HC Deb 11 July 1934 vol 292 cc347-61

(1) If the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is necessary to make provision for preventing the hours of employment of young persons from being so divided into spells as to deprive them of reasonable opportunities for instruction and recreation, he may make regulations directing that, subject to such exceptions and modifications as may be provided by the regulations, the working hours of a young person employed shall (notwithstanding anything in the definition of the expression "working hours "contained in this Act) be deemed, for the purposes of this Act, to include the period from the time at which that person first begins on any day to be employed about the business of a shop until the time at which he last ceases on that day to be so employed, exclusive only—

  1. (a) of such intervals, whether for rest or meals or otherwise; and
  2. (b) of time allowed for attendance at such instructional courses,
as may be specified in the regulations.

(2) Any regulations made under this section shall be laid before Parliament as soon as may be after they are made, and if either House of Parliament within the next subsequent twenty-eight days on which that House has sat after any such regulation has been laid before it resolves that the regulation shall be annulled the regulation shall forthwith be void, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done there under or to the making of a new regulation.—[Captain Crooksliank.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.11 p.m.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Captain Crookshank)

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

In spite of the kindly welcome, I must ask for the indulgence of the House, because it looks very different here from what it did from the somewhat exalted position on the back benches, and par- titularly because this is a very technical Measure, and I was not on the Committee, although, naturally, I have read every word that was said. One, however, does not quite get the atmosphere in which the Debates were conducted by reading about them.

The Clause I have now the honour to move deals with the "Power to regulate employment in spells." All such Clauses are, of course, capable of the most wonderful mathematical possibilities if we set out to find them, and in Committee it was pointed out that it was possible to work a young person—this was die actual case given—from 8.30 to 1 o'clock and from six o'clock to 9.30, and on another day to alter the hours, so that a young person would never know where he was. Therefore, the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who has taken such a great part in all these discussions, proposed the adoption of the principle of continuous employment, whether the employment was actually continuous or deemed to be continuous. The argument, of course, was that, owing to the haphazard nature of the employment, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to afford reasonable facilities for these young persons, it might be for sport, or it might be for further educational opportunities.

My right hon. Friend in Committee promised that this matter would be further considered. We have, therefore, made inquiries again into this matter, and I am sure that everyone will be glad to know that the principal associations who speak for the traders have no objection at all to this on principle. I do not think that any reasonable person could have any objection on principle. It is the commonsense thing to do. But the trouble is, as everyone who has followed this Bill knows, that we are entering into an entirely new field of legislation, and while inquiries have been very thoroughly made, both by the Select Committee and by other means, the fact remains that a great deal of the water is still uncharted, and there may very well be abuses. On the other hand, until the Bill is in operation, it is very hard in this particular matter to make anything more than a surmise, and so my right hon. Friend has thought that the best way of dealing with the matter is the way this Clause sets out, that is, that he should have the power to make exceptions with regard to particular trades, but that the general idea should be continuous employment, exclusive only, as the new Clause says: of such intervals, whether for rest or meals or otherwise; and of time allowed for attendance at such instructional courses. I need not go into details in regard to particular trades, but there is the case of the butchers, who employ young persons for cleaning the shop and the instruments mornings and evenings. They have a system by which they get two half holidays a week, but it is impossible to meet their case under this Amendment. There is also the case of newsagents, about which many communications have been received. These are exactly the kind of case with which we have taken power to deal with by regulations when we have seen how the provisions of the Bill work out in practice. We suggest this method of dealing with the matter. It is difficult to lay down rigid conditions for every conceivable case as we are dealing with 400,000 young persons, who have not been legislated for for many years. The House will, no doubt, be pleased to see the second part of the new Clause which gives them power with regard to any regulations Which may be made. I hope the House will accept the Clause. It is designed to meet the case made in Committee stage and allows the House to protest if necessary against any regulations which may be made. By having a system of regulations it enables the Home Secretary to discuss the difficulties with any particular trade affected and see how they can be surmounted within the general framework of the Bill, which is designed to assist the employment of young persons.

4.17 p.m.


I am sure that the House will wish me at the outset to congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman on his promotion to his present office. The only thing I am sorry about i3 the company in which he now finds himself, but I hope he may improve the company. I am not, of course, referring to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, but the Treasury Bench as a whole. This is a Clause to deal not with the total number of hours to be worked by young persons covered by the Bill, but with the problem as to whether young persons shall be obtainable for work for 10 or 12 hours although actually employed for only eight or nine hours a day. That is a fair way of putting the position. In Committee we discussed this problem at some length and I thank the Government for having looked into the question and for bringing forward this new Clause. But I feel sure that the Home Office is capable of something much better than they have now proposed. What does the Clause say? It says that the right hon. Gentleman is to bring regulations before the House of Commons regulating the spells of employment of these young persons on two specific grounds, that is, in relation to reasonable opportunities for instruction and recreation. Young persons, however, have more to think about in connection with their employment during the day besides reasonable opportunities for instruction and recreation.

Take the case of a young boy or girl living five or six miles out of the centre of London employed in a large shop in the Metropolis. Take the case of a boy employed in a butcher's shop, who comes to town in the morning, starts work at eight o'clock cleaning knives, and all the rest of it, and finishes at half-past 10. He is then told by his employer that he will not be wanted until one o'clock. He comes back at that hour and at half-past four is told again that he is not wanted until half-past six. That is possible under the new Clause, and may be possible also under the regulations to be laid before Parliament. I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary of State do not want to encourage that sort of thing in connection with the employment of these young people. Take the case of a girl of 14, 15 or 16 years of age. She lives five or six miles out in the country and works in a shop in London. My trouble about the new Clause is that it is an invitation to unscrupulous employers to do what I am now suggesting. What is going to happen to that girl. She is told by her employer at 12 o'clock that she will not be wanted until three o'clock in the afternoon. All that is possible under the Bill, and such an employer would still come within its provisions so far as total hours of work are concerned. Parliament should not allow a situation or that kind to arise. It would be a shame upon hon. Members of all parties if we tolerate such a condition as that.

The answer, of course, is that the right hon. Gentleman will bring the regulations before Parliament. But what is going to happen? The Home Office has consulted the trades. We have heard about the butchers and the newsagents, and about cleaning shops; and to be quite frank the people who have made these representations to the Home Office in regard to these spells in shop life manifestly represent the exceptional rather than the common case. In shop life in this country there are in the main no splits of that kind at all. There are no spells in the grocery and provision trade, in the drapery trade, in fruit shops and tobacconists; there are indeed no spells in the distributive trades, and I was astonished to hear that butchers want boys to come in the morning for about three hours and then to be unemployed for the remainder of the day until about four o'clock. Parliament should not allow butchers to do that any longer. I have never heard until now that butchers did that as a general rule. I say, therefore, that we have to be careful.

I am not criticising the Home Office. I understand their difficulties. We are tackling a new problem entirely in this Bill, but however clumsily it may be worded I still say that it is a Bill which is, or should be, the basis of a big reform. When we are laying down the basis of a big reform, and all the facts are known, we should not make the mistake of allowing this new Clause to be passed in its present form. The object of the Bill is to safeguard the interests of young people. After what I have heard to-day and during the last few weeks I am afraid that the pressure of the shop-keeping community on the Home Office has been such that the Bill, if we are not very careful, will become a measure to safeguard the interests of shopkeepers. We are dealing here with 350,000 to 400,000 young persons. I have never been able to understand the mind of those who run the shops of this country. The best shopkeepers, the larger shopkeepers, and some of the multiple firms, are well within the provisions of the Bill already. We are passing this legislation not to deal with the best shopkeepers but to bring unscrupulous employers up to the standard of the best.

There are no spells of this kind in the co-operative movement, which employs about 200,000 shop assistants. Their conditions of employment are in the main well within the scope of the Bill. I am up against this problem, that if this new Clause is put into the Bill and it provides a sort of incentive to the unscrupulous private employer to do what is suggested here, the butchers in particular, the co-operative movement, which is now working well within the ambit of the provisions of the Bill, will be faced with competition and will ask themselves how long they are to go on without breaking with the practice of the past in shop life. We must indeed understand what we are doing in this Clause. The Home Office has done well in bringing the Clause before the House, but I think they could have done much better to meet the criticisms made in Committee, and I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Gentleman in his first appearance as a Minister of State should have to move the adoption of this Clause, as the Opposition will have to go to the Division Lobby and vote against it.

4.29 p.m.


Unlike the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) so far from sympathising with the hon. and gallant Member for having the misfortune to have to move such a Clause as this, I would desire to congratulate him sincerely on introducing it, because it appears to me to go beyond the hopes of some of us who sat on the Committee. We recognised how extremely difficult the problem is. There are isolated cases in the best trades of what are known as split duties, which are unavoidable. What we were afraid of in Committee was that this system of split duties, which enables people to be thrown out of work and then brought back again, might prevail, and might be encouraged by the overtime provisions we were passing in the Bill. We hoped that the Home Office would provide a Clause which would regularise whatever system might be approved. If there must be split duties, let them be recognised within certain limits. Those limits are very carefully defined here. The regulations will have to specify what the intervals are, whether for rest or meals or otherwise, and they will lay down the time allowed for attend- ante at instruction courses. A regulated scheme of that kind is very much better than a hopelessly unregulated scheme of which we were afraid, and we ought to accept the Clause with gratitude. The Clause definitely states that we regard courses of instruction as a valuable addition to the day of young workers. I do not think that in any other part of the Bill there is any such indication, and I do not know of any other legislation, except the Unemployment Bill which has just been passed, that throws such emphasis on instruction courses.

4.31 p.m.


I recognise that the Home Secretary has tried to meet what is rather a serious point, but I am by no means satisfied that the new Clause will do away with what I fear may prove to be a blot on the Bill. It is obvious that the Clause cannot be operated for two, three or more years. It is impossible for the Home Secretary to make an Order under the Clause without first of all making inquiries into the working of the Act and until he has found out how far the split periods extend. What I am always afraid of is that when we get legislation passed employers who work under the provisions of an Act bring in their own rules to govern their own boys and girls, and it takes a. great deal of trouble and agitation to persuade the Home Office that any real grievance exists. We have to remember that the vast majority of employers concerned with this Bill are already working within its provisions. I refer to the great houses, the decent employers, and the thousands of small employers who are just as anxious as the large employers to do the right thing. All these people are already pretty well within the provisions of the Bill. But it appears to me that this House makes a great mistake very often when certain people—they may be a very small minority of the people involved—put up a case that there is hardship as far as they are concerned, and the House immediately turns a sympathetic ear and proceeds to protect, not the good employer but the position of the bad employer.

Let me give a case that comes to mind. Under the Bill a boy can be employed at a baker's shop at 5 o'clock in the morning, an unreasonable hour which is totally unnecessary. We are told that that hour is necessary because the bread just made has to be delivered. Fancy delivering bread at 5.30 in the morning when 99 per cent. of the people are not- out of bed. The baker having brought the boy to his establishment at 5 a.m. proceeds to put him on to jobs to prepare things for the bakers. The boy is allowed to work eight hours a day or a little over. The employer sends them away at 9 o'clock when he has worked four hours. He can bring that boy back at 4 p.m. and proceed to work him another four hours until 8 p.m. That is not going to happen except in the case of the kind of employer who compels this House from time to time to bring in legislation of this kind. I can imagine nothing more demoralising to the moral of a young man between 14 and 18 years of age than to be lounging about during the middle of the day, a nuisance to himself and to every one around him, and then to be at the disposal of his employer from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.


The hon. Member is overlooking Clause 2, and the interval of eleven hours consecutively. Eleven hours up to 5 o'clock in the morning would make it impossible for the boy to be employed at 8 o'clock the evening before.


But that does not alter the validity of my argument that if a young fellow is to be at the disposal of an employer all the hours of the day that in itself is a bad thing. Suppose the young fellow leave at 6 o'clock. He has been at the disposal of his employer since 5 a.m. He has then to have a period of eleven hour's rest. He goes away at 6 o'clock and he must have seven or eight hours' sleep. The effect of the proposal, therefore, is that, except in a very slight measure, the young person is at the disposal of the employer for at least 13 hours. He must have eight hours sleep if he is to be of any use at all, and all he gets in the way of recreation is three hours on any particular day. I am satisfied that if we were legislating for the vast majority of this trade it would be possible to have four consecutive hours of work, to allow at least two hours for a meal, and then to work the other four hours, so that young people could have recreation and instruction during the evening. I have dealt with the question of juvenile employment in my own industry over and over again. I have persuaded employers in all parts of the country that it is not desirable to have split shifts for young persons, that they are a cause of very serious discontent to older people, and that to start them with young people of 16 years of age is a step in the wrong direction. The whole thing is totally unnecessary.

I do not believe that even 2 or 3 perceʼnt. of the employers desire or require -this system of split shifts. Why, therefore, bring in a complicated Arrangement like this for the benefit of those who have always been the biggest trouble to the. Government, to the trade unions and to every one interested in the welfare of young people? It would have been far better for the Government to have recognised that we have a case in this matter. The mere fact that this new Clause is brought forward shows that the Home Office have given the matter serious consideration, but I suggest that they have dealt with it in A rather half-hearted way. It would have been far better to have provided that the hours should be as consecutive as possible, that they should finish at a reasonable time in the evening and that five o'clock in the morning for young workers to deliver bread made overnight is an altogether unreasonable hour. In justice to ourselves, not particularly as politicians but as members interested in young people, we must take this matter to a Division.

4.42 p.m.


All the arguments used by the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield) And the hon. Member for West Houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies) are exactly the same as the arguments that we heard in the Standing Committee. It was recognised in Committee that there were some trades which were compelled to have split shifts and that it was impossible to get continuous employment. The work that occurs instantly to one's mind is the collection and delivery of newspapers in the morning and again in the evening. There was a Division on this matter upstairs. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in bringing before the House this Clause, which fills a gap and deals specifically with the various hours that young people shall be allowed to work. There is no doubt that the Cause ought to satisfy all reasonable people. It is practically impossible to satisfy unreasonable people. The Clause is one which the hon. and gallant Gentleman, the T7nder-Secretary, can be highly satisfied at having introduced, because it will give satisfaction to practically everyone concerned.

4.44 p.m.


The Clause has been introduced by the Government as a result of the discussions in Committee, and it represents a concession by the Government. I am sure that it represents a substantial advance, and that the Bill will be infinitely better for having this Clause in it. I really cannot follow the reasons why my hon. Friends of the Labour party do not desire to have the Clause. I would very much rather that the Government had dealt with the matter on different lines, from the exactly opposite point of view, and had laid it down that hours shall be consecutive as the general rule, subject to execeptions in certain cases. I believe that that would have been far preferable. But this is a compromise Measure. We are trying to improve things as far as we can. I shall certainly support the Government on this Clause.

Without this Clause there would be a real danger that as a result of this Measure the lot of a number of shop assistants would be worse than it is now. When an employer can keep people at work for an unlimited number of hours he does not bother much about how the hours are divided out but if a shopkeeper has only 52 or 48 hours a, week during which he can employ a person he thinks very carefully about how he is going to allocate those hours and a shopkeeper might be inclined to say to an assistant in those circumstances: "I will concentrate your activities in the shop on those hours when I want your services most, however inconvenient that may be to you." As a result of this Clause, if the Home Office find that in any particular trade employers are depriving assistants of their proper opportunities for recreation and education—and I wish that this provision could be made wider still—it will be possible to pass regulations which will compel those employers to make the working hours reasonably consecutive. Because of the fact that the Clause definitely protects the assistants and prevents abuses which might otherwise grow up and render the lot of those assistants worse than it is, for my part, congratulate the Government on having brought forward this proposal though I wish it had gone further and dealt more firmly with the matter.

4.47 p.m.


I regret that the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) has seen fit to suggest that there are unreasonable people standing in the way of this undoubtedly good Measure. I do not think he can have gained that impression in the Committee upstairs because from what I saw of its proceedings, I thought there was more of the spirit of sweet reasonableness shown in that Committee than in some of the other Committees on which I have had the honour of serving. If there was any unreasonableness at all I certainly do not think he can make such a charge against Members on this side of the House and if it be the case that he regards us as unreasonable, I would say that we are acting unreasonably—from his point of view—on behalf of people who are entitled to protection and who are least able to protect themselves. With regard to the new Clause itself, I would point out that the former Under-Secretary of State said in Committee that he would take back this matter for reconsideration in the hope of damping down the ardour of the Opposition for the views which they had expressed in Committee. Our ardour has not been damped and nothing has happened since to lessen our desire for something specific in the Bill in connection with this matter. We must bear in mind that this Bill, in essence, is an Hours Bill and it is up to us to see that the regulation of hours is specifically provided for in the Bi11. Regulation of hours being an essential part of the Bill, we ought not to leave that regulation to the people who are in control of the employ6s concerned. That is the proposal, in effect, although I know it is tempered to some extent by the provision as to the eleven-hours interval. The person who can control the starting point and the finishing point of the working hours of an individual, determines that individual's day and the point made by the hon. Member for. Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) as to what might happen in circumstances such as he indicated is a very good one and one that could be extended in its application. In regard to the regulations which may be made under this new Clause and may be laid before the House, the matter is to be gone into only if the Secretary of State deems it necessary to do so. What factors will be taken into account in deciding whether there is necessity or not for such action? Will it be possible, for instance, because comparatively few people in one section of a trade are being harshly dealt with, for the Minister to decide that it is not necessary in such a case to take action? I think the wording of the Clause in this respect is rather wide and I do not think we have yet received sufficient guidance upon that point. I look upon an investigation of the kind proposed as being capable of ensuring the application of a certain measure of justice in particular cases, but I do not think it is possible to get the same degree of justice or impartiality by that method, as would be achieved by a specific provision in the Bill in regard to these hours. I would not suggest that there is no possibility of impartial decisions being defined and applied, as the right hon. Gentleman, I am sure, would wish, but I hold that the proposed method would not be so good as a specific injunction in the Bill.

I would also point out that a proposal of this kind involves the possibility of interference with the domestic conditions which obtain in the great majority of households throughout the country. The arrangements in those households are not based upon periods of work cut up in the manner which would be possible under this proposal. The domestic arrangements in the homes of the people have been made so as to fit into specific and continuous periods of employment, and I submit that that is another point in favour of our attitude on this matter. There is also the difficulty which has already been pointed out with regard to the possible misuse time at certain hours of the day. Upstairs in Committee the former Under-Secretary of State placed a great deal of reliance upon the application of the Shop Hours Act and referred to the possibility of that enactment imposing a restriction upon the cutting up of hours under these proposals, but I do not think that that example will be found, on examination, to be as effective as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to imagine. I think that a specific injunction in the Bill on the lines which have been suggested in our criticisms would be better than leaving the matter to future investigation and regulation.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 213; Noes, 42.

Clause added to the Bill.