HC Deb 11 July 1934 vol 292 cc446-8

9.57 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 11, line 41, to leave out "post a notice hi the shop" and to insert: in the prescribed manner and in the prescribed form give notice. This Amendment has reference to the provision regarding seats for female shop assistants. It has been pointed out that the insertion of these words "post a notice in the shop "would not necessarily be the most efficient way of doing what we want to do. Therefore we propose to substitute the words indicated in the Amendment. Possibly it might be better to hand a notice to the employé on first coming into the shop to the effect that she would be expected to make use of these seats whenever possible, or to give notice in some other form. I think these words get over a difficulty which some of my hon. Friends have raised.

Amendment agreed to.

9.58 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 11, line 43, at the end, to insert: always providing that nothing in this section, or in the prescribed notice, shall be deemed to infringe the right of the occupier of the shop to be the sole judge as to whether the use of such seats does, or does not, interfere with the work of the assistants using them.


This Amendment appears almost to negative the Clause, but I am prepared to hear the hon. Member's reasons for it.


The object of the Amendment is to raise what appears to me and to some of my hon. Friends a very important point of principle. It will be observed that in the Clause the words occur: and it shall be the duty of the occupier of the shop to permit the female shop assistants so employed to make use of such seats whenever the use thereof does not interfere with their work. The point which I want to raise is one of jurisdiction. Who is to decide whether the work is being interfered with or not. I have been advised that under the Clause as it stands it would be the duty of a court of law to decide whether the work was being interfered with or not. It would not be the duty of the employer, and it seems to us that that is a serious infringement of the right to the employer to manage his own business in his own way and that it introduces a principle which has never been introduced before, as far as I can discover, in our industrial legislation. While this is a very small Clause we fear that it might provide a very dangerous precedent if a Government were ever in office again composed of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.

We feel that in this Clause the present Government are introducing a serious new principle which might be used by future Governments to lay down when an employer shall and shall not give certain orders definitely concerned with managerial functions. In 1922 there was a serious industrial dispute on this point, and the engineering employers fought to the bitter end for the right to manage their own business in their own way. I therefore felt that I was not going beyond what was permissible on the Report stage of the Bill in putting down this Amendment in order to raise that important point and so that the House might know what it is doing in accepting this Clause as it stands.


I beg to second the Amendment.

10.1 p.m.


I sincerely trust that the representative of the Home Office will not accept this Amendment. I think that the Mover of the Amendment is trying to destroy the wording of the Bill in this respect as it was settled in Committee upstairs. He desires to give the employer the right of saying whether the work is going to be interfered with or not, but he knows full well that there are some employers who will say that the work is being interfered with if the girls sit down in the shop, whether work is really being interfered with or not. These seats were provided by law in order that the girls might use them when there was no work to be done, but it has turned out that the girls are not allowed to sit down even when there is nothing to be done, on the ground that it would appear to customers in other parts of the shop that they were not ready for the task of serving people, just because they were sitting. In the end the seats are provided according to law but hardly any of the assistants can make use of them. If this Amendment were carried the position would be worse than it was before. I was pleased at the Government's attitude towards this problem in Committee, and I trust they will not accede to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's request.


As this is a non-party matter, the House may take it that the reply of the hon. Member for.Westhoughton (Mr. Davis) covers my reply to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane).

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.