HC Deb 17 December 1935 vol 307 cc1599-681

Order for Second Reading read.

4.39 p.m.


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

At the present time there are some 36,000 women and young persons working under the two-shift system. That does not mean, of course, that anyone works both shifts, but that one group of workers work on the morning shift and another group on the evening shift. It is permitted under temporary provisions in the Act of 1920, and, broadly speaking, the present Bill is to continue the system permanently with certain modifications and additional safeguards. I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I sketched very briefly the developments which have led up to the present situation and the introduction of the Bill. Although it deals with very modern problems, it has its roots deep in the past. Everyone knows how great were the abuses in factory employment in the early days in this country after the industrial revolution, when young persons suffered a full share of abuses, and factory inspectors at the Home Office reported in moving terms of the exploitations and hardships of those days. But those evils were not easy to stamp out, and Parliament, in order to do so, had recourse to drastic legislation laying down rigid legal provisions with regard to factory employment.

In our factory legislation before the War the employment of women and young persons had to fall within a rigid 12-hour period from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., or 7 to 7, or 6 to 6, and the same period of employment and the same intervals for meals had to be fixed for all women and young persons in a factory and, of course, that prevented any working of shifts. At the same time, we must remember that in those days their full 12-hour period was mostly worked up to the big industries. Then came the War with its necessity for big output, intensive use of machinery, and, incidentally, the researches which showed the value of shorter hours. Then shift working was permitted under Home Office order. In 1920 a Departmental Committee reported that the system should be allowed to continue for an experimental period of five years, and it is of interest to note that one of the reasons which the Committee gave was that the system would afford a passage to shorter hours, and, of course, the system is in keeping with the shorter hours which are now generally worked. As a result of the Committee's report, the temporary provisions were inserted in Section 2 of the Women and Young Persons Act, 1920, and as that Section has been included by every successive Government in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, that is the system under which we are working to-day.

These provisions empower the Secretary of State, on the joint application of the employer and the majority of the workers concerned in a factory or workshop, to make an order permitting the employment of women and young persons of 16 and upwards on a system of shifts of not more than eight hours each between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Monday to Friday and between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, and also the Secretary of State has power to lay down any conditions he thinks desirable in the interests and the welfare of the workers concerned. In fact, these powers have been largely used to secure adequate welfare arrangements and also transport facilities for the shift workers to and from the factory. Before any order is issued, the factory inspector visits the works and assures himself or herself that the workers have, in fact, agreed to the application. Under these provisions there have been about 2,000 orders made between 1921 and 1934, and of these about 800 are still live orders to-day, that is, they are still in use or are likely to be used again, and there are 29,000 women and about 7,000 young persons employed under that system. It applies to a great variety of works, but the majority of the workers concerned are employed in half a dozen of the newer industries, such as artificial silk and the making of wireless sets. From time to time this system has been reported upon favourably by the factory inspectors, but, on the other hand, it has been strongly criticised by hon. Gentlemen opposite in successive years on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, except in 1929 and 1930.

Last year the Home Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour), was not satisfied that the situation was satisfactory, and after consulting hon. Gentlemen opposite and obtaining a promise of co-operation, he appointed a committee to investigate the whole working of this system. It was a very strong committee, presided over by Sir Malcolm Delevingne, late Deputy Permanent Under-Secretary to the Home Office. It had on it three hon. Members of this House, the hon. Member for Reading (Dr. Howitt) from the Government side, the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) from the Labour Opposition, and the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) from the Liberal Opposition. There was another Labour representative, nominated by the Trade Union Council, in the person of Mr. Arthur Shaw, but he had to resign through the pressure of other work and he was succeeded by Miss Julia Varley. Another member of the Committee was Professor Winifred Cullis, Professor of Physiology in the London University. The Committee made most comprehensive investigations and we ought to be grateful for their work. I would ask the House to give careful consideration to their report. The evidence that was brought before the Committee established beyond doubt that the shift system is of considerable use to industry. Those uses fall roughly under two heads. In the first place it meets temporary difficulties of production, such as result from a sudden Christmas demand, or from a change in fashion or from a breakdown of plant, and it has been widely used for that purpose. For that reason for the majority of shift workers, over half of them, the shift system is merely an interlude in their lives and takes the place of overtime.

In the second place, there is great usefulness in the system in some of the newer industries as part of the permanent organisation of industry. When the plant is very expensive and accounts for a high proportion of the cost of production the advantage of the intensive use of machinery is plainly evident, and that advantage becomes almost a necessity when the factory is in competition with foreign industries using the shift system. The Committee also made very careful investigation into the system from the point of view of the experience of workers in regard to employment, weekly earnings, health, education and home social life. It became clear that for the individual worker the question of earnings was most important. There is an interesting point in connection with earnings in that the normal day working week is in the neighbourhood of 48 hours, while the shift working week is 40¼ to 41¼ hours. The Trade Union Council suggested in evidence that the earnings were not made up to what they would have been under the normal working week, but the Committee made special investigations into that assertion and found that the contrary was the case. They found that the majority of the workers had their earnings fully made up to what they would have been in a normal day working week. For others there was an adjustment. For instance, in some engineering works the earnings were made up to what they would have been in a 45-hour week and to what they would have been for men in the same trade.


What is the percentage?


I cannot give the percentage. I am quoting from the report. From the point of view of health, one disadvantage was the relative lateness of the hour at which certain meals have to be taken. On the morning shift the mid-day meal cannot be taken until 2 p.m., but there does not seem to be any general complaint about that. On the other hand, there are the advantages of shorter hours, greater leisure during the day time and greater opportunities for fresh air and exercise. The conclusion of the Committee was that in general the shift system does not injure the health of the workers. The House will no doubt hear from the hon. Member for Reading his opinion upon this matter and he speaks with special authority upon it.

The Committee also found that there was very little evidence of much interference with the continuity of education. From the point of view of home social life the shift system, like every other system, has its advantages and its disadvantages. For example, some of the young single girls complain that they dislike the evening shift because it interferes, not every week, but every other week, with their social life in the evenings. Many married women, however, prefer shift work to day work and prefer the evening shift to the morning shift because they can get the housework done in the morning. After taking all this evidence and after visiting many works and considering the system from many points of view, the Committee same to the unanimous conclusion that the system ought to be allowed to continue, with certain modifications.

Some of those modifications are important from the point of view of the workers. For instance, the Committee recommend that a definite procedure should be laid down for ascertaining the views of the workers. They also suggest that where permission is granted for the system to be worked in response to a temporary demand, the permission should be for a limited time. They further suggest that where the system has fallen into disuse for a considerable time it should expire and that the factory inspector should be informed whenever the system is discontinued or resumed. Further, they suggest that powers should be delegated by the Secretary of State to the Chief Inspector of Factories or the Superintending Inspector of Factories to grant orders in certain specific cases. Finally, they suggest that the Secretary of State should set up an advisory body of leading representatives of the employers and the workers who might be consulted on important questions arising out of the working of the system, and particularly the procedure as to how the opinions of the workers should be ascertained.

The Government very much appreciate the laborious and comprehensive work that the Committee has done. They consider their report to be a good one, they have accepted its recommendations and this Bill is designed to carry those recommendations into effect in so far as they require legislation. Clause 1 empowers the Secretary of State to make the necessary orders, and there is a proviso which enables the shift to be adjusted where a five day week is worked. Clause 1 (2) deals with the procedure for ascertaining the views of the workers, and there is a proviso enabling the Secretary of State to grant an order on the application of an employer in the case of new works. The rest of the Clauses either carry out the recommendations in the Committee's report or continue the existing provisions of the Section of the Women's and Young Persons' Act, 1920. So far I have been speaking about the report of the Committee and the modifications of legal requirements and so on, but I would remind the House that this Bill deals with the vital and ever-changing organisation of British industry and affects the lives of thousands of our people.

One of the first things that I did when I realised that I had to introduce the Bill was to visit some of the works concerned and to talk to some of the workers. I do not base myself upon a few visits to works, but I would venture to give concrete illustrations of the Committee's report. One of the works which I visited was a hosiery works producing, by means of very expensive knitting machines, stockings of artificial and real silk for the working women of this country. The women there were working an eight-hour shift and were earning from 35s. to £3 a week. The price of the product has fallen by half in the last two years. The retail price of the stockings was 1s. a pair for silk stockings and 9d. a pair for artificial silk stockings. It is necessary from time to time in response to sudden waves of demand for a particular type of stocking to be produced on machines of a certain gauge, and those machines have to be worked very intensively. When I was there there had been a very sudden and large demand for a particular type of warmer stockings from the women of Yorkshire.

I talked to one woman who was working on the night shift and asked her why she preferred the system. She replied, quite naturally: "Well, I am married and I can get my housework done in the mornings." I asked her: "Is it not rather a strain to work a shift in the factory and then to do the housework at home?" She replied: "The housework has to be done, anyhow, whether you are on day work or shift work," and she added, confidentially, "We do not have to work very hard here." [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I would remind hon. Members that I am stating what these people really think. I talked to another woman, who was also married. It is an interesting case. She had a small son seven years of age. This woman worked in a different factory. She was engaged permanently on the evening shift. She much preferred shift work and particularly the evening shift because she was able to give her husband and her small son a hot dinner before she came out to work. Her husband, who was a gardener, happened to come home from work at the same time as the child came from school and the arrangement, she said, suited her very well. There was another interesting case in the same factory, where a husband and wife were both working on the shift system. Formerly the woman had been working on day work. We have to take into account in this House the human problems of individuals. She said that she had been lonely because her husband was always out at night working on the shift system, and she applied to be taken off day work and put on the evening shift. She and her husband are highly satisfied with the present arrangement.

I will conclude by saying that when one studies the report of the Committee, and when one sees the system in actual operation, one comes to the conclusion that there is no good reason why this system should not be allowed to continue. We are not forcing the system upon the women of the country. We are allowing them to do this work if the majority of them are prepared to work the system. Here we are in this country struggling all the time to produce a higher standard of living for the millions of our people and every year we are having new and more luxurious goods brought within the purchasing power of the people. That is being done, as the House knows, by ever more elaborate machinery and ever more costly machinery, and that machinery has to be worked intensively. At the same time we have demands for shorter hours. The only way to reconcile these two things is by the system of shifts, which works machinery long hours but not the workers. By this Bill we are making progressive efforts to arrange for the working of British machinery so that it will help to produce a higher standard of life.

4.59 p.m.


I beg to move, to leave out "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."

My first obvious duty is to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment to the very important position of Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. I also desire to congratulate him on his maiden speech as a Minister. Having handed out those bouquets, he will not mind if I now proceed to say something else. In moving that the Bill be read a Second time this day six months I want to tell the hon. Gentleman that the picture he has drawn of the Bill is neither a good nor a correct one. He would lead the House to believe that the Bill is based upon the recommendations of the Departmental Committee. I shall endeavour as I proceed to show that that is not so. Before I pass to an examination of the Bill, however, I would point out that we are dealing here not with strongly organised workpeople but with the most inarticulate and most unorganised section of the working community. I have no hesitation in believing that the employers of this country would hesitate before they asked Parliament to degrade the conditions of employment of male factory workers as they are doing in this case. The hon. Gentleman has, as stated, drawn up a glorious picture of the Bill, but let me call his attention to one point—and I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman who is responsible for this Bill now sitting by his side. I thought the right hon. Gentleman was going to hand over the Bill entirely to his deputy, but I am hoping the Home Secretary himself will be able to answer some of the questions I wish to put to him.

I would call the attention of the House to the way in which the Bill has been drafted. The hon. Gentleman said it was based largely on the 1920 Act now prevailing. This Bill declares that The Secretary of State may, upon the application of the occupier of any factory or workshop, grant permission to operate the two-shift system. Section II of the 1920 Act, however, states: The Secretary of State may, on the joint application of the employer or employers of any factory or workshop or group of factories or workshops, and the majority of the workpeople concerned in such factory or workshop. This Bill, therefore, falls foul of a cardinal principle. There was also a provision in the 1920 Act that there should be a secret ballot taken of the workpeople. There is nothing in this Bill about that. When the Under-Secretary declared that the workpeople in these cases desire the two-shift system, let me tell him that the economic conditions are such that they dare not decline to support it. He knows full well that the jobs of some women and young persons employed under this system would soon be missing if they dared to express their views on this issue. In spite of that, the opinions of the workpeople are not going to be taken under this Bill by secret ballot. The Bill provides that the workers are to be consulted and their opinions ascertained. I worked for years under what is called the capitalist system, and I would not give much for the opinions of any set of workpeople if those opinions were ascertained by the employers. I know too much about their methods.

The Bill makes temporary provisions permanent, and the hon. Gentleman did not say a word about one of the most important Sections in the original Act. I will read a Section from the Act of 1920 to show that Parliament has not played fair towards the people covered by it. The Section says: This Section shall remain in force for a period of five years from the commencement of this Act and no longer. That was in 1920. It is now 1935, 15 years later. The phrase "no longer" has gone by the board, and we are to-day going to make permanent the provisions of this Bill based on the 1920 Act. We are not dealing here only with the 36,000 people affected by the present Orders in operation. We are probably legislating for a quarter of a century, and at the present rate at which this Government moves we are probably legislating for 50 years hence. When hon. Members vote for the provisions of this Bill they have to make up their minds that they are voting probably to tie at least 500,000 women and young persons ultimately to this two-shift system.

Let me pass on to another consideration. Why this insane speed and the demand that the machine ought to be continuously working in order to save the employer overhead charges? Where is the demand for greater production? As a matter of fact the problem of the age is not production but distribution. The continuous running of machinery in my view is not always a saving. Even an engine wants a rest and a pause. The hon. Gentleman said that the employés in this case have no objection to this system. I venture to say that no hon. Member in this House will dispute the statement that during our lifetime every class of worker from the top to the bottom of the social scale is doing its level best to start work as late in the morning and to reach home as early as possible in the evening. That is the tendency of the times, and quite frankly I think it is a good and desirable tendency. He talks about family life, the educational system and the social habits of the people not being affected very much by the two-shift system. I wish hon. Members would for a moment try to transplant themselves into the position occupied by these people. What would our attitude be if we were working under the two-shift system ourselves? That is the test. These provisions were made temporarily at the beginning, and the employers of the country have always clamoured that they should be made permanent. We have constantly protested against this system and if the hon. Gentleman does not mind my saying so, I am instinctively against it. I worked on a two-shift system myself when I was a collier. I sometimes worked night shifts and I am bound to say that I always preferred working in the day time. It is more natural that men and women should work during the day. Let me warn the Minister—he is a younger man than I am. Once he admits to the employers of the country that they need two-shifts in industry, what is there to stop them later arguing in favour of three? That is what we are getting to. I object to this Bill not so much for what it contains as for the tendencies that are implied in it.

For eight years I argued against the system under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. We were asked early this year if we would agree to a Departmental Committee being set up, and we did. The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) did very good service on that committee, and the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) also sat on the committee. One of the points we make against the Bill is that it has not the relationship to the recommendations of that committee suggested by the Minister as I shall point out. We said that our attitude when we saw the recommendations, might be modified if the cardinal principle was inserted—that a joint standing advisory committee of employers and employed should be set up to watch over the operations of the two-shift system. There is nothing of that kind in this Bill. We are entitled to ask what has become of that recommendation? There ought to be set up a joint committee of employers and employed to watch over the proceedings under this Act.

Now I come to certain technicalities in the Bill. Sub-section 1 of Clause 1, whilst it fixes an average of eight hours' work a day, would seem to me to permit the working of any number of hours on any one day. Employés could be called upon to work from six in the morning until ten at night, provided that the total number of hours per week did not exceed eight hours per day on the average. Another part of the same Clause declares that within a fortnight women and young persons may be employed for 88 hours, provided the number of hours does not average more than eight per day. It is possible, therefore, that for six or seven days in a fortnight they could be working from six in the morning until ten at night. I shall be glad to have a word of explanation from the right hon. Gentleman on that point when he speaks later.

Coming to general issues, I have tried to study factory legislation, but what I cannot understand is that for at least a century before the Great War the employers of this country were able to do without this system. Why on earth is it necessary now when one man can produce what 50 persons produced 50 years ago? Still the two—shift system is demanded, and forsooth there ensues an increased production of goods which we cannot sell. This Bill provides that where the owner of a new factory makes a request he is granted an Order without consulting the workpeople at all. Does it not follow that every factory will, at some time, be a new factory? Suppose I said that within 50 years every factory will be new. Then this Bill will not apply. What that really means in the end is not to make the two-shift system permanent, but so to arrange things that all employers of labour may some day work the two-shift system without any regulations of any kind. That is another point of objection that is worth putting, and it is a dangerous innovation in my view.

There is a maximum fine of £5 for breaking this law. The Celanese Company employ, I believe, about 5,000 people, and are probably making profits of £250,000 a year, and if they break the law they are subject to a £5 fine. That is the maximum, and if they go before some magistrates whose pockets—but I had better not say that. Some magistrates let these people off very lightly. If magistrates administered the law in relation to fines under the Factory Acts of this country more justly the work-people would have a better deal than they get now. We object to such a small fine. It means that they can violate the law as many times as they like, just as some shopkeepers are to-day violating the Shops Acts and paying a fine or 5s. each week out of the ample profits they make on Sundays. There is also a recommendation in this Report that a definite procedure should be laid down for ascertaining the opinion of the workers, where their consent is required. I do not know whether that provision can be put into this Bill, but provisions of much less importance have found their way into other Bills. When the Government wants to insert anything, precedent does not matter very much; they will put it in if they want to. Why has not this provision been put into the Bill? The Under-Secretary has said that the Bill is based on the recommendations of the Committee. I would ask him to look at Recommendation No. 12, a very important matter: An unemployed worker who on account of the distance of the work from his or her home or for other reasonable cause, is unwilling to take employment in shifts should not on that account be disallowed unemployment benefit. We attach great importance to that recommendation and want to know why it has not been incorporated in the Bill. We shall be told, of course, that it has no relation to unemployment benefit, but if the present Government of all the talents wanted to do the right thing by the working people who decline to work the two-shift system because they are too far away from their place of work, they could and would have done it. They do not want to do it; consequently it is not done, and I am right in claiming therefore that they are not implementing all the recommendations of the Committee. I am sure that the two-shift system has been introduced into this country because women's labour is cheaper than that of men. An hon. Member below the Gangway shakes his head. I will deal with the point. If women's labour was not cheaper than that of men how comes it about that men are not employed in the two-shift system?


Is the hon. Member aware that no woman can be employed at night and that in the three-shift system no women are employed at all?


The hon. and gallant Member must not think that I am as ignorant as he suggests.


I know something about the textile industry, and I know that there are certain cases in which men, whatever you paid them, would never be as efficient in the particular job as women.


That is the case in some instances, but I can give other cases where women are employed deliberately because their labour is cheaper than that of men. In the main I think my statement is true, and, therefore, I regard this Bill as nothing but an incentive and an invitation to employers all over the land to work the two-shift system and depress the wages of the workers thereby. Employers talk of reducing the running costs of machinery but never say a word about the lower wages which result from the introduction of the two-shift system. I am pleased to think that there is some opposition to the introduction of this system in those parts of the country where women are well organised, and I hope to see a growing feeling against its introduction even in places where the people are inarticulate and unorganised. They have tried to put it into operation in the textile industry in Lancashire and, of course, found great difficulties in doing so simply because the trade unions are very strong there. I can remember 30 years ago the patter of clogs on the pavements of Lancashire at half-past five. All that has disappeared, and we had hoped that we had become a civilised people, but this Government takes us back 25 years at one stroke.


Will the hon. Member tell the House why if the two-shift system cuts down running costs it should result in lower wages than a one-shift system?


If the hon. Member will read parts of this report he will find that when women are transferred—not in all cases—from normal day work to the two-shift system their wages decline. This report says so—and I have read very carefully every word of it. This system in my view is designed partly in order to avoid the pavement for overtime on normal shifts. There is no overtime here; the two—shift system is rigid. Whereas working people may get 25 or 50 per cent. increased wages for working overtime there is no overtime under this system. Let us look at the figures in connection with the employment of women. In 1919 there were 5,500,000 women gainfully employed in this country; in 1931 the number had increased to 6,250,000. From 1923 to 1934, in 11 years, there was an increase of 6.3 per cent. in the employment of males and 18 per cent. in the employment of women and girls. In the distributive trades there has been in the last 15 years an increase of 600,000 shop assistants and of that number one-third are women and girls.

The Labour party stands for equality as between men and women. The one thing we will not have however is the degrading of wages and conditions by the employment of women. If we can help it we are not going to allow women to be exploited by the employers under the two-shift or under any other system. Let me deal with my final point. There is nothing in the factory inspector's annual report as to whether the accident rate is higher under the two-shift than under the normal working system, and I should like to ask the Under-Secretary to suggest to his inspectors to take note as to whether the accident rate is really higher under the two-shift than it is under the normal working system. I find from the last report of the chief inspector that the accident rate per 100,000 workers was 4,890 for boys and 2,530 for men, that is to say, the liability to accident among boys was twice that among men. The rate per 100,000 for girls was 1,152, and for women 938. The total accident figures have increased from 17,100 young persons in 1933 to 21,767 in 1934. I am sure that the speeding up of our factory work is responsible in part for this increase in accidents and I object to the two-shift system on that ground.

This system has been introduced in order to meet the requirements of foreign capitalists who have established factories in this country. There is one thing upon which Members of all parties ought to make up their minds. I have been abroad and have been glad that I have been able to say that in the main our industrial laws are better than in most countries of the world, but I am sorry to say that the introduction of foreign capital into some parts of this country has tended to lower our conditions of employment to the level of those prevailing abroad. This is a proposal which will have that effect also, and, therefore, I decline to accept it. Then we are told that this system is necessary in order to meet foreign competition. Where are tariffs now? What have they done? We were told once upon a time that tariffs would find employment for the 2,000,000 out of work, settle all our problems and that in due course everything would be beautiful throughout the land. Now we are told that this two-shift system is necessary in order to meet foreign competition. But this system is used for the manufacture of chocolates and sweets. I have never understood that there was much competition from abroad in the manufacture of chocolates and sweets. We shall be told, of course, that there are less than 40,000 people employed and therefore why should we bother. This is my last word. We feel that this system is totally unnecessary, that it is contrary to the social habits of our people and opposed to the customs of our families, that it is a form of cheap labour and is a serious departure from our well-established factory legislation. For all these reasons we shall divide against the Bill.

5.29 p.m.


It seems almost superfluous for me to claim the indulgence of hon. Members, because during the last fortnight one has seen it so generously extended on so many occasions but, nevertheless, I will assure the House that I will endeavour to do what every other hon. Member hopes an hon. Member will do, that is, make my speech as brief as possible. I listened with the greatest interest to the Under-Secretary in introducing this Bill, and I was considerably attracted by some of his remarks, particularly when he drew attention to the vital and ever-changing conditions of industry which rendered necessary this Bill, and the fact that the human aspect of the problems of industry must enter into our calculations. In view of those statements it seems extraordinarily significant to me that this Bill is simply a rehash of provisions that have been in operation in a minor degree for at least 15 years. Having regard to the great human considerations that have been mentioned and to the ever-changing conditions referred to by the hon. Gentleman, is it not remarkable that we have advanced so little that we are introducing to-day a Measure to make permanent something which has been in operation for the last 15 years? It seems to me that there are other greater and more worthy considerations which ought to exercise the minds of hon. Members of this House than the mere matter of speed, of mass production, of cheap output. If these larger considerations were kept in mind I have not the shadow of a doubt that the House would refuse to accede to the Second Reading of the Bill.

This Bill excites greater interest than we are apt to imagine. A great many people who are interested in the social and educational well-being of our young people are concerned about its provisions. It seems to make permanent one of the old bad legacies of the War. There might have been some reason and some excuse for emergency legislation of this kind, during the extraordinary strain of the War and the post-War period. But I cannot imagine that the considerations which applied then would apply at present. The Bill will vitally effect the future well-being of very many women and young persons. It is not sufficient to suggest that it applies only to a small section. In my opinion when it becomes an Act, it will have the effect of making not only permanent but widespread the conditions to which reference has been made by my hon. Friend who opposed the Second Reading. It introduces what is almost a revolution in our industrial and factory procedure.

Personally, I am very disquieted by these proposals because as an old member of the London County Council I know the very definite expression of view given by that great education authority on the points dealt with in the Bill. Further, I feel that we ought to oppose this Measure because the workers' organisations which are entitled to speak for the workers, without the influence which is always present when an employer consults his workpeople are, I may say without exception, opposed to its principles. My own view is that, from practically every point of view, the Bill is undesirable and contains much that may well play havoc in the future with the welfare of many of our young people. The only argument of substance which can be used to support it, is that it gives fresh and enlarged opportunities to employers of labour to exploit the work of women and young people. In the main, though not entirely, it follows the recommendation of the Departmental Committee. I read carefully the report of that committee, as I have no doubt the majority of hon. Members have done. But now we are considering a wider question than that which previously arose, and I submit that a prior consideration with all of us ought to be: Does this Bill make for the well-being of the young people of the country? I ask hon. Members to view the Bill and its potentialities from the standpoint.

On reading the committee's report I was struck by the relatively small number of employers who had taken advantage of these facilities, which suggests that there is no overwhelming demand for the Bill even among employers. The latest returns, I understand, show that there are 2,000,000 workpeople who could be effected by the Bill and that out of that number only 35,000 are working the two-shift system. The argument was advanced in a previous discussion that a Measure of this kind would tend to increase employment. I seriously suggest that there is little or no evidence to bear out that contention, But I think there is a good deal of ground for the belief that one result of the Bill would be a definite tendency towards a decrease in wages. That may be the reason why it commends itself to certain sections.

I wonder whether hon. Members have seriously considered the undesirability of bringing young people and women into the streets on the way to their employment at the early hour that is necessary under this system. I am convinced that if only those hon. Members who have had actual experience of working in factories and workshops and starting at six o'clock every morning were allowed to vote on this question, my hon. Friend's Amendment would be carried unanimously. If I may venture to strike a personal note, I would mention that for many years I was engaged in engineering and had to start at six o'clock every morning. It meant leaving home at a quarter to five o'clock and that, in turn, meant rising about four o'clock in the morning. I suggest that that is an unearthly sort of system to seek to foist permanently on these young people. I have often wondered how we stood it as long as we did when it was in general operation. One of the few things that came out of the War, as far as the industrial world is concerted, was that this six o'clock in the morning business was abolished—as we hoped for good and all. Is it right or is it in the interests of these young people that they should be brought out at such early hours in the morning? Remember they look to this House to safeguard their future.

Then, again, the question of meal times will present considerable difficulty in the working of the Bill. This system would mean perhaps a cup of tea for the young worker before starting out in the morning, then a hasty snack, not a proper breakfast, about nine o'clock and probably dinner, as it is called in working-class homes, about three o'clock or half-past three. Is that such a reasonable arrangement that we should seek by legislation to make it permanent? One of the serious drawbacks to the system is its effect on the educational side of the young person's life. The years from 16 to 18 are the most fruitful years and it seems strange that, with all our talk about providing greater educational facilities and encouraging our young people to take advantage of those facilities and pressing home the need for taking advantage of those facilities, we should propose to enact something which will make practically impossible the attendance of the young people affected at continuation schools. This scheme has had the opposition of the Workers Educational Association, a body which has done splendid work for education among the working people. The London County Council only last year without any division on party lines decided: That the council is of opinion that no arrangement should be made for young persons between the ages of 16 and 18 years to work on shifts at such times as would prevent them from availing themselves of the facilities for continued education, and that representations in this sense be made to the departmental committee. I suggest that the views of a body like the London County Council, particularly when there has been no division on party lines, is entitled to serious consideration by this House when we are dealing with the matter in which they are so vitally interested. I am interested in one of the largest co-operative societies in this country which operates in London. That society is doing an extraordinarily valuable educational work. It is spending £16,000 a year on the education of young people. This education is not of a partisan character. It is not the teaching of co-operation or its principles. The society has about 120 classes at present running in South London, attended mainly by the very type of people who will be affected by this Bill. There are classes in such subjects as social and economic progress, general economic theories, citizenship, local government, English history and literature. That body—the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society—is seriously concerned about the possibilities of this system, if it became general in London, as it well might, hampering and crippling that educational work. A reasonable case and a strong case can be made out against the provisions of the Bill and I believe, if the House were to reject the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill, countless young people in the days to come would bless the action thus taken.

5.43 p.m.


I wish to preface my remarks by sincerely congratulating the hon. Member who has just spoken on a most persuasive and charming maiden speech. I cannot say that, with all his persuasiveness, he has succeeded in making me agree with him and I am sure the House will understand that there is another side to the propositons which he has laid before us. He suggested that if all London were to adopt this system it would interfere very much with continuation classes. It was put before the departmental committee very clearly that special classes would be arranged to teach these young people, at other hours, during the week in which they were on night duty. When I was invited to become a member of the departmental committee to inquire into the employment of women and young persons on the double-shift system, I had no idea of the immense amount of time that the inquiry was going to occupy. Had I realised the weeks and months of labour which it meant for me, I might have been foolish enough to have refused to serve. I am very glad that I did serve because I learned a great deal about things, of which I knew nothing at all previously.

I would draw the attention of the House to the very wise method of selection used in the appointment of the committee. Every kind of thought was represented. Each of the political parties was represented and there were also representatives of the masters, the trade unions, the Universities and the Civil Service. Indeed after the first two or three meetings it occurred to me—although I did not say so—that it would prove impossible for us to arrive at a unanimous report at the end of our sittings. Yet all those conflicting opinions were able to produce a unanimous report. It shows that there must be a very great deal to be said for the continuance of the double shift if so many diverse opinions can agree to recommend that it be continued, and I can assure this House that anybody who sat all those months, hearing evidence, questioning, and going to factories, obtained a very good working knowledge indeed of the double-shift system.

When chosen to sit on that Committee, I thought I was a representative of the Conservative party, and I was told that Labour and Liberal party members had already been selected, but when I got among my colleagues on the Committee, it was very soon made clear to me that my job was chiefly that of a watching doctor and that I had to make inquiries into the effect of the double-shift system on the workers' health. I was very glad to do that, and I can assure the House that if I had found that in any way the health of the people had suffered, was suffering, or was likely to suffer in the future through the use of the double shift, I should emphatically have declined to sign that report. I wish the Home Secretary would include in the Bill that last recommendation of our Committee, in which we advised that there should be an advisory committee to assist the Home Secretary when required on difficult points. We have been assured by the Under-Secretary of State that it is intended that this committee shall exist, but I agree with the mover of the Motion for the rejection that it would be far more satisfactory if it could be included in the Bill.

Speaking from the medical point of view, we had brought before us the evidence of welfare workers, of doctors, of the workers themselves, of factory inspectors, and of supervisors, and I can assure the House that a very large preponderance of opinion was to the effect that no deleterious results to the health of the people were shown from the use of the double shift. The chief medical inspector of factories told us that he had never had a single complaint brought to him of an individual who had suffered from working on the double shift, and not only was evidence brought before us on the Committee, but when we went to the factories and inquired among the workers we heard the same story, while in many cases both the welfare workers and the workers themselves told us that they were in better health than when they had been working the ordinary hours of work. It seems to me as a doctor that one of the things you have to face, if prosperity is to return to this country, is the question whether it is better for the workers of this country to be perpetually working overtime or working on double shifts. If you adopt the double shift, you do not get the overtime work, and I am sure that long periods of overtime work are not good for any of us, and certainly not for women and young persons. That is one of the points that we have to face.

Another point is that wherever the double shift is worked, you get a far greater supervision taping place. The amenities of the workers have to be of a very high standard, or else the order is not granted by the Home Secretary or recommended by the inspector. It must be to the advantage of the health of the workers if they work in better surroundings and have better canteen accommodation, better cloak rooms, lavatories, and all that kind of thing. If you want to see the double shift working at its very best, I think you see it when you go to a factory where the whole thing is on the double-shift system and nothing else is worked. I have in mind one factory that we went to where all the people to whom we talked were very proud to be working in that factory, and very happy, and over and over again, on questioning them, one found that they enjoyed better health than when they had been working in the ordinary way beforehand.

A point that has not been mentioned so far is that not only do they get shorter hours of work and more fresh air, but every other week-end they get free entirely, and the workers very much appreciate getting away from all their routine work for a week-end. I have been struck very much, on visiting factories, with the monotony of the individual work that the workers do, and I am sure that it is beneficial to their health if they can work for shorter hours.


On a five-day week, does a girl take as much money home for five days as for six?


One found in the majority of cases that the wages were made up to the 48-hours rate where they only worked 40 hours. I know there have been cases in the past where that has not been so, but I am certain, from inquiries which we made and from what we heard, that it is the usual thing to-day, when a new order for the double shift is being granted, that the wage question is brought up and that they do have the increased wage for the 40 hours. We found that repeatedly. It is also quite natural from the workers' point of view that they will not vote for a double shift if they are going to be poorer off in money. I grant you that if they were working a great deal of overtime, they would be taking more money home, but I am certain that any considerable amount of overtime is deleterious to the health of the workers, and that it is far better for them, in their monotonous occupation, to be able to get right away for longer hours from the factory and enjoy, as they do, the freedom of getting right a way from everything every other week-end. When I signed this report I signed it with the conviction that it was a good report and that it would be for the good of the health of the people if the double-shift system were extended in this country. I support the Bill, and I hope very shortly to see it become the law of the land.

5.54 p.m.


The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) has given proof once again of one of the characteristic qualities of the race to which both he and I are very proud to belong, and that is consistency. He has indeed on every occasion offered resistance to this Measure when it has come before the House. As one of the members of the Committee which was appointed to look into this matter, I should like to say a few words. I went on to this Committee with a completely open mind. I went on as anyone would who was called to serve on a jury and asked to come to a conclusion upon the evidence submitted, and that is what I honestly did. Listening to some of the speeches which we have heard this evening, one would think that the members of that Committee were some of the most reactionary backwoodsmen that one could encounter in a day's march, but I should like to remind the House, as the last speaker has already done, that it was a very representative Committee and that members of all three parties were upon it. The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) was a member of the Committee, and I understand that he has hosiery factories in his constituency which work on the principle of the two-shift system. There was on the Committee also one who has been regarded as one of the most redoubtable champions of trade unionism, namely, Miss Julia Varley, and indeed so great is the confidence that has been reposed in her by the movement that she has been sent on several occasions to represent trade unionism in international conferences at Geneva. Yet with the varied representation that there was upon the Committee, so overwhelming was the evidence, in our opinion, that we came to a unanimous conclusion. There was not a single reservation, there was not one footnote to this report, which, if we are to believe certain statements made by hon. Members, will bring about such degrading conditions in this country.

In the opinion of the whole of the Committee, the case for the retention of the two-shift system was definitely made out. The Under-Secretary of State has pointed out the uses of the system for meeting many and various difficulties of production, for example, for rush orders and in seasonal trades. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill asked, Why this demand that the machine shall be worked continuously? He said, and said very rightly, that the problem in industry to-day was not one of production so much as of distribution. I would like also to remind him that the problem to-day is one of competition, and that if it is not possible to keep down the costs of production, it is extremely difficult to compete with our rivals in the foreign markets. Several objections of a social character have been raised to this Bill. My hon. Friend who served on the Committee and who spoke just now has gone into several of them. One of the objections that was raised—and I have no shame in bringing this before the House, because it was included in our report—was that this system interfered with courting. I hardly think that that is a matter for this House. There were other objections that were brought up by individual workers, but the weight of evidence from the workers undoubtedly was in favour of the two-shift system.

There has been some criticism to-day of the method used to obtain the consent of the workers in the factories and there was a suggestion from the hon. Member for Westhoughton that there was a kind of unconscious intimidation so that the workers were not able to make their views known for fear of the consequences and that they could not do so in the presence of the employers. I think the hon. Gentleman has forgotten that even under present conditions the factory inspector has to visit the factory and to make sure that the consent of the workers has been obtained by fair means and that their opinions are of value. This matter was raised by the Trades Union Congress when they gave evidence before the Committee, and they brought up several instances where, in their judgment, the opinions of the workers had not been fairly obtained. The Committee went into that question most carefully and came to the conclusion that the evidence of the Trades Union Congress was not substantiated in a single instance.

As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhoughton pointed out, there is a difference between the report and the Bill on the procedure which should be adopted in obtaining the consent of the work-people. The Bill has definitely set aside a recommendation of the Committee that there should be an advisory committee and that there should be on that body representatives of employers and workers to consider matters affecting the industry. Among those matters would be this question of determining to the satisfaction of the workers the best method of obtaining their consent. I cannot see what possible objection the Home Secretary can have to including that provision in the Bill. I am certain that there are grave objections to excluding the provision from the Bill. By far the best way of obtaining consent is by a secret ballot, and it is a most important matter because it is the real opportunity for the workpeople to settle the wage rates that they should have if they consented to work on the two-shift system. I believe that if we want to facilitate the smooth working of this system it is imperative that this advisory committee should be set up. Although I find myself in the unusual position of supporting the Government to-day, I am afraid that if this provision is not included I shall be in the more familiar Lobby of the Opposition.

Another objection which has been raised is with regard to transport. An hon. Member who spoke to-day complained that the workers had to go out at very early hours in the morning. In the Debate last week an hon. Member on the Labour benches quoted a case from Birkenhead. He said that girls working in the factory concerned were compelled to cross Liverpool at four o'clock in the morning so that they could get to work at six, and that this necessitated crossing the town at midnight or even later after the second shift. I have made some inquiries and have looked carefully into the report in order to refresh my memory, and I found that there were only three firms in Liverpool from whom we had evidence on this question of the two shifts. One was Tate end Lyles, and the evidence we got from them was that they liked the two-shift system, that 80 per cent. of the operatives lived within 20 minutes walk of the refinery, and that a 45-minute tram ride was the longest journey undertaken. Another factory in Liverpool represented the views of 2,400 girls who were employed under the two-shift system. They said they preferred the shift system to day work, that they were on piece-work, and that they could earn more under that system. They said that all the workers in their case lived within a radius of two miles from the factory.


The firm to which I referred was a Birkenhead firm, not a Liverpool firm, and the girls have to cross Liverpool.


The hon. Gentleman has probably been more fortunate than I have, but I went through the evidence most carefully and failed to find that the Committee had any evidence in that direction. When the hon. Member speaks later he will be able to put me right if I am wrong. It is true that most of the firms employed girls in the near neighbourhood of the factory, but if the supply were inadequate, as it was in some cases, they had to go further afield. According to the evidence, however, half an hour's travelling was the usual thing and the case quoted by the hon. Gentleman was most unusual.

Another point of considerable substance which was included in the recommendations of the Committee but is not included in the Bill, is that workers should not be disqualified from benefit if they do not take work on shifts which is at an unreasonable distance from their homes. I feel very strongly on this point and I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to insert some provision, or, if he cannot do that, will give some definite assurance that these workers will not be disqualified from benefit for that reason. Another point concerns the question of welfare. It is important that the Home Secretary should issue a special order dealing with the welfare conditions of workers on two shifts. I realise that at the moment factory inspectors have to make inquiries, but I should like to have something a little more definite than that. The provisions in the Bill are rather vague and indeterminate. I believe that in the case of other industries the Home Office issues orders of this kind. If this system is adopted and becomes more generally used, as I believe it may well do, it is vital that a high standard of welfare, particularly in regard to canteens and mess rooms, ought to be established. I can assure the House, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Dr. Howitt) did, that I should not be supporting this Bill if it were to bring about degrading conditions for women and young persons. Nothing has been said this afternoon, nor was anything said in the evidence against the Bill, which has made me alter my decision or the decision of Members of the Committee, which was taken after prolonged and careful inquiries into this matter.

6.11 p.m.


I rise to support the rejection of this Bill. I object altogether to the classification of women and young persons and to dealing with them as one subject. The classification is merely a relic of past days when being a woman was a sex disqualification from the vote, and the classification has remained to this day. There is no justification for it at all. Adult women can be dealt with separately, and there is no reason why they should be dealt with on the same basis as young persons. They are able to look after themselves to a certain extent, but young persons are in a different position. It seems to me that young persons should not be put in the position of having to work from six o'clock in the morning until ten o'clock at night. I appreciate what the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) has told us and the judicial attitude of mind which she has adopted, but there have been speakers on the other side who have put the natural and human point of view. It is obvious that if you are to work at six o'clock in the morning you have to get up about four. You have to have something to eat and make some breakfast, and then have to go to your job. Even the hon. Member for Anglesey admits that very likely you would have to travel for an hour, so that you would have to leave your home at five in order to get to your work at six. The same amount of travelling would have to be done on the way home. It makes a very long day. I do not think that young women of 16 ought to be allowed to do that. They are the future mothers of our race, and I object to it from the national and physical point of view.

I object to it, too, from the educational point of view. It stands to reason that if a person has to get up at four or five in the morning she is much too tired to go to evening classes. Human nature cannot stand the strain. If they are on the night shift they cannot do it because they are engaged on the shift. There may be very few people at present who are affected by this system, but if this Bill becomes law it may be extended very much, and a large increase may have a deleterious effect on the educational facilities which we are now trying to put into operation. I think sufficient attention has not been given to the question of the unemployed. Instead of having the two-shift system a larger number of unemployed people might be engaged. Of course, there are special trades, such as the hosiery trade, which was mentioned by an hon. Member, in which women's fingers prove more deft than those of the men, and they can do work which men cannot do; but there must be a great deal of other work which could be done, and I do not see why it should not be done, by men.

I come now to a rather more technical question, concerning the powers of Ministers. I have the greatest confidence in my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary, and I know that he will not take what I am saying as in any way reflecting on him personally, but I sat for some two years on a committee which was dealing with Ministers' powers, and we came to the conclusion that although it was necessary for Ministers to have powers—that is, that the powers of the House should be delegated to Ministers in certain cases—those powers should be very carefully watched and should not be extended. But in Clause 3 of this Bill I find it stated: The Secretary of State may by order delegate to the chief inspector of factories or to any superintending inspector of factories any of the powers and duties conferred on the Secretary of State by this Act. I do not know whether I have ever seen that provision in any other Act. I have always understood that a well-known motto of English law is Delegatus non potest delegare, that is, if powers are delegated to a Minister he should not delegate them in full to others, and I think it is highly desirable that he should not do so. That is a Clause which might serve as a precedent for others and we might have a very improper state of affairs. That leads me to support very strongly the idea of having an advisory committee. If this Bill does go through, as of course it will, in spite of our opposition, I beg the Home Secretary to see that the advisory committee recommended by the Departmental Committee should be set up. That would to a certain extent modify my views as to the powers of the Minister as set out in Clause 3, because it is very desirable, if he has such powers, that he should have proper advice from technical experts on the various points. I am sorry that I have troubled the House so long. I support the rejection of the Bill.

6.18 p.m.


I occupy a somewhat unique position in the House, because I am the only Member who is a direct representative of the pottery industry, which in its finer arts employs about 73,000 persons, and I hope the House will grant me its indulgence for a short time in which to voice the opinions of the workers whom I represent. Along with a lady colleague of mine I gave evidence before the committee in 1920, and my impression was that evidence was wanted only from those persons who were in favour of the two-shift system, that feeling being so evident that my lady colleague and I were treated, if not with rudeness, at any rate almost with discourtesy. We were definitely opposed to the two-shift system in 1920, and my society, and so many other people as I have consulted, are just as definitely opposed to it now.

The Under-Secretary gave something of a historical review. My mind goes back also. When that committee was sitting the slogan throughout the country was "Produce more goods," and that committee had either had its instructions or was so obsessed with the idea of increasing production that it gave a report in favour of the two-shift system. It has been ably pointed out by other speakers that the principle underlying its report—more production—has had a very emphatic answer from the course of events, and I feel that we might with emphasis ask the Home Secretary to withdraw this Bill because the problem now is one of under-consumption rather than under-production. As authority for what I have said I would quote from the report: An opportunity for trying the system should be given to those employers and trade union organisations who desire to introduce it as a regular part of the industrial system for the purpose of increasing production. Another reason advanced in favour of the system was that it would help us to keep pace with competition. On many occasions I have heard it said from the benches opposite that there is such a thing in the present capitalist system as fair competition. This system does not lend itself to fair competition—if there be such a thing. Again I quote from the report, this time the evidence given by the General Council of the Trades Union Congress: The new type of trading brought about by big concerns who put orders at their own and often uneconomic prices was said to account for 75 per cent. of the shift orders in the hosiery trade. Before the War such orders would have been divided with other firms. For instance, in the woollen industry of Yorkshire there used to be commission spinners who depended entirely on surplus orders, but these firms were now closing down. Again, half the looms in Lancashire were idle, while others were working on double shifts. They did not find more work but simply transferred it from one employer to another. There are two points there. One concerns unfair competition, because the report speaks of quoting at uneconomic prices. If we can exclude unfair competition that ought to be a point worthy of the consideration of the Home Secretary. The other point concerns the factories which depended on surplus orders and had been closing down as a consequence of the introduction of the double-shift system elsewhere.

It has been said by other speakers that there has been no demand for this new Bill; nor has there been any love for the temporary Measure of 1920. In view of the small fraction of industrialists who have taken advantage of the Measure of 1920 is it worth while to bring in this new Bill to bolster up what had been regarded as a temporary Measure? Indeed, it seems to me that the present Bill has been introduced because of the intense disappointment with the working of the temporary Measure. A further inducement is being offered by the Government to get more people on to the two-shift system. I should imagine that the working of the Bill which will involve a lot of expenditure of time and money by the Home Office in investigating the hundreds and hundreds of applications for Orders. No fewer than 400 have been made since last June, and there have been 2,006 applications up to 1934. Only about 40 per cent. of those Orders remain in force, 20 per cent. of the firms only being entirely engaged on the two-shift system and the other 20 per cent. partially engaged. The Under-Secretary spoke of this system giving the working people greater leisure and opportunities for recreation. Here is a quotation respecting the evidence of representative workers: Both, in evidence, said that they had breakfast before starting on the early shift and had their main meal when they returned 2 o'clock. They felt no ill-effects from the alternation of shifts, and did not feel tired on the morning shifts as they either went early to bed or rested during the afternoon. That is where they get the greater recreation and leisure. As this statement shows, it is practically a matter of work, eat, sleep and work again. It states that they went very early to bed or rested in the afternoon because they had to be up so early the next morning. Like the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) I should condemn this Bill on many grounds and I will summarise a few of them in conclusion. In opposition to what the hon. Member for Reading (Dr. Howitt) said, we have had evidence from Dr. Morton, speaking for the Trades Union Congress; but I should weary the House if I proceed to give a lot of quotations. His evidence is supported by a quotation from a report by the Industrial Fatigue Research Board, in which they stated that shift workers suffer much more than day workers from respiratory diseases, headache, and so on. The Industrial Fatigue Research Board supports the contention that shift workers suffer from these diseases more than do ordinary day workers.

It is no use my appealing to the Home Secretary to withdraw this—to my mind—abominable Bill. If it is not withdrawn, lots of modifications will be asked for, as has already been indicated in the Debate. The system intensifies competition, impairs the general health of the workers, robs them of every opportunity of enjoying their leisure time and prevents the youth of our country from taking advantage of educational facilities. On the last point I speak from experience as a worker at the bench. During that period I put in four slogging years at the technical school, and I know how utterly impossible it is for young persons working on the two-shift system to take any advantage of the educational facilities. I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to make modifications which will make the Bill more acceptable to the House, or that he will withdraw it altogether, which would suit me better than any modification.

6.32 p.m.


I have listened with great interest to the points of view put by hon. Members from all parts of the House during this Debate. Probably most of us, when we read the report, were struck at first with its extraordinary interest and thoroughness, and with the amount of information it gave of the working of the system in this country and other countries. We noted the thorough way in which the Members of the Committee had investigated the benefits or the ills that could accrue should there be a wider use of the system.

I thought that the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) was going to say that although he disagreed with parts of the Bill, because there were things in it which ought not to be there, he agreed with the report. At first I thought he was proposing to base his objection on the fact that the Bill did not carry out all the suggestions of the report, but before he sat down he gave us to understand quite clearly that he was altogether against the two-shift system. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] From the applause of hon. Members opposite it appears that there is a very strong feeling. I shall be interested to hear, when the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) speaks on his report, what his feelings are. Generally speaking, hon. Members have approached this subject not from a party point of view but with the idea of discovering the best method under which the people of this country can work. I am absolutely opposed to any unnecessary restriction on women's work. The difficulty we shall see more and more in the days to come will be caused by schemes for restricting the right of women to work, and in a great many cases we shall be told that that is because of concern for their health.

During the last meeting of the League of Nations Assembly in Geneva, I had the interesting experience of receiving many deputations upon the subject of the economic status of women, which was at that time upon the agenda. Hon. Members who have studied the reports issued at that time will know that there was a great deal of discussion upon the subject. Over and over again, people representing interests in this country and in other countries made speeches in which they said that there was a feeling that, during times of depression, there might be further restrictions upon women's work. The only restrictions that I think are tenable are those for which it can be proved that particular hours of work or types of work are dangerous or detrimental to women's health and are not detrimental to the health of men, or might be detrimental to woman as a mother and detrimental to the next generation. That is one point which we ought to keep in mind.

In reading the part of the report which deals with foreign countries, I was interested to notice that in many other countries women have more chance of work and less restriction than in our own country. I was interested to hear a delegate at Geneva representing the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. She made an impassioned speech in which she put before us the ideal of those socialist republics that men and women should have equal chances in industry. When I received a deputation with the hon. Member for South Dorset (Viscount Cranborne), we were informed that in Russia and other places women went into the mines. We were asked if we would agree to that in this country and have entire economic equality. In many cases I should not agree with the schemes of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, but any restriction on women's work should be very carefully examined. Only if the work can be proved to be more detrimental to them than to men, should the restrictions be enforced.

There are certain kinds of work that women can do better, because of their skill with their fingers and their lighter touch. There is work at which both men and women can work. In some cases, as in some mills, it has been found necessary to put on another shift, in addition to the day shift, when a large amount of new machinery has been put in. The shifts have therefore been one day shifts and one night shifts. Women are not allowed to work at night, and therefore men have been undertaking that night work. I have been approached by many women, who have pointed out that if they were allowed to work two shifts in the day time that might prevent in the future a shift being worked at night and eventually giving all the work to the men. I am certain that if we do not make some arrangement of shifts we shall see more and more night shift work. I object to night working if it is not absolutely necessary, and I object to a shift being worked at night on which men have the only chance of working. That forms another restriction upon women taking their part in work.

If hon. Members on this side or the other side wish to use this Bill in order to restrict women's work and to bring more work to men, it would be far better that that intention should be put forward in a straightforward manner. They should say that the two-shift system will mean more opportunities for women to work and will not lead to an increase in the opportunities for men. That argument might be advanced, but those who advance it must come out boldly and say that they wish to see more opportunities for men and would rather restrict the opportunities for women. I entirely agree with the hon. Member who said that we ought to approach this subject first of all from the point of view of the welfare of the women and young persons. I listened with interest to the speeches of hon. Members for Reading (Dr. Howitt) and Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), who gave us detailed information as they had worked on the committee. I was not on that committee and I have no official information, but for many months I have been personally investigating a great number of cases in which the two-shift system was worked, and I have been discussing it with workers in places where it was suggested that in future the system might be worked.

I have come to the conclusion, approaching this matter in no party spirit, that the majority of women in this country would like the chance of working the two-shift system. During the Election some of us heard a great deal of abuse of the system. We heard that a Bill was to be introduced and that it was a Tory Measure put forward after a Committee of Tory people had discussed the matter. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) feels duly flattered. It was stated that this was a Tory Measure that ought to be opposed, and people were asked to vote Labour in order to oppose this Measure.

I wonder if many people took the trouble to explain the Measure more thoroughly than I found it explained in a great many cases. Among those who had not worked the system but were being asked whether it would be a good thing to try it in the future, I found great misunderstanding. I saw it written that under the two-shift system women would go to work at 6 in the morning, would come off at 2 in the afternoon and would go back at 6. No a.m. or p.m. was given. I wonder if hon. Members think that the system is very clearly defined in that way; I do not. People who are told that they will have to work from 6 to 2 and to go back at 6, may think that they are asked to go back and work overtime. In the textile district of which I am speaking, the hours in the textile mills are from a quarter to eight in the morning until half past five. Where extra time has been worked, increasing the working week from 48 hours to the 55½ which can be worked, women went back at 6 and worked an hour or an hour and a half. They used to go back to work if there was a rush. Saying that the work will be from 6 till 2 and that you will go back to work at 6, without stating whether it was 6 o'clock in the morning or evening, was not a very clearly defined statement of the position.

It has not been explained that the shifts have been alternating. I should rather like the shifts to change every fortnight, but if the workers want them to be changed each week, that should be permitted. When leaflets and pamphlets are put out concerning this matter, besides giving the exact length of the shift they should state that, after coming off at 2, you go back at 6 next morning. They should also explain that that shift only lasts during one week or one period of time, and that after one week of morning shift the worker would go on at 2 and come off at 10. In interviews which I have had since the Election I have asked those women whom I was told were opposed to the system to come and discuss the matter with me personally. They might be political opponents, but I can still call many of them my friends. When they came to discuss the matter with me I found that they were under a delusion as to what the shift was.

During the last two months, and especially during the last two weeks, I have discussed the matter with many workers who are working the two-shift system. A minority of them would prefer the day system with overtime where they are in a light trade because they can make more money. In all the cases I have investigated they were getting the same amount for the shorter working week and an extra percentage on piece work, but they were not drawing that extra money for overtime which many of them drew when they got overtime. In the heavy textile industries, I found that the workers did not like overtime, in spite of the extra money. My own opinion is that the two-shift system is infinitely preferable to overtime.

I was surprised to hear from the hon. Member for Westhoughton that overtime was not the worst system and that there was not an urgent need to get rid of overtime. I can imagine nothing worse for the women of this country than continuous working of excessive hours. That is far worse, with its exhaustion, than getting up early in the morning. The only way to abolish overtime is by the two-shift system. It may be said that there should be neither overtime nor two-shift system. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Might I ask hon. Members how they would deal with rush times? When you are dealing with the products of Nature, as when you are canning vegetables or fruits, you often find that you have rush periods. Do hon. Members propose that the factories should put in extra and very expensive plant in order to deal solely with the extra work of rush periods? In one season you might have no rush period, and, if you are to have sufficient plant always to be able to deal with a rush period, you will find that there is always more machinery than is normally needed, merely in case in any particular season the fruit or vegetables should come on more quickly. In that case, as the extra machinery will only he used occasionally, the expense of the product will be such that you will not have people working two shifts, but people will be unemployed and foreign goods will be coming over here instead.

Then there are the rush seasons, such as the Christmas season. In the confectionery trade, in many cases, the two-shift system has been worked for, perhaps the three months between September and Christmas. Are we to tell all the confectionery industries that they must have larger factories and extra plant—that, although we realise that for nine months in the year the extra plant will be idle and part of the factory will not be used, it must be provided in case it may be required during a rush season? Only last Saturday I talked with people in the confectionery trade, and I found that various statistics which I had previously collected were absolutely accurate. No one can say that there will not be these rush periods, unless we say that we will have no Christmas, or will have a Christmas two or three times a year. That would be really good Socialist organisation. But, if we are to disregard the rush seasons which may occur through products of the earth like fruit or vegetables coming on at a greater rate, or if we are going to do away with all human fancies or fashions and to say that nothing extra must be spent at Christmas, all these schemes for organising the industry of this country under cast-iron regulations will mean its speedy downfall. If hon. Members opposite do not agree with me that there must be rush seasons, I would ask them to consider perishable articles like confectionery. Would the hon. Member for Mansfield like to be given on Christmas Day chocolates made last April? Would the people of this country buy British confectionery in that case? I must try and see if I can find in my constituency a box made last April, and, if I can, I will send it with the greatest possible pleasure to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan).

If we in this country are to get abreast of foreign competition and supply goods equal to or superior to those imported from abroad, we must face the fact that there are times when there is a rush. I believe there is no objection on the part of the women and girls. I have spoken to many of them, and they are greatly in favour of having more free time in daylight. Hon. Members opposite have not yet told us during this Debate whether they really think that the young people and the women do not appreciate having their mornings free during one week and their afternoons free during another week, so that they can go out in daylight. The younger ones have mostly told me that it was an opportunity of going to the shops, and that schemes and clubs could be organised so that they could play more games, while the older women and married women have told me that it was an advantage in their homes to have a clear morning or a clear afternoon. A good deal has been said about the break-up of family life, but I would like hon. Members who say that to inform the House during the Debate if they have asked many people who are working under the two-shift system whether they agree that that is the case. I have asked them over and over again, and have been told that it is a great disadvantage in a small house, where many members of a family live, if they all have to come in in one rush during one hour for their meals. Hon. Members may laugh, but perhaps they have not had to cook a dinner and serve it, as many women of the working class have to do, in a very limited time. If all the members of one household come in at one time, you find over and over again that they have great difficulty in getting their meals properly without being rushed, and getting back to work. There is another thing with which hon. Members opposite will not, perhaps, agree, but which again I know to be true. Many women have told me that they could either have a rest in the morning with the house to themselves when some of the others had gone out, or, if some of the family came home after two o'clock while the others were still working, they could get a rest in the afternoon.


They might have only one bed.


That is a very good point. They might also need fewer cups and saucers if they had their meals at different times. Do those who speak of the possible breaking up of family life because the entire family is not going to be at home after half-past five or six think that in one household the entire family, sons, daughters, father and mother, stay at home during the evening or that they all go out together to the cinema? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] The hon. Member says that they do, but I think that, if a census could be taken over Great Britain as a whole, it would be found that it is very rare that the father, the mother, the sons and the daughters all proceed in one body to the cinema, or that they always all spend their evenings at home. In many cases I have asked people—say two sisters, or a mother and a daughter—whether they would rather work together on the same shift or follow one another in different shifts, and in every case I was told that they would rather follow one another, not because in that case they would not have to work together during the day, but because they would be able each to work on the same loom. Many workers do not like other people working on their loom between the time when they finish their day's work and when they go back the next morning.

Hon. Members opposite seem to decry the idea of foreign competition, but it is interesting to see from the report what has been done on this system in foreign countries. I know that in this country most of us do not like getting up early in the morning. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers) thinks that it is necessary for people to get up two hours before they go to work, so that women in the textile industries who go to work at a quarter to eight would probably be getting up at a quarter to six, and, if they went to work at six, they would have to get up at four. I should not like getting up at a quarter to six, and I do not know that I should dislike it much more of I had to get up at four—


At one time I started at six, and it really did mean having to get up very much earlier. In a city like Glasgow, the transport facilities do not start until seven o'clock, and, if you have to start at six, you must of necessity get up very early indeed, owing to the fact that you either have to walk or adopt some very inefficient mode of transport.


I quite agree, but I am dealing with the report, which admits that, if this system is adopted, alterations will have to be made in certain matters, including transport. If a large number of workers are going to work much earlier, it will certainly be necessary to see that transport facilities are available at an earlier hour, and there is also the question of cheap fares at different hours. In foreign countries, according to the report, they begin work at earlier hours. I noted that, during the Election, there has been a good deal of talk about Sweden. There the working hours start at 5 a.m., and boys are allowed to work a night shift; and going down the list of other countries you find that earlier hours are being worked. It is, however, really an advantage to the people as a whole if they can start their work earlier and have more free time in the afternoon. A great deal has been said on the subject of education, but I think that people in this country ought to have more opportunities for games and physical exercises in the open air during daylight. I am certain that many of our young people to-day wish to take part in games more than ever before. If this system were adopted, the young people would have more opportunities of joining in organised games either in the morning or in the afternoon. To me it is a terrible thing that so many of our young people, at any rate during the winter months, are never out in daylight; they are in the factories from a quarter to eight in the morning until half-past five in the evening, and can never go about in daylight at all.

I cannot see any hope of shorter hours in industry in the future unless we look forward to a shift system. I hoped very much that, with the introduction of machinery, we should see shorter hours in industry. We have advanced to a certain extent, and this shift system does result in shorter hours. If we do not have a shift system, overtime will be worked during rush periods, and there will be no hope of shortening the working day. I should like to see an eight-hour day, or even less, universal, but there is no chance of shorter hours unless in the future a shift system is adopted. I think something was said about monotony. We have got so much into the habit of working certain hours that we have sunk into a slough of monotony. To-day in many factories work has become more monotonous than ever it was, and, largely owing to that, there is the difficulty that the worker has in taking an interest in the work. The worker is just part of the machinery. Surely we could to a certain extent break this deadly monotony, even if only in the matter of hours. We have to consider this subject from the point of view of the workers, and it seems to me that there might be less monotony if during one week they had their free time in the morning and during another week in the afternoon.

It seems to me a great pity that this report and Bill should have been used so much in some districts during the Election as a stick with which to beat the Government. I can only say that those with whom I have come in contact are not opposed to the Bill, and that, when they were definitely asked in pamphlets to vote Labour in order to oppose the Bill, the majority did not do so. I should like to see some alterations made in the Bill. For instance, I should like to see the ballot made secret, so that we could get the opinion of individual workers, and not merely the opinion of groups, or any opinion dictated either by trade union leaders or by employers. We want to know the opinions of individual women and individual young people. I would also like to be quite certain on the question of the delegation of the powers of the Secretary of State. I think that the inspectors, having looked into a joint application, or an application supported by the workers and the employers, ought to be able to make an Order, if only for a short time; but the absolute and final responsibility should rest with the Secretary of State. I do not think that his authority and responsibility ought to be delegated in any way. But in the case of a short period, say, during a rush, it does not seem to me to be necessary that every single Order should be under the hand of the Secretary of State.

I cannot see that this system is in any way degrading women's work. I think it is merely giving to women, if they wish to have it, an opportunity of regulating their lives on a different basis from that which in the past has been considered to be the best, namely, that the whole of the day should be spent in the factory and that opportunities for recreation should be confined to the evening. I think that many women in this country desire the change, and that many girls and boys want more open-air life and more games and physical exercises during daylight. I suggest that hon. Members opposite should put aside all political bias and consider the matter, not merely from the standpoint of any particular industrial organisation, but from the point of view of the individual workers; and I would ask them if it would not be a good plan to give these people the option of choosing this system if they should prefer to work these hours.

7.0 p.m.


I rise to support the Motion for the rejection of this Measure, and I do so as one who represents a textile area in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and as one who is directly connected with the industrial organisation catering for people working under the two-shift system. As I understood the Under-Secretary for Home Affairs, the reason why the Government have brought this Bill forward at this time is that they think that the method of continuing the Measure under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act is unsatisfactory. I believe that if there is one merit of that Act in relation to this experiment it is that we have the opportunity in this House to criticise and review the working of the two-shift system every year, and of making our observations based on experience in the factory. If this Bill is passed it will become part of the permanent factory legislation of the country. I would much have preferred, instead of piecemeal legislation of this kind, that the Government should have introduced a new and comprehensive Factories Bill, which is long overdue. The present factory laws are overdue for revision in the light of the new conditions in industry. The last Factory Act was brought forward in 1901, and the hours that we are discussing to-day and that are now being worked in the textile industry are based upon that Act. Therefore, there is good reason why the Government should give to consolidation of the factory laws the time and importance that such a subject deserves.

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) as to the effects of the two-shift system on the health and the daily lives of the women and young people affected by it. I cannot see how anybody who understands the system and who has seen it in operation can claim that the establishment of this system as a permanent feature is a progressive step in British industry. I believe it is a very retrogressive step, and I have not yet heard any evidence in this House or read anything in the report of the Departmental Committee, that has convinced me that the two-shift system is either necessary or desirable. We have been told that the Departmental Committee has conducted a full inquiry into the matter. We have also been reminded, as I expected we should, that the Labour movement was represented on that committee by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) and by representatives of the Trades Union Congress General Council.

I have read the report of that Committee carefully, and I have noted that on certain grounds and with certain modifications they recommend the continuance of the two-shift system. Even had the whole of the safeguards recommended by that Committee been adopted by the Government and incorporated in the Bill I would still oppose the two-shift system for women and young persons. The Bill does not incorporate the whole or the main recommendations. It does not include that for the setting up of a joint Home Office committee which would watch the working of the system and the health of the people concerned, and there are many others which have not been included. I understand that in a textile factory at present the normal hours of employment of women and young children are limited by law, and that they must work within the period fixed by the Factory Act—that is from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., or from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., unless there are special exemptions granted by Home Office Order. That is a 12-hour day, or as we call it a 55½-hour week.

But in the textile industry that 55½-hour week has been abandoned. That step forward was regarded generally in the West Riding as a humane and enlightened advance, and instead of the 55½-hour week being the normal we find that the normal working week is 47 or 48 hours. I understand that according to law the margin between the 48 and the 55½ hours can still be utilised in periods of rush or emergency if it is desired to do so by the employers. Many of our agreements with the employers provide specially for periods of rush work, and provide that on certain occasions and under certain conditions the employer is permitted to work the difference between the 48 and the 55½ hours. But we also have an accompanying provision that in such cases overtime rates or special payments must be paid to the workers. I believe that that provision is one of the chief reasons why the employers do not seem to take advantage of that margin to deal with rush work.


Is not one of the difficulties of taking advantage of that special condition that it is very exhausting for the workpeople, that there is a larger number of accidents when working that extra time, and would the hon. Member rather see people working overtime or working the double shift? Is it better to work a 55½-hour week when we know that there have been more accidents and ill health, or to work the double-shift system?


I have no hesitation in saying that I would prefer to work the 55½-hour week on rush occasions than to work the two-shift system. Under that system the women and young people have to work from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on the second shift from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., and during that period of eight hours there is only a half-hour's break for meals. It has been said from the benches opposite that under present factory laws young people of 16 may be called on to work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. if the employer thinks it necessary, and it has been argued from that that the shift worker starting at 6 a.m. has some advantage over the young worker working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. That may be true for the workers engaged on the first shift, but I believe that such a situation only reveals the glaring absurdity of the whole of our present factory laws. I hold strongly that young persons, especially those aged from 14 to 16, should not be called on to work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., as they can be to-day. I believe that their hours should be somewhere between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. If that were fixed by law employers could arrange their business accordingly. The employer at present is not allowed to work young people after six o'clock, and he has to arrange his business so as to dispense with their services after that time.

The normal hours of working in the West Riding textile industry are from 7 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. on the full day shift. The workers usually have a stop for breakfast from 8 a.m. to 8.30, and for dinner from 12.30 to 1.15. I understand that according to the factory laws they must have two hours break for meals during the day. That means that ordinarily in a normal period of day-shift working, the worker cannot work longer than 4½ hours at a stretch without a meal. That applies to adult men and all those working under ordinary conditions of daytime work. Let us compare those conditions with what happens to young people and women working under the two-shift system. They are only allowed half an hour meal time within the full eight-hour shift, and it is possible that young people from 16 to 18 and women may be compelled to go much longer than four and a half hours without a break for a meal. In these circumstances they are definitely worse off under a two-shift system.

It has also been argued that people who are asked to go on the two-shift system have a voice in determining whether they will work under those conditions. That claim may be put forward seriously, but I do not think it would be seriously supported by anybody who is intimate with what happens in the workshop. In most cases the employer draws up the form of ballot and is responsible for the taking of the ballot. I know it will be said by the Home Secretary that the ballot has to be conducted to the satisfaction of the inspector of factories, and that the inspector may supervise the ballot. But we know well that the conditions are arranged by the employers and that the ballot-paper is drawn up by them. I understand further that the voting in the ballot is not necessarily confined to the actual people who have to work under the two-shift system. I may be wrong, but I am informed that there are many people in the departments concerned, such as young people under 16, mechanics' labourers, and the people who are employed in the department but would not work under the system, who are included in the personnel of the department and allowed to take part in the ballot and decide whether other people should work the two-shift system.

There is another important point. We know from our own experience that if an employer has decided that he is going to make an application, and the people in the factory know that the decision rests in their hands, they are influenced by the fact that, if the application is not successful, the employer can dispense with their services and get other workers who are desperate enough to work under any sort of conditions. In my opinion the two-shift system lends itself easily to abuse unless very careful watch is kept by the factory inspector. There is especially the possibility of abuse in a factory which has been granted more than one Order for shift working. I know a case of a firm which has four separate Orders for four separate shifts. It has to be watched very carefully to see that no abuse takes place. There are many factors that have to be considered. They have to watch the ages of the workers—those under 16 and those who may attain that age whilst the Order is running. There are the varying periods that the Order may run when there are different Orders; there are the different processes affected by the Orders and the different sections of people covered by them.

I also during the last week-end made many inquiries from people in my constituency working on the two-shift system to ascertain what their views really were, and, although I may be designated by the Under-Secretary a professional representative of the working classes, I have as much confidence in the people I have interviewed as the hon. Gentleman has in those with whom he has had casual conversations in the factories he has visited. My experience in talking to the women has been very different from that of the hon. Member for Dundee. I have interviewed many and I have not found one woman or young person who is in favour of the continuance of the two-shift system. I wonder whether the Home Secretary is familiar with the domestic life of the working people of the West Riding. Generally, the mother of the family gets up in the early hours of the morning to provide the young workers with hot drink. If they are engaged on the early shift, she has to get up much earlier than she would otherwise have to do. It means that the other members of the household are disturbed and that the mother, having seen the early shift workers off, generally has to wait until the ordinary day workers get up to provide them with a hot drink also.


Does the hon. Member really think that a daughter going out to work insists on her mother getting up to boil the kettle?


It may not be the daughter who insists on the mother getting up. It is the mother who insists. Let us take the position of the people who are on the second shift. It is generally somewhere about 11 o'clock at night when they return home. They have then to be served with their main hot meal of the day, and the mother is there to serve it. After it has been served there is the clearing away. They have to get ready for the morning, and there is disturbance at both ends of the day in the domestic life of these people. If there are two members of the same family working on different shifts the inconvenience is very real and very upsetting. I could quote a case of three girls whom I know very well. They are in one family, two working on one shift and one working on the alternative shift at another factory. The only opportunity they get of family enjoyment and companionship is on Saturday afternoon or Sunday. They very rarely see each other during the week. I think no one can deny the disturbing effect on domestic life, especially of the afternoon shifts. It presents a routine of bed and breakfast, especially for the mothers. It is bad enough when an adult male has to work on shifts but, if we are going to extend the system to women and young people, we are taking a retrogressive step. To say that because the system is being operated in some industries, like mining, and that men do it and that it is therefore to be carried into other industries and applied to a sex to which it has never been applied on a large scale, is a puerile form of argument.

There is another aspect of the operation of the system upon the home life of the people. In many parts of my division there are married women with children working on the two-shift system. They object to it far more strongly than the single women. It means that, if they are on the morning shift, they have to leave their children in bed for longer hours than they would be compelled to do otherwise, or else they have to take them out earlier in the morning to be looked after by neighbours, or they have to pay more money for neighbours going into the house to look after them. If a mother is working on the second shift, it means that the children are to be without her care from the close of school at about half-past four until she returns at nearly 11 o'clock at night. I wonder if the hon. Member will justify that.


I am delighted to justify it. I spoke to some married women last year and to some others last week, and some of them said that, working on this shift, for the first time they had a chance of taking the baby out in the morning.


If the hon. Lady is prepared to justify such things as I have mentioned I cannot really understand her mentality. Something has been said as to the provision of travelling facilities for people working on the late shifts. It was said that the inspector of factories generally satisfies himself that adequate facilities are provided. That may be so in certain instances and in certain districts, but it is not compulsory for the employer or for the factory inspector to provide cheap travelling facilities. I find that, when women are engaged on the late shift, the menfolk generally go to the factory gate to meet them and see them home, and if their work is any distance from their homes and they are going to use the omnibuses, whether there are cheap travelling facilities or not these people are generally put to increased transport charges because of the fact that the men are anxious to see their women safely home.

The whole system seems quite indefensible, especially from the point of view of the best interests of the workers concerned. I read the full evidence given before the Select Committee and heard the speech of the hon. Member for Reading (Dr. Howitt), who was a Member of the Committee. In listening to the hon. Member I almost concluded that in his opinion it was the most perfect health system that had ever been devised. It may be beneficial comparing present conditions with those of the early nineteenth century, but we are now in the twentieth century, and I believe it must have an effect upon the health of the workers. I believe that effect has not yet been determined. The doctors have not had time to observe it. It is rather remarkable that in the report of the Committee and in the evidence and in this Debate no direct evidence has been quoted. Could the Home Secretary give any statistics or evidence over a period of years of the effect of this system on the health of women, and young people? At present I believe that any evidence can only be drawn from a very rough comparison with men working on a two or three-shift system. It has been said that this is not an English innovation. I believe that the two-shift system has to a large extent been used by foreigners who have come to this country, secured an order from the Home Office and put down machinery of a kind, on a concrete floor in a tin roofed shed, and worked women and young children at a very low rate of wages. They are the industries which cater for the supply of Christmas goods, the paper industry and other industries which employ girls, and I hope we shall not encourage them to introduce conditions of the kind which may operate on the Continent of Europe into the industrial life of this country.

It has been said that not many people are affected. That is all the more reason why we should oppose the proposal. If there are not many people working under the two-shift system at the present time, even if we abolished the system it would not have very much effect upon the cost of production. If the numbers employed are as infinitesimal as has been stated, it would have very little effect on the competition which has been mentioned in the Debate to-day. If, as has been stated, there are many jobs in the textile industry operated under the two-shift system which women are doing and can do much better than men because they are more efficient at that kind of work than men, why do we not recognise their efficiency and pay them the same rate of wages as men?

It has been said, and I believe it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh), that the only alternative is overtime work. She asked whether we preferred overtime working to the two-shift system. I do not believe that that is really the only alternative. The Departmental Report points out, especially in the West Riding of Yorkshire in the textile industry, that a good deal of the work previously given out to commission spinners is now being done in the original factory under the two-shift system. It also points out that a good many firms are slack, while others on the same work are employing the two-shift system. It is mainly a matter of re-organisation on the part of those responsible for the industry. If the hon. Member opposite asks me for my personal opinion, I have no hesitation whatever in saying that I prefer the ordinary day and night shifts, in respect of which the men could be employed on the night shift, to the inauguration of the two-shift system. In any case, I object to women being brought under the two-shift system and having to work the unearthly hours they are asked to work while there are so many fathers and breadwinners unemployed but are prepared to work if given the opportunity.

The Spen Valley Division which is represented in this House by the Home Secretary and my Division of Batley and Morley are neighbouring divisions for many miles. I know the division that is represented by the right hon. Gentleman very well, and he is very lucky to be here and to have his name at the back of the Bill which we are discussing. If it had not been for the vagaries of the weather on the 14th November his name would not have been on the back of this Bill. I frankly confess that I had the pleasure of taking part in the contest in the Spen Valley Division to try and prevent the right hon. Gentleman from taking any part in the discussion on this Bill. There was a good deal of revulsion in the Spen Valley Division during the last four years against many of the things that the right hon. Gentleman had done, and I can assure him that there would have been greater revulsion, and, I believe, a different result in Spen Valley if the textile workers had known before polling day that he intended to come to the House of Commons with a Bill of this nature.


It was already known that the Bill was to be introduced.


The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is a learned Member of this House, and I wonder whether he is learned in the industrial history of the constituency which he represents. No people in this country played a greater part in the agitation for the 10 hours Bill and in the struggle for better conditions for factory workers and young people than the people in his division, and in my division in the early part of the nineteenth century. The voice of Richard Oastler was more familiar and welcome in that division 100 years ago than the voice of the Home Secretary. [An HON. MEMBER: "How do you know?"] I am glad to contribute to the gaiety of the House. Oastler's voice was much more welcome in that constituency 100 years ago than is the voice of the Home Secretary in that constituency today. It seems to be an ironical trick of fate that the Member of Parliament for Spen Valley, almost a century after the death of Oastler, should be the one person to take the initiative in imposing these unearthly early hours and indefensible late hours upon women and young persons whom Oastler chose to defend. The right hon. Gentleman looks upon himself as a pillar of Liberalism, but judging by this Bill he is a pillar of reaction, and I trust that the House will overwhelmingly reject the Measure that bears his name to-day.

7.37 p.m.


I suppose that everybody rises with diffidence on the first occasion on which he addresses this House. I rise with particular diffidence having opposed to me the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, who can speak as a technical expert on the strength of his association with two married ladies in the hosiery factory, while on my right hand and on my left hand there are Members who would, I think, say that the Bill was the most reactionary that had been introduced by any Member of this House. I saw the Bill presented by the Home Secretary, and moved to-day by the Under-Secretary. I have got up at four o'clock in the morning to start work at six o'clock. I could understand Colonel Blimp supporting this Bill under the impression that chota hazri was at 5.30, and that at nine a four-tier tiffin basket would come round, but that is not the condition under which workers in industrial England live. You get out of bed and have a drink of tea, and you take a tin can to the mill, with four slices of bread and margarine, and, if you are lucky, plastered with a little plum and apple. We adjourned at eight to take our cup of tea and those jam-besmeared margarine slices, which were not very nice. That is not the kind of food which the hon. Member for Reading (Dr. Howitt) is convinced made us better and healthier than people who start work at eight and finish at five.

The report seems to have been arrived at not, as the hon. Member for Reading said, by representatives of all classes, but by a number of people who had not the advantage of a legal representative of the board. Therefore, they did not need to weigh evidence. They proceeded by accepting everything that anybody who gave evidence said in favour of the two-shift system, and anything said by anybody who was opposed to the two-shift system was not accepted. No lawyer would have let them produce a report like this on the evidence given. The hon. Lady the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh), who has now left the House, seems to have the same sort of faculty for reporting everything. She tells us that at Geneva, when she was waited upon by a representative from Soviet Russia, she recommended that women should be allowed to do anything that men do as they did in Russia, but she carefully suppressed the fact that she also insisted that women should be paid the same rate of wages for doing the same work.

I am not as much concerned about the Lancashire cotton industry and the Yorkshire woollen industry and the introduction of this two-shift system, as I am about the great flood of unorganised labour employed in the new industries in the North. I should like to take the Under-Secretary into the rubber reclamation works in my constituency and ask him to talk to the people who work there, or into the rubber works next door or the chemical works next door again. If he had not then heard enough of what they told him about the two-shift system, I would take him across into the wireless works, where they never employ anybody over 17 or 18 except when they have to go on the night shift, and then only because they cannot employ young persons on the night shift. Those new industries are coming into this country very largely as a result of the legislation passed by the late Government—legislation which is being continued by this Government. Those industries are being established by foreign capitalists. Hon. Members on the opposite side of the House are boasting about foreign capitalists coming here to introduce these works and factories, when in the main there is no question of consulting the workpeople, because in those new works it is recommended in this report and provided under this Bill, that it shall not be necessary to consult the workpeople in those circumstances.

It is really industries such as I have mentioned, the rubber industry, the chemical industry and the lighter industries of wireless, electrical fittings where there is no vestige of trade union organisation and where the works are new and consultation with the workpeople will not be needed, that we should watch more seriously.

To turn to the Bill itself, it has already been pointed out that recommendation No. 4 of the Departmental Committee was very definite not only that the opinion of the workers should be taken in the existing factories, but that the proceedings under which the opinions were to be taken must find a place in any Bill to be introduced. There are no such provisions in the Bill.


I would draw the hon. Member's attention to page 31 of the report.


I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that there are no regulations laid down in the Bill. Recommendation No. 6 says, "one or two years," but the Bill says "one year." In recommendation No. 10, the report makes it very clear that proper and adequate canteen and mess accommodation should be provided, but there is nothing about that in the Bill. Recommendation No. 11 with regard to workmen's fares is also conspicuous by its absence from the Bill. The recommendation that it should not be a disqualification from receiving unemployment insurance pay by refusing to work on the shift system if the work is some distance from home, was also clear, but there is nothing in the Bill to deal with it. In regard to recommendation No. 13 as to an advisory committee, the Bill is also silent. I am well aware that it is possible for the Home Office to issue instructions to the factory inspectors and that it is possible for the factory inspectors to make reports to the Home Secretary, out I would remind the House that we are not passing this Bill to be worked as an Act by good employers, but we are passing it with the knowledge that the worst employer is determined to take every advantage of every provision of the Act and that he will use it for that purpose.

The whole of the pressure behind the demand for the Bill is a desire to be enabled to work females on shift work at half the wage cost of working the shift system by men. There is the provision that two weeks' work shall not exceed 88 hours, but it has been pointed out that that is far from guaranteeing a 44-hour week. I wonder whether the House realises what will happen if we pass the Bill in its present form and we have a laundry after it has been closed, say, on the Bank Holiday, working 44 hours during the remaining four days of the week, if it happens to be one of those factories which work the five-day week visualised in the Bill. I hope the Home Secretary will make it clear whether or not we are making a choice between overtime or the shift system. Several speakers, including the Under-Secretary, have commended the Bill on the ground that the two-shift system is better than overtime. I wonder how far the passing of this Bill will repeal the existing Factories Act, and whether it will be illegal for an employer to work a person at any time more than 88 hours in two weeks, without a repeal of the existing Factories Act. I do not see how this provision is going to be imposed, and I should like to be assured on the point. I should like to echo the hope that has been expressed that if the Bill cannot be withdrawn, at least the minimum safeguards recommended by the reactionary Departmental Committee will be brought into the Bill.

7.52 p.m.


I hesitate to inflict another speech on the House from this side, but in view of the fact that I represent a textile constituency which is affected by the Bill, I have some excuse for speaking. I have been surprised to find in the course of the Debate the repeated affirmation on the part of supporters of the Bill, particularly in the case of the Under-Secretary and the hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) that the operatives desire to have the benefit of the two-shift system. Like my colleague from Batley and Morley (Mr. Brooke) I have had an opportunity of testing the feeling in my constituency, which is almost exclusively textile, and I find that there is absolutely unanimous opposition to any extension of the two-shift system. I should like to offer to the Home Secretary an opportunity of defending the Bill at a public meeting in his constituency. I should be willing to go into the Spell Valley and put the opposite point of view. I am certain that he will not venture to call a mass meeting of the textile workers of the Spen Valley for the purpose of recommending the provisions of this Bill to them.

I am opposed to the Bill because it seems to me that it is an unnatural effort to deal with working time, and that it is unjust to the persons who will be affected by it. It is retrogressive, reactionary and unnecessary. A good deal has been said as to whether or not people like getting up at 4.30 or 5 o'clock in the morning to go to work. Again, I should like to suggest to the Home Secretary that he might test his constituents as to whether they want to go back in the Spen Valley to the bad old days before the War, when they got up at 4.30 or 5 o'clock, whereas now they go to work at 7 or 8 o'clock in the morning. Many hon. Members have tried to gloss over the disagreeable aspect of going to work so early in the morning. I have had experience of that. As a boy I went to a textile factory and had to get up at five o'clock in the morning, and I would not like to go back to it, nor would anybody else who has gone through the experience. Therefore, in that respect it is an unnatural proposal and it imposes upon the people who are subjected to it a disagreeable hardship, both to the young persons on the one hand and to the married women on the other. Married women who are compelled to seek employment and have to get up so early in the morning must feel the inconvenience greatly.

You may have a certain proportion of people working on the two-shift system who live comparatively near to the factory, but in the case of the textile industries most of the factories are on the outskirts of the urban areas or in semi-county areas, and a large proportion of the employés go regularly day by day three and even four miles to the factory. We have only to visualise the case of a young married woman, with one or two little children, who is compelled to go out to work and is brought within the two-shift system. In the case where such a woman lives two or three miles from the factory it means that she has to rise at 4.30 or 5 o'clock in the morning and has to get the children out of bed to take them to the house of a neighbour. It is a most unnatural thing to impose upon married women and it is also unfair and unjust to young people from the ages of 16 up to 18.

The extension of the two-shift system inevitably makes a great inroad into the social, educational, spiritual and political opportunities of the young and rising generation. If young people of 16 years onwards are to be detained working, say, from 2 o'clock in the afternoon until 10 o'clock at night, they cannot take part in social activities. Inclusion in a scheme of this kind shuts them out from any opportunities of that kind. Apart from the question of educational facilities and social recreation, we have to bear in mind that in the summer time, when the days are long and the weather is suitable, it is most undesirable that young people should ke kept working in the factories till 10 o'clock at night, when they ought to be outside. That is an unfair thing to impose upon the young people. It is common ground that from the ages of 16 to 20 is the most important period in a young person's life. It is the period in which, through opportunities of education and other activities, character and decision is formed which affects the future life of the young person. I recall a very pregnant sentence of the historian James Anthony Froude. On one occasion he said: No individual who has not been carried off his feet with enthusiasm for some cause or ideal by the time he reaches 18 years of age will be of much use in the world. That is a very broad, general statement. It may not be perfectly applicable, but there is a great general truth in it. The years from the age of 15 to 20 are the foundations of character and decision, and it is therefore an unfair thing to build up a system in which young people are taken away from educational activities and development to go to factory life until 10 o'clock at night.

It is not only a question of being unfair or unnatural. I also say it is reactionary. It is a reversal of all the development we have had for 70 or 80 years of the reform of factory legislation and work. It is a reversal of the work of the Factory Acts in protecting the workers in the factories, and especially of limiting hours of labour. I do not say that I or any of us on these benches question that in modern circumstances all kinds of precautions are being taken for the welfare and care of employés or that factories are being made in many case more agreeable. It may be that the work is not so arduous as it was. I do not at all question that, but none the less this Bill is a reversal of previous progress, and although the Bill, it may be, reserves certain rights to make conditions which will prevent abuse of the application of the system, it does not take advantage of the opportunities afforded to reduce the hours of labour that it might have done. If, for instance, in this Bill, which is now going to make permanent the use of the two-shift system, conditions had been laid down that instead of power being given to commence work at 6 o'clock in the morning and cease at 2 o'clock and commence again at 2 and continue until 10, it was provided that the commencing hour should not be earlier than 7 o'clock in the morning and the first shift go on until 1 o'clock and the second until 7 o'clock, there would have been some thing to be said for it. But this Bill, instead of improving upon what has been done in the past, is going to make things worse. It is going to lengthen the hours of labour. The first Clause of the Bill provides— Where the work or process for which the system of shifts is authorised is not carried on on more that five days in each week, the system may be such that the hours exceed the said average per day, but so that they do not exceed in the aggregate 88 hours in any two consecutive weeks. I submit that under present conditions the number of hours worked, which, for instance, in the textile industry is a maximum of 82 hours per fortnight, are better than those proposed. On the afternoon shifts of five days a week, from 3 in the afternoon until 10 in the evening, you get a total of 40 hours, with a half an hour off each shift for meals, which gives you 37½ hours in the five days. It means that this Bill is going to give an opportunity under Clause 1 for an extension of hours of three hours a week for textile workers, and I say therefore that it is reactionary. I hope we shall have the support of all public-spirited Members of this House in opposing it.

8.6 p.m.


We have had a most interesting discussion on this very important Bill, and the very excellent speeches that have been made by my colleagues behind me lighten my own task considerably. But I should like to remind the Under-Secretary and the House that our opposition to this Bill is not something that has arisen in the course of the last few hours or the last few weeks. It is deep-seated and founded upon our wide knowledge of working class life in the homes, and also upon the operation of the factory conditions which govern the working life of young people and of women in particular. From the moment that the 1920 Bill was introduced, on every occasion that has been afforded, we have taken full advantage of it to criticise the operations and provisions of the 1920 Act, and on every successive occasion we have brought to the notice of the House our opposition to the two-shift system. We have always regarded the system as reactionary and retrogressive, and calculated to impose burdens and economic conditions upon the life of the people which are not justified by the facts, and which are not generally required by the industrial community at large.

So great has been the opposition to this system that the Home Office has had to resort to the greatest care not merely in watching the operation of the shifts or of the orders that apply, but to the circumstances prior to permission being given them to operate. At one time the Home Secretary gave an undertaking to the House that no orders should receive consent, and no person in the Home Office should be permitted to give his consent, except himself and the Under-Secretary without either one or the other seeing the application and satisfying himself of the justice of the claim and the need for the order. I venture to ask the House whether any other provision associated with our code of factory law has ever received such attention, or ever warranted and demanded such intervention on the part of the Home Secretary. I think, therefore, we are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman to make a very strong case for this Bill in order to justify its introduction as a permanent feature of our factory life. I would remind him that it was introduced in 1920 for a temporary period of five years, and now we are to make it—I have no doubt it will be passed, because we shall not be able to defeat the Government in the Division Lobby—a permanent feature of our factory legislation. We are to place in the hands of employers a very powerful instrument of which advantage can be taken by any and every class of employer in the country. I know of my own personal observation and experience when I was at the Home Office, in connection with the administration of that section, the need for the greatest attention and care. On more than one occasion we have challenged the justification of the claim, and in some cases the application has been withdrawn.

Is it essential that the provisions of this Bill should become part and parcel of our industrial life? We have a population of, I think, over 12,000,000 insured persons. I think I should be right in saying that we have over 15,000,000 following gainful occupations. The Under-Secretary told us that there were fewer than 36,000 people working under the two-shift system, and they are not all employed upon time. Some of these orders are occasionally operative. They are not always alive. I ask my right hon. Friend whether we are seriously to believe that British industry needs this as a permanent feature to maintain it upon its industrial legs? That is a question to which, I venture to think, we are entitled to receive an answer. Let me say to the credit of British employers that they have not, as these figures indicate, generally sought to apply the operation of orders under the two-shift system. With all their disabilities and with all the unemployment and suffering, they have been capable of running their industry without this, and I should take a great deal of convincing that it is necessary even in these days. One has great respect for the Home Office and its officials, but I am disappointed and amazed that my right hon. Friend should have introduced this Bill.

I was speaking about the attitude of employers. Little reference has been made in the Debate to the evidence given to the Committee, but there is some very interesting evidence given particularly by the factory inspectors who have a very wide experience and knowledge of the operation of the shift system. Miss Chinn, an inspector of factories attached to the eastern division, pointed out in her evidence before the Committee that, on the whole, manufacturers preferred day work, and that where possible they introduced additional plant as soon as the demand could be gauged. That has been the general policy of the majority of employers in the country. I do not think that this demand has come from the employers but rather is due to the anxiety of the Home Secretary to avoid the constant discussions and debates which we shall be compelled to challenge across the Floor of the House.

On the question of transport it is very vital that there should be complete and adequate facilities so far as these workers are concerned. When I was at the Home Office, one of the main conditions of issuing any order was that employers should provide adequate facilities for transport. The report of the Committee and the evidence which was submitted shows that in the operation of the two-shift system this has not been successfully and completely carried out. In their report the Committee say: The inquiry we made left no doubt that in numerous cases workers lived at distances which involved a considerable amount of travelling before and after work. Half an hour's travelling may be taken as by no means uncommon, and in some cases the time spent is found to amount to as much as an hour. Undoubtedly this is not a very desirable state of things and the possibility of workers being drawn from such distances was not apparently contemplated when the system was recommended to Parliament in 1920. It is clear, therefore, that the transport facilities have not been as satisfactory as they ought to have been, and that we are asking people to commence work at 6 o'clock in the morning and finish at 10 o'clock at night and then have to travel a long way to reach their homes. Miss Chinn also pointed out in her evidence that in one or two instances she had found girls leaving home as early as 4.30 a.m. for the morning shift. We have no guarantee, unless the Home Secretary can assure us, that if provision is not made through the public services it will be provided by the employer himself to bring his workpeople at these hours to his factory. Miss Dennistoun suggested in her evidence: A certain amount of long distance travelling might be avoided by a more careful selection of hands. And Miss Johnson, another inspector, said that care had been taken that no shift worker should leave home before 5 a.m. or return later than 11 p.m. It is not reasonable to ask people to leave home at 4.30 a.m. or even at 5 a.m. I was amazed at the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh). I have no objection to the racy character of her speech, but she showed little knowledge of working-class conditions. I speak from a very wide experience of workshop practice. I have been right through the workshop. I served my time in the workshop until I was fortunate enough to reach the House of Commons in the Election of 1918. I know all about this working overtime, working at night, and about the disturbance it makes in the home life and the sufferings it causes to a wife or a mother. I want to ask the Home Secretary whether he proposes to incorporate in the Bill a provision for carrying the recommendation of the Committee into effect regarding the provision of transport, and also the provision of cheap fares to which they specially refer in their recommendations.

Then there is the question of consultation with the workers. Reference was made to this matter by three of the factory inspectors. It is very desirable, when you talk about consultation with the workers, that there should not be in the minds of the workers the impression that work will no longer be available unless they accept the two-shift system. I remember the conditions which prevailed in the 1931 Election. In the constituency which I was wooing, and which I had represented since 1918, the employers put up a notice that "if Short is returned to the House of Commons, these works will close on Monday." What effect would that have upon the minds of the electors? It is clear that in all the consultations which have taken place there is in the minds of the workers a feeling that work will not be available unless they vote for the two-shift system. That must be true, because the Home Office through its inspectors has taken special care to ensue that the consent of the workers is really obtained free from any measure of coercion. That the inspectors of the Home Office should have to intervene in the administration of legislation of this character in order to ensure that there is no coercion is a very discreditable thing indeed.

Another ground on which we oppose the Bill is that it will interfere with the normal lives and with the health of the workers who are affected by it. I was amused at the hon. Member for Dundee when she said that these people would have greater opportunities of entering into games. If they do enter into games at all it will generally be among themselves and not with their fellows, because as a rule they will be employed at the times when the day-shift workers are free. The operation of the two-shift system undoubtedly interferes with the convenience, with the normal life and with the health of those who have to work under it. That fact is demonstrated by the report of the Committee, and also by the evidence of the factory inspectors. On page 20 of the report the Committee state: The system calls upon the workers to work at unusual hours, and causes some amount of disturbance to their daily habits of life and interference with their social and educational pursuits, and we are satisfied that if the introduction and operation of the system in industry is to be effected smoothly and without friction, the workers must be assured of the maintenance of approximately the same standard of living as they have under the day shift system. I think it is only necessary to direct attention to that passage to show that there is interference with the normal life of the workers under the two-shift system, and there are references in the evidence of Miss Chinn, Miss Dennistoun, Miss Johnson and Mr. Roos to show that the health of the workers is affected. Getting up at half-past four o'clock or five o'clock in the morning and rushing off to work with no meal but a cup of tea, and, in the other case, working until late hours in the evening and getting home at 11 o'clock at night interferes with the digestion of the workers, and gives rise to ailments which are, in the main, foreign to those workers who do not come under the system. I would also emphasise the point in regard to education. These young people have no opportunity of attending evening schools or otherwise continuing their education if they desire to do so. They have no opportunity of acquiring that measure of culture which ought to be within their reach under a progressive industrial system. On page 29 of the report attention is called to this matter and it is pointed out that the London County Council supplied the committee with some very interesting figures which showed that of 27,000 young persons between the ages of 16 and 18 attending evening classes in their area more than 3,000 who are employed in factories and workshops have been prevented from regular attendance by reason of overtime or other variations in their normal hours of work. I do not think the two-shift system will help to overcome those difficulties, and, on that ground therefore, as well as the others I have mentioned, we shall continue our opposition to the Bill. As far as the home life of the workers is concerned, the system will create unnatural conditions. The hon. Member for Dundee spoke of the system in relation to the persons directly affected by it but did not seem to attach much importance to the disturbance which it will cause in the arrangements in the home, or the work and strain and anxiety which it will cause to the mother in the working-class home. This is a vital consideration. No British mother with the instincts of motherhood and love for her children will hesitate for a moment about rising early in the morning, even at four o'clock in the morning, to ensure that her child will get out to work in proper time. I speak as one of a fairly large family who started life early, who went into the workshop on leaving school and who, for years, had to check in at six o'clock every morning. I know that in my home my mother was always the first up, to see that her husband and her children went off to work at the proper time. The same argument applies with equal force to the condition which requires these young people to finish work late at night. The mother is there waiting for them at eleven o'clock at night. She is always the first up and the last to go to bed. Are these conditions necessary in order to ensure that our economic and industrial system shall continue?

I have admitted that the great mass of employers have not sought to put this system into operation. Less than 36,000 people have come under it and they have never all come under it at the same time. It is a credit to British employers that they have not thought it necessary to apply for these orders and I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues desire to introduce this Bill. I am amazed at it. I do not like to accuse the right hon. Gentleman of being reactionary, but the proposals in this Bill are certainly reactionary and warrant our opposition. There is a serious departure in the Bill from the usual practice in connection with the granting of two-shift orders and that is the proposed delegation of powers. I have already reminded the House that as a result of the opposition to these orders, an undertaking was given that no order would be made unless the facts of the case had been examined, either by the Home Secretary or the Under-Secretary. I think a serious position in our industrial life was indicated when an attitude of that kind had to be adopted by Ministers. It is now proposed to hand over the powers conferred on the Secretary of State to superintending factory inspectors. I think that is a retrograde step, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will hesitate to give it his continued support.

I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us whether he is going to accept the proposal for an advisory committee. The feeling that has been generated in opposition to the two-shift system justifies our having someone whom we can look to, some competent body, particularly if these powers are to be delegated, that would enable us to have our confidence restored. Then there is the question of whether persons who refuse to operate the two-shift system will be penalised under the provisions of the Unemployment Insurance Act. I hope that upon that matter, as upon the others that I have thought fit to emphasise, though all of them have been mentioned by my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers) the Home Secretary will be able to give us satisfactory assurances. I can assure him that we shall continue our opposition and fight him on the Floor of the Committee as we are fighting him here to-night.

8.37 p.m.


I find myself in a somewhat unusual position in this Debate to-night, and it is very much more to my taste to be attempting to answer the arguments of hon. Members opposite and to engage in political controversy with them than to be differing in any way from my colleagues on this side of the House, but I must confess that all the speeches to which I have listened from these benches to-day have failed to convince me that those of us who signed this report in any way betrayed the confidence reposed in us. We were charged with the duty of investigating this two-shift system, of safeguarding the interests of the workers, the women and young people under this system, and of making suggestions which we thought it desirable to apply if the system were to be continued. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Short) has somewhat surprised me, because, if my memory serves me aright, either in 1929 or in 1930, when the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill was before the House and he was on the other side of the House, he said—I am paraphrasing, not quoting, what he said—that if this system came to art end, it would throw British industry into chaos and confusion.


If my hon. Friend is going to quote me, he should have quoted me correctly, and he should have it with him.


What did the hon. Gentleman say?


I certainly did not say that.


If I find that I have misquoted the hon. Member, I shall be only too pleased to give him the necessary apology on a suitable occasion, but if he himself turns up the OFFICIAL REPORT of the speech to which I have referred, he will find that I have done him no injustice, because I have had occasion very recently to remind myself of what he did say on that occasion. There are one or two reasons for my intervention in this Debate. I was particularly interested in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Brooke), when he made the astonishing statement that he would rather see a return to a day-and-night system in industry than have this two-shift system. I have had some experience of the day-and-night system in the textile factories. In the years before the war and in the early war years I worked on the day-and-night system, a system where we went to work on the day shift at six in the morning and finished at six in the evening, and went to work on the alternative shift at six in the evening and finished at six the next morning. I was very glad indeed when we abandoned that system for what was, for male adults, a two-shift system, and the night work was entirely stopped. I agree that the two-shift system for male adults is very different in some ways from the two-shift system for women and girls, but I was very much astonished to hear the hon. Member for Batley and Morley suggest that we should return to what I did regard as a most atrocious system indeed.

I do not think the arguments which have been advanced to-day against the two-shift system are very convincing, and they do not seem to me to have been substantiated by evidence. I agree that a lot of statements have been made as to the effects of this system, but those speeches do not seem to me to have rested on any substantial evidence. A great deal has been made about whether or not the members of the Committee really managed to get the ideas or views of the workers engaged on the two-shift system. I think all of us who were on that Committee took a great deal of trouble to get the views of those who were working on the system. We went into a lot of factories, the management did not interfere with us, we were allowed to move about freely among the workers, and only here and there did we find any woman on the two-shift system putting up any opposition to the system.

It is a mistake for hon. Members on this side of the House to assume, as they seem to have assumed in some of the speeches they have delivered to-day, that the workers in British industry are mainly discontented and dissatisfied. That is not my experience in moving through the factories; it was not my experience in questioning these women who were working on the two-shift system. I must confess that the factories of to-day are, many of them, very different places from the factories with which I was familiar 25 years ago. They are very much improved in structure, and the general conditions of work are very much improved indeed. What astonished me more than anything else in the factories that we visited was that most of the workers were happy and contented. Occasionally, here and there, I agree, we got a complaint, but that was not generally the case. In the main they were happy and contented.

Let me briefly refer to some of the main objections which have been raised in the course of this discussion. It has been suggested that the two-shift system ought to be abolished on health grounds, and I believe that one of my colleagues from this bench made some criticism of what the hon. Member for Reading (Dr. Howitt), who spoke earlier in the Debate, had said about the health of the workers under this system. Here again is a point on which all of us who were on that Committee were very careful to make investigations, as far as we could, by questioning the workers themselves who were actually operating the system, and we did not find many complaints. Here and there we found an odd woman who did complain, but generally speaking we found no complaint. I cannot understand the argument that has been put up from these benches that this system is what is called artificial or unnatural. It seems to me that all civilisation is artificial and unnatural from one point of view. It is quite unnatural for us to be here. If we adhered to nature we should go to bed when the sun went down, but we do not, and society and civilisation are artificial and very largely unnatural. I cannot follow that argument at all.

I am convinced, in spite of what some of my hon. Friends say, that there are certain developments in industry to-day in which there are continuous processes that must go on throughout the 24 hours if they are to be carried on at all. In some of these industries it is unavoidable that outside the normal day work there must be women taking part in processes ancillary to the main process. The only case that I need give in illustration is that of certain forms of artificial silk manufacture. They necessitate that when the vats are put in action they should be put on for weeks, and in the acid treatment of wood pulp the process goes on week after week. We must face the fact that the character of many British industries is completely changing. Therefore, we must have adaptations of our industrial system to meet the changing processes which are going on. The report of this Committee has been described as reactionary. It is most reactionary to suggest that you must have no modifications of industrial working hours apart from what is called the straight day shift. That suggestion is most reactionary, and the people who make it obviously cannot be conversant with some of the changes that are taking place in modern industrial production.

As we must have adaptations to meet the changing circumstances, some of the arguments which I have heard from these benches to-day have surprised, and, I must say, dismayed me, especially when I recall the experiences through which I passed during the six months I was serving on the Committee. A point has been made about the interference with what are called educational opportunities. We had singularly little evidence submitted to us that there was any real interference along those lines. I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) coming to the Committee on behalf of the London County Council, and we found on investigation that in the London area there were no young persons on the two-shift system at all. There were some women. The figures which have been quoted by an hon. Member really apply to something else that is happening, to which I would like to direct the attention of my hon. Friends on these benches. I will quote from the annual report of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Workshops for 1934, in which, on page 27, he says: In the Midland, Eastern and three London divisions employment up to the full legal limits on all days except Saturday was frequently found, making a working week of 54 or 56 hours; and employment after midday on Saturday is almost unknown. In other words, the report supplies evidence of a return to the hours of labour that are allowed under the present Statutes, namely, 55 hours in textile factories and 60 hours in non-textile factories. I want to suggest to my hon. Friends on these benches that it is far more desirable that their attention should be directed to what is going on in this connection than that they should throw so much of their energy into attacking the two-shift system, which means to the workers engaged in it a less working week than the people referred to in the report I have quoted are experiencing. They have to get to work at six o'clock in the morning in many cases, and that is going on over a large area of industrial England. There is another point I want to make—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I think I am entitled to defend myself.

We in the Labour and trade union movement are frequently nowadays talking about the coming of a 40-hour week in industry. I do not suppose that any of my hon. Friends are willing to wait for that until the capitalist system is abolished and the Socialist State is inaugurated. They would like to see it as soon as possible; they are all agreed about that. When we have a system in which some people are working only 41 hours a week, it should not be attacked, because, if in the development of British industrial organisation, you are going to have the 40-hour week, it does not mean that everybody will work on day shifts only to the extent of 40 hours during daylight. It means that there must be some sort of adaptation of labour to the changed industrial circumstances which we must visualise if we are to have the 40-hour week. Therefore, I cannot see why we should on the matter of this kind take up the attitude that there must be no variation in the hours of labour which have been observed for 20, 30, 40 or 50 years, or any adaptation of the hours of labour to changed industrial circumstances and organisations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clayton (Mr. Jagger) said that we ought to have had a lawyer on the committee. I am very glad that we did not. He suggested that we were incapable of weighing the evidence and that we wanted somebody to weigh it for us. I do not think we were incapable of weighing the evidence. Our crime, if we have committed any crime, is that we weighed the evidence carefully; and, having weighed the pros and cons of the case, we could not find any reason, on health, educational or economic grounds, why the system should be brought to an end. If I may return to my hon. Friend the Member for Don-caster, may I say that we, too, were actuated by similar motives to those by which he was actuated in 1929 or 1930, when he said that if you suddenly brought this system to an end, it would throw our industrial organisation into chaos and confusion.

8.53 p.m.


The hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite began his speech by saying, and saying very truly, that we have had an interesting Debate, but I think the whole House will agree that the most interesting speech was the one which followed from the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown). It is not for me to comment on it except to say that I am sure the House, whether it agrees or not with it, is very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his extremely powerful, good-tempered and effective exposition. Whether we agree with it or whether we do not, we shall agree that everybody is entitled to defend himself. The hon. Member has laid about him with some success, and has shown that he is not a man who is afraid of giving an answer.

I desire to say a few words from the point of view of the Home Office. It is natural that we should have our contests about this question, but when this sort of measure is brought forward from the Home Department it is brought forward after the most careful consultation with the factory inspectors and the permanent officials, and we at least do not regard this as in any way a partisan Measure. It is for the House to judge whether this should be an enactment which the House of Commons wants.

When I came to the Home Office I found this report, and I think the House ought to consider what it was that the Committee were asked to do. They were given very clear and simple terms of reference. They were not merely to report about this subject, but to inquire into the working of the temporary provisions under which we had the two-shift system, and to advise whether or not that system should be continued on a permanent basis, either with or without alteration in the existing law and procedure. As the hon. Member for Mansfield said just now, they spent six months on the task, and I know, by looking at the Report, that they heard an immense number of witnesses, and I defy anybody to go through the list of witnesses and say they were not representative or fairly chosen. I am sure no one here will suggest that the membership of this Committee was other than extremely well composed by my predecessor.

The Committee included the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), who spoke so effectively earlier in the Debate, the hon. Member for Reading (Dr. Howitt) and the hon. Member for Mansfield from this House. In addition there was another lady, Miss Varley, whose standing in the Labour movement and the trade union movement was perfectly well known. She was suggested to the Home Office as being the most suitable person whom they could propose to take the place of Mr. Arthur Shaw, when he was not able to continue. When I get a report arrived at after six months of hard work by Members drawn from different quarters of the House, and by others who represent employers, employed, medicine and the administration of the Factory Acts, and I find that it is quite unanimous, without there being the slightest shadow of difference between any of the members, the House will consider it a natural thing, I think, that I should present a Bill in the terms of and for the purpose of carrying out this report.

The hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Brooke) made a very remarkable point, which was personal to myself, saying that if only I had disclosed this wicked intention of mine before the General Election, and if only the good people of Spen Valley had realised the kind of snake that was in the grass, they would never have returned me to the House of Commons. It seems a great pity that my hon. Friend should not have made a little inquiry before talking like that. I have here a Bill called "The Employment of Women and Young Persons Bill." It was introduced into the last Parliament by myself as Home Secretary. It is in every single syllable, every word, every sentence, every page, every figure exactly the same Bill as is now before the House. The sole difference is that on the back of it, accompanying my name, instead of there being the name of my hon. Friend who has now become the Secretary for Overseas Trade I have the satisfaction of having the name of the new Under-Secretary who made such an excellent speech at the beginning of the Debate. Subject to that single difference there is nothing whatever in this Bill, which was introduced to the knowledge of every-body before the last Election by my miserable self, and the Bill I have introduced now, yet we have been told by one of the most eloquent speakers on the benches opposite that if only this plot had not been concealed by myself at the General Election I should not have had the pleasure of replying to the present Debate.

Now I wish to deal briefly with a few of the questions which have been raised. One or two hon. Members raised the point that the Bill does not really cover everything which it was intended by the Committee should be included in legislation. To some extent that is rather a Committee point than one for Second Reading. The design of those who introduced the Bill was to include in it everything which could properly be dealt with by legislation. There are two recommendations which I do not think the Committee intended to be the subject of a Clause in the Bill but which they plainly indicated ought to be an effective part of the system. One is recommendation No. 13. If the House will listen to the language of it I am sure they will agree that I am right in saying that the Committee never imagined that it would be put into the Bill. It would be advantageous if a standing advisory body could be constituted by the Secretary of State, composed of leading representatives of employers and workers, who could be consulted as occasion arose on questions of importance in connection with the application and operation of the two-shift system. The House will be aware that in the Government Departments, certainly in the Home Office, quite a large number of advisory bodies are appointed, always after consultation with the leading interests, for the purpose of assisting in the working out of regulations and the like; and I wish to state to the House, in answer to the question put to me, that it is my intention, and I give an undertaking, that in connection with the working of this Bill we shall appoint an advisory committee after consulting the leading representatives of the different interests concerned. I hope that one of the first matters on which the advisory committee will assist me or whoever is then at the Home Office will be as to the best way to take the ballot or the vote which has to be taken in any factory before the two-shift system is adopted. I think that is the proper way to do it, though if anybody takes a different view we can discuss it in Committee; but there has never been on the part of the Home Office any desire to exclude from this Bill anything which should properly be made a matter of direct legislative action.

The second point raised concerned the recommendation in paragraph 12 of the summary of recommendations. That recommended that, in view of the early or the late hours that might be worked— An unemployed worker who on account of the distance of the work from his or her home or for other reasonable cause is unwilling to take employment on shifts should not on that ground be disallowed unemployment benefit. I think that unanimous view of the Committee will be very generally shared, but hon. Members must understand that we are dealing here with something which is not the actual subject matter of this particular legislation but is a provision which exists in the unemployment insurance law, a provision that a claim for benefit may be disallowed if it is shown that a claimant has neglected a reasonable opportunity of securing suitable employment. There is no doubt at all, however, that one of the considerations, and a most relevant one, when dealing with people who have to work early or late and have a distance to go is: "Is it reasonable to ask the workman or workwoman to go that distance having regard to the hours of going or returning?" It is not possible for any Government to lay down in the terms of an Act of Parliament how many miles it should be or what all the conditions should be, but the House may take it that there is every intention of securing that the spirit of that recommendation is observed, and I shall watch with a great deal of interest to see that it is. It is now a part of the law and practice of the land that one of the considerations that go to deciding whether work is reasonably or unreasonably refused is the distance from home that the workman has to go.


What the right hon. Gentleman is saying is of great importance, but words in this House do not count when it comes to the actual benefit. Can we have a pledge from the right hon. Gentleman that he will bring this matter before his Cabinet colleagues and cause instructions to be given on the lines of the remarks which he is now making?


I am much obliged to the hon. Lady. She may be quite sure that I make the remarks with every intention of making them good. It is right for me to point out on the Second Reading, as the hon. Lady knows, that the provision of the law is what I have said. The decision in the individual case is given by the statutory authority. If when we get in Committee there is any ground for thinking that there is a danger about this, I am perfectly willing to implement my promise. It should not go into the Bill as a draft Clause, because that is not the proper way to do it.

We must remember that the two-shift system is going on. The law which permits it has been a series of annual jumps. The law started 15 years ago, and every year for the last 10 years, at the fag end of the session, somebody has had to explain the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, in which we have carried forward the existing Clause in the Act of 1920.

The question is whether it is a good plan to go on like that, or whether it is not better to improve the law on the subject, as we can do if we take the advice of this unanimous Committee and enact provisions which are not altogether in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, which is a temporary Bill. This would be a permanent Measure to improve the system. I will give a very important example of that. The Committee unanimously recommend that there ought to be what they describe as: Definite procedure laid down for ascertaining the opinion of the workers. At present there is none. I am sure the whole House will believe that His Majesty's inspectors of factories, whether men or women, do their very best to secure that any decision is fairly arrived at although I understand that some hon. Members with experience say that there are cases in which the present system is not satisfactory. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Very well, but which will you have? Will you go on with the present system or will you improve it? To go on with the present system means letting this continue under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. My submission is that after the Committee have made their unanimous decision we should take advantage of what they say.

If hon. Members will turn to Clause 1 (2) they will see that very careful provision is laid down for that procedure. This is the very first thing on which I would seek the advice and help of the advisory committee which I mean to appoint. The Clause says: The Secretary of State shall, by Special Order made under section one hundred and twenty-six of the Factory and Workshop Act, 1901 (hereinafter referred to as 'the principal Act'), make provision as to the manner in which workpeople concerned are to be consulted and their opinions ascertained before any application is granted under this section, and, subject as hereinafter provided, no such application shall be granted unless the Secretary of State is satisfied"— and so on. That is a tightening up, by adoption of a procedure which does not exist at present. The House has to make up its mind. It may, if it likes, say, "We do not want any improvement. We would sooner have the thing as it is. We would sooner go on year by year with the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill", with the result that the Under-Secretary of State of the day will year by year have to say what he thinks appropriate in order to get the Bill through. On the other hand the House can say: "Here is a Committee which has gone into the thing with the greatest care and which points out that there is at present a weakness in the system and proposes to improve it. Let us take the opportunity of improving it." All of us want to do the right thing for the workpeople, and I hope every hon. Member will think that was a right thing to do and not a thing to reject.

I might remind the House that what is involved, if we get the procedure authorised, is what is called the Special Order procedure. You will have a draft Order issued and published for 40 days before it is made. Any written representations or suggestions received from any public body must be taken into consideration, and notice must be given of the intention to make the Order. There must be places where copies can be found and the Order must be published in the newspapers. When the Order is made it has to be laid on the Table of the House for another 40 days, during which time it may be challenged. Is it not very much better, in a matter in which hon. Members feel that the present system is weak and is being taken advantage of, which none of us want, to adopt a new Bill, which will be on a permanent basis—of course until Parliament decides to repeal it—and to institute a better advised and more tightly knit system than exists to-day?

A number of minor points have been made by hon. Members, and some of them are more appropriate for the Committee stage. We have just heard from the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) the case as he sees it from the point of view of the Departmental Committee. The Bill as presented to the House embodies that view. I would ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. It is very desirable to get the Second Reading at once. It is quite right that when we come to the details we should examine each word with care and thoroughness. I believe that the vast majority of hon. Members will, upon reflection, desire to take no other course than to give the Bill a Second Reading and send it upstairs, in order that, when we come back after the holidays, we may find time to pass it into law. I put that point definitely to the House.

I am very glad indeed that the Debate has taken place and that so many points of view have been put. The Debate has given my hon. Friend and myself—we are perhaps the best example that can be found in this House of the two-shift system in operation—an opportunity of considering all that has been said. I conclude by saying once again that the object of the Bill is not to promote some political scheme. Some hon. Members have talked about this Bill as an abominable Bill or as one imposing degrading conditions. Somehow I do not think that the hon. Member for Mansfield or the hon. Member for Anglesey are the least likely to have subscribed their names to a report which was anything of that sort. We have really to face what the hon. Gentleman said just now. We have to consider whether the conditions of modern industry do not make it desirable to put the law on this subject in a better shape than that in which it is now, when we live from hand to mouth, from the end of one Session to the end of another Session, with no opportunity of improving the law at all.

I would remind the House, in conclusion, of what was said as long ago as 1927 by the Chief Inspector of Factories and Workshops. It is in a short quotation from his annual report, and I quote it with the more interest because it was used in the maiden speech of a Member of this House, now dead, who made a very promising beginning—Miss Pickford. In her maiden speech she quoted, from the Report of the Chief Inspector of that day, these words in reference to this subject: This, which was begun somewhat as an experiment in factory legislation, has proved useful and beneficial to employers and workers alike. That statement was made by one of very great experience and absolutely without any sort of bias, and I submit that that is the view that we now ought to take, and that the unanimous report of this strong committee amply confirms it. Accordingly, I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.


May I point out that the proviso to Sub-section (1) of Clause 1 states that, if the employer decides that he is only going to work five days on double shifts—10 shifts in the week—he can work 88 hours? I should like to ask where those 88 hours can be got between the hours of six in the morning and 10 at night?


I am not quite certain whether the hon. Member has been here throughout the Debate—


I have been here almost as long as the Home Secretary.


I apologise if I am repeating anything that has been said already. I am not sure whether the hon. Member was here all through the Debate, but I think that my hon. Friend, when he moved the Second Reading, explained that this is, of course, a move towards the five-day week, and in Committee it will be open to the Committee to consider whether they desire to give this amount of help towards that movement. If they do, there will perhaps be some people, if not the hon. Member, actually in favour of it, and in favour of the adoption of this particular proviso, which of course is entirely consistent with the framework of the Bill.


Am I right in thinking that the Factory Act is to be repealed, and that in no circumstances can persons employed on the two-shift system work more than 88 hours per fortnight?


The hon. Member is quite right in saying that, in so far as the two-shift system is working, a person working in a shift cannot work overtime as well. I should not, myself, express it by saying that the Factory Act is to be repealed, but I think that what the hon. Member means in substance is: Can a person working under this system in one of two shifts work overtime at the same time and on the same day? The answer is "No."

9.21 p.m.


We have just heard from the Home Secretary a statement which shows that he has no knowledge whatever of the working of this system. He states that no overtime can be worked under the two-shift system, but, if he had any experience of it, he would know that overtime is worked by the overlapping which takes place under the two-shift system. Do the Home Office really believe in, and are they prepared to support, a system under which young people are compelled to go to work at so early an hour in the morning, or are compelled to work until 10 o'clock at night? If they are, I hope they will tell the public that that is their view. The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) referred to what happened with regard to evidence from the London County Council. In London they have been able to save themselves, so far as London proper is concerned, from the operation of the two-shift system, but they have seen it in adjacent areas, and they realise what would happen in the matter of educational facilities for their young people if it were operated in London.

The hon. Member for Mansfield asked those of us in London who are engaged in looking after the young people to consider the hours that are worked, but I may tell him that Members on this side of the House have been using all their efforts to prevent these young people being compelled to work such hours as those to which he referred. It has been said that the Committee was able to weigh evidence, and the hon. Member for Reading (Dr. Howitt) said that the Home Office were able under this system to deal with wages, and to arrange about the wages paid to those who are working under the two-shift system. I should like to hear from the hon. Member, or, better, from the Home Secretary, when the Home Office began to interfere with wages. Has there been one instance of interference by the Home Office either in the matter of raising wages or even causing them to remain at the rate at which they were before the operation of the two-shift system? The hon. Member says that there has. I hope we are going to be given some evidence on that point.

Then the hon. Member for Reading said that this system is not injurious to health, but those of us who have been in contact with people who have been working under the two-shift system since 1920, in the chocolate, confectionery, artificial silk and other industries, know how injurious it is to these young people. It is no use members of the Committee, who evidently had not understood the whole of the evidence, coming here and telling us about continuous processes. The hon. Member for Mansfield spoke about a continuous process such as is worked in the chemical industry, but in the chemical industry we do not ask young people of 16 to 18 to work on a two-shift system. Again, when it was adopted in the manufacture of artificial silk, we did not ask young people of 16 to 18 to work under this system. All the argument to-day has been based on the fact that there is an opportunity of exploiting these young people, of making a little more profit out of them, and now that is to be continued, not as the result of an application made by the employers, but by a Bill which will enable them to continue it. It is a sorry day for this country when it prevents its youth from having the opportunity of developing, and is working them under such conditions as those of the two-shift system.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 231; Noes, 121.