HC Deb 19 July 1938 vol 338 cc2123-47

Order for Second Reading read.

10.25 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Earl Winterton)

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

This Bill, which comes from another place, is of some importance but I hope to deal with it shortly and, I have reason to believe from information which reaches me that it will meet with the general approval of the House. It is put forward in order to fill what I might describe as the last gap in the regulation of the hours of employment in what are known as the unregulated occupations, particularly those of van boys, errand boys and messengers, which are regarded as blind-alley occupations. The first step in this magnificent chapter of legislation was taken in the passing of the Shops Act, 1934, which, as the House will recollect, regulated the hours of employment of persons under 18 years of age, employed in or about retail shops. It included not only young persons who were in shops but also van boys and messenger boys engaged in connection with shops, as well as page boys in public restaurants. That Act came into operation at the end of 1934.

In January, 1936, my right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer who was then Home Secretary appointed a committee to inquire into the hours of employment of young persons under 18 years of age who were not subject to the Shops Act of 1934, or to the Factories and Workshops Act, 1901, and who were employed in various capacities. The committee made very careful inquiries and later presented a most useful report to the House. I should like to take this opportunity on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to thank the chairman and the members of that committee for the work which they did. The committee found that there was definite need for the regulation of the hours of work of the young person who formed the subject of their inquiry and they recommended that that regulation should be made effective by statutory limitation of their hours of employment. They contemplated that young persons connected with employment in factories, shops and warehouses would be covered by the Bill which was about to be introduced and they recommended that the remainder should be made subject to regulation by an extension of the scope of the Shops Act of 1934, subject to modification in details. Last year an opportunity was afforded of implementing generally the recommendations of the committee in regard to van boys, errand boys and messenger boys, employed in factories and in businesses carried on in docks, wharves and similar places, and their hours of work are now regulated by Section 98 of the Factories Act.

The main purpose of the present Bill is to carry out the recommendation of the Departmental Committee in regard to the other classes which formed the subject of their inquiry and of certain borderline cases to which they drew attention. The House will find those classes of employment set out in Clause 10 of the Bill. I should mention that the Bill applies to girls and boys in any of the occupations mentioned, and not to any young person whose hours are already regulated by Factories, Mines or Shops Acts. Clause 1 follows substantially Section 98 of the Factories Act. Under the Clause all young persons under 18 years of age are limited to 48 hours a week and the hours of young persons under 16 years of age are further reduced to 44 hours a week two years after the commencement of the operation of the Act. This interval of two years will give employers time to make suitable arrangements. I understand that, while there is general agreement about the Bill, there is some difference of opinion on this point, on which I shall be glad to reply, if I may by the leave of the House. But the difference between this provision of the Bill and the regulation made under the provisions to which I have referred is not as great as might appear. I would call the attention of the House to Sub-section (6) of Clause 1, which gives the Secretary of State very wide powers by regulation, if it should be found necessary, to emend the conditions. I should also mention that no overtime may be worked by young persons under 16, and that those between 16 and 18 may only work overtime under strict conditions, and for a maximum of 50 hours in a year. Provision is also made for intervals for meals and rest, for a weekly half-holiday, and for other things of that kind.

As regards administration, it is proposed, in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee, which we have endeavoured to follow as closely as possible, that the enforcement of the new legislation should rest with the local authorities, who are at present responsible for administering the Shops Acts, except in the case of van-boys employed by railway companies and young persons employed on premises closely connected with factories. In these cases the provisions are to be administered by the Factories Department of the Home Office, and in the case of young persons employed in mines and quarries the administration will be in the hands of the Mines Department.

Clause II, which is an important Clause gives an option to hotels and places of public entertainment, which may employ some young persons who are subject to the Shops Acts and some who would be subject to this Measure, to elect, that one or the other Act should apply to all their young employés. This is a provision which has been generally agreed between employers and employed in these particular trades. I should, however, mention that, if the provisions of the Shops Acts are adopted, that is to say, if they are asked for by the employers, the half-holiday for all young persons will commence at 1 p.m. under this Bill, and not at 1.30 as provided in the Shops Act.

I do not think I need go in detail into the Clauses of the Bill which contain the necessary provisions for administration, but there is an important point concerning Clauses 3, 4 and 5. They are not concerned with the unregulated occupations, which is the main purpose of the Bill, but they introduce certain amendments relating to shops. Clause 3, for example, makes an important amendment of the Shops Act by reducing the hours of young persons under 16 to 44 per week in two years' time, so as to bring the Shops Act into line with the Factories Act and this Bill. That is, therefore, an advance. In order to provide for elasticity at the Christmas period, when the pressure on shopkeepers is very heavy, Sub-section (2) of the Clause provides for the averaging of hours during the Christmas fortnight and its effect will be to allow a young person under 16 to be employed for 48 hours in one of the two weeks, provided that the hours worked be not more than 40 in the other week. The reason is that this particular period is an extremely busy one for the shopkeeper, and is the period on which the smaller shops in particular rely to make their principal profit; while the public, at any rate in recent years, have got into the habit of doing a great deal of shopping in the short period before Christmas. I do not think that this provision will impose a hardship on the young employés, and it is one which does not infringe the main principles of the Bill.

Clause 4 contains another Amendment of the Shops Act, 1934, to deal with cases where a young person is employed both in a shop and in one of the occupations to which this Bill will apply. In reckoning the 44 or 48 hours permissible under the Shops Act, it provides that any of the occupations to which the Bill applies will be included. Clause 5 is designed to remove any doubts which might arise with regard to the position of young persons employed in retail trade from a factory, for example a bakery. This Clause makes it clear that the Shops Act will apply. That is the general explanation of the purposes of the Bill.

Perhaps it would be convenient if I announced at this stage that the Government, as at present advised, do not propose putting down any Amendments of substance, but on the Committee stage my right hon. Friend or myself will put down drafting Amendments in order to deal with the three Clauses to which I have made reference, dealing with the Shops Act merely for the purpose of symmetry. I think that is a purely drafting matter. Some observations have been made by a number of representatives of the party of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in another place. I gather that the Bill is regarded more or less as an agreed Measure. I appreciate that both hon. Gentlemen opposite and some of my hon. Friends on this side might have preferred the Bill to have gone further in certain particulars; but I am sure they desire to see the Bill passed as soon as possible, and it would be almost a physical impossibility, in the time available for legislation between now and the end of the Session, to widen the scope of the Bill. While I do not want this to be regarded in any way as a threat, I would say that I hope we shall have the Bill as it stands, otherwise it will be impossible to get it through. I appreciate the agreement that has been obtained through unofficial channels on the general principles of the Bill. I am associated with the Bill now by virtue of the fact that I am attached to the Home Office, but I had some prior interest in the provisions of this Bill. My hon. Friend below the Gangway will recollect that when I was a private Member I put questions to the Home Secretary pressing for the introduction of a Bill of this character.

10.28 p.m.

Mr. Rhys Davies

I want to say, on behalf of the Opposition, that we shall not do anything to retard the progress of this Measure into law. We welcome the main provisions of the Bill, because it makes an attempt to deal with the worst cases of exploitation of young people in this country. It must be remembered that this Bill deals with 220,000 young persons up to 18 years of age. Of these, 70,000 are employed at the moment in what are termed unregulated occupations. There is sufficient evidence in the report of the committee upon whose recommendations this Bill is based, to show that there has been very great exploitation of these young people. The Bill also extends the provisions of the Shops Acts to about 150,000 young persons under 16 years of age, and consequently there are a number of people in the country who are interested in the welfare of young persons who are also interested in the passing of this Measure.

Without saying too much this evening might I be allowed to make one or two friendly criticisms? First, the right hon. Gentleman will bear with me when I say that there will still be a goodly number of young persons still not covered by any law in relation to their hours of employment even when the Bill becomes law. Education authorities in this country and some other organisations, one with which hon. Gentlemen are connected—the Committee on Wage-earning Children for instance—have pointed out that boys and girls engaged in kitchens and cafes and in waiting and serving in connection with places providing food for the people, will still be outside the scope of this Measure.

The first criticism that I want to make is in relation to the transition from a 48-hour week to a 44-hour week of young persons under 16 years of age. The Bill provides a transition period of two years, and we think that the right hon. Gentleman ought to consider whether that period should be reduced to one year. Let us remember that the Government of the day for some reason best known to themselves, while setting forth that this is a 48-hour week Bill for all young persons between 16 and 18 add 50 hours per annum overtime, which in effect means that it is not a 48-hour week at all, but a 49-hour week for these people. We welcome, of course, the provision whereby there is a 44-hour maximum per week for young persons up to 16 without any overtime at all; that is a great step forward in relation to this problem.

The next criticism is that we cannot understand how it comes about that in this Measure continuous employment of a young person is set down as five hours, whereas in the Factory Act it is 4½ hours. The period of continuous employment should not be more than 4½ hours in this Bill. We can see nothing at all in this Bill to limit either the total hours per day to be worked or the total daily period of employment. I confess that before I touched the problem of industrial legislation, I could not distinguish between the terms, "the total number of hours worked per day," and "the total period of employment per day," but there is a distinction, as hon. Gentlemen will see in a moment. The Bill does not lay down a maximum number of hours to be worked per day, and as far as we see the Bill, it is quite possible within the 48 hours, or 49 hours per week with overtime, to keep a young person on tap as it were from six o'clock in the morning until 8 or 10 o'clock in the evening by calling upon the young person to work three hours, with two hours off, and then to work another four hours, and to be off again, and then to be brought back again for an hour or two. That is a very reasonable criticism to make of that provision in the Bill.

We cannot understand how it comes about that these young persons are to be allowed to work up to 10 o'clock in the evening and to start at 6 o'clock in the morning. If there is anything deteriorating to the minds of young people, it is to be working late at night. I am certain that that is so. Like hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House, I am very interested in the increased educational facilities provided in the evening for young persons. We rather regret therefore that the Government have not gone a little further on that score in favour of these young people. Then there is nothing here to prevent dividing up their work into spells. I know it is the practice in the employment of some people for the employer to call upon them at any time and put them aside for an hour or two as he desires. We do not think that that ought to be possible for young persons up to 18 years of age. In Lancashire where I live—I am a Lancashire man for this purpose——

Mr. J. Griffiths

Only for this purpose.

Mr. Davies

I could not of course deny my nationality. The Bill sets forth three quarters of an hour for meal times at midday. Where young persons go home from the factory or workshop to have their meal, three quarters of an hour is too short; it ought to be an hour at least. Then there is a provision whereby when a young person is employed on a Sunday that he shall have a week-day off in lieu. I am sure that I am right—there are hon. Gentlemen here connected with industry—in saying that in general a very much higher value is put on Sunday labour than on week-day. When a man is asked to work on Sundays, generally speaking he gets time and a half and in some cases double time rates of pay. I never got double time myself so I cannot speak with authority. I would ask the Noble Lord to see that the young person is not put at a disadvantage on that score in comparison with his own fellows employed in the same factory. Educational authorities and kindred organisations are very interested in the passage of this Measure. I have been able to convince some of them that this is not an educational Bill, but I want to point out to the House that the most progressive educational authorities are laying it down when they grant a certificate for beneficial employment under the recent Education Act that the total number of hours worked shall not exceed 36 per week. I would ask therefore whether the Noble Lord cannot do something to attune the Government's policy to that of the progressive education authorities. When I speak of progressive education authorities I mean Manchester and most of the Lancashire education authorities and of course Bolton.

Sir John Haslam

Hear, hear.

Mr. Davies

These education authorities lay it down that not one of these young persons shall be employed before seven in the morning or after 5.30 in the afternoon, and they stipulate that they will not grant a certificate of exemption for any child leaving school to work on Sundays, not because they are sabbatarian but because they want one day's rest in seven for all these children. We welcome this Bill as a great advance on the present position, but I sincerely trust that the Government will take note of the Amendments I have suggested, will welcome them and accept some of them at any rate in order to make the Bill a much more workable measure than it is at the moment.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. Liddall

The House and the country generally will, I am sure, welcome almost any measure which has for its object the improvement of the conditions of the people, especially young people, but the House should at this stage be made aware of the great difficulty in which newsagents will be placed if the Bill becomes law. Most newspapers are delivered in time for breakfast, and the regularity of this service in and out of season is a triumph of organisation which passes almost unnoticed because the machinery hardly ever breaks down. The distribution of newspapers is mainly part-time employment and the peak hours are first thing in the morning and early in the evening. There has thus grown up the custom of part-time employment, and, until the passing of the Education and Children and Young Persons Acts, newspapers were delivered mostly by children of school age. The National Federation of Retail Newsagents has recognised the trend of the times and has loyally accepted the decisions of local authorities in the direction of curtailing the employment of school children, but the public, and I think I can say the majority of Members of Parliament, insist that their newspapers must continue to be delivered at an early hour, when they are thinking of their breakfast, so the newsagents have employed, not children, but more and more persons between the ages of 14 and 18 at such hours, usually between 6 and 8 in the morning, as have enabled them to work at their major employment. If this Bill is passed in its present form, these young persons will be engaged for the full 44 hours in their major employment and, consequently, it will be illegal for them to continue their work of newspaper delivery. All the other distributive trades organisations recognise that the news agency trade has a distinct claim for special consideration and, while agreeing that the working hours of young persons should be regulated, I shall endeavour in Committee to move a considered Amendment which I hope the Home Secretary, the Opposition and the House will accept.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Mander

As far as we on these benches are concerned we heartily support the introduction of the Bill and will do everything to facilitate its progress on to the Statute Book. It has been a crying scandal for a number of years that no legislation of this kind has been brought in to shorten the long hours which have been worked by these young people. We shall do a good piece of work before the holidays if we can get the Measure on to the Statute Book. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Liddall) has made a reference to newspapers. Is it seriously suggested that anyone would desire to carry out what he has suggested at the expense of longer hours for young people? The resources of civilisation have not been exhausted, and I am sure that there are other ways, and that there are older people in this country who might be drawn upon for that work. I think we should make it perfectly clear that we cannot allow the claims of any trade to stand in the way of the claim of young people for shorter hours and the advantages which shorter hours will bring to them.

I regret that the Bill has not been introduced at a stage in the Session when we could have given serious consideration to it and moved Amendments. I believe there is a great deal of sympathy with the criticisms made by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies) and that probably many hon. Members would try to persuade the Government to accept Amendments if time was available. Certainly my experience on the Factories Bill was that the Committees, including the Conservative Members, was far ahead of the Government, and that sometimes the Government were left almost alone in their opposition to the proposals which were put forward. I know that they could not go further than persuasion, but I think that if we had a real opportunity we might be able to improve this Measure. I do not know whether the Noble Lord can give us any estimate of the number of young persons who are still left outside the ambit of the Measure. It will be interesting to know the number, but certainly the Bill fills a big gap. It will mean fresh life and better opportunities to hundreds and thousands of young people, and I heartily support the Second Reading.

10.58 p.m.

Mr. Morgan

I should like to say straight away that I heartily welcome the Bill. I should welcome it more heartily had it been a Bill for 40 hours rather than the 48 and the 44 hours, because we cannot get away from the fact that it is bound up directly with our educational system. We pride ourselves that we have adjusted our educational system to the needs of industry, but there are one or two points to which I should like to direct the attention of the House. I cannot associate myself with what has been said by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Liddall). I believe it is most injurious that these young people should have to work at six o'clock in the morning and at ten o'clock at night. We pass huge sums of money, quite rightly, for technical and evening institutions, and if these young people are to have any opportunity of taking advantage of these opportunities we must regulate their hours in a much more drastic way than the Bill does. If we are going to get a race of well-qualified young persons, we must give them every opportunity to take advantage of the facilities which the State provides.

Let me refer briefly to one or two points. The Home Secretary in Clause has power to allow extra time to be worked. I hope he will use this power very sparingly. I believe that not only that no young person should be employed before eight o'clock in the morning and after six o'clock at night, but that no young person under 18 should be expected to work overtime at all. There is one appeal I want to make. I hope that the local authorities, to whose care these regulations will be submitted, will exercise their powers rigorously. I hope that steps will be taken under Clause 10, for example, to include all young people who are connected with waiting, kitchen or domestic work. Those are some of the things I would like to see done when the Committee stage is reached, and I propose to co-operate in order to try to strengthen the Bill in the way I have indicated.

11.1 p.m.

Mr. Sorensen

I feel that I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without saying a few words on the Bill, seeing that if such a Bill had been on the Statute Book in my early days, I should have enjoyed the benefits of its Clauses. I was an errand boy engaged from eight o'clock in the morning until eight o'clock at night, in addition to another hour before eight o'clock in the morning and an hour after eight o'clock at night, so that, having spent some 14 hours a day in that way, can appreciate what has been the burden on hundreds of thousands of young people in this country. This Bill is very much overdue, for it ought to have been produced many years ago. As a matter of fact, in an earlier Parliament of which I was a Member, I had the privilege of introducing a Bill somewhat on these lines, but unfortunately it did not reach the Statute Book. I rejoice that that Bill, though in a somewhat truncated and altered form, has now come forward. We have to recognise that owing to the absence of such a Bill, hundreds of thousands of young people have had their young life robbed of a very large measure of the air, sunlight, leisure and recreation which is their inherent right. I was disappointed to find that one of the first voices raised on the other side was from an hon. Member who was apparently pleading that newspapers are more important than young life.

Mr. Liddall

That is nonsense.

Mr. Sorensen

We all enjoy our morning newspapers and one of the first things I do in the morning, at about a quarter past seven, together with a suitable lubricant, is to enjoy the news of the previous day. I am sure that even the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Liddall), if it were a choice between having either an early morning newspaper or the abolition of all juvenile labour at that hour, would be for the abolition of child and juvenile labour.

Mr. Liddall

We are not discussing child labour.

Mr. Sorensen

I am certain that the hon. Member's voice will be a very lonely one in the House, and I am sure that if he presses the Amendment which he intends to bring forward to a Division, very few hon. Members will follow him on that reactionary line. I trust that the Government will strongly resist any attempts to weaken the Measure. It does not go as far as I would like it to go, for I should have preferred to see a much more comprehensive measure laying down that the hours of all young people under 18 should be drastically limited. The only other note I want to strike is this. I want hon. Members opposite to recognise that most of them have lived, and still are living, comfortable lives, and that with the best intention in the world they cannot understand or appreciate the burden that rests upon so many of the young people of the working classes. I believe that the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Morgan) was a teacher, and consequently he has had actual experience of the effect on young life of the toil which this Bill in some measure tries to eliminate.

I ask hon. Members opposite to consider the position of the young people who have attended school up to the age of 14 and who are suddenly plunged into the very different atmosphere of a shop, factory, hotel or other establishment where they are compelled to work for long dreary hours far from all opportunities of recreation in the open fields. Such a change often breeds cynicism and even worse. They feel that they are no longer counted as human souls but as ciphers and that their energies and abilities are being exploited. At school they have discipline, limited hours of study and a certain high standard of co-operation and team work but when they leave school they suddenly find that all of the standards previously held up to them have become unimportant and valueless. In order to minimise that contrast in the lives of so many young people I plead with hon. Members opposite to help to speed forward this Bill and to bring a measure of hope and encouragement to those for whom it is intended. I welcome the Bill; I am sorry that it does not go further but I trust that we shall unite in giving this mild Magna Carta to the young people of our land.

11.8 p.m.

Colonel Sandeman Allen

I join with those who have expressed regret that this Bill could not have been brought in earlier so that it might receive closer examination and where necessary Amendment. I, too, welcome the Bill. I think any of us who worked on the Factory Act could do nothing else, but I am rather amazed at some of the remarks made by the Opposition about hon. Members on this side proposing legislation of this type. I would like to point out to hon. Members opposite that if it were not for Members on this side, Bills of this kind could not get through the House. It is by our votes that this legislation is passed and not by the votes of the Opposition and much of what has been said on that point by the Opposition is nonsense.

I have one or two criticisms to make of the Bill and some difficulties to point out, but they are difficulties which can be overcome. For example, the hours for lorry boys laid down in the Bill do not coincide with those which are laid down for drivers. That is a difficulty which can be surmounted and I hope the Minister will pay the necessary attention to it. Another point is that apparently the local authority is to provide the inspectors in the case of boys employed on vans and lorries. Under the 1933 Act drivers' records are inspected by an inspector of the Ministry of Transport. I suggest that the same inspector should carry out these inspections with regard to boys. It is stupid to have different inspectors from different departments dealing with the same trade. It means a double hold-up and a double stoppage in the business. I hope the Minister will give some consideration to these suggestions. I welcome the Bill and hope it will bring some improvement to the youth of our generation.

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Ridley

I share the regrets which have already been expressed that a Bill of this kind is before the House at such a late hour and at such a late stage in the Session, for it raises a number of very important considerations. Nothing would have induced me to vote for the Bill, if a division were challenged, more definitely than the speech of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Liddall), to any legislation which would prevent three-quarters of the newspapers of this country from being landed on our breakfast tables at 7.30 in the morning with such danger to our digestive organs I should be very glad to lend my support. I entirely agree with the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) that the Opposition will not impede the passage of the Bill, but I desire to draw the attention of the Noble Lord to what I believe to be one or two major defects in the Bill, which I hope will receive the consideration of the Government during the Committee stage of the Bill.

The Noble Lord made three statements. He said that the Bill filled in the last gap, but in saying that he cannot have been at the Home Office for very long. If he had, he would have known that it does not fill in the last gap, but that it fills in a gap very inaccurately indeed. He said that the main purpose of the Bill was to carry out the recommendations of the Departmental Committee. If the Bill had that effect and consequence, such criticisms as I am directing to it would not have been offered, but in fact it does not do that. The Departmental Committee recommended a limitation of a 10-hour over-all day, and so far as I can find there is no limitation within the Bill to the over-all day. Therefore, in that very material respect the Bill does not carry out the recommendation of the Departmental Committee. The Noble Lord also said the Bill follows substantially the Factories Act. It does nothing of the kind, and I hope the Noble Lord will attempt to bring it into conformity with the terms of the Factories Act.

I resent the idea that you can, by mere legal terminology, change a child into a young person. At 14 years of age at school a child is a child, and at 14 years of age at work, in some remarkable fashion a child becomes a young person. I do not deny that the Bill is an improvement on the present situation, but that only confirms my impression that if a limited Bill of this kind is in fact an improvement on the existing situation, how entirely unsatisfactory must the existing situation be. Within the Bill there is a complete absence of any limitation, either as to the working day or as to the overall day. The Bill provides for a 48-hour week, and that is the only working limitation in the Bill. It provides for a limitation of work to 48 hours per week, but it provides no working limitation for the working day. It provides for an 11-hour interval in every 24 working hours, but it does not, as in the Factory Act, limit the over-all day except by a process of negation; that is to say that the extent to which the Bill provides for an 11-hour interval in 24 hours, by the process of negation it permits a 13-hour over-all day at 14 years of age. It permits a young person of 14 to start as early in the morning as six o-clock, and permits him, on another shift, it is true, to be about the premises until 10 o'clock at night.

The first point, therefore, to which I direct the Noble Lord's attention is that the Bill does not limit the number of working hours per day as is the case in the Factory Act. The Noble Lord said the Bill was in harmony with the Factory Act. I beg to draw his attention to these serious disparities. In the Factory Act there is a limitation of the over-all day of 11 hours per day, or, in other words, a provision for a 13-hour interval. This Bill reverses the position. There is a provision for a 11-hour interval, which negatively provides for a 13-hour over-all day. The Factory Act further limits the hours of work per day to nine. In this Bill there is no limitation of the hours of work per day. A young person of 14 may be at work at 6 o'clock in the morning and on another shift may be at work at 10 o'clock at night. In the Factory Act there is a much more restrictive provision. A young person from 14 to 16 may not be at work until 7 o'clock in the morning and may not be at work later than 6 in the evening. In the Factory Act a 44-hour week is provided for for young persons between 14 and 16 within one year of the passage of the Act. In this Bill it is two years.

Let me summarise. This Bill makes possible at 14 years of age a 13-hour over-all day. It makes it possible, therefore, for a young person at 14 to be about the occupation premises on one shift from 6 in the morning until 7 at night—a 13-hour over-all day, unless I have entirely misread the Bill. Let me be generous and assume a 12-hour over-all day, that is to say, from 7 in the morning until 7 at night. Let me further assume, as is the case with people in London, that a person lives an hour from his place of work. That means that in order to arrive at the place of work at 7 in the morning he has to rise at 5.15 and leave home at 6. He leaves at 7 at night, gets home at 8, and by the time he washes and has tea it is 8.45. From that moment it is only 8½ hours to the time at which that child of 14 will have to rise once again to begin its weary task once more.

Nowhere in the dark annals of the industrial revolution is there to be found a darker passage of social history than is to be found in the pages of this Bill. We have no right to say that a young person, drugged asleep at a quarter-past five in the morning, ought to be wakened to go to work to grind profits for the Philistines. There is no opportunity for leisure, recreation, culture, education or any of the other many pursuits that are the rightful heritage of children of 14, 15 and 16 years of age. Although the Bill may have been welcomed as being an advance on present conditions I beg that the Noble Lord will see that the disparities between the terms of the Bill and the Factory Acts are so grave and wide that they call for substantial Amendments which will, I hope, be moved by the Government when the Bill gets into Committee.

11.22 p.m.

Mr. Tomlinson

I have one or two questions to put to the Minister regarding the younger children who will be affected by this Bill. Under which flag will they be working when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament? Clause 3 runs counter to the suggestions in the Education Act, 1936, because these children between 14 and 15 years of age must of necessity be provided for in the year 1939 under the exemption Clauses of the Education Act. Clause 3 relates to the employment of young persons under 16. A child between 14 and 15 is under 16. Under which Act is that child to be governed? Whereas this Bill will allow the child to be worked for 48 hours a week in the first two years, and 44 hours afterwards, education authorities all over the country will, I am sure, insist that one condition of exemption shall be that the child shall work fewer hours than are specified in the Bill.

I was interested in the opposition that came from an hon. Member who suggested that newspaper boys should be exempted from the provisions of the Bill and intimated that he intended to move an Amendment to that effect. I happen to be one of those grown-up newspaper boys of days gone by, and I suggest seriously that if you want to bring out the devil in a lad you should let him sell newspapers. It is not an economic advantage, even in a struggling home, to allow a boy to turn out early in the morning and late at night to sell newspapers, although it brings a few shillings into the home, because in the process the boy learns habits from which he should be saved. Never would I allow a child to be used to the economic advantage of the home in that way, because of the evil effects upon a child at that age. I want the Noble Lord to remember what is laid down in the Education Act, 1936. I take it that that Act will be a reality and that all educational authorities will be called upon in the exercise of their duties to take note of and to make, for any child between 14 and 15 years of age, opportunities for recreation and further education, and that those opportunities are to be the condition on which the child goes to work at 14 years of age.

You cannot lay down in one Act that it is the duty of a local education authority to safeguard the health and educational facilities of the child, and in another that that child can be worked all the hours that my hon. Friend the Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley) proved could be worked under the Bill as it stands. I want to know who will administer this Act with respect to the different classes of children. I was not particularly concerned with the opposition regarding the newsboys, because I believe that the House will see how that difficulty, if there is one, will be overcome. I was perturbed when we heard the suggestion that the Bill needed amending in another direction because the hours of work of these children would not coincide with those of lorry drivers and the vans they were driving.

Again, I would point to the fact that in the Education Act, 1936, the purpose of the exemption Clauses was to attempt to prevent blind-alley occupations, but if a child is to be needed at that age, the individual who employs the child must prove to the education authority that it will be in the interests of the child, and the conditions must be such as to coincide, not with those of the lorry driver, but with the well-being of the young person. If, as the hon. Member asked and the Minister suggests, the individual who is responsible for inspecting the cards under the Ministry of Transport is to be brought in to see that these children are not overworked, and if the local authority's inspector of factories and workshops is to be the inspector, he will be the authority to see that the exemption Clauses of the Education Act are carried out, with respect to the young person who has received the exemption.

Remember that although there are penal Clauses in the Young Persons Bill there are none in the Education Act, and that the only action that can be taken by the local authority if the conditions of the exemption are frustrated is the withdrawal of the certificate whereby the child works. I would like the noble Lord to enlighten us as to the position of the child between 14 and 15 years of age, because under the Education Acts no child under 15 should be allowed in any industry, unless under the exemption Clauses. I hope the Noble Lord can assure us that these children will be amply safeguarded. It seems to me that what we are discussing is children from the age of 15 onwards.

11.29 p.m.

Mr. Ede

It seems cruel that this House should be put into the dilemma in which, if we attempt to move Amendments to the Bill, as the Noble Lord told us, necessary provisions might be modified, and the Bill not be able to pass this Session. It means that virtually the Bill is now in the form in which it will reach the Statute Book. If it reaches the Statute Book in that form, and we attempt next year, either by a Private Member's Bill on a Friday afternoon or in any other way, to get on to the Statute Book the Amendments which have been asked for this evening, we shall be told that an Act was passed in 1938 and it will be as well to see how it works before we pass any amending legislation.

I share the misgivings that were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Clay Cross (Mr Ridley) with regard to the hours that may apparently be worked under this Measure. I do not share the misgivings of my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson), because I believe that the child between 14 and 15, if the Education Act, 1936, comes into force, will be in school unless he gets a certificate of exemption embodying the safeguards which my hon. Friend detailed. Therefore, the first conditions of the child's employment will be those embodied in the Education Act, 1936, and, where they are more powerful in safeguarding the child than the Clauses of this Bill, they, and not the regulations under this Measure, will be supreme.

It is, however, very unfortunate that the Government should have chosen this time for suggesting that children between 14 and 15 may be regarded as properly employed with no further safeguards than those of this Bill. It is all very well to choose areas like Lancashire and those in the neighbourhood of London, where conferences of local education authorities have been held and elaborate precautions have rightly been taken, within the Education Act, 1936, to safeguard the children; but there are other areas where no such conferences have been held, and where one has grave misgivings as to what will be the working of the Act of 1936. The provisions of this Bill will come to reinforce the arguments of the most reactionary members of local education authorities when they are considering the conditions under which they will grant exemptions.

I hope that, provided the Amendments in Committee are put forward with reasonable brevity and with a clear desire to improve the Measure, the Government will not turn a deaf ear to every argument purely on the plea of time. After all, the other House, even though it might not like our Amendments, has recently shown itself to be quite accommodating, and I have no doubt that a few smooth words from the Noble Lord would reconcile it to anything that we might desire to do. I hope that among the Amendments accepted by the Government will be one to include those young persons who are employed in the hotel and catering trade, and that the Government will agree at least to remedy this defect, which seems to me to be an outstanding defect in the Bill.

11.34 p.m.

Mr. Benjamin Smith

I should not have risen but for the plea of the hon. and gallant Member for West Birkenhead (Colonel Sandeman Allen) that the hours of van boys should coincide with those laid down in the Act of 1933 for the men with whom they work. The hon. and gallant Member, who pointed to all the beneficent Measures that came from the Government, aked at the same time that the van boy should be allowed to be employed for 5½ hours without a break, as against the 5 hours laid down in this Bill: that he should work a maximum of 11 hours a day on the lorry, as provided in the Act of 1933, with one day of 12 hours; and that his minimum period off duty should be 10 hours, as against the 11 hours proposed in the Bill. That is the beneficent gentleman who tells us that all these good Acts come from him and his sort. I want to put in a plea for the van boy, that at last he should be recognised as worthy of consideration and to ask the Government to resist any Amendment from the hon. Gentleman.

11.36 p.m.

Mr. Paling

I am in some doubt as to the meaning of Sub-section (7) of Clause 1. That Sub-section gives power to work overtime to the extent of 50 hours in a year or six hours in any one week. But it seems to me that there is a dangerous power in addition for another increase above that, subject to Regulations by the Secretary of State, without any limitation being laid down. It seems that if any business, or class of business, can make out a sufficiently pitiful case the Home Secretary may increase the permitted hours to any extent he thinks fit.

11.37 p.m.

Mr. Buchanan

I want to raise a question regarding the administration of this law in Scotland, and to ask the Scottish Office representatives whether they would not consider strengthening the law in this respect in future. As far as I can gather, it is proposed that the administration in this matter shall be the Shop Hours Act administration, and that the Shop Hours Act inspectors should do this work. I feel that the administration of the Shop Hours Act has become to a great extent a farce. But I am not so much concerned about that as about the position of children. However slack the law may be in respect of adults, it should be much more tightly administered where children are concerned, and I ask that when this Bill becomes law the administration should be improved upon, or the Shop Hours Act inspectors considerably increased if they are to do the work.

It is obvious that this Bill must pass substantially as it is, despite what the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has said about the necessity for Amendments. We know there is practically no effective time left. If this Bill is to go through, it means that we can say nothing and that any serious Amendments must be rejected. The noble Lord is an old Parliamentarian, and when he was a private Member he spoke in defence of the rights of Members of this House. This may be an excellent Bill, but Parliament has a right to express criticism. We are not getting an opportunity to do that now. To foreign issues and some other issues Parliament seem's able to devote unlimited time, but Parliament is only justified in so far as it deals with the conditions of the common folk. Here is a Bill that deals with the conditions of those people. Hon. Members above the Gangway had some criticisms of this Bill, but proper time is not allowed for us to discuss them. This Bill is flung at us, and there is no time to amend it. The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), I remember, sat with me on a Factory Bill day in and day out, and I see that he occasionally writes about children's problems. Here we have a Bill that may well be the only Measure that we shall get for many years to come, and we ought to be able to mould it on the Floor of the House of Commons. Surely, that is not asking too much.

We are told that we must accept Hobson's choice, and that if we vote against the Bill we shall be limiting the possibility of this small amendment of the law. On the other hand, if we do not make this Amendment, we shall possibly lose our opportunity for many years to come. Therefore we have to grasp our opportunity. I would say to the Noble Lord, who is an old Parliamentary colleague and one whom I used to regard as being anxious at all times to safeguard our Parliamentary rights, that we are not being treated properly in this Bill, which so vitally affects the lives of our people. Although I feel that, in view of the limited time that is left to us, the Bill should be allowed to go through substantially as it is, I would ask the Noble Lord to make use of the powers that he used to use on the Floor of the House in the inner circles, so as to ensure that, in a Bill which deals with the lives of the people, Parliament should be treated with proper respect.

11.42 p.m.

Earl Winterton

I feel that I ought to make some reply to the sympathetic appeal which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has just made. I trust that it will not be thought to be controversial if I point out that the circumstances are rather exceptional. During the 34 years I have been in the House of Commons I do not recollect 26 days having previously been given to foreign affairs, nor do I recollect so much attention having been given to certain subjects which are, in a sense, domestic to the House itself. I am not going to attempt to allocate the blame, but when the hon. Member speaks very truly of the disadvantage of having to legislate in a Bill of this importance at this hour of the night, it would be unfortunate to apportion blame to any section of the House. I fully appreciate the points which hon. Gentlemen opposite have properly indicated, and I should be lacking in respect even at this late hour if I did not deal, as far as I can, with the detailed points they have put to me. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be as pleased as I am with the general reception that has been given to this Bill.

I think I can deal with the points in tabloid form. I did not suggest that this Bill dealt with all cases of child labour, or, as I preferred to call it, youthful labour. It has been said in debate that a boy or girl of 14 is a child, but a boy or girl of 18 can hardly be described as a child. I said that it filled in a gap in legislation to deal with the hours of employment in what are generally known as the unregulated occupations, or which may be described in another way as, generally speaking, blind-alley occupations. I do not intend to reply to such matters as employment in agriculture and in domestic service, but I warn the House that, before any Government on this side of the House or on that side of the House attempted to deal with that vast subject, there would have to be a committee of inquiry. No Government could deal with the subject of domestic service in the more narrow and general sense of the word, nor with hotels and private houses, without inquiry. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would find, as they have found in their experience of office, the same difficulties as this Government has found, that you cannot have a Measure of this kind without the fullest consultation with all the interests concerned, employers and employed. I assure hon. Members below the Gangway on this side of the House that the Government have in this Bill not only consulted all the principal organisations concerned, both employers and employed, but, in general, have obtained their assent to the provisions of the Bill.

May I also point out that this Bill was designed to implement the report of the Committee appointed to inquire into a specific matter? The terms of reference were very narrow. They refer to van boys, errand boys, warehouse boys, etc., also page boys, lift and other attendants in hotels and places of public entertainment. One of the criticisms made to-night is that there has been a serious deviation from the report of the committee. I can assure the House that that is not so. In so far as there have been deviations some have been in the direction desired by hon. Members. The Bill provides for a 44-hour week for young persons under 16. The committee recommended no such distinction. I admit that the daily period of employment is an important matter. It is quite true that the committee, with one member dissenting, recommended that it should be limited to 10 hours a day. No provision is included, and no such provision was made in the Shops Act, 1934, or Section 98 of the Factories Act, which deals with messenger and van boys. This Bill does follow Section 98 of the Factories Act, the only Section dealing with employments analagous to those dealt with in this Bill.

Mr. Ridley

Surely the Noble Lord would not deny that the vast majority of young persons covered by the Factories Act are limited to an 11-hour over-all day and this Bill does not provide for that?

Earl Winterton

They are not. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the persons who come under the Factories Act in employments analogous to those dealt with under this Bill are not so limited. He is thinking of the indoor workers, a different category altogether. There is really no comparison between the two. I should like to point out the importance of Sub-section (6) of Clause 1. I would ask the House to read the Sub-section and they will see that it gives very wide powers to the Secretary of State. In fact, some of the employers' associations in the first instance might easily have taken objection to these wide powers. I will give an undertaking on behalf of the Home Secretary—surely it is one which could be given on behalf of any Home Secretary—that if he found it necessary to use these powers, or public opinion is such as to call his attention to the need for using these powers, he would certainly use them.

With regard to the question of overtime, it is true that the Shops Act and Section 98 of the Factories Act limit the total amount of overtime that may be worked by young persons, but so does this Bill. It is limited in each case to 50 hours a year. It is the distribution of these hours which varies. The explanation of the differences is to be found in the varying requirements of the different types of occupations concerned. There is an abnormal pressure of work in shops at special seasons, such as Christmas and sales, but I do not think the difference is as great as is thought.

I was asked a question in regard to a Sub-section which, I can well imagine, at first sight appears to give a dangerous power of variation to the Home Secretary. That is Clause 1 (7). I can only give an assurance that any application for increasing the hours of overtime that may be worked will be critically examined before any regulations are brought forward. Such regulations have to be laid before Parliament. They could not in any case affect the maximum number of hours overtime in a year. I was asked what would happen if a local education authority laid down a set of hours which boys and girls up to 15 were allowed to work and those hours conflicted with the Bill. It does not alter the powers of local authorities in the slightest degree. A young person can only work up to the period laid down by the local education authority as being in all respects reasonable. A point was raised as to the hours of van boys. I shall be glad to look into the matter again. At this late hour I prefer not to deal with it but it is not as simple as the hon. Member thinks. The House took very well my hint that it might be physically impossible to get the Bill through if wide extensions are sought. I do not wish to suggest that it would not be possible to accept any Amendment, but I would make an appeal to hon. Members, in asking for a Second Reading without a Division, to restrict discussion on Amendments when we come to the Committee stage. While we may not go as far as many hon. Members would like, we shall have taken a notable step forward, in which all Governments and parties have been engaged, in the work of improving the conditions of employment of young persons.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Lieut.Colonel Kerr.]