employment, but it is right that I should warn the House that the extension of legislative control to these other spheres is not going to be a purely automatic proceeding. There are considerable difficulties. It must be remembered that in the case of the distributive trades we are, in the first place, working on the basis of exhaustive inquiries into these subjects, and we are dealing with workers already subject to existing Acts, whereas neither of these conditions obtains in the case of unregulated occupations generally. Nevertheless, the Government do not intend to lose sight of the wider problem.

Before deciding on the proposals to be included in the Bill the Government took steps to consult with all the interested parties, and those consultations went on over a considerable period. Those consulted included the employers, the employés, the representatives of the distributive trades, the co-operative societies and other bodies. We have done what we could in a reasonable spirit to try to meet a great many of the objections and difficulties brought to our notice. As anyone who has had any experience of this problem realises, the greatest controversy arose over the fixing of the number of hours. Clause 1 (1) fixes the normal maximum working hours at 48 in any week, exclusive of meal intervals. I am, however, well aware that it is the opinion of some of the retail traders' organisations that that limit is too low. They argue that the fixing of the limit is below the normal hours for which the shop must be open to meet the demands of the public and will bear very hardly on the trade, and that it is going to interfere very much with the practical conduct of their business. They suggest, further, that work in shops is not, comparatively speaking, of an arduous character, and that while they fully recognise the inadequacy of the existing antiquated limit, nothing so drastic as a 48-hour week is called for.

On the other hand, our proposal accords with the recommendation of the Select Committee, who found that a 48-hour week was already the practice in certain classes of shops, and the Government have come to the conclusion that it would not be defensible to provide, as a permanent arrangement, for a working week in excess of 48 hours for young persons. At the same time, we recognise the force of the representations made as to the need of elasticity in the application of a provision which represents a very big advance on previous restrictions, and which, if applied rigidly and at once, would lead to a great deal of inconvenience and dislocation of the ordinary conduct of business. In the case of the small shopkeeper with a very limited staff, it would be particularly difficult. The necessary elasticity is achieved in the Bill in three ways, first, by providing for a limited amount of overtime, secondly, by providing that in the case of certain special trades the hours may be averaged over a period of two or three weeks, and, thirdly, by providing for the general operation during a transitional period of a rather higher normal weekly maximum of hours.

I should like to deal first with the last provision, which is contained in Clause 2. That Clause provides that until the end of 1936 the normal weekly maximum hours shall be 52 instead of 48, with corresponding reduction in the amount of overtime. I would ask the House to note that provision particularly. It is a provision which has been criticised in some quarters, but I do not think it can be said that it is unreasonable. The distributive trades are, under the employment provisions of the Bill, having considerable restrictions imposed upon them and those restrictions will demand certain adjustments, and it is reasonable that they should be given time in order to deal with them. It would be unfortunate if, as might well happen, the result of a sudden application of the full measure of new restriction should be to affect prejudicially the numbers of young people employed. The provision which we have made is supported by the Select Committee who, in paragraph 225 of their report, say : It is obvious that no sudden and immediate application of the new regulations would be demanded, and that a period would be allowed for adjustment. That is really the reason why the Government have taken that course. We had to make our decision, and we thought that that was a reasonable period.

Now I turn to the question of overtime, which is dealt with in Clause 1 (2). That Sub-section provides that on occasions of seasonal or exceptional pressure young persons may be employed overtime, that is, in excess of a 48-hour week, subject to the limitation that overtime must not be worked in a shop for more than six weeks in any year, or by any individual young person for more than 50 hours in any year or for more than 12 hours in any week. The House is well aware that there is pressure on certain classes of shops at certain seasons of the year, such as Christmas and holiday seasons, and the purpose of this provision is to enable the shopkeeper to have the assistance, within reason, of the younger members of his staff during these special periods. A 60-hour week will be possible in the case of any one young person only on four occasions in the year, as it will involve on each occasion the use of nearly one-quarter of the total of overtime allowed for the whole year. It will be seen from Clause 2 that during the transitional period, when the system of 52 hours, not the 48 hours, is in operation, the annual allowance of overtime is reduced to 24 hours and the weekly allowance to eight. There are, therefore, fairly strict provisions dealing with that problem.

Among other difficulties we have to face the special arrangements which we propose to make dealing with special branches of trade, such as catering and garages. These will be found, in the case of the catering trades, in Clause 5, and the classes of establishments which may be conveniently grouped under the title of "garages," in Clause 6. The main feature of these special provisions is that they permit the averaging of the 48-hour week over a period of two weeks in the case of catering establishments and three weeks in the case of garages. I want to emphasise, in relation to these provisions, that they do not involve any increase in the total number of hours which may be worked either generally or in any particular week. The general purpose of the provisions is to meet what, I think, the House will regard as a reasonable demand for greater elasticity in the case of two classes of business which are called upon to meet the demands of the public at all sorts of hours.

The method of application, however, is not quite the same in each case. In the case of the catering establishments we had representations made to us by the association that they were continually faced with heavy pressure during particular weeks, such as Easter and Whitsuntide, and on occasions of local festivities, and that these periods of high pressure were followed by periods of comparatively very little pressure at all. Accordingly, it is provided in Clause 5 (1), that in such establishments the normal 48-hour week—52 during the transitional period—may on 12 occasions in the year be averaged over periods of a fortnight, provided that the hours of employment in any one week do not exceed 60, and provided also that no overtime may be worked while the arrangement is in force. The House will appreciate that under this arrangement, if so long a period as 60 hours were worked in one of the weeks, employment in the second week could not exceed 36 hours. In the case of garages, which as is well known are expected by the motoring public to provide them with services often at almost any hour, Clause 6 provides that the 48-hour week—52 during the transitional period—may be averaged over a period of three weeks, provided that the hours of employment in any one week do not exceed 54, or 58 during the transitional period, with or without overtime.

I now turn to night employment. The provisions of the Bill relating to the employment of young persons in Clause 3 are designed to secure a proper night's rest to all young persons, and are based on certain existing provisions in other Acts applicable to young persons in industry. Certain relaxations of the provisions are contained in the proviso to the Clause and elsewhere; none of which, however, interferes with the staple requirement of at least 11 hours' consecutive rest. I should mention particularly the provision in Sub-section (4) of Clause 5, where it is proposed that it shall be permissible to employ male young persons of 16 to 18 in connection with the service of meals up to one a.m. That provision is inserted to meet strong representations which were made to us by the hotel and restaurant interests, who informed us that if we are to encourage the employment of British waiters and cooks—a large part of this work has been in the hands of foreign waiters and cooks—it is necessary to have some relaxation in this direction.

Under Clause 4 the provisions of the Bill relating to the maximum hours of employment, restriction of night work and the keeping of records, are applied to the case of young persons employed in retail trade elsewhere than in shops, such as in street trading. Young persons employed as street traders will be subject, in addition, to the requirements of any local by-laws which may be made under Section 20 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933. There is another important provision in Clause 9 which secures to these young people the privilege of the weekly half-holiday and the statutory meal interval. At present this is restricted to persons who are technically shop assistants, but this privilege will now be enjoyed by all young persons employed about the business of the retail and wholesale establishments covered by the Bill, and the Clause also contains, in Sub-section (2), a reduction of the number of hours for which a young person may be employed without an interval. The remaining provisions relating to employment need not, I think, be mentioned in detail, and I propose to pass to the provisions (relating to the health and comfort of shop workers.

The Select Committee, as a result of their investigations into the question of health and welfare conditions in shops, reported that while such conditions had, from a variety of causes, changed substantially for the better during recent years, evidence had been obtained, and corroborated from many sources, that conditions still exist in shops calling for very considerable improvement. The matters which they consider call particularly for improvement are heating arrangements and ventilation, lighting, the provision of suitable and adequate sanitary conveniences, and washing facilities. The Committee's recommendations on these points were unanimous, and I think the House will agree that it is a problem to which we should pay careful attention. It is provided for in Clause 10. I would draw special attention to the definition in Clause 14 of the expression "suitable and sufficient," which is to mean in relation to any shop or part of a shop, suitable and sufficient having regard to the circumstances and conditions affecting that shop or part. That makes it perfectly clear that there is no question of a rigid application of the requirements by a local authority regardless of the practical possibilities in each case. If you laid down a rigid law, it would be difficult to apply. The House will see that in Sub-section (6) of Clause 10 we have followed the procedure of the Public Health Acts, under which the local authority have discretion to serve the statutory notice requiring a remedy of any contravention of the requirements on either owner or occupier. The local authority are, no doubt, as a rule in a position to decide which of the two parties ought to bear the cost of these alterations, but there is a safeguard provided in Clause 11, to which I desire to call attention, under which application may be made to the county court for an apportionment of the expenses in cases where either the owner or the occupier feels aggrieved, or considers that the other party in the occupancy of the buildings should bear more of the cost.

It has been suggested by some critics that the requirements in Clause 10 are unnecessary in view of existing provisions in the Public Health Acts. The answer to that is that of the matters dealt with in Clause 10 only sanitary conveniences, and to a limited extent ventilation, are covered by those Acts. That is why we have dealt with it in this manner. I should, perhaps, explain briefly the arrangements for enforcement provided in Clause 12. The Select Committee, in paragraph 235 of their Report, thought that all the provisions in question should be administered by the Shops Acts authorities, through the shops' inspectors. This is clearly quite appropriate in the case of hours of employment provisions, but we have thought it better to provide that health and comfort provisions, which touch more closely on the public health field, that is, the provisions relating to sanitary conveniences, ventilation and heating, should be administered by the local sanitary authority. Further, the enforcement of the provisions relating to street traders is placed in the hands of the authorities responsible for the administration of the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, relating to street trading. With these exceptions, the enforcement of all the provisions of the Bill will be the duty of the Shops Acts authorities.

I hope that in this general review I have succeeded in explaining clearly the principal provisions of the Bill and the reasons for their adoption. I am aware that in places the language of some of the Clauses is difficult to follow and possibly to understand, but I think it will be realised that this Measure is largely based upon the unanimous findings of the Select Committee, it deals with many technical problems, and it breaks new ground. In commending it to the House, I feel confident that on its main lines and objects it will receive the approval of the House, and that in Committee we shall all try to improve the Measure so that it may effect the objects which we all have at heart.

5.59 p.m.


The Labour Opposition in the House welcome the introduction of this Measure, though the Bill is long overdue. In fact, it just implements the many promises which have been made by various previous Governments to deal with this urgent problem. I am glad, indeed, to think that the issues involved here have long ago passed beyond party politics. Members of all parties have interested themselves in these issues on purely humanitarian grounds. I welcome that sign of a desire to reform the lot of these young people. It would not, however, be unique if I said right away that in welcoming the Bill we reserve the right to table Amendments when it reaches the Committee stage. However noble the provisions of the Measure may be, they fall short in many respects of what was expected by those most interested in the subject, and certainly by the trade unions which for the last 25 years have agitated for these reforms.

It is said that there are in this country about 700,000 young persons between the ages of 14 and 18 employed for wages without any legal protection whatever affecting their conditions of work, except a maximum 74-hour week under the Shops Act. This Bill does not deal with the whole of those 750,000 young people. I imagine that it will cover a little over 50 per cent. of that number, and of course the Bill falls short of the objects it ought to achieve by leaving out about 300,000 of these young people. The 400,000 young persons affected by the Bill are confined mainly to those employed about the business of a shop, although its provisions extend to retail trading elsewhere than in shops.

The first question I put to the Under-Secretary of State, who presumably will reply, is what classes of persons outside wholesale and retail shops is the Bill intended to cover? There is a great deal of misunderstanding already as to what are the categories of young persons to be affected by the Bill? I think I am right in saying that the groups of boys and girls in unregulated occupations that are left untouched are those of young domestic workers, office workers, agricultural workers, and boys in transport undertakings that are not connected with the wholesale or retail trade. There is a small group of boys in particular that I would like to see brought within the scope of the Measure, namely, messengers and errand boys and girls engaged in carrying parcels of goods for producers and manufacturers who are neither wholesale or retail traders. I feel sure that there is a goodly number of boys and girls employed in that sort of work.

It is presumed, of course, that any or all of these categories might be included if the boys and girls are employed even in those occupations, provided that their work is ancillary to shopkeeping; otherwise they appear to be excluded from the Bill as it stands. It is to be regretted, in particular, that boys and girls employed as domestic workers in hotels are also apparently excluded from the Bill. In a recent report of the Ministry of Labour on conditions of employment in the catering trade it was found that 70 per cent. of the domestic workers at hotels were employed for more than 54 hours a week on the average. When the Home Secretary spoke of 54 to 58 hours per week just now, those figures were the average. There are some shameful cases of sheer exploitation of boy and girl labour in these trades, as I will show later.

While the Bill lays down 48 hours as the maximum working week for about 400,000 young persons up to 18 years of age, it will not come into operation until the end of December, 1936. Really, I ask the Government what reason can there be for postponing the operation of the Bill until such a date? I do not remember any Bill, during the 13 years that I have been a Member of the House, introduced in such a way that its operation would not be effective for two and a-half years after its introduction. I know what the reply will be, that the employers will not be ready for it until 1936. Let me say at once that employers in the distributive trades have known for some time past that these reforms were imminent; and there is no reason why they should not be able to adjust their business to meet the requirements of this new law before Christmas of 1934. What is there in the distributive trade that should prevent the operation of a 48-hour week for young persons, with certain exceptions, by the beginning of 1935? I shall show later how it is already done very effectively in one section of distribution. Let me here pay a compliment to the best employers. Some of the largest firms in the distributive trades, both co-operative and private, are already well within the limit of the provisions of the Bill. In fact what this Bill will do is to bring the worst employers up to the standard of the best. That, I take it, is the intention of the Government.

Let me make another criticism against the Bill. Whilst it lays down a 48-hour week the exceptions for certain periods of the year would make it possible for a 60-hour week to prevail. I do not think it is necessary in the year of grace 1934 to speak of even certain periods of the year when we should call upon boys and girls to work 60 hours in the week, exclusive of meal-times. As I read the Bill, that is what it means. Here is another criticism, and I hope I am not offending the Home Secretary in the way I am putting it. The long hours permitted under the spread-over system for the catering trade and garages should be reduced.

Let me also protest against a provision in the Bill permitting the employment of boys between 16 and 18 years of age until one o'clock in the morning in the catering trade. Can anyone stand up in the House and tell me if there is anything in the society in which we live that calls for the labour of a boy until one o'clock in the morning in the catering trade? That question too requires a very definite answer. I see no reason whatever for such a provision. We consider that it is a very bad blot on a very good Measure, and we shall try to erase it during the Committee stage.

Let me now turn to something a little more pleasing. I welcome sincerely the arrangements for the health and comfort of all shop-workers. This is indeed a great step forward, almost more so than the 48-hour week for young persons. Strange as it may seem, it is an anomaly in the laws of the country that the requirements in the matters of sanitation, ventilation and heating in factories have always been higher than the requirement for shops. You can find large shops in the city of London and in the very centre of the building there are rooms supervised under the Factory Acts, where the sanitation and ventilation are far superior to anything relating to shop assistants in exactly the same building. This Bill will go a long way to remedy that state of affairs.

That leads me to call attention to another point. If hon. Members saw the ugly scenes far behind some of the beautiful shop-windows that they look at, they would be amazed. I was a member of the Select Committee to which the Home Secretary has referred, and we were astonished at the lack of sanitary convenience, heating and mess-room accommodation for the staff in some of the most swagger shops in the land. All that the people who ran some of these shops have done is to have beautiful windows to exhibit their goods to customers, they provide little accommodation for the assistants behind the scenes.

The Home Secretary to-day is introducing a very much more important Measure than either the House or the country comprehends. This Bill is going to affect directly and indirectly the working lives of at least 2,000,000 assistants. We are indeed a nation of shopkeepers. I have tried to compute the number of persons employed in and about shops. If distribution can be regarded as an industry, this is by far the largest industry in the land. There are three times as many persons employed in the shops of this country as in the coal mines. There are twice as many persons employed in distribution as in agriculture. We are therefore dealing to-day with a mighty problem. To show its extent it is worth noting that in the county of London alone there are 84,647 shops, employing 174,147 assistants and 23,495 young persons. In addition to that, within the same area there are 13,653 stalls not of the nature of shops, and there are 10,000 persons employed in the London wholesale markets as distributors of commodities. That is to say that there are in London alone, apart from those who keep shops on their own account, approximately 200,000 persons, working for wages, within about 20 miles radius of this House. It will be seen, therefore, that this Bill is a very important one and that it covers a very large number of assistants.

I want now to touch upon a very small but important point. It will be remembered that the House passed a Bill many years ago to provide seats for shop assistants behind the counters. Those seats were provided by law because of the terrible results, to the women assistants in particular, caused by varicose veins. I happen to be Secretary of a society with 45,000 members, most of whom are employed in shops, warehouses and offices. I can therefore speak with some little authority when I say that shop assistants suffer a great deal from the evil effects of continuous standing. Most of the time they have to stand in the same place.

I notice that the right hon. Gentleman quoted some of the arguments used by employers against this Bill. There is the argument that shop work is not of an arduous character. I hope the House will permit me to introduce a personal note in saying that I have been a shop assistant and a coalminer and, frankly, I was much happier as a miner than as a shop assistant.

The right hon. Gentleman also informed us that the shop-keeping interests had told him that the public require long hours for shopping purposes. The obvious answer to that argument is that nobody can tell what the public is or what the public wants in this connection. I say that if the shops in London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham were open all day and all night, Sunday included, there are some people who would do their shopping at all hours of the day and night. If you close the shop door at seven o'clock there will always be somebody there who arrives at one minute to seven. If you closed the shop door at six o'clock, the same people would be there at one minute to six. That is the type of person who will probably reach heaven—or the other place—just one minute before the time of closing. There are people like that. Late shopping is nothing but a bad habit, and the shopkeepers know it.

Then we shall probably be told later on when we come to the details of the Measure that shopkeepers cannot afford this change. But colossal profits are still being made in the distributive trade in this country. Few of the large shopkeepers have suffered from the effects of the economic depression which has fallen so heavily on almost every other industry. When some shopkeepers protest that they cannot conduct their businesses profitably and provide a 48-hour week for young persons under 18, the answer is an obvious and a good one. The co-operative movement, employing 200,000 adult and juvenile shop assistants, is able to carry on its multifarious businesses with a 48-hour week, and, in some cases, the co-operative store is defeating the private trader in gaining trade, even where the private trader works his assistants for 60 hours a week. It is worth while noting that as regards the hours of labour of shop assistants in the main—there may be certain exceptions—the cooperative movement is within the ambit of the first part of the Bill already, and that is to its credit.

The argument about not being able to afford it has been used on so many occasions that it is worth while combating it in advance on this occasion. I looked at the newspapers last Saturday to see how the distributive trade in this country is faring. In my Parliamentary Division engineering, the textile industry and coal mining, are going down and down as the years pass by. Only 13 years ago in my Division there were 10,000 coal miners; to-day there are only 1,700. Everybody knows the condition of the Lancashire textile industry. But look at the distributive trades. The shares of Great Universal Stores, which stood at 48s, 4½d., rose in price last Thursday by Is. 9d. in a day. The report of Marks and Spencers last week showed a cash dividend of 35 per cent., as for the two preceding years. Messrs. Hope Brothers—I think they are outfitters—have issued a report which shows that they are doing remarkably well also, and when we turn to reports on the operations of Messrs. Woolworths in this country we find that their trading profits are, indeed, colossal. There is no reason to show that the retail trade of this country cannot afford a maximum of a 48-hour week for young persons up to 18.

The argument as to foreign competition will not avail in this case. If a lady finds that she is unable to purchase her requirements in Bond Street or Regent Street it is unlikely that she will fly to Paris for a new bonnet. The fare would cost her more than the bonnet. [HON. MEMBEES : "Question."] At any rate that applies to the bonnets of the ladies whom I know among the workers. The only competition known to the distributive trade in this country is that which prevails between one shopkeeper and another. The small shopkeeper, I agree, is finding it difficult to maintain himself against the competition of the large stores and the co-operative movement; but I venture the assertion that, even if the small shopkeeper were allowed to work his assistants for 70 hours a week the mere fact that he is a small shopkeeper places him at a disadvantage on an economic basis by comparison with the large stores. Actually, he is crushed between two great forces, the big Emporia and the chain stores on the one band, and the co-operative movement on the other.

The right hon. Gentleman was right in referring to the report of the Select Committee. That committee, as I have said, did find out some serious cases of the exploitation of young people, and I pay a tribute to the Home Office and Ministry of Labour staffs for their excellent work in producing the information provided for the committee. I quote only one example. They showed that in London the case of the longest hours worked was at a fruit shop where two assistants each worked for 70 hours per week. The next longest hours were 653/4 per week worked by a tobacconist's assistant.


Were they under 18?


I cannot say. It does not say so in the report. But I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, if necessary, I, personally, can find him cases of young persons working quite as long hours.


So can I.


Of course, they were only inquiring into a number of given cases. It ought to be stated in a Debate of this kind that a great deal of improvement has already taken place as regards the working hours of shop assistants generally, consequent upon the earlier closing of shops during and since the Great War. Most hon. Members will recall that prior to the War it was a common thing to close the shop door on Saturday night at 11 or even 12 o'clock, and in some cases shopping was done in the early hours of Sunday morning. Here I would emphasise the point made by the right hon. Gentleman that the closing of the shop door is no indication that the assistant has finished his task. Cases were brought to the notice of the Select Committee in which assistants were employed before the shop opened, after it closed and even on Sundays. In spite of the improvement brought about by the earlier closing of shops in this country since the War, it is noteworthy that Sunday trading is increasing alarmingly in some towns. This Bill, therefore, is more necessary than ever.

Another point which the House ought to bear in mind is that there is a greater proportion of young persons employed in shops in this country than in almost any other occupation. It is common for employers in some of these emporia to engage boys and girls straight from school and dismiss them at the age of 16, simply because of the cost of the social services. The Unemployment Bill will get rid of one of the employer's arguments in that connection and I hope the day will come when the National Health Insurance scheme will apply from the school-leaving age upwards, as is now proposed in the Unemployment Bill. I do not know whether anybody has made the computation, but I am under the impression that about 50 per cent. of the shop assistants of this country are women and girls. There is no other industry, if distribution can be termed an industry, which absorbs a greater number of young people. A census taken two years ago showed that 57 per cent. of the shop assistants in Leeds were females. It is now a commonplace experience that girls leaving some of the elementary schools have no difficulty in finding work, whereas very few of the boys can find occupations. Girls are drifting into the distributive trades in much greater numbers than ever before.

This Bill, of course—do not let us disguise the fact—does nothing to deal with the question of the terribly low wages paid to boys and girls in the distributive trades. I hope the day is not far distant when we shall have a Measure to deal with the problem of low wages which is just as urgent as the problem of hours. In this connection, may I make one comment? The curse of our modern age is that those who are in employment to-day work harder and put in more overtime than ever before. That applies in particular to the distributive trades. I have never been able to understand how it is that, as we have reduced the number of hours worked, so we have, almost in the same proportion, increased the output of the individual. It is possible in the distributive trades to-day to see a group of shop assistants turning out more work in 8 than they used to do in 11 hours. That is the case in several other industries as well.

As I have said we welcome this Measure. The right hon. Gentleman said something about its importance. I have been long enough in politics and in this House to understand one thing. It has been impressed upon me that while you may pass Acts of Parliament, the real problem is to secure their enforcement. I have come to the conclusion that a law is of no avail unless there is some organisation to enforce it upon the delinquents. A real 48-hour week will sound like music to tens of thousands of youngsters in distribution. If hon. Gentleman will pardon another set of figures, I am sure I shall be able to show the colossal nature of distribution and of the problem with which we are dealing in this Measure. The Ministry of Labour Report for 1933 makes the astonishing statement that the proportion of insured juveniles employed in the distributive trades continued to increase during 1933. Of the total juvenile insured population, 240,000 were employed in one form or other of distributive trading. That is to say, the distributive trade has within its ambit 27 per cent. of all the boys and 26.4 per cent. of all the girls in the insurable occupations of this country. The report proceeds to make this interesting statement, that in the case of both boys and girls the distributive trades employed more insured juveniles than the sum total of any other five industries. There are more juveniles employed in distribution in this country than there are in textiles, coal-mining agriculture, shipbuilding and any additional industry you might select.

I should be very pleased to see the day coming when we should not be talking of a 48-hour week for juveniles. In this age of plenty, when science and engineering have provided mankind with all our requirements, and rationalisation has come to our aid, I have often wondered why Governments and nations do not rise to the occasion and say to themselves, "Why should a child leaving school for work not be employed, to commence with, for 20 hours a week for the first year, 30 hours a week for the second year, and 40 hours a week for the third year?" Let the youngster acclimatise himself to the occupation before he enters fully into the turmoil of industry.

This, as I say, is a very important Bill, and from the days of Sir Charles Dilke to the present time the Home Office, as a Department, apart from the political colour of the Government in power for the time being—I do not think I am treading on dangerous ground when I say this—has always taken a kindly interest in the welfare of shop assistants. I conclude by saying that we hope and pray that the good work done by the Department may continue until every warehouseman, cashier, counter hand, window dresser, cash girl, shop walker, branch manager, errand boy, and everybody connected with distribution will be emancipated by legal enactment from the slavery of modern shopdom.

6.35 p.m.


I would join in the sincere thanks and congratulations that have been offered to my right bon. Friend the Home Secretary on the introduction of this Bill. The Children's Wage Earning Committee, on whose behalf I am speaking this afternoon, has pressed successive Governments throughout this century to regulate the hours of juvenile workers. We have never asked for more than that for which we have had ample evidence from expert committees and commissions, and we have always had the sympathetic assistance of Home Secretaries and Under-Secretaries of State in successive Governments, yet the process of legislation on the subject is singularly slow. The last time that I remember the Home Office tackling it was in March, 1913, when, in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, we were assured that we should be invited to consider proposals for the further restriction of the industrial employment of children. The Under-Secretary of State of the day within a month produced for us a Bill which represented a very substantial advance, which provided for the making of by-laws for the regulation of the employment of children up to 18 years of age, and had an extremely interesting Clause permitting those by-laws to compel attendance at continuation schools. That Bill, 21 years ago, got no further than its introduction, and we have had to wait that time for my right hon. Friend to produce this Measure.

May I, in thanking Members, also thank the hon. and genial Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) for his speech, because he has shown how easy it is for this House to accept the reality of National Government when it chooses, and he has shown that he is at one with us, with his fellow Members in all quarters of the House, in approving this Bill; and the fact that he desires to see Amendments in Committee does not separate him from many other Members in other parts of the House. There are two lines on which, in Committee, I hope we shall be able to improve the Measure. We want it, as it is a good Bill, to go both further and faster. We want it to go further especially in including various persons who at present do not come within the ambit of its Clauses. We want it to include more boys and girls, and we want it to come into full operation at an earlier date. The hon. Member who spoke last referred to classes, and enumerated them, who were excluded from the provisions of the Bill. I need not re-enumerate them, but boys working in analogous, or in almost identical, occupations will be in this peculiar position, that one will be subject to a 48-hour week and another will be subject to no restriction whatever.

Take the simple case of van-boys. Those who are employed by shops come within the Bill, but those who are employed by carriers delivering goods from those shops are not within the Bill. A boy's inclusion will be a matter almost of accident. Upon whether he happens to be delivering parcels on behalf of a shop itself or on behalf of a carrier contracting for a shop, will depend whether his hours will or will not be subject to regulation. Clearly, that is not wholly satisfactory, and if we can, in the course of the Committee stage, bring within the framework of the Bill those who are doing practically identical work, it will be to the advantage of all. Take another case. Boys and girls employed in restaurants are within the Bill; boys and girls employed in hotels are not. The hon. Member who spoke last referred to some figures given to a Board of Trade inquiry relating to boys and girls in hotels, and he mentioned the very disquieting information there revealed that over 70 per cent. of girls in licensed hotels with over 10 bedrooms work 54 hours and over, exclusive of meal-times—a shockingly long time. Including meal-times is one thing, but excluding meal-times, 54 hours of work makes an intolerably long week.

When you take the standard of the Bill, the 48-hour standard, you find that the figures are very much worse. You find that of boys and girls in hotels, roughly only one in five was working 48 hours or less; four out of every five in those occupations were working more than the standard maximum laid down in this Bill. As for girls, nine in 10 were working over the 48-hour standard. That is a figure that will really shock this House, I am sure, and I think we should all agree that if this Bill can be so widened as to include that class of case, it will be a considerable advantage. Then, of course, it omits entirely employment in offices not associated with shops. I have had brought to me particularly distressing cases of boys who dare not throw up their job in offices in London, who live a long way from the City, who, from early morning till late at night, are engaged in their occupation and have no reasonable chance of leisure and, of course, none whatever of outside education. So much for widening the scope and including more persons. We shall do our best in Committee to assist the right hon. Gentleman to improve his Bill in that respect.

On the question of getting the Bill into operation faster, one quite understands that in framing and introducing a Bill, one likes to get the maximum amount of agreement with people affected, and one quite sees the pleasantness of conceding to people a certain amount of time in which to set their house in order, but I seriously suggest that to take this process of standardising hours in two steps is not really for the convenience of the shopkeepers any more than it is to the advantage of those who work in shops We know very well that any reorganisation whereby you bring work, whether in office or shop or wherever it may be, within some definite scheme of regulation, is a matter of difficulty, causes inconvenience, and upsets old routines, and you have to reorganise your business to make it fit. To do it once, I suggest, is much pleasanter than to do it twice. If shopkeepers have to take a half stage in the course of this year and then another half in the year following, they will find that their position is not really so convenient as if they were to take the whole bite this year

There is another serious reason for expediting the regulation of hours of juveniles. Everybody who has had to consider problems of adolescence knows that we are now at the beginning of the bulge of applicants for juvenile work, and that during this year and the next three an abnormal number of boys and girls will be thrown on to the labour market. If the shortening of working hours is going to cause the employment of more boys and girls, there is not a better moment at which trade can be asked to make the necessary adjustments than at a moment when the market will be flooded with juvenile workers. That is an argument for bringing the Bill into force with all the rapidity possible. These are Committee points, and we shall hope to deal with them upstairs.

Let me conclude with a wider consideration. The Bill is the product of the Home Office, no doubt working in harmony with the Minister of Labour, but there is the far bigger question, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Westhoughton, of the entry of the boy into work, which is not merely within the scope of the Home Office or of the Ministry of Labour or even of the Board of Education, but is a subject on which these three Departments should collaborate to bring about an agreed solution of a difficulty which all of us have felt for years. At present there is no organised system of entry into work, no system whereby the process of education merges into the process of gainful occupation. These two processes are separated by one deep chasm. The boy and the girl tumble from one into the other—it is true with some assistance from juvenile advisory committees, charitable organisations, and no doubt with some help from wise friends, but with no kind of deliberate organised procedure.

I submit to the Government that this process of entering into industry is one of the big social problems still unsolved with which a National Government ought to deal. They are qualified by their power for dealing with a subject which, though not necessarily extremely popular, is widely recognised as important. It is recognised as important by those who have to face the problem, and throughout the country the Government would have the earnest support of people familiar with that problem if they would set their minds to an adequate solution of its difficulties. Meanwhile, this Bill covers a real fragment of the ground of adolescent employment, and England will be the better place for youth because of it. I welcome it with gratitude and with congratulations to its authors.

6.50 p.m.


In so far as it relates to hours of labour this Bill deals only in part with two economic conditions which are revolting to to-day's conception of our social responsibilities. The two conditions to which I refer are the hours of labour worked by shop assistants and those worked by young persons who are in trades officially described as unregulated trades. The public in recent years has seen and become accustomed to the early closing of shops, but it is generally under the impression that when the shutters are up and the blinds pulled down the assistants are at leisure. I agree with the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Khys Davies) that the truth is otherwise. I know that very often, long after the door is closed on the last customer, assistants are engaged scrubbing down the counters, weighing up goods for the next day and performing other occupations in readiness for the next day's trade. Whatever the Act for the hours of closing has accomplished, the fact remains that even young persons under the age of 18 are allowed to work in shops to-day for 74 hours a week. I recognise with satisfaction that this Bill does, with some exceptions which modify my satisfaction, limit the hours of those occupations to 48 hours in any one week.

The number of people who are affected by these limited hours is about one-half the number engaged in the unregulated trades. We have been told that it affects 400,000 out of 700,000. Hon. Members will note that the balance, which is not inconsiderable, are still required or may be required to work for hours and under conditions of labour which working men of to-day would not tolerate for a moment if applied to themselves. The Bill is confined to the distributive trades. We are told that the decision to limit the provisions of the Bill is not to be taken as suggesting that the Government will not give sympathetic consideration to the claims of those in other unregulated trades if circumstances permit. Hon. Members may have noticed that in the Minister's speech there were two negatives in one sentence. Although we are told that two negatives in a sentence equal an affirmative, I hope that the Minister who is to reply to the Debate will reveal to the House the circumstances which will permit the Government to introduce legislation to restrict the excessive hours which are imposed on young people in those unregulated trades which are not within the scope of the Bill.

I should also like to know the reason which prevents this Bill coming into operation under two and a-half years. I cannot understand why it cannot be put into operation in six months' time at the latest, and I cannot imagine anybody on these or the Opposition benches having any reluctance to facilitate the passage of such a Measure. Hon. Members know the intensive campaign which has been waged by the official Opposition in favour of a 40-hour week for adult workers; and only this morning I read in the "Times" that the Leader of the Opposition advocated a 36-hour day for adult workers. I cannot believe that hon. Members opposite would be satisfied to leave father sitting at home in his slippers in front of the fire while his boy and girl were working 60 or 70 hours a week, which many of them have to do in the unregulated trades. In spite of all I have said, I am in favour of the Bill, because it is an advance towards the elimination of the scandal of the terrible hours which have been imposed on so many juveniles. I support it because I have for a long time taken an interest in these young persons, and, although I regret the limitations of the Bill, I would not like in any way to associate myself with any efforts which might jeopardise its passage to the Statute Book.

The Bill is confined to the distributive trades which are in a favoured and privileged position to-day inasmuch as they have not to meet world competition in the same way that the producing trades have. As far as their services are competitive, everything is equal for them. They have not to worry in any way about what, for instance, Japanese distributors might be doing in the same way as every British manufacturer has to worry about the activities of the Japanese producers. They are also indifferent to quotas, tariffs, and currency restrictions which every manufacturing industry, whose production and sale depend upon exports, must face. They draw their supplies from the whole of the world, and they have a wonderful home market in which to dispose of them. The distributive trades are on velvet compared with the producing industries, and yet it is the producing industries which, in respect of hours of labour and conditions of work, are limited and regulated to a degree which never applies to the distributive trades. Therefore, when we are making legislation and have to take into account things which affect the distributive trades, we have not to be so careful with them as we must be when we consider matters which affect the producing industries, for we may be putting upon the producing industries some burden which their foreign competitors are not called upon to bear.

While I am moved by the case of the small shopkeeper who has a very hard fight to go through, I am not at all moved or impressed by the representations of the great distributive industries which are made against the Bill. I cannot make myself believe that they will be hastened to bankruptcy because they have boys and girls in their employ who will by this Bill no longer be required to work for more hours than have for a long time been adopted in the main by the producing industries. In fact, I maintain that any trade or industry which can only keep its stability by overworking boys and girls in employment should certainly have a drastic overhaul of its organisation and methods. I give my support to this Bill with the earnest hope that when it is taken in Committee Amendments will be moved and accepted by the Government which will vastly improve the hours of labour and the conditions of the young persons in the unregulated trades which have not yet been brought within the scope of the Bill.

6.58 p.m.


As a Liberal, I am delighted to find a Measure of the Government which I can support wholeheartedly. This is a reform long overdue. Successive Governments have promised it, plausible reasons have been produced for procrastination, and it is peculiarly suitable that the National Government should at last act. What is the problem? Until now there has been an important gap in the protection of child labour. The Education Acts, the Factory Acts and the Shop Hours Acts have covered a great deal of ground, but they have left unprotected the boys and girls between 14 and 18, a period which, in the opinion of educationists, is the most formative period of a child's life. Horrifying figures have been adduced this afternoon as to the hours of labour worked by these young persons. It is estimated that there are 7,000 children working between 66 and 72 hours a week, and even though that includes time for meals and rest periods, it means that during all those hours they are at their place of work and under discipline and restraint. That this condition should have been allowed for so long is a blight on our social conscience.

How does this Bill meet the problem? It is pointed out that of 700,000 children, it deals with only 400,000 and regret has been expressed from all parts of the House that those engaged in the domestic side of hotel work are not included in the Bill. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. B. Davies) produced some very remarkable figures of the hours worked in hotels. Why are not they included? It really cannot be the state of trade. The National Advisory Council for Juvenile Employment in 1932 pointed out that the majority of boys and girls are employed in subsidiary occupations, and it cannot be said that the mere limitation of their hours of employment would have any appreciable effect on the cost of production. Surely it cannot be necessary in the interests of British industry that page boys, for example, should work these long hours? It is not a pleasant sight to see these boys in the stifling atmosphere of hotels, far into the night, opening and shutting doors and running errands, and sometimes having to prop open their eyes to keep awake. These boys have no votes, they cannot write to their Member of Parliament about it or agitate through the usual channels and it is, therefore, the more incumbent on democratic Government to see they are adequately protected and have the fullest opportunity for attendance at night classes, and the ordinary rights of boyhood to healthy recreation.

Now, particularly, is the time to deal with this problem. It has been estimated that there are something like 100,000 juveniles unemployed between the ages of 16 and 18, and that figure is likely to be increased very considerably. As my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) reminded us, there is this post-war wave of population which is going to deposit on the labour market something like 400,000 additional boys by 1936. What a tragic commentary it is on the way in which we distribute labour that there should be 300,000 boys overworked and 100,000 with no work at all. Our problem is a very serious one, and I believe that the Government would really make the best contribution to the solution of it by raising the school-leaving age. I still hope that the Government will come to that conclusion before the end of this Parliament, but, in default of that, let them at least drastically regulate the hours of child labour. I am not impressed by the argument that is sometimes adduced by parents that regulation of labour will mean restriction of the earning capacity of children. I am not at all sure that in many families to-day too great a proportion of the income is not provided by the adolescent members of the family. Something has been said about the low wages of boys and girls; I am not sure they are not sometimes too high, so that between the ages of 14 and 16 they acquire expensive habits which they are not able to maintain when they reach 18 or 19. There comes that terrible period when the wages no longer come in and the boy cannot take his best girl to the pictures, go to football matches, greyhound racing and so on, and he is exposed to peculiar temptations.

Some alarming figures were given during the week-end by a Home Office official as to the increase of juvenile crime between the ages of 16 and 21. Surely it is better that boys should earn less between 14 and 16 and more at 20 or 21, or even be able to maintain their job at all. The hon. Member for Westhoughton said that this was an important Bill. I agree that it is. It may be called a very far-reaching Bill. Our problem to-day is not merely the creation of new work, but the fair distribution of the work we have already. Our generation has had to face a new industrial revolution as swift and as ruthless as the industrial revolution of 100 years ago. Man's productive capacity has increased ten-fold, fifty-fold and one hundred-fold, and the tragedy is that that productive capacity has been comparatively so little reflected in improvement in the lives of our people. To the glaring anomalies of the millionaire and (he pauper there is now added the even more fantastic contrast of the grossly overworked boy of 16 and the idle man of 21. Here is an obvious opportunity to do something to adjust the balance. I do not want to appear to cavil in any way at this Measure. It is an important milestone in social legislation, but I earnestly hope that the Government will regard it, not as the end of the journey, but as a half-way house.

7.8 p.m.


There has been general agreement as to the objectives of this Bill, and as to the steps which the Government are taking for the amelioration of this very great evil, and I do not wish to utter a discordant note if I criticise in some way or another some of the provisions of the Bill. I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies), and I trust that it was not in his mind, or in the mind of the Opposition, that this Bill is in any way brought before the House as a form of condemnation of a private employer, and as saying, by inference, that the State or municipal employer is more reasonable. I think that there is little deliberate cruelty in the mind and heart of the average Englishman, altogether apart from party. There is a great deal of ignorance in our civilisation at the present time, but I know Government and county offices where the sense of responsibility is not equal to that of the private employer.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton quoted the case of the shop, with a beautiful window, where a lady, whom he said he knows, walking down Bond Street, buys a bonnet for £3 10s., and awful conditions exist away behind the scenes. That may be so, but even if the hon. Member does know this particular shop and this particular instance, it is rather dangerous to quote a specific instance and attempt to draw a general conclusion from it. The point I wish to make, first, is that we should not cavil at the work done by the average, sensible, socially-conscious employer of labour in this country. Secondly, the hon. Member for Westhoughton drew the conclusion that the Bill was justified on every ground, and certainly on the ground that it would not impose any additional burden that should not be imposed on the shopkeeper. He spoke of the small shopkeeper who is at the present time hard up against it in competition with the multiple shops. I agree that is a great question with which the House of Commons will have to deal in the future. The House may have to tackle that subject on the lines the French Government have. I do not propose to discuss it, except to say that I am in complete agreement, but it is not affected by this Bill.

Another point I want to make arises out of Clause 1 (2, a), in which it is said that if in any year there have been six weeks where young people have been employed overtime, no young person shall be so employed for the remainder of the year. We are all anxious to see the objects of the Bill carried cut, but let us be careful that we do not impose any injustices or impracticable proposals. I think that we shall need to consider very carefully the effect on the seasonal centres of England if that Clause is allowed to stand as at present. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, in introducing the Bill, spoke about the seasonal occupations, and mentioned Easter, Christmas and Whitsun, but I would respectfully point out that there are holiday resorts all along the coast—I have the honour to represent two or three—in which we have Christmas, Whitsun and Easter as our short seasons, and then we have our long season, June, July, August and most of September, in which the shop people have to make their money for the rest of the year. In the winter we are dead. Under this Bill, a shop can work six weeks overtime. If we take eight days for Christmas, 10 for Easter and 10 for Whitsun, that makes 28 days, and leaves us only 14 days in our long season in which we shall be allowed to employ juvenile labour overtime.

The six weeks which are allowed in this Bill should be really extended to something like 22 weeks. I am quite aware that would not commend itself to the House, but I would ask whether some limited replacement of juveniles could not be considered. I can appreciate the reason why a man should not be allowed to work a young person overtime for 50 hours and then discharge him, because the displacement of labour would be deplorable. But I believe that there could be a limited replacement when an employé might work 50 hours' overtime up to a maximum period for any particular shop of, say, three months. I think that that would overcome the holiday difficulty. The difficulty would be very great if the Bill passed in its present form, for the shopkeepers would have to curtail certain people during the hours the holiday makers expected to be served, or else the small shopkeeper would have to do overtime work himself. That is a point with which I would ask the Minister who replies to deal. No Bill is perfect when introduced, and although this Measure must commend itself to the vast majority of hon. Members I hope that such points as I have mentioned, which will affect also the constituencies of other hon. Members, will receive the sympathetic consideration of the Government and of the whole House.

7.15 p.m.


The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill must be very well pleased with the general reception which it has met with, but that appreciation may have been stimulated by two considerations, one a recognition of the good effects the Bill will have and the other a recognition of the great evils which exist and the hope that this legislation is only a start and will be followed up by further action in the future. I have none of the fears of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour). The employer who recognises his social obligations has nothing to fear from this Bill, or even from a stronger Bill. The person the good employer has to fear is the unscrupulous individual who is not so alive to his social obligations. A Bill of this character will be to the disadvantage of no one except the unscrupulous employer. In another place a Bishop spoke of boys who are working from 80 to 90 hours a week, and I am certain that such instances could be multiplied many times by many hon. Members in this House. I feel a little regret at the age limitation in the Bill, and I hope that in the near future we shall have a more comprehensive Measure which will extend the advantages now to be bestowed on those under 18 to other sections of the community working under the conditions of which we have heard. It is not to be assumed that an employment which seems to be an easy one is, in fact, easy. I have had experience as a messenger boy and of serving behind the counter at not very heavy distributive work, and I felt more tired and mentally weary after a day in an ordinary shop than I have felt after working at manual labour at a bench for eight hours a day. The Bill adjusts some evils, but I trust that its scope may be extended.

There are only two points in the Bill upon which I rose to speak. One is the permission the Bill gives for 12 hours' overtime a week. Before the Committee stage I would like the right hon. Gentleman seriously to consider whether that figure cannot be modified. I trust that it will be possible to reduce the overtime to a limit more in conformity with what has been proved to be workable in great sections of the distributive trades. The other point concerns the question of supervision, which apparently will be largely left in the hands of local authorities. Already local authorities have certain duties placed upon them under the Shops Acts, and though I have no desire to besmirch the good name of local authorities I think it could be shown that many of them are not very active in seeing that the law is observed. Therefore, I trust that the right hon. Gentleman and his Department will give some consideration to the question of stirring up the local authorities to greater activity, and take powers to themselves, in cases where local authorities are not active in enforcing this legislation, to see that it is observed. I trust these two points, with others, will be attended to in Committee, particularly in the interests of good employers, and also because this Bill is really only a start in the attempt to deal with an extensive evil.

7.22 p.m.


It would be a crime to speak much longer in this Debate, for it is difficult to add anything to what has already been said, but there is one point I would like to make. Those of us who have been working among boys welcome this Measure as a first instalment of further legislation during the coming five or 10 years. To my mind the great point about this Bill is that, for the first time, it will make it possible for the young people concerned to extend their education, not only in educational institutions but in clubs and institutes. Hitherto that has been quite impossible. It is ridiculous to ask boys to take up educational work in the evenings after the long days some of them have to work. The problem with which this Bill deals is part of a very much bigger problem, as the hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays) has reminded us, and that is the problem of young people between 14 and 18. Statistics show that something like 45 per cent. of the boys and girls in unregulated trades have been prohibited from taking part in any sort of organised evening work because of their hours of labour, and we rejoice to think that that part of the problem will be alleviated by this Bill.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) that we need to go further and faster. We want to see a larger number of boys included. There is a lot of rash talk about van boys and some of the other boys in unregulated trades. I once asked a hundred boys in East London to write an essay on how they found their first job, what they thought of their employers, and how they obtained succeeding jobs. It was not a case of some social worker interfering to tell the boys what they should do; it was getting the boys own story. I learned a good many home truths. One of them was that a van boy's job was probably one of the healthiest in London, and also one of the most adventurous. Instead of working in some not very well-ventilated factory the boy sees London from the tail of a van, as a good many boys said in no uncertain language; but that ought not to prevent us from seeing that those boys do not have to work 60 or 70 hours a week. I am not sure whether all the boys who ought to be under the Bill are covered by it, and I hope we shall make sure that we have included a good many who only seem to be included at the present moment.

I disagree with the hon. Member who said the Bill is not going to affect the small shopkeeper. I believe it is, and I am glad that it is. Also, it will affect what is called the slum shop. It is not needed in some of the bigger stores, but it is very much needed in some of the shops which are mushroom growths, because there one finds the type of employer who throws a boy off. We talk a deal about the reorganisation of basic industries. The reorganisation of our shops is not the same problem as is presented by the iron and steel and coal trades. Those engaged in the retail trades are not poor, as many hon. Members have said, and they can put their house in order.

Another point mentioned by the hon. Member for North Bristol is also relevant. I remember a boy saying once that when choosing a job at 14 be had to choose between his wife and his mother, and when I asked what he meant he explained "If I take a job at 14 I can take money home and help the family, but if I go in for apprenticeship I get nothing until I am 21, though I can get married later on." For my part, I should be in favour of any proposal that would take more young people out of employment between the ages of 14 and 18 and put more into employment between 18 and 22. I think we shall have that part of the problem with us for a good many years, quite apart from the "bulge" of 400,000 in the next two or three years. If we look at the figures of army recruiting and at the analysed results of unemployment we can trace, boy by boy, the effects of idleness and unemployment between 14 and 18 or of bad conditions of employment between 14 and 18, and if we are to have a virile race we must pay far more attention, from the physical point of view, to the formative years between 14 and 18.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon adding one more stone to the edifice which is being built up, to what I call "the charter of adolescence." We have had the Young Persons Bill, we have created juvenile instruction centres under the Unemployment Bill, now we have this Bill, and I trust we may do a little more; and it will then be said that the National Government not only paid attention to the channels of trade and the stability of our currency, but also dealt with this problem, though it may not seem so urgent to some people—I am sorry to see that the Minority Report of the Juvenile Advisory Council did not regard it as urgent. I hope that we shall not only pass the Bill through Committee, but pass it with some Amendments which will widen its scope.

7.26 p.m.


I congratulate the Government on having brought forward this Measure, which will do much for so many boys and girls who are unable to help themselves. Their brothers and sisters in factories, as a result of trade union organisation, have gained certain definite benefits and limitations of hours, but these others, who by accident have chosen to take jobs in shops, are deprived of advantages to which they have just as much right in equity as those working in factories. To my mind, it is the duty of the State to come in to assist those who cannot find through trade union organisation the support they require. Shakespeare makes Henry V say of himself and of a subject : The violet smells to him as it doth to me, and I am sure that the evening sun shines as brightly for the shop assistant as it does for the factory worker, and those who work in shops ought to be give an opportunity of getting out to play their games or go for country rambles or, in the winter months, to educate themselves. Owing to the failure of the State to give them that privilege shop workers have been severely handicapped in the race of life. I am very glad that something is being done to adjust matters in that respect.

One other point about office workers' conditions as compared with those of factory workers is that at Easter time, which, unfortunately, comes too early in the year—I wish the Home Secretary could set it on six weeks or a couple of months—it is the custom for a good many factories entirely to close down for Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, but those who work in shops, owing to the present habits of the people, do not get that long holiday. I should very much like to see a Statutory holiday for everybody from the Thursday until the Tuesday morning. Some day we may see such a Measure. In introducing a Bill of this kind, it is necessary to allow a certain amount of time for adjustment of businesses to the new conditions, but I cannot help thinking that to allow more than two years, until the end of 1936, is rather too long, and I hope that the Home Secretary may consider in Committee some limitation of that period.

There are still 300,000 out of 700,000 young workers left outside the benefits of this Measure, and I hope that the Government in Committee will look as favourably as they can on Amendments directed towards bringing in further classes. Particular classes have already been referred to. There is the exclusion of hotel workers such as page boys and lift boys. The report of the Advisory Committee of 1932 pointed out that over 70 per cent. of the catering trades work over 54 hours per week, and that the overtime in certain periods of the year is much too long. The allowance in the garage trades of 58 hours for a transitional period, and after that of 54 hours, is also too long. Theoretically, we are supposed to be in favour of the 48-hour Washington Convention. Although it has never been ratified by any Government, yet it is still our policy, and it seems unreasonable that we should put in a figure of 54 hours or anything in excess of 48.

A provision to allow young people between 16 and 18 years of age in the catering trades to work up to 1 a.m. in certain periods of the year does not seem to be satisfactory. I hope that the Home Secretary will listen favourably to any Amendment to bring transport undertakings within the scope of the Measure. They are responsible for a good deal of the difficulty which has been referred to in connection with shops, and there does not seem to be any reason why they should not be included. Cases are pointed out in the report where young people work all night. I hope there will be a severe limitation of hours in this case, and in the case of those who go on errands for producers and manufacturers. It is a question of putting in a word for people who are doing the same kind of work for different individuals. I congratulate the Government on the step forward that they have taken. They are giving people something more of the joy of life of which they have been wrongly deprived by the accident of their occupation. I hope that before the Measures leaves this House the Government will go as far as they possibly can in extending that new joy of life to as large a number of young people as possible.

7.35 p.m.


I do not want to make a speech, but to ask a question of the Minister before he replies. The question is based largely upon what has been said by an hon. Member in regard to the hours of work of page bays in hotels. Figures have already been given in the report, and by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) and they are of a horrifying character. The report shows that the percentage of boys who work 54 hours is 56 and in the case of girls it is 71. I am informed by one of my hon. Friends that boys and girls under 18 years of age who work in restaurants come under the Shops Act. I am told that that is not so in the case of hotel workers, and a specific case was given by the hon. Member to whom I have referred. I wish to associate myself with everything that he said on the subject. I have reason to believe that girls and boys in hotels do not come under the Shops Act. If that be so, that seems to be a very serious anomaly which requires the attention of the Government, and I hope that the Government will give attention to it. I think that the general intention of the House, so far as it has been expressed this afternoon, is that this anomaly should, if possible, be done away with. The reason for singling out this particular trade is that the hours of employment in it are not those of any comparable business or trade.

7.37 p.m.


Many of us have been waiting with very great interest for this Bill. Those of us who served on the Committee of the Shops Bill in 1932 remember the then Minister's very distinct promise that a Bill to regulate the hours of work of young people would be brought forward at the earliest possible date. The date, he said, would be when trade and industry could afford such a Bill to be brought forward. In view of that promise, which, I think, if read carefully, went considerably further than this Bill goes, I should like to ask the Minister if we are to regard the Bill merely as the fulfilment of the first part of the promise and not as the ultimate aim which the Government have in mind?

I would refer to the speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) who, I regret, is not in his place. He suggested that there should be, in holiday resorts, the power of replacement. I can only understand that in one way. Are we to understand that he wishes certain young people to be taken into employment, to be allowed to work the maximum of overtime in the course of the year, and then to be dismissed and be replaced by other young people? If so, that would cut right at the very root of the Bill and render it absolutely valueless. I believe, on the contrary, that in Committee we can hope to see some strengthening of the Bill which will make any provision such as that absolutely impossible.

7.40 p.m.


As one engaged in the business of retail distribution, I want to make one point which I think ought to be made before this Debate is concluded. I do not want any impression to go out that the retail distributive trade is conducted, on the whole, in such a manner that it is necessary to impose the provisions of this Bill upon it. The suggestion has been made that the organised distributive trades are opposed to the Bill. I know of no such opposition. The organised distributive trades are perfectly prepared to agree to the Bill in principle, and indeed to welcome it. There are one or two detailed alterations that might be made upstairs in Committee. The Bill is largely concerned with matters of detail.

If there is one point that I would make it is that the House ought to recognise what it is doing in considering the Bill, and what it will do if the Bill is passed. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) said that the Bill did not affect the small trader; it does. The Bill will be a very severe restriction on the small shopkeeper. The greater part of the large organisations in the retail trade will not be affected in the slightest, because they already conform to the conditions laid down in the Bill. Take, for example, the hours that are worked in what are usually called the "down-town" stores, from 9 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. on ordinary days, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the half-holiday and from 9 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. on Saturday, which is the long day. With intervals of about two hours for meals, that makes a total of about 44½ or 45 hours a week. Those are the conditions which obtain in those large stores. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) quoted the profits made by Woolworth's, Marks and Spencer's and the Great Universal Stores. There is evidence that they are already doing what this Bill proposes, and the Bill does not affect them. The people who are going to be hit by this Bill are the small single shopkeepers. For my part, and I imagine on the part of the large retail organisations of this country, there can be no objection to these conditions being imposed. They are very good conditions, but we ought to realise that this Bill will probably be de scribed by the small shopkeepers as one that will definitely put the small single shopkeeper out of business. I have no brief for altering the provisions with regard to——


I thank the hon. Member for giving way to me. I am sure that he does not want to misrepresent what I said. The point that I wanted to make is that the small shopkeeper will not be materially affected by the Bill in respect of the competition of the great multiple shops. The odds are so enormous, and although they are to some extent lengthened by this Measure, the effect is not really anything in comparison with them.


The hon. and gallant Member is entirely right. My point is that the Bill will not merely not assist the small shopkeeper against the competition of the large organisations, but it will definitely make his position worse. I was rather surprised to hear the hon. Member for Westhoughton say that the shops in Bond Street were those which would be affected by the Bill. They are not in the least the shops which will be affected. So far as I know, those shops comply already with the provisions of the Bill. It is important that the House should recognise that the Bill is going to do what I say it will. The House ought to determine, and ought to know that it is determining, whether the crushing of the small shopkeeper is a desirable or undesirable thing.

There are points which ought to be gone into in Committee. If I may draw attention to one of them, it is in regard to Clause 6, which lays down that special exemptions from the provisions of the Measure are to be given to shops supplying accessories for aircraft, motor vehicles and cyclists. It lays down also that, in a business where there is more than one department, only the department which actually makes these sales shall be exempted. I have looked at the definition Clause to discover what a department is, because that is a difficulty which will confront people who run department stores, but I find no definition of a department in the Bill. I think, however, from my reading of the Bill, that it is obvious that if, say, a Woolworth's store were to sell a bicycle bell, it would be entirely exempt from the general provisions of the Measure, and would come under Clause 6. That is a point of detail which I think ought to be dealt with, because otherwise there would seem to be a grave danger that the exemption of Clause 6 might be much wider than was intended. I merely wished to make these comments on behalf of those who are engaged in retail trade. Some compliments have been paid them; some references have been made to the excellent conditions of employment in many of the larger stores; and I would say that the conditions of employment in the larger stores are far better than in almost any other occupation. I think that the large organisations and many of the smaller shopkeepers in this country will not only support the Bill but will definitely and gladly welcome its main general provisions.

7.47 p.m.


The Home Secretary said, in the course of his speech this afternoon, that the language of the Bill is very difficult to understand and to follow. I agree with him that it is difficult to interpret clearly and distinctly what the Bill intends to do, but, in addition, it has far too many loopholes, possibilities of evasion and limitations to be regarded as in any way a courageous Measure. Moreover, I think that the transitional period of three years is far too long—that it is perfectly monstrous to allow such a long period before the Bill comes into operation. All the facts regarding shop life are known to the Government and to Members of the House of Commons. A Select Committee sat in 1931, and that committee, perhaps not unanimously, but as a committee, reported in favour of a 48-hour week for shop assistants, both adults and young people. The committee recommended that there should be a transitional period, and there has been a transitional period of something like three years since the committee reported. After all, it is often taken for granted that, when a Royal Commission or Select Committee makes a report, there is some intention of Parliament doing something in that direction; otherwise, what is the use of appointing a commission or committee at all? I think that, after the three years that have now elapsed, this Bill ought to come into operation immediately it is passed into law, and I hope that it will be so amended in Committee as to make that possible.

The only Act which applies to young people in shops is the Act of 1912, which has been mentioned several times in the Debate this afternoon. That Act provides that young people under 18 who are employed in shops may work up to 74 hours a week, and the Home Secretary declared that there are in shops many workers of that age who work even longer hours than 74 per week. Other speakers have said that there are children between the ages of 14 and 18 who work even 90 and 96 hours a week, which is far too long. Is there any father here who would like his boy or girl between the ages of 14 and 18 to be working 12 hours a day, six days a week, at some hard occupation? I am sure there is not. Then there is the important matter mentioned by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. K. Lindsay). We all desire to see a more intelligent democracy, and to see them given the opportunity of taking advantage of education. I do not know how many Members have had experience of working hard between the ages of 14 and 18, but I myself, from 12 to 18, was a young miner, and I knew what it was to work hard and long during those years; and I know that, whatever opportunities may be provided for education, there is no inclination to take advantage of them when you have been tired out and everything has been knocked out of you in the occupation that you have been following. I am quite sure that these long hours which are worked by young people in shops are a great deterrent to adult education, and I want to see some improvement in those conditions in connection with this Bill.

It is said that only one in seven boys or girls between the ages of 14 and 18 continue their education after they leave the ordinary elementary school. That is far too small a proportion, and it ought to be considerably increased. We are regarded' as a nation of sportsmen, and I marvel sometimes at the quality of many of the sportsmen that we have in this country, in cricket, football, tennis, and various other sports; but, after all, there are not so many sportsmen who actually practise those sports. I was one of the 100,000 who saw the Cup Final on Saturday. There there were 22 clever and wonderful sportsmen, but 100,000 watchers. We are a great nation of watchers of this sort of thing, and a great nation of supporters of sport. There is no more impressionable age in life than those years between 14 and 18, and the opportunities for self-improvement, if they are lost then, can never be regained. That is a gap that I want to see filled up as soon as possible. Then the statement has been made, and we know it is true, that juveniles in shops work just as long hours as adults, and I have no objection to that if both adults and juveniles are working short hours; I would shorten the hours considerably as compared with what they are at the present time. I think that Sub-section (1) of Clause 1 of the Bill, which lays it down that the hours of work shall be not more than 48 in the week, and the penalty provision in Sub-section (5), are sufficient as regards hours of labour, and, indeed, I would put the figure lower than that, because I do not think there is any necessity to-day for anyone to be working even 48 hours a week.

There is one provision in the Bill which I support very strongly, and that is the provision that these young people shall not be working until one o'clock in the morning, or working at night at all. That should be prevented as far as possible. I cannot, however, see the necessity for Clauses 5 and 6. I suppose that the catering trade is very strong and determined on the employers' side, and that they put their case strongly before the Select Committee and have influenced the Government to make provision for exceptions in that particular trade. Personally, I do not think there is any reason or justification for exceptions in the catering trade, or in the garage trade either. I cannot see why we should make exceptions of that kind. Since 1931, when the Committee recommended that there should be a 48-hour week, there has been ample time for all concerned to make arrangements, and I think that the Government should have provided that this very limited Bill, which only deals with young people between the ages of 14 and 18, should bring into operation a 48-hour week immediately it was passed for that particular class of persons. With regard to Clause 10, which I support very strongly, I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us whether the provisions of that Clause dealing with ventilation, sanitary conveniences, heating, suitable and sufficient washing facilities, and canteens for meals, are to come into operation when the Bill is passed, or whether they also are to wait until the end of 1936 before they are put into force? There again I think there has been plenty of opportunity for the putting into operation of such provisions in all shops. I admit that in many departments of trade one can see delightful and efficient provision of this kind for the workpeople, and I do not see why it should not be made in all shops. It will make for better workmen and workwomen and for healthier citizens, and it ought to have been in existence long ago.

There are something like 2,000,000 shop assistants in this industry, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) said, is perhaps the largest industry that we have in the country. Something like 750,000 young people are engaged in the distributive trades, and here we have a Bill to deal with something less than 400,000. I think that, after the Select Committee had reported so favourably on the desirability of a 48-hour week, it would have been good to have seen a Bill to provide for that length of working week for everyone. Our first consideration should be for those who are in employment, and here we are dealing with those who are in employment, whose hours we seek to shorten at some time, and whose health conditions we seek to improve at some time; but there is another side to this question. We have in this country a large army of unemployed people, still numbering some 2,250,000, of whom a large number—I do not know the exact figure—are between the ages of 14 and 18. If this Bill were to come into operation immediately on its being passed, it ought to be the means of providing employment for many young people who are now unemployed, and who would be much better if some employment could be found for them. I do not suggest for a moment that they earn their living, and I take it that no one who is the father of either boys or girls will say that boys or girls between 14 and 18 earn their keep and clothing and everything else, in view of the miserably low wages that are paid to them.

The prevention of sweating and of the miserably low wages paid in the distributive trades in this country to-day is a matter that ought to be dealt with by Parliament. There is room for great improvement, and I hope that Parliament before very long will take that into consideration. If we were all co-operators, we should not have this Bill. I belong to a movement which has no necessity for it. All its provisions are provided. I suggest that we all urge everyone to join the movement and see to its strengthening. We only have to deal with the exploiters, the private traders, those who are making money and skinning everyone they can get money out of, old or young. There is room for considerable amendment in Committee. First of all, Clauses 2, 5 and 6 ought to go. We welcome whatever possible improvement is provided by the Bill. We expect very little from this Government, so we have to be thankful for small mercies, but I have been long enough in public life to accept anything which will better the condition of the people. If there is anything that will make for improvement, I welcome it. If there is anything that is going to be a deterrent to improvement, we ought to do our best to remedy it, and there is an opportunity for those on the Committee to see that the Bill is strengthened and that shop life is made happier for everyone than it is to-day.

8.2 p.m.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Douglas Hacking)

The hon. Gentleman has just said that he did not expect much from this Government, but I would assure him that he is getting from this Government in connection with this matter more than he got from his own. It is not often that the Home Office is concerned with a Bill praise for the principle of which is expressed from every quarter of the House, and, in spite of the last speech, I think my statement is accurate. It is true that the praise was fainter in some quarters than in others, for example in the last speech; nevertheless, the word praise is not an unfair word to apply to the reception which the Bill has had. Of course, there has been criticism. We expected criticism, but such criticism as we have had has been almost entirely of a helpful and constructive character. I think I may say with all humility that the reason the Bill has received such general approval is that it is a good one. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), in a recent speech, said that whenever he made an intelligent statement or put forward a good argument, he often found the Government to be on his side. I am not quite sure what he meant. Did he mean that the reason the Government were so rarely on his side was that his intelligent statements and good arguments were few and far between? Let me inform him that if the Opposition was on the side of the Government on every occasion when we introduce sound and practical measures, there would always be complete harmony in the House, especially between the hon. Gentleman and myself.

My right hon. Friend has given such a full explanation of the Bill that there is very little for me to say now, but I should like to add a few words about the scope of the Bill and the extent to which its provisions will apply. I will deal solely with the first part of the Bill dealing with the employment of persons under 18 years of age. Under the existing Act the limitation of 74 hours a week—that is inclusive of meal-times—applies only to young persons "employed in or about a shop." The provisions of this Bill follow the recommendations of the Select Committee and apply to young persons "employed about the business of a shop." This is a much wider definition and the hon. Member for Westhoughton asked me what its effect would be. The new definition will include all young persons employed in the following capacities in wholesale and retail shops, and in their warehouses—indoor staff engaged in serving customers, receiving orders or despatching goods—the category generally known as shop assistants. There would also be included the outdoor staff such as office boys, errand boys and girls and messengers, also—I think this has not been clearly apprehended—the clerical staff connected with retail shops and finally as far as the business of the shop is concerned there will be included the staff engaged in ancillary duties, such as cleaners and maintenance staff. In addition to that, Clause 4 extends the provision to include young persons trading elsewhere than in shops, for example, in street trading and in trading from vans. It was felt that this extension was not only in the interest of the young persons but was also reasonable and in the interests of fair competition as between shopkeepers and those who trade out of doors.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton said the Bill was long overdue. If it is long overdue now, it was overdue in 1929–31. Apart from that, the Select Committee only reported late in 1931, and, when one considers the length of time that has been taken by Governments in bringing forward legislation after the report of any particular inquiry, I do not think the House will consider that we have been very long in bringing this Measure forward. The hon. Gentleman also said he would reserve the right to table Amendments. That is not unusual, and we do not complain about it. In fact, it would make very little difference whether we complained or not. The hon. Gentleman said that 60 hours a week were allowed in the catering trade; it is true that, during one week, 60 hours may be worked, but the hon. Gentleman was careful not to tell us that in the following week only 36 hours would be allowed. He also said there could be employment in the same trade up to one o'clock in the morning under the terms of the Bill. That provision is put in in the interest of the young persons themselves. They only have the opportunity of learning the trade by occasionally working these long hours, and it is only right that they should have such opportunity if they are to make progress and obtain promotion. The hon. Gentleman told the House that 48 hours was sufficient at present for co-operative societies. If that be so, I should have been very glad if he had told the House why, under the agreement between the co-operative societies and their employés, a quarter of an hour each day is included as extra time, possibly for cleaning up. This means, not a 48 but a 49i-hour week under agreements at present in existence. The hon. Gentleman quoted from this book, which I had the audacity to borrow from him, "Investigation by the Home Office and the Ministry of Labour into hours and conditions of labour in shops." This is the quotation from the book from which he made a partial quotation : Hours of Labour (Co-operative Trading). The general employés normal working week shall not exceed 48 hours. On the next page : Where it is necessary to clear the shop of customers after the general hour of closing, 15 minutes shall be allowed free from any overtime payment. I am informed that frequent advantage is taken of this condition. So that 48 hours is not the maximum that is worked in co-operative society shops to-day.

The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) quoted certain anomalies about the Bill. He said that young persons employed in restaurants were included and young persons employed in hotels were excluded. That is true, but restaurants have been defined by the courts as taking part in retail trade. On the other hand, those who work in hotels are held by the courts to be engaged in domestic service. This explanation also gives the reply to the question of my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). It is a question of the definition by the court as to what is retail trade and what is not.


I did not dispute that, but it is an anomaly, and a Government especially an all powerful Government like this can do away with it. The point that I pressed was that these page boys in restaurants and hotels do exactly the same work except that it is longer, according to the report of the Home Department. Why should the anomaly remain?


I quite saw the point.


The House has to-day declared that a stream shall be deemed to include a pond. We might similarly declare that a shop shall be deemed to include a hotel.


Although I understand that we have had one speech dealing with the Shops Bill which was made on the Water Bill, it does not necessarily follow that during the Debate on the Shops Bill I shall make a speech on the Water Bill. It is true that you could cure this anomaly but you would create others, because lift boys are not the only boys engaged in domestic service, and you would have to bring in all other people concerned in domestic service, and thus probably very much enlarge the provisions of the Bill. But these are points which can be thrashed out better in Committee than on Second Reading. I only mention those reasons now, so that the House may realise that it is not quite so easy to deal with the problem as it might appear to be on the surface.

Another anomaly was mentioned by the hon. Member for Central Leeds, that van boys employed by a contractor, if engaged in working for a retailer, would be included in the Bill. I think the hon. Member said that such van boys would be included in the terms of the Bill.




Well, I misunderstood the hon. Member. All I need say with regard to that point is, whether these van boys are employed by a contractor on work for a retailer, or are employed by a contractor on work for a manufacturer, in both cases they would be excluded from the provisions of this Clause. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Islington (Colonel Goodman) asked why the 48-hour week should not come into operation at once. Several other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) asked the same question. It is not only difficult for shopkeepers to adapt themselves to the provisions of a 48-hour week without a certain amount of inconvenience, but there is also—and it is a very important point, which, I think, has been overlooked by hon. Members opposite—the fear of dismissal of those who are at present young persons. Older people at the present time will be free to work longer hours, and consequently they might replace the young persons who are employed at present. Therefore, it is in the interests of the young persons themselves that there should be a certain measure of delay. Whether or not the date which is fixed in the Bill will be the one upon which the House may finally decide can, again, be left for consideration in Committee.

The hon. Member for Rothwell asked me if Clause 10 comes into operation at once. If he will look at Clause 16, he will see the date on which the Bill comes into operation, namely, 30th December of this year.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) referred to Clause 1 (2, a). He said that six weeks during which overtime could be worked was insufficient for the seaside resorts for which he was speaking. He desired the replacing of these young persons who had worked the six weeks by others who had not worked six weeks. I can make no promises at all to him to-night—I am sure he would not expect that I should give him a promise—but this, again, is a Committee point. We will give very careful consideration to the suggestions which he has made to the House this evening, but I would guard myself by saying that we must be very careful, and not allow any loopholes for abuse of the provisions which are laid down in this Bill with regard to hours of employment and overtime.

I have often been asked why children employed in business cannot be dealt with by the system of the early closing of shops. Undoubtedly, the provisions of the Early Closing Acts have conferred great benefits upon shop assistants, but from the information which has reached the Home Office, it is clear that cases arise in which young shop assistants are employed for a considerable period after the shop has officially closed. Examples have been given of that to-night. Let me give one example which came to my notice not very long ago. A youth, under 17 years of age, worked 69 hours a week, and sometimes 71 hours a week, inclusive of meal-times, notwithstanding that the shop never closed later than seven o'clock in the evening, and that the youth always received his weekly half-holiday. It is true that there may not be many cases like that—I am not insinuating that there are—but I maintain that, under the existing law, they are possible, and they ought to be made absolutely impossible by Act of Parliament.

I want to say only one more thing. I have had the advantage, as also has my right hon. Friend, of discussing this Bill with the representatives of the various sections of the distributive trades, and I should like to place on record the assistance which we have received from them. They have met us not in any spirit of criticism for the sake of criticism, but with a genuine desire to assist in what they recognise to be a serious problem. As will be seen from the provisions of the Bill, we have, as far as we have been able, taken into account their special needs both as to the temporary modifications of the limitation of hours, and also in respect of the various trades such as catering, garages and others. We recognise that there are a large number of shopkeepers who treat their juvenile employés with great consideration to-day, and take a keen interest in their welfare. There are also an even larger number of shopkeepers who would be willing to afford preferential treatment to those young persons were it not for the fact that they have to compete with others who are not quite so considerate to their staffs. I hope, therefore, that this Bill, which imposes conditions of employment upon all shopkeepers alike, will be welcomed by the large majority of employers in the distributive trades, and in recommending the Bill to the House, I hope and believe that employers will feel, as undoubtedly the House feels, that it is of the utmost importance to do everything that is possible without placing too heavy a strain upon British trade to further the interests of the younger generation in whose hands rests the future of this country.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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