§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
On a point of Order. The Title of this Bill is "A Bill to amend the Shops Acts, 1912 to 1936." As a matter of fact, the Bill only purports to amend the Act which is described as the principal Act, namely, the Act of 1936, which is an Act regulating the hours of employment of persons under the age of 18 years. I want to ask whether this Bill is not out of Order on the ground that it deals with a subject-matter entirely different from the subject-matter of the only Act it purports to amend. Whether my point is a good one or not it will draw attention to the fact that this is a curious form of legislation by reference, because the Bill proposes to extend to five times as many people as the principal Act.
§ Mr. Speaker
I understand the hon. Member to say that the Bill proposes to extend to persons above 18 years of age an Act of Parliament which only deals with people under the age of 18. I do not see that because this Bill conflicts with the Title of the Act it seeks to amend it is out of Order.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Leslie
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I commend this Bill very strongly to the consideration of the House. It is a very modest Measure. It simply proposes that the hours of shop assistants under 18 shall apply to shop assistants over 18. I was hoping that it would receive the unanimous support of the House, but for the first time there is an Amendment on the Order Paper this morning. The hours and conditions of young persons are not ideal, allowing, as the present Act does, too much scope for overtime beyond the 48 hours. Believing that a simple amending Bill of this kind would have a better chance of passing than a more drastic Measure, the promoters thought it would be wise to confine it to one object—namely, to bring those over 18 years of age into line with those under that age. Section 1 of the present Act allows 50 hours overtime per annum. The overtime Clauses right through the present Act will still 788 remain. There is no subject that has been more often before Parliament than the question of shop hours. A Bill was introduced as far back as 1873, 65 years ago, and no fewer than 30 Bills have been introduced since then. Shop hours have also been fruitful of commissions. Whenever a Government have desired to shelve the question it has appointed a Commission, and there have been no fewer than six Commissions inquiring into the question of shop hours. The evidence in the Blue Books is overwhelming as to the long hours worked and the injurious effect they have on those employed behind the counter, more especially in the case of women and young people.
Until 1934 the only Act on the Statute which limited the working hours was one passed 52 years ago restricting the hours of young persons under 18 to 74 hours per week, inclusive of meal times, but in 1911 the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who was then Home Secretary, introduced an Early Closing Bill which gave a weekly half-holiday, regulated meal times and also provided for local closing orders, for an hour not earlier than 7 o'clock. Our contention is that early closing is not enough so long as there is no legal limitation of the working hours of shop assistants. Shops may close at 7 o'clock under a local closing order or at 8 or 9 o'clock under the 1928 Act, but assistants may be kept working behind closed doors many hours afterwards, and it is a long-standing grievance on the part of shop assistants that very little consideration is given to them on the question of overtime. Perhaps only an hour before closing time they will be told that they have to work late that night. No consideration is given to any engagements a shop assistant may have made.
Why this systematic unpaid overtime? Undoubtedly it is due in the main to under-staffing. On the one hand, you have thousands of men and women working these long hours while there are no fewer than 225,196 shop assistants registered as unemployed. That is not the whole story. There are hundreds who are not insured for unemployment benefit—shop walkers, buyers, and departmental managers. When they are out of employment it is hopeless for them to go to an employment exchange, and I say that there are at the present time at least 789 250,000 shop assistants unemployed. Surely this is where the Minister of Labour can put in a word in support of this Bill in order to provide work for the unemployed. The Government year after year at Geneva have opposed the international regulation of hours. Here is a case where there are no international complications and no foreign competition; it is purely a domestic occupation. The effects of long hours on men and women between 18 and 21 years of age, according to medical evidence, is particularly injurious. One medical witness said:In the case of women in shops the mischief is of a kind calculated to extend to the offspring they may bear. In his opinion eight hours daily is the maximum which should be allowed.A former hon. Member of this House, an eminent lady doctor, said that in her experience shop assistants suffered from varicose veins, flat feet and all the disabling things which make life a misery. She also said that they aged very early and broke down very early. There is no denying the fact that there is no occupation in this country which consumes young life to the same extent as does shop life. This House in recent debates on unemployment has been concerned about the too old at 40 and 45. If that is true of any trade it is true of the distributive trades. How many old men and women do you see behind the counter? The Report of the Select Committee of 1931 was certainly a far-reaching document. It recommended not only the limitation of the working hours, but better sanitation, ventilation and heating. The Act of 1934, which reduced the hours of young persons, does, as I have said, unfortunately permit unpaid overtime. The valuable evidence given before the Committee by the Juvenile Employment and Welfare Officers' Association, showed how long hours prevent assistants from attending evening classes at a period of life when opportunities should be given them for intellectual, cultural and physical improvement.
At the present time, assistants over 18 years of age are working 60, 65 or even more hours a week. They are thus denied all opportunities for physical culture. It was believed that the 1934 Act would give more leisure to young persons, and generally speaking, it has been a boon in that respect, but unfortunately, in 790 thousands of cases, the Act is not being administered in the spirit and intention in which it was passed. An inquiry has been made by the Shop Assistants' Union to ascertain the methods adopted in operating the 48-hour week for young persons. The methods vary. In some cases the 48 hours coincide with the closing hours of the shops. Sometimes there are extended meal hours, one hour for lunch and one hour for tea. In some cases the assistants begin later in the morning, while others get two half-days off a week. I will quote to the House some opinions that have been expressed as to how the Act is operating. Here is one opinion from a large city:The employers have side-tracked the Act in this area and by a spread over have robbed juniors of the recreational and educational facilities to which they are entitled.Other opinions are:It has undoubtedly meant a higher speed of work by the young persons and a greater amount of unpaid overtime by senior employés.It has necessitated seniors performing duties which hitherto have been regarded as junior work, such as weighing of stocks and cleaning the shop."Branch managers complain that they have to remain behind to do work which the junior staff should have done.
§ Mr. Leslie
I am quoting the opinions given in reply to an inquiry made by the Shop Assistants' Union of over 500 branches. These are the results of the investigation. Another opinion is: "The adult staff is expected to finish work left unfinished by juniors when their time is up." Obviously, those over 18 years of age are not too pleased with the general effects of the present Act. The extension of their hours as a consequence of the Act constitutes a decided grievance. The Sunday Trading Restriction Act, which was certainly a decided boon to many thousands, deals only with trading, and at the present time, if one goes into the West End on a Sunday, what one finds is that the assistants are there preparing stocks, sales, window dressing, and so on. Therefore, they feel that there ought to be a reduction of working hours. I would like to quote from a few letters that I have received since this Bill was mentioned in the Press. A mother writes: 791My daughter works over 64 hours. I feel sure it is harmful to her health. Cannot something effective be done to help these girls?A butcher's assistant writes:I commence work at 6.30 a.m. and stop at 6.30 p.m., with one hour for dinner and fifteen minutes for breakfast. On Saturday, I commence work at 6.30 a.m. and finish at 10 p.m. This makes a total of approximately 66 hours.A tobacconist's assistant writes:Our hours are from 6 or 7 a.m. till 8 p.m.; 9 p.m. on Saturdays; and 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Sundays. The new Act gives us one and a half days off in a week, but even so we have a working week of from 64 to 66 hours. We seldom see our children, leaving home before they get up and returning home after they have gone to bed. Why should our young children be deprived of seeing their daddy?There is an old story about a grocer who always went out in the morning before his children were up, and came home at night after they had gone to bed. The result was that they saw him only on Sundays. One day something happened and he came home, and the children ran to their mother and said, "The man who comes here on Sunday has arrived." Some time ago, the Shop Assistants' Union conducted an inquiry into the hours in the grocery and footwear trades, where the longest hours are worked. The inquiry showed that in the footwear trade 60 per cent. of the assistants are working over 48 hours, and in the grocery trade, which is the worst of all, 98.6 per cent. are working over 48 hours. The physical fitness campaign has certainly been very well advertised, but can hon. Members imagine a young man of from 18 to 21 years of age going in for physical jerks after working 12 hours behind the counter? Another letter which I have received states:I have been asked to take up A.R.P. work and join the Defence Corps. When shop assistants get time to spare, they might try that.Another states:On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., with one hour for lunch and half an hour for tea each day. On Tuesday, from 9 a.m. until 5.30 or 6 p.m., with one hour for lunch. On Thursday, half day, 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. On Saturday 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. or sometimes 9.45 p.m., with one hour for lunch and half an hour for tea. Sometimes on Sundays. This gives me hardly any time at all for personal use or hobbies.… My employers are very nice people, but the tours!792 Another writes that he would like to take up A.R.P. work, but he has very little hope of doing that because of the hours. Here is a letter from the manager of an ironmonger's shop in Birmingham; he is working for a local multiple firm, and he writes:My hours work out at 60 per week. I have only a boy assistant, so I cannot get out for any meals. I have to snatch them whenever I can because of people coming in. My employer suggests that I ought to join some of the local sports clubs as it might be good for business, but in my opinion, the only club that I could join in my position would be the burial club.Those are a few examples of what is happening. We know very well that if war ever came, the shop assistants would be the first to be called upon, as they were in the last War. Being young in years, they are immediately called up. During the War, thousands of them were swept into the Armed Forces, and at that time, the Shop Assistants' Union had to close over 100 branches. Thousands of those assistants, when they came back, found that their places were filled by women and young persons. It was once our proud boast that we led the world in social legislation, but that was never true as far as shop life was concerned. The British Dominions have long been an object lesson to the Mother Country in that respect. In New Zealand and Australia, the shop assistants have for long enjoyed shorter hours. A 48-hour week for assistants operates in Belgium and France, and it did in Germany and Czecho-Slovakia, but I am not sure what happens there now. In nearly every State in America, there is a 48-hour week, while in Finland there is a 47-hour week, and in Poland a 46-hour week. What are the arguments against a 48-hour week for shop assistants?
I do not know what the Government spokesman will say to-day, but if he is no better than the Government apologists on former occasions, we ought to win hands down. What was the case against the 48-hour week before? One argument was that it would create unemployment. That certainly was a new theory. We were of opinion that a shortened working week would result in the absorption of some of the 250,000 unemployed. The second objection was that it would increase the cost of commodities. I gave evidence before the Select Committee and as the chairman of that body said at the 793 time, that my evidence was a monumental document, both in volume and weight, I thought it well to bring it here to-day in case my statements might be questioned. But I have no intention of reading it all. In that evidence, I showed that shops which work 48 hours a week charge no more for their commodities than shops in which a week of 60 hours or more is operated. The third objection was that it would have the effect of reducing wages. The Minister of Labour was so impressed by the lowness of the wages that he called the employers' and workers' representatives together in conference. That conference has been sitting for three years and I am not sure whether it has hatched anything yet.
No one can contend with reason that a 48-hour week is impossible in shop life. The co-operative stores, catering in the main for working-class customers, apply a 48-hour week, and in the North of England a 44-hour week. Over 40,000 employés in the drapery stores work 48 hours or less, and in the West End the average is 45½ hours. Three large multiple tailoring firms operate a 48-hour week and they have 900 shops employing a staff of 4,500. Small shops as well as large operate a 48-hour week without inconvenience to the shopping public. I believe that those who have put down the Amendment are concerned about the small trader. I am rather surprised that they had not also in mind the mythical widow. Why are they so concerned about the small trader? If the small trader does not employ any assistants, the Bill does not affect him. If he does, surely to heaven it is not to be argued that he ought to employ them for long hours on a paltry pittance. My concern is with the assistants, and if the trader cannot carry on his business without exploiting assistants by imposing long hours and low wages, then the sooner he is out of the trade the better. If the last War did nothing else, it changed the shopping habits of the people. They came to realise the advantages of early shopping and in scores of towns by voluntary arrangements shops closed as early as 6 and 6.30 p.m., which meant a certain saving on light and fuel. Even in the case of confectionery and tobacco shops, where the shopping hours are longest, arrangements have been made, as I showed in my evidence, where they are organised, to work a 48-hour week.
794 I know that at the present time, the National Council of the Grocers' Federation opposes the Bill. On what ground? They say that hours, wages and conditions should be regarded as a single subject for legislation. Would you believe it, coming from the Grocers' Federation? May I remind them that we had a grocery trade board and I ask them who was responsible for killing that board. It was the members of the Grocers' Federation and one of them actually boasted that they had killed it by their policy of masterly inactivity. A grocery trade board would have settled all these matters. It would have settled hours and we would have been enjoying a 48-hour week for years. It would have settled wages and it would have settled general conditions. Now they come forward and say that that is the very thing they want.
I appeal to the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. Employers' Associations have, time and again, declared that they are not opposed to legislation on working hours if it is made applicable to all. Here is an opportunity. These hours will be applicable to all. I willingly pay tribute to the officials of the Ministry of Labour for the efforts made to bring employers' and workers' organisations together to hammer out an agreement upon conditions of employment. But I would remind those who have put down this Amendment and hon. Members generally, that these conferences have now occupied three years and no scheme has yet been accepted by the Minister. I am afraid that if an agreement is not reached by them soon, it will not be reached in the lifetime of this Government. Shop assistants are tired of being staved off with promises that never materialise. They want this long-delayed Measure now and I sincerely hope that the House will to-day give joy and hope to the hearts of that great army of men and women behind our counters.
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Jagger
I beg to second the Motion.
I speak subject to correction, but I think I am right in saying that to-day this is the only country claiming to be civilised in which, as regards a great mass of adult male labour, it is possible to work a man 24 hours a day for seven days a week without any interference whatever by the legislative machine. There are two 795 exceptions which come to my mind. One is the legislation which protects miners. It once protected them more than it does now but it still protects them to some extent. The other is the case of the transport workers. In view of the danger to the public caused by long hours, a Measure has been passed for the protection of those workers.
When I come to the case of shop assistants I wonder whether the House has visualised the difficulty of regulating hours of labour without the assistance of the Legislature. In practice, although there is no legislation for the great body of adult labour in regard to hours, the trade union organisation in the great primary industries has been able to make such arrangements with employers that a working week of 48 hours or less is nearly universal. When we turn to the distributive trade we find that it has about 2,000,000 employés. I do not wish to suggest for a moment that the employers of those 2,000,000 would not welcome any reasonable arrangement. Just as engineers, cotton operatives and workers in all the main industries have been able to regulate hours, outside legislation, so have we in the distributive trade. Where organisation is possible it has been accomplished. My hon. Friend has alluded to the fact that right away from Sunderland to South Shields, and across the country to Workington, and from Berwick-on-Tweed to Northallerton, there are something like 20,000 co-operative employés engaged in the distributive trade who, for over 25 years, have worked a 44-hour week.
Throughout the whole length and breadth of the land there is not a co-operative society which works its employés more than a 44-hour week. They cater for the people who are employed for the longest hours and yet, catering for the working class, they find it quite possible within the limits of a 48- or at the best a 44-hour week to cater for their customers in such a way that they have a constantly increasing trade. Unfortunately that only applies to some 12½ per cent. of the retail trade of the country. The great multiple shops are doing another 27½ per cent. of the trade of the country. Broadly speaking, it would be true to say that by trade union pressure, by argument, and by persuasion we have established for that 27½ per cent. 796 something like a 48-hour week or less, but it still leaves 60 per cent. of the approximately 2,000,000 people employed in one-man businesses and in small shops where no kind of trade union organisation can force reasonable hours of labour, and it is on behalf of the poor unfortunate, the worst paid, the worst treated, and the longest worked of all the people in the distributive trades that we claim the help of this House this morning in putting on the Statute Book legislation which will make the worst employers do by law what the best employers are already doing by common consent or by trade union agreement.
The proposer has said that this legislation is general throughout the Dominions and throughout most of the countries of Europe. I will go further and say that in what are regarded as our most backward Colonies they have legislation that is immeasurably superior to anything which has been attempted in this country. I have before me now a Shops Act passed about the middle of last year for one of our Colonies, and it privides that on one day of the week a shop may be opened for ten hours and not more, on one day of the week for four hours and not more, and on four days of the week for eight hours and not more. We have some protection here in regard to the closing of shops, but what we want is the kind of protection for the hours of labour which has been given by what are commonly looked upon as the more backward parts of the British Empire. Dealing with the length of the working day or week, the Act in question provides:If any person is employed in any shop or store or place of trade or business, in respect of which a Shop Order under this Ordinance is in force for longer than the time fixed by such Order, then the person or persons in whose name the shop, store, or place of business is carried on shall each be liable on summary conviction before a magistrate to a penalty not exceeding £50 for a first offence and not exceeding £100 for a second offence.In this proposed Amendment to the existing shop legislation we do not propose anything so drastic as that. As a matter of fact, I was feeling, with the proposer, that we had been very modest, but I was convinced that we had indeed been very modest when I saw the terms of the Amendment on the paper. I have long 797 been acquainted with the small and insignificant party which sits below the Gangway and which is so conspicuous by its absence to-day, but I had not expected that those who are signatories to this Amendment would have been proposing to follow the policy of the Independent Labour party, which is, "We cannot have everything at once, therefore we will not have anything until we can have everything." That is practically the terms of the Amendment. How honest and how genuine is this desire universally to improve the conditions of shop employés has been well instanced by the action of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), whose name is first among those attached to the Amendment. He puts down, I presume in all honesty and sincerity, an Amendment which was going to do what is the purpose of Amendments, namely to improve the original proposition, and he comes here this morning to try to prevent the original proposition being discussed and, therefore, to prevent the Amendments he is so anxious to pass ever being reached.
I want the House to realise how unsound, how discreditable, and how dishonourable it is to pretend by this Amendment that the reason for certain people desiring to oppose this Bill is because the party responsible for it, as usual, reasonable and realist, but these Bolshevik revolutionaries say, "Away, away with that miserable piffling Labour party that wants only gradually to progress from precedent to precedent. We here this morning will make a clean sweep of the whole job, and we will give a complete charter of freedom and independence to the shop assistants of Great Britain." The proposer and myself go back to the days when there was not more than a handful of organised workers in the distributive trades. We have seen the improvements which it is possible to bring about by organisation and by friendly agreement with decent employers. We have reached the limit that we can go so far as those organised employés and decent employers are concerned. The next step forward, the clamant step forward, is to give legislative protection to these people who, by their trade union organisations, can do nothing to change their conditions, and I appeal to the House to give us this small Measure. Sooner or later this House will have to deal with a general limitation of the hours of labour. Here is the most 798 crying and the grossest scandal which exists in the country with regard to long hours of labour, and I beg this House to help us to take this slight step forward.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House recognises the right of shop assistants to be protected from unfair working conditions and excessive hours, but pending the conclusion of the present discussions with employers' and shop employés organisations with a view to formulating a scheme for the general regulation of wages, hours and working conditions of shop employés, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill calculated to disturb a solution based on progressive lines.I must admit that the Seconder of the Bill became much more interesting as he grew in incoherence and inaccuracy. I only wish that he had continued the attack, which lent some brightness to an otherwise dull speech.
§ Mr. Mathers
Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman reacts favourably to inaccuracy and incoherence?
§ Mr. Williams
It is always more interesting to listen to. From some points of view I think that all of us feel a little inclined at the moment to support any Bill which restricts the hours of labour. Common to a large number of hon. Members, I left this building at 2.45 this morning and I got back at 10.45. Therefore, I did not have that 11 hours unbroken absence from work which is laid down in Section 3 of the Act which it is proposed to amend.
§ Mr. Williams
The ordinary Labour Member does not do anything in the Recess, but some of us have to earn our living and that makes a difference. In the eight hours before I came here this morning I had had bed and breakfast and done a reasonable day's work. This Bill is legislation by reference in one of its worst forms. In good faith I raised a point of Order with Mr. Speaker, but he ruled that it was not a valid point. Nevertheless, it is a valid point of complaint that we have a Bill which professes to amend all sorts of Acts of Parliament. It amends, in fact, only one, and that is an Act relating wholly to young persons. 799 What is the history of the Act of 1934? A Select Committee took a long period to examine the problem of regulating even the hours of young people in shops. It was only after that long investigation, to which all parties made their contribution, that there was presented to Parliament a Bill which, after an exhaustive examination by a Standing Committee, became law in the Act of 1934. In the Debates a protest was made that two years would elapse after it became law before it came into operation. That provision was not inserted as a joke, but as a recognition of the real practical difficulties which exist, all of which have been ignored in the speeches of the Mover and Seconder this morning. They have not attempted in the slightest degree to face them.
The Seconder of the Motion drew attention to the fact that, except for coal miners and, to a limited extent, road transport workers, Parliament has never passed any legislation restricting the hours of adult male workers. Parliament has had majorities of all sorts and administrations of all sorts, but with these two exceptions it has never passed legislation attempting to regulate statutorily the hours of adults. That is not mere chance. It is a recognition of the great difficulties. Let us take the one outstanding case in which the hours of adults were regulated by Act of Parliament—the coal miners. What was the result? I say without the slightest hesitation that the result was the dispute of 1926—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Certainly, and the solution was an amendment of the Act. That remains in operation to-day, and the party opposite have not attempted to alter it although there were two years during which they might have done it. It was that disaster which produced the Special Areas, and the prolonged disputes created the conditions which have reduced employment in coal mining by nearly 400,000 persons—[Hon. Members: "No!"] It is a fact. The 1919, the 1921 and the 1926 disputes and all the endless disputes in South Wales have contributed——
§ Mr. T. Smith
Surely the hon. Member will recall that what caused the 1921 stoppage was the fact that this House decontrolled the mines six months before the Act of Parliament said they should be decontrolled, while the disasters of our 800 policy at Versailles and reparations caused the decrease in the export trade in coal.
§ Mr. Williams
The fact was that the rest of the nation was not prepared to go on subsidising a particular industry. The export price of coal fell from 120s. to 30s. in three months. All this was a sequel to the Commission of 1919 and the legislation which followed.
I am satisfied that if the Party opposite were in office they would not be presenting this Bill to-day. Let us examine their record; it is a bit murky on this subject. In the early days of June, 1929, a distinguished Civil servant, who, I understand, wrote that poetical effusion on National Service, was instructed by the newly-appointed Minister of Labour, Miss Margaret Bond field, to announce at Geneva that we would ratify the Washington Hours Convention. Two years went by and it was not ratified by the hon. Gentlemen opposite. Why did they not ratify? Because they knew of the hampering effect on British industry of this Convention. Then they abused this party for not doing what they had been afraid to do, though they had two years in which to do it. It is all very well introducing such Bills as this on a Friday morning instead of making good use of the time by introducing a small Bill which had some chance of becoming law. Instead of doing that, hon. Members opposite introduce a Bill which has no hope of being passed, in the hope of gaining a few votes at the next general election by misleading people. That is their real object. When we legislated in 1934 it was after an exhaustive inquiry because of the recognition of the difficulties of the problem.
I am a little surprised that this Bill should be introduced when an inquiry has been taking place in which there has participated presumably, the trade union of which the Mover is the distinguished ex-secretary. I am told that some 30 organisations of retail workers and five trade unions have been engaged in a joint conference examining this problem. I hear that the report of the conference is likely to be published in a few days, if not to-day. Unless the intelligence system of his union has deteriorated since he ceased to be the secretary, the hon. Member must have been aware of these negotiations, and if he was aware of them it is an extraordinary thing to try to cut 801 right across them. It seems very much like going behind the back of the present secretary and his old colleagues.
§ Mr. Leslie
I am not introducing this Bill without the full knowledge of the executive of my union. The committee mentioned have been sitting for three years. I think three years is too long. We want something before this Government goes out of office.
§ Mr. Williams
On the ground that there is no hope from your own party? Well, that is a frank admission that the only conceivable hope is from this side of the House. I did not know that the Popular Front was so completely broken, but where are all the hon. and right hon. Members who represent the co-operative societies? They are all missing to-day. [Hon. Members: "No."] Well, nearly all. All the outstanding ones, the ones who take the most prominent part.
§ Mr. Jagger
I resent the suggestion that my hon. Friend here is not a distinguished representative. I assure you that he is.
§ Mr. Williams
I thought he did not belong to the Popular Front, that he was just an ordinary Labour Member. On what lines is this country proceeding to try to relieve the oppressive burdens which afflicted shop assistants in pre-War days? I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is not here, because he has played a most notable part as president of the Early Closing Association. I should like to pay him that tribute, because of the immense social work he has done in that direction. The view was taken that if we restricted the hours during which shops could be opened we should make the greatest possible contribution to the solution of this problem. First of all the departed Lady D.O.R.A. restrictions were applied, and later those restrictions were embodied in what was, I think, the Shops Act, 1922, but even that Act had to be modified. The pressure of public opinion following upon the report of either a Departmental Committee or a Select Committee led Mrs. Hilton Philips on to present a Bill in 1928 for some relaxation of the restrictions.
That was the outcome of the overwhelming pressure of public opinion, because in our earnest desire to remove burdens falling upon shop assistants we 802 had gone beyond what the public were willing to submit to. All who were in the House at the time remember the great difficulties we had in trying to deal with all the different problems arising from the sale of commodities which people insist upon demanding at hours which, unfortunately, have the effect of imposing hours of labour longer than many of us would like to see. It is only two years since one of my hon. Friends, Member for one of the East Coast towns, introduced a Bill to restrict Sunday trading. Obviously, Sunday trading is a feature which imposes burdens upon shop assistants. I was one of the supporters of that Bill, and I am not certain that I was not one of its backers. I was not on the Standing Committee which considered it, but we all know the endless difficulties encountered in getting a solution of even that problem.
Therefore, it is absurd for an hon. Member to bring before the House a Bill which has not one original word of text, which is entirely legislation by reference. It is going to apply to well over 1,500,000 people those provisions of the Act of 1934 which, after the most difficult investigations, were worked out to apply to some 300,000 or 400,000 persons under 18 years of age without any consideration of the different circumstances which apply to adults. The hon. Member proposes to do the whole thing by merely replacing the words "young persons" by the word "person". Honestly I do not think that is fair to the House, and the ordinary man in the street reading the Bill would not have the faintest idea of what it meant, without a reference to the very much larger document which I have here. I suggest that in the matter of regulating the hours of adult labour the best method is to proceed by agreement, in order that while endeavouring to relieve the burdens of shop assistants we may yet preserve the facilities which the public will continue to demand.
What is the practical problem? It is the demand of some people to make their purchases round about the time they are going to work, and the needs of other people to make purchases round about the time they are going home. As a result of the general reduction in the hours of labour in factories from the 52 or 54 hours a week which prevailed in pre-war days to the present 47 hours the 803 industrial worker now leaves home rather later in the morning and gets home rather earlier in the evening than in the days when I was an apprentice, and when we had the 9½ hours day. That has simplified to some extent the problem of shopping hours, but it is still the case that if we are to meet the needs of the people the effective hours of work in shops must in many cases be more than 48. The position is easy in those districts where the bulk of the shopping is done by people who are comfortably placed. That is why it is much easier to have these restricted hours in what are called the fashionable shopping centres. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion made the statement that the co-operative people have a 48-hour week and sometimes a 44-hour week. That statement was made when the debates were taking place on the 1934 Bill, but it had to be modified. It was discovered that every day there was a little overtime before the shop opened.
§ Mr. Jagger
May I enlighten the hon. Member? It is a 48-hour week or a 44-hour week. There is a provision that if the employé works 16 minutes or more he is paid overtime. There is a possibility that a man may not go home when his 48 hours are up, and if he stays more than 15 minutes after he will be paid; but his contract is finished at the end of the 44 or 48 hours.
§ Mr. Jagger
I know it is difficult to make things clear to the hon. Member in the best of circumstances, and when he has been up most of the night and has not read the papers the position is not easier. I said that it might be possible 804 that some person somewhere might stop between one minute and fifteen minutes, but it does not follow that anybody does stop.
§ Mr. Williams
In actual practice most of them do about an extra 15 minutes a day. [Interruption.] We shall be able to have some more elucidation on the subject now that the popular front has been restored. What is the problem that is causing anxiety to many people? If you walk through the main shopping streets of any town you find that there are a few large stores and a vast number of multiple shops, some belonging to private firms and some to co-operative societies, and the individual trader, who in the past has played an important part in our social life, is being crushed out. If this Bill passes in its present form, I think, the shopping needs of the public can be met in many cases only by the introduction of a shift system, which seems to me to be a difficult problem and which is certainly going to make an addition to the costs of distribution, which are already high. I think that is inevitable. The introduction of a shift system will add to the costs of distribution. So far as the smaller shop-keeper is concerned, the man who does not employ many people, the shift system will be impossible, and therefore the pressure on the smaller shopkeeper will be even greater than it is now and to a still greater extent shall we see his elimination.
One of the things that perturb all of us is the enhancement of retail prices to a greater extent than the enhancement of wholesale prices, compared with pre-War days. The hon. Member for West-houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies) supplies part of the answer some three or four years ago. I have a note here to remind him of the fact. He said that the public are demanding from the distributive trades a greater degree of service than was the case in the old days.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
Is it not true as well that, because of the derating of industrial undertakings, the rates have fallen on shops and cottages instead?
§ Mr. Williams
That is not the explanation which the right hon. Gentleman gave. So far as derating is concerned, as the whole amount of the loss of rates was 805 made good by the new Exchequer contribution, and as the new Exchequer contribution not only covered the total loss by derating but an extra £5,000,000 as well, and as the Exchequer contribution is revised every five years so as to preserve the proportions of rate-borne and grant-borne expenditure, there is not much validity in that argument except to the extent that, in those local authorities in particular where the Labour party are in a substantial measure of control, the extravagance is so great that rates have increased. It is not only the Labour party that is extravagant. I find it in boroughs controlled by my own party. [Hon. Members: Croydon.] I said so in Croydon. I had the courage to criticise my own local authority.
The hon. Member for West Houghton said this increased cost of distribution was largely the result of the increased demand for service on the part of customers. I do not know whether people realise how great that has been. In June last, according to the December issue of the Ministry of Labour Gazette, which publishes figures of the number of insured persons in work in each industry, there were 1,900,000 insured shop assistants between 16 and 65 in employment. That entirely ignores those who at that moment were registered as unemployed. That was an increase of no less than 64.5 per cent. since 1923. It is manifest that between 1923 and 1938 the quantity of good distributed has not increased by 64.5 per cent. or anything like it, and therefore the number of people now used to distribute a given quantity of goods has risen, and that is one of the causes of the undue enhancement of retail prices as compared with wholesale. Whether this Bill is good or bad, it will add still further to the cost of distribution. The party opposite are very inclined to scream about the cost of living. They are bringing forward a Bill which, whatever its merits may be, is certainly going to increase the cost of living. It is going to increase the cost of service, of necessity.
§ Mr. Jagger
Is the hon. Member overlooking the fact that at least 40 per cent. of the trade is doing it now?
§ Mr. Williams
Not 40 per cent. A section of the large stores are doing it. The co-operative societies are doing it 806 with a certain amount of overtime, which is paid for after 15 minutes. The first 15 minutes of overtime the employés work for nothing. [Interruption.] The hon. Member spent most of his time not quarrelling with private enterprise shop-keepers but with co-operative societies.
§ Mr. Jagger
Again the hon. Member is misinformed. We have had one trifling strike during the last ten years.
§ Mr. Williams
I do not know why it is that the newspapers that I read—I read newspapers of every complexion—seem to have reported to me a great deal of unrest from time to time, more particularly in the North-West part of the country. It is no good telling us that there has not been a great deal of friction between the Union and the co-operative societies.
§ Mr. Jagger
I told you there had been only one small strike—it lasted two days—during the last 10 years. The hon. Member represented that it was an everyday occurrence.
§ Mr. Williams
I did not say anything of the kind. As a matter of fact the bulk of the members of the organisation that the hon. Member represents are employed by co-operative societies. That is his main grievance, that for some reason he does not enjoy the same respect amongst the privately-owned shops as amongst the collectively-owned shops. It is a subject of great perturbation to him. A little time ago we used to hear a great deal about the desirability of introducing into industry the 40-hour week. That agitation has dropped——
§ Mr. Williams
——because of the incredible disaster brought to France through its operation, and hon. Members opposite know it—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—They would not introduce a Bill to give effect to it if they were in office.
§ Mr. Williams
Well, what about New Zealand? It is no good for hon. Members when they are in a position of irresponsibility professing the things that they would do when they are in office, because when they are in office they do not do them, and that is why I think a party ought to endeavour—I know it is not entirely easy—to set the same standard out of office as when in office—not to have two policies. Their complete failure to honour their declared intentions in respect to the Washington Hours Convention really describes the whole of their attitude on this question to-day. We want to have full elucidation in due course as to why co-operative societies do not pay for the first 15 minutes of overtime. As we now have the privilege of the presence of the right hon. Member for Hills-borough (Mr. A. V. Alexander), who after all does control some 25 per cent. of this trade—he often tells us of the £300,000,000 of turnover per annum, an amazing figure, and of course the Cooperatives sell a little cheaper than would otherwise be the case owing to the fact that they do not pay for the first 15 minutes' overtime—no doubt he will contribute to this discussion in order that this point may be completely elucidated.
Mr. A. V.Alexander
One is attracted by the irrelevancies of the hon. Member. As I have spoken rather a lot this week, I did not wish to speak to-day, but I am not going to evade the point. Only about 5 per cent. of the employés outside the co-operative movement in the distributive trade are in a trade union now. My second point is that co-operative agreements as to conditions and wages are on a trade union platform. Thirdly, on the average co-operative employés in the distributive trade enjoy minimum wages, in the case of adults, from 10s. to £2 5s. od. per week more than the best wages paid by their competitors. Lastly, the arrangements as to overtime are universal in an hours' agreement negotiated between employers and the trade union.
§ Mr. Williams
I am very glad to have that valuable contribution, but the right hon. Gentleman has still not told us why the first 15 minutes of overtime is not paid for; he did not answer the fundamental question that I put. As many 808 right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are anxious to speak in this Debate I move the Amendment without any further words.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Fleming
I beg to second the Amendment.
The Amendment has been ably and pleasantly moved by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams). I was very interested indeed in the speech of the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, but I am afraid he rather spoiled the effect of it by his rather untimely interjection whilst my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon was on his feet When I heard him say, referring to his own friends on the other side of the House, "We want something before this Government goes out," I thought that no matter how long I lived I should never hear a more honest expression of the ineptitude of the Party opposite. I know, of course, that the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill is a Manchester Member and that one of the leading spirits in the National Union of Distributive Trades and Allied Workers is my chief constituent and sits on the Opposition Front Bench.
I know very well that those two gentlemen would not agree with the statement of the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, because in the last eight years while I have been in this House the hon. Member for West-houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies) has been telling all my constituents that if only they would turn me out, with my friends here, and put him and his friends into power, they would show us how the country ought to be run. But unfortunately for hon. Members opposite, in Manchester and Lancashire generally were member very well the great Margaret Bond field in the days before the Labour Party took office. We remember very well how she was used throughout the length and breadth of Lancashire as a spokesman—in favour of what? Chiefly shorter hours. I heard her several times. When she became Minister of Labour every one of us living in Lancashire who had heard her—I have great respect for her abilities—gave her credit for one thing, that she would at least attempt to put into operation the Washington Hours 809 Convention. She did nothing whatever on that very matter about which she had spoken so often.
This Bill, of course, is an attempt to deal with the subject in a very small detail referring to the working hours of shop assistants. I was interested in the speech of the Mover of the Second reading when he spoke of the hours of shop assistants as ranging up to 66 per week. I know that that statement is true, and every one on this side of the House knows it is true. But when the hon. Member twitted us about our concern for the small trader, why did he not grant us at least this—that we are honest in our defence of the small trader? The hon. Member for Westhoughton knows very well that the majority of the traders in my division are small traders. He does not represent them, of course; he represents his own workers in the co-operative movement mainly, his distributive and allied workers, as well as other people in the constituency of Westhoughton. But I am speaking of my own division, and he sits there to represent the distributive and allied workers in the co-operative movement as regards this Bill. He knows very well that in my division the majority of the workers in the distributive trades are employed by small shopkeepers. There are one or two large shops, but there are no big multiple shops in my division yet, and I hope there never will be. But these small traders, some of them personal friends of mine, some of them ex-service men, what does the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) say about them.
§ Mr. Leslie
What I did say about the small traders was that if they did employ assistants we objected to their exploiting them.
§ Mr. Fleming
I was coming to the point of what the hon. Member said about the small trader. I was looking at him when he said, "If the small trader wishes to exploit his assistants he must go." That was the statement with which he ended. I could not help thinking of a gentleman in Germany, whom he resembles somewhat, Adolf Hitler, because of the way he said "They must go."
§ Mr. Fleming
If every other member of the Labour Party takes what I have said as an insult, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) certainly does not, for I have never seen an insulted person smile so pleasantly. When he used those words, "He must go," he reminded me very much of the German sergeant-major who got tired of his men and said to them, "Geh' weg!"—"Go away!" I sincerely hope that the hon. Member will not follow the example of Adolf Hitler, because I remember that when, after the War I went to revisit Germany, Adolf Hitler had always the same idea as——
§ Mr. Fleming
I was really only referring to one foreign personage, of whom I am reminded by the hon. Member opposite. The hon. Member says that this Bill would not affect the small trader who does not employ assistants, and I agree, but there are many small traders in my Division who each employ one assistant. Only a fortnight ago one of these shop-keepers was putting to me his own particular case. I know it is wrong to argue from the particular to the general, but it is done by hon. Members opposite. His case was that if this Bill came into operation, and there was a restriction of working hours without some regulation of hours of opening and closing, he would either have to employ some extra assistants, which he could not afford, or would have to give his assistant two or three hours off in the afternoon and carry on himself during that time.
§ Mr. Leslie
The shopkeepers have that matter in their own hands. They can apply for a closing order, and, if they get it for seven o'clock, they can work the 48 hours in quite well. They know that.
§ Mr. Fleming
I am dealing with things as they are in my division. If this Bill came into force before there was any closing order, there is no doubt that that man would have to do something to readjust his business. He is an ex-service man. He is just making ends meet, but he has his own business, and does not want to work for anybody else. He would not, however, be able to carry on, but would be driven out of business. That, of course, would not worry the hon. Member, because he said that such a small trader must go. I spoke to the assistant, and he said he would not like to work the split shift system—a phrase which I never heard before. That is one example of the difficulties that will be caused to the small traders in my Division.
This matter has been considered, through their organisations, by the employers and employés who are actually engaged in these retail trades, and they handed to the Press a report of the conclusions at which they have arrived. It shows that that particular conference was attended by representatives of some 25 employers' federations and of six associations of employés, namely, the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, the National Union of Distributive and Allied Workers, the Transport and General Workers' Union, the Retail Book, Stationery and Allied Trades Employés' Association, the Journeymen Butchers' Federation and the Clerks' Union. There fore, there was a representative body of organisations looking after the interests of the employés, and that is what interests me most in the report, because the Mover and Seconder of the Bill are connected with the first two of the employés' organisations on this list. To what conclusion did they come? Did they come to the conclusion that the matter should be dealt with by the method which this Bill would involve, according to my interpretation of it as a possible Statute? I am casting no reflection on those who drafted the Bill, because I know, in spite of what my hon. Friend said, that the statement of the Opposition is true that very few people read Statutes. But, whoever was employed by the Shop Assistants' Union or the National Union of Distributive and Allied Workers to draft the Bill, it is extraordinary——
§ Mr. Leslie
I would remind the hon. and learned Member that this committee considered a scheme and submitted it to the Ministry of Labour last year. He took several months to consider it, and has now rejected it. Another scheme has been submitted to him, but we do not know whether he will accept it or not, or whether or not the Government will translate it into legislation. Why should we wait?
§ Mr. Fleming
According to the Shop Assistants' Union, at any rate, this is a matter of great urgency, and they simply do not trust the Government to do anything in the matter. That is an old cry, and my amazement will be understood when the hon. Gentleman, in an interjection, said that he relied on this Government to do something.
§ Mr. Leslie
Both the hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) took me up wrongly. I was dealing with time. I said they had taken three years, and we wanted to do it before they went out.
§ Mr. Fleming
The clear impression that was conveyed to me by what the hon. Member said was that he expected the Government to do something. He does not expect the Government to do anything on this report, and it is there that he and I disagree, because I expect the Government to do something on these lines, not only for the distributive and allied workers, but for those in other trades also—on the lines, not of strict, inelastic regulations, but of some elastic method of dealing with these problems, not only in these particular trades, but in other trades, like the cotton trade, with which the Government are making a gallant attempt to deal. In dealing with the national distributive industry, the same tremendous complications would be experienced as the Government have found in dealing with the textile industry; and such a complicated trade cannot be dealt with in a tiny Bill like this. I congratulate the hon. Member on attempting to do so, but I have enough confidence in the Government to know that when they do receive the actual report they will take action on it.
The report I am looking at now is not evidence; it is obtained from the "Daily Express"—which, in spite of what hon. 813 Members opposite may say, is a paper that does oppose the Government. This report suggests that the distributive trades should be dealt with by a national distributive trade council, speaking for the whole of the organised trades; and that the committees appointed for the different areas should deal with their own local problems, and the regional results be co-ordinate by the national council. That is exactly what we want done in the cotton trade of Lancashire. I agree entirely with that principle, if it would work, and I am willing to give it a trial. I am also willing to give the idea of a national distributive trades council a trial, because it is far better that these difficulties in regard to wages, hours and conditions of shop assistants, which I know exist, should be dealt with that way.
I shall support the Government if they take any action on the lines adumbrated in this report, as it appears in the "Daily Express," but I cannot support this Bill, because I know it touches only the fringe of the matter of hours, which is not the chief complaint of the shop assistants; their chief complaint is about wages. They are just as ambitious as I was when I first started at the Bar in Manchester. I did not worry about the hours I worked; what I worried about was the amount I was going to make. Reference has also been made to France. I went over to France in June, 1937, when M. Blum was in power. I spoke to the working people there, not in English but in their own language, and attended their unions. I found that every one of the French ex-service men was like the British ex-service men. They were not worrying about a 40-hour week but about having a decent week's work with a decent week's wage. The main concern of the men with whom I come mainly in contact—that is, the ex-service men—is wages. This Bill does not even pretend to touch that problem. Therefore, I support the Amendment.
§ 12.41 p.m.
§ Mrs. Hardie
I support this Bill as one who has spent practically all her working life in shops. I am not going to argue that the conditions of those employed in shops have not improved considerably since I went to work as a shop assistant, but, on the other hand, I am not one of those old folk who tell young people that they are well off compared with us 814 when we first went to work, and that, therefore, they ought to be content. There is still a great deal of overwork in many of the big stores to-day. All the arguments that have been brought against this Bill have been used on any occasion when we sought to affect any improvement in shop life. One point that was put, and that was evidently thought to be a good argument, was with reference to the coal miners after the reduction in the number of their working hours. It was said that that reduction had worked very badly. I believe that if any section of people ought to have short hours it is the coal miners. Four or five hours a day is enough to spend in digging coal. But there is a difference, in this connection, between productive work and non-productive work. If a miner stops working no coal is being produced by him, and there is a definite reduction in the amount produced, which is bound to put up the price. If you shorten the distributive workers' hours, the worst that can happen is that people cannot go into shops just when they wish to.
When I first worked in a shop we were employed for 12 hours a day for six days a week, and people still thought that shops were not open long enough. When I was closing the shop at 11 o'clock, somebody would come in and say, "You are closing very sharp on time." It is only a question of organisation. The working class movement has never had any representations from organised bodies of working people—or unorganised working people, for that matter—that they have found any difficulty in shopping during the present hours. But, while the shop hours have been reduced, a pernicious habit of working overtime has grown up. In the old days we could not work overtime, because there were no more hours for us to work. We used to dress our windows during the day; now the shop assistants in many places are expected to dress the windows at night. Some play was made by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) with the 15 minutes' work outside shop hours in co-operative stores, but every shop assistant has to do a little tidying up after the shop closes; no one objects to that. Shop assistants are really interested in their work, and in keeping the stocks tidy. They have to put the goods away, and that takes perhaps 10 or 15 minutes. We object to 815 the practice of dressing windows and stocktaking, and also of making up orders for the next day, which is a very common practice after the shops have closed.
The conditions in shops are often very bad for the health point of view. Take some of the very up-to-date stores, and look at the conditions there. Shop assistants work in artificial light, and perhaps the air is very bad. There is the growth of bargain basements, a very common feature of shop life in London. There one often finds that the shop assistants are working in terrible air. I am a pretty healthy person, and I have got used to the not very grand air in the House of Commons, but I cannot stay for more than a few minutes in these bargain basements because I begin to feel very faint. I have often said to assistants, "What a terrible atmosphere in which to have to work." On the other hand, there are the young men, and sometimes young women, who work in the grocery stores. During the terribly cold spell I used to feel exceedingly sorry for some of the young people working in the grocery stores. There are marble counters and everything is kept dead cold. There is no heat whatever in those shops, the reason being, I suppose, that they want to keep the provisions fresh. I know that that is a difficulty.
§ Mr. Fleming
That very difficulty cropped up in my Division in a shop that was being run by a lady, and the thing she sold was tripe. Under the regulations, sponsored in every case by Labour people on the Manchester City Council, she was required to put an electric stove in her shop. What for? To turn the tripe rotten, I suppose.
§ Mrs. Hardie
This is a question of whether the health of the shop assistants should come before the preservation of the goods that are sold. It is only a question of value. I contend that if it is necessary to keep a shop cold so as to preserve the provisions, the worker in the store should have shorter hours. [Interruption.] I did not interrupt the hon. and learned Member. That is what I learnt not to do in shop life. We had to learn patience, forbearance and to suffer fools gladly. It is usual to plead for young women because they are not supposed to be as strong as young men, but 816 I do not agree. More boys and young men die than young women, and, after all, the young women very often escape shop life by getting married, but the young man has to look forward to spending the whole of his life in the calling he takes up. Some of these shops are little better than ice boxes. The assistants have not only to work the hours during which the shops are open, but they have to make up orders at night after the shops have closed. On a Friday night after closing time one sees the stores lit up inside. The shop assistants are kept working late in butchers' shops and grocery stores in order to make up the orders for delivery the following day. There you have a grievance. That is not the small shop-keeper.
§ Mrs. Hardie
I refer to the big multiple stores, where assistants are kept working late. They do not get overtime pay for it. Apart from the co-operative stores, I do not think that any shopkeeper ever pays for overtime. We used to get 6d. allowed for tea if we were kept working late. Assistants may have some tea provided for them, but they are not as a rule paid for overtime. There you have the two extremes—the heat in the drapery stores, and the chill in the grocery stores. If these conditions are necessary in order to carry on these businesses, the hours of the shopworkers ought to be limited. We have heard of the cost of limiting the hours of the shopworker. We suggest that the profits that are being made in shop life would permit of some increase in costs towards improving the conditions of the shopworkers. When I was in shop life the system was that of a big turnover. Every shopkeeper was keen upon having a big turnover. He would often reduce his prices for the sake of having a big sale, but the War taught the shopkeeper a new angle with regard to making profit. He learnt that it paid him well to have bigger profits on a smaller turnover, and we have never got back to the old system of keeping the profits at a low figure.
The profits in the distributive trades to-day are higher than ever before. I know that because of what is said by people employed in the distributive trades who know exactly what profits are made upon the particular goods they sell. That is why we have high prices. In view of 817 the large profits that are made to-day, the big stores could quite well afford to give a 40-hour week. We have been told, when Bills have been before this House and we have been agitating for better conditions, that the small shopkeeper would have preferred the reduction of hours without the closing of the shops, that it was the big shops which for economic reasons wanted the small shops to come into line. I am convinced that the very few small shopkeepers could organise their businesses so as to give their workers a 40-hour week. The increase in overtime is a very bad thing, especially when it is realised that there are so many unemployed distributive workers. It is part of the system under which we live that we have numbers of men and women unemployed in certain trades and others working far too many hours. I hope that the Government will support this Bill and do something to improve the conditions of this very deserving class of worker.
§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Higgs
Hon. Members, I think, on both sides of the House have one factor in common, and that is, that we are not satisfied with the conditions that exist in the shops at the present moment. I am in possession of the report which has been discussed this morning, and there are two or three points in it to which I would like to refer. The opening paragraph says:We are of the opinion that the regulations of wages, hours and conditions of employment, in the retail distributive trades in particular, should be under a scheme subject to statutory enforcement on the following lines.I should very much like to see the negotiations carried through without statutory enforcement, if possible. On the other hand, we all know the complications of this particular industry and that probably there is an exception where statutory enforcement may be necessary. With that exception, I contribute absolutely to the findings contained in this report. I would refer the House to another paragraph:The proposed functions of the National Council—(a) a definition of areas for wage proposals, (b) the relation of weekly working hours to wage rates fixed by trade committees, and overtime rates, (c) the relation of wage scales to particular ages or years of service, (d) indentured apprentices, learners and subnormal labour, (e) holidays with pay, (f) any 818 other questions referred to by trade committees and any question referred to by the Minister.A report of that description is very complete, and I am under the impression that if the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) had known that the report was to be presented about the time that he was introducing the Bill, he would not have selected this Bill. I appreciate the fact that he has brought the matter forward with good intentions. On the other hand, it is very undesirable to institute patchwork legislation of this description. He has complained about the time that it has taken to produce the report, and there is probably justification for that complaint, but there is no justification for going on with the Bill now that we are in possession of the report.
Wages, hours and working conditions must all be considered at the same time. It is no good selecting one factor. Working conditions are equally as important as wages and hours. My experience is that it is not shorter hours the worker wants but, generally speaking, greater reward for his labour. That is a very justifiable desire. I am sure the average worker is not desirous of being limited to working 48 hours. I have had considerable experience in that direction and I find that even women are prepared to work 54 or 56 hours, year in and year out, without fatigue, provided they are properly remunerated for their labour. The remuneration should be in proportion to the hours worked, and overtime should be paid after a given period of probably 48 hours a week.
If we reduce the hours by legislation there arises the question how the leisure is to be used. Young people and old people want occupation. Occupation gives them satisfaction. It is not compulsory reduction of hours of labour that gives satisfaction. One hon. Member opposite intervened in the Debate and asked, "What about New Zealand?" How is it possible to compare a country like New Zealand, which has a population little greater than that of Birmingham, with a country many times greater in population? New Zealand is a young, progressive country, but when we refer to the economic conditions of New Zealand, they do not approach the economic conditions of this country at the present time. They have a regulated controlled exchange, and we have not. Probably 819 for that reason the 40-hour week in New Zealand has contributed to the uneconomic conditions in that country.
If the hours of the shop assistant were reduced to a considerable extent, it would create the necessity for casual labour, which would be a very undesirable procedure. Conditions differ very much in different districts. The conditions in the West End of London are very different from those which exist in West Birmingham, the Division which I have the honour to represent. One hon. Member referred to the small shopkeeper and made a very excellent case about the difficulties that would arise for the small shopkeeper who employs one or two assistants. When there is only one assistant the shopkeeper would lose 100 per cent. of his staff. Can anyone suggest that a large store could continue if it lost the assistance of 100 per cent. of its staff?
Some solution of the problem might be found by staggering the days of pay. We attempt to stagger holidays and hours of labour in order to facilitate transport, and I think that if the days of pay were staggered it might contribute to a solution of the problem. The shops exist for the public, and not particularly for the shop assistants. My sympathies are, however, with the shop assistants. I want to see conditions of labour improved, and I am sure this House wishes that to be done, but not by patchwork legislation of this description. A 48-hour week is worked in many of the large shops, and I would point out that a large number of shops pay time and a half for overtime worked beyond 48 hours. That is the type of agreement we ought to come to by mutual consent and not by the force of legislation. The majority of industries have succeeded in negotiating hours of labour by mutual agreement between the employers' federations and the trades unions, and I do not think it is an impossible proposition when we come to consider shop assistants. I do, however, concede the point to hon. Members opposite that the problem is far more complicated and difficult than it is, for instance, in the engineering industry. I believe that at the present time there are only about 30 per cent. of the employers who subscribe to a trade organisation.
The cost of reducing the hours of labour has been referred to. I do not agree with 820 that line of argument. If the working conditions are not satisfactory, I do not think that we can take into consideration the cost of remedying them. Industrial conditions have been improved considerably in the factories by the introduction of the Factories Act, and the shop assistants should at least benefit through legislation or mutual agreement to the same extent that their brothers and sisters in the factories benefit by Acts of Parliament or mutual legislation. I do not agree with systematic overtime not being paid for. The desire of the worker is for just reward for a fair day's work, not a compulsory reduction of working hours.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield said that 96 per cent. of the people work over a 48-hour week. I do not think that 96 per cent. are to-day working over 48 hours a week. The hon. Member read a number of letters, but they did not mean anything compared with the 2,000,000 people who are employed in shops, the majority of whom want full employment but want a just reward for that employment. I should like to see this matter settled by collective bargaining in the manner that other industries have been able to settle their differences, on the lines of the Report which has been submitted; but if it cannot be done by mutual consent, then I would apply statutory enforcement.
§ 1.4 p.m.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I have listened to many speeches during the comparatively short time I have been in this House, but there is one phrase that has just been used by the hon. Member which will always remain in my memory, because it indicates the feeling of hon. Members opposite on this subject. He said that he knew women who worked for 50 and 55 hours a week and never complained.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I can only suggest that the hon. Member has not been fortunate to have had a friendly talk with these women. He has seen them only at work on their knees, scrubbing floors in shops and offices, and not complaining. If he had mixed with these people, if he had tried to understand their lives, he could never have said that women are willing to work these long hours and never want rest. Does the hon. Member suggest that because a woman is a worker 821 she does not think or feel the want of the same leisure which the hon. Member himself has, and which his wife and family have? Frankly, I am surprised that the Government can find in the year 1939 supporters of an Amendment of this kind. It is significant that so far they have found only three. We expected the contribution of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams). He is at least consistent; he always opposes progress. So far I have heard no rational opposition to a 48-hour week. Hon. Members have said that it is going to be extremely difficult to put into operation.
I am reminded of a struggle in which I have taken part during the last few weeks. We have been trying to get a 48-hour week for nurses in the employ of local authorities, and we have had people like the hon. Members opposite, men and women with highly technical experience, who have said that it could not be operated; it was a reform which simply could not be brought into being because it was impossible to carry it into effect. We have waived them aside and put the condition of the nurses first. We have instituted a 48-hour week, and the public services have adapted themselves to it. The Jeremiahs have discovered that a 48-hour week has not only brought happiness to the people, but increased efficiency in their work and given them a better service. It may be that the conditions of shop-workers does not evoke much sympathy. Most of us meet the shop worker across the counter, and we find he or she invariably pleasant and courteous. As the hon. lady said in her brilliant speech just now, they have to be courteous because they know that if they show any signs of fatigue they may lose their jobs.
We have been told that most of us are approaching this matter from some particular angle. We have been told that the co-operatives have their own particular axe to grind, and that Members who represent the Shop Assistants' Union want to discuss the matter from their point of view. The hon. Member for South Croydon—I think we know what interests he represents. They are the interests of reaction, and we can always observe them in whatever speech he makes. He talks about local expenditure and how he is trying to reduce the rates and at the same time impair the social services. I have no hesitation in saying that I approach this 822 question from my own particular angle. A good deal of my life is concerned in dealing with the end products of industry. I am thinking of young hairdressers—there are 50,000 of them at least. I see the Parliamentary Secretary smiling. I am not talking about the hairdresser we meet in the hairdressers' shops, but of those I meet in the surgery. When I meet them in the hairdressers' cubicle I am appalled at the conditions under which they are forced to work for 60 hours a week in an ill-ventilated cubicle, a stuffy atmosphere, and are expected to be able to discourse pleasantly on the events of the day. I wonder how it is possible to maintain what is more or less a bedside manner for 60 hours a week.
I am mindful of girls and boys who have to work in basement shops. We deplore the fact that many people have to live in basements, but by not supporting this Bill hon. Members will be condemning young men and women to work for 50 and 60 hours a week in basements, and they will then, probably, have to go home to sleep in a basement. Another abuse is the fact that girls and boys are cooped up in those little places called cash desks. I am called a bad shopper because I invariably take what is given to me. I do not want to keep the suffering assistant waiting too long. But when I go to the cash desk in order to pay and see them cooped up for 50 hours a week in it, I reflect that if the Zoo kept animals cooped up for that length of time per week the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals would bring some action. This is a reform which, in my opinion, is long overdue. It surely should have the sympathy of the whole House. I have examined the statistics of approved societies, and I find that there are numberless shop assistants who are certified as suffering from nervous exhaustion.
We cannot say, and we do not intend to say, that shop assistants suffer from any specific disease as a result of their conditions, in the same way, as the miners can say that miners are suffering from silicosis as a result of their occupation. But I have analysed the figures and I find that shop-assistants, in fact, do suffer from all sorts of complaints which tend to make life almost unendurable. Nervous exhaustion is the result of long hours, a vitiated atmosphere and an inadequate diet, and doctors, because they cannot 823 call these symptoms by any particular disease, put "nervous exhaustion". I am reminded of the worst case of varicose veins I have ever seen, a most pathetic case, a woman aged 50 who had stood for over 35 years in a shop and had been promoted to be supervisor. I examined this poor woman and prescribed treatment which necessitated rest. She said, "I cannot possibly do it. I am 50 years of age and you are going to give me a certificate which will show my employer that I am no longer fit for my job. I must go on." This poor woman's fear was that she would be replaced by a younger woman. I sent that woman back, and I was thinking of her when an hon. Member opposite said that women of 50 and 55 years of age are working without complaining. That woman had never complained in that shop in her life, and I sent her back to stand there in a condition which meant unendurable agony, until she was dismissed because she could no longer continue.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
May I ask the hon. lady whether she prescribed the usual modern treatment for varicose veins?
§ Dr. Summerskill
It would be extremely nice if the hon. Member for South Croydon would refrain from making these interjections and look upon this Debate as a serious discussion of the conditions of suffering people.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. lady's contribution to the Debate was to describe the circumstances of a lady suffering from varicose veins.
§ Mr. Williams
I did not raise the question of varicose veins. I merely asked whether the hon. lady prescribed the usual modern treatment for varicose veins.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The only thing I would prescribe for the hon. Member for South Croydon is euthanasia. Perhaps he will look the word up, and see what it means. I know that these things from which the workers are suffering may appear to hon. Members opposite to be a subject for jokes. I quite understand that, because hon. Members opposite have never been in contact with that side of life; and I quite realise that they may 824 think that on this side we exaggerate, but I assure them that the category of workers we are discussing today are sufferers who work uncomplaining because they are, for the most part, unskilled. They are fully aware that if they do complain, their position may rapidly be filled by one of the vast army of the unemployed. Therefore, I say that the fact that many of these people are unorganised and many of them uncomplaining, does not excuse the House in rejecting the Bill and not introducing this very necessary reform.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Bull
To-day hon. Members opposite have brought forward a short Bill. Last Friday or the Friday before they brought forward the Consumer's Council Bill, which was a longer Bill, the faults of which were very easy to find, even by anyone who is as much a political novice as I am. Considering the trouble into which the Opposition got in defending the Consumer's Council Bill, I think they were well advised to-day to present a short Bill on which it is more difficult to look up the facts and against which at first sight it is not so easy to argue.
Some of the faults in to-day's Bill have been very ably pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams). The Co-operative Society is very strong in the Division which I represent, and I am very sorry that, in spite of the altercation between the hon. Member for South Croydon and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) about the payment of the first 15 minutes overtime by the Co-operative Society, we did not receive an answer on that subject. The people in the Division which I represent will be very interested in the question that was put by the hon. Member for South Croydon, and I would like hon. Members opposite who represent the Co-operative Society to address themselves to the question of the payment of the first 15 minutes overtime by the Co-operative Society. As the Co-operative Societies are backing this Bill, I would like to ask hon. members representing those societies whether they might get some more money for the payment of those first 15 minutes overtime if they did not subscribe to a political party at election times. I wonder whether that is a voluntary payment, and whether they decide by a 825 ballot of all their members in the division which candidate to support with that money.
With regard to the provisions of the Bill before the House, in my opinion it is practically impossible to deal with one aspect only of this question. Surely, wages and hours ought to some extent to be considered together. The Bill makes no reference whatever to wages. I ask hon. Members opposite how they think the Bill would affect wages. I suggest to them that by restricting hours to 48 a week and possibly six hours overtime, they would lead to more casual work in the shops at the weekends. What do they think of that? For example, a shop employing two assistants regularly the whole week might perhaps, if this Bill were passed, employ one assistant regularly for the whole week and two assistants at the weekends. Do hon. Members opposite think that would be likely, and if so, do they think the results would be good?
§ Mr. Bull
The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) will forgive me if I do not profess to be, like him, an expert on every subject that comes before the House. I speak from time to time, once a week, a fortnight, or a month, but not every day, like the hon. Member. I would like to congratulate him on being an authority on so many subjects. It is very enlightening. The provisions of the Bill would be very easy for the big West-end shops to comply with, because they are in a position to close on Saturday afternoons and to close earlier on other days. During the week, the people who go to these shops are mostly able to do their shopping earlier in the day. In other districts, however, that is not possible. Therefore, although I entirely agree that we ought to do everything possible for the shop assistants, we ought also to be fair to the customers of the shops, that is to say, the public in general. If hours are restricted, with consequent earlier closing, the shops would lose business and wages would suffer, which is the last thing that any hon. Member on any side of the House wants to happen. What I think all of us would like to see would be more Saturdays off. If hon. Members opposite can advance any suggestions by 826 which that might be achieved, we would all like to see it done.
Reference has been made by hon. Members opposite to Socialist legislation in New Zealand. I do not believe in attempts being made by this House to legislate for the Dominions or the United States. But the conditions in New Zealand are quite different from conditions here. We depend for our very existence on our export trade, whereas in New Zealand, they can grow all they need to eat, and live on it. Therefore, although it might take a Labour Government two years or two and half years to cause great disturbance and unrest in this country, in a country like New Zealand it would take a great deal longer. I cannot understand why this Bill has been brought forward to-day. Hon. Members opposite have quoted from the "Daily Express," I wonder whether any of them have seen an article in that paper to-day headed:Shop charter aids 2,000,000.It goes on to say:Effective proposals for ending all sweated labour in retail shops, stores and warehouses in Great Britain were presented to the Minister of Labour yesterday by leaders of the distributive trades, employers and unions. This joint agreement will affect more than 2,000,000 men and women employed in distribution. The Minister is advised to appoint a trade committee for each section of the industry with an equal number of representatives from both sides and then add three who have no connection with the retail trade to each committee.I wonder why this Bill should have been brought forward just when we were expecting that announcement. Now that the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading has heard the arguments put forward from this side, and has heard about the charter which we are to receive, I hope that he will not force us to divide on this Measure.
§ Mr. Bull
I suggest to the hon. Member that we shall be more likely to get it if he postpones his Bill which, in present circumstances, can only result in putting the whole thing into a muddle, and which deals with one aspect of the problem only. Indeed, I ask myself whether the hon. Member really wants to get the Bill passed, and whether he is not counting upon us to see that it does not pass. I 827 hope, in view of what I have said, that he will see his way to withdraw his Motion.
§ 1.28 p.m.
Mr. David Adams
At the request of a number of my constituents, I wish to support this very reasonable and humane Measure, affecting as it does about 1,500,000 people, many of whom, in the judgment of humanitarians, are working at present under conditions which are generally detrimental both to themselves and the community. In face of the unemployment in this country and the general tendency throughout the world towards reduction of hours, and in view of the increase of production and other reasons, it seems only reasonable that there should be a reduction of hours in this trade from the present level of 60 or 65 hours a week, to the more reasonable though still somewhat high level of 48 hours per week. There are many precedents in other trades for such a reduction of hours. The Amalgamated Engineering Union with which I am connected, has secured an average 44-hour week and at present there is before the employers' federation a definite request for a further reduction to 40 hours a week. If trading conditions remain as they are or improve, I am advised that there is every likelihood that the employers in that trade will concede a 40-hour week.
The arguments which have been advanced against this Bill to-day are the same as the arguments put forward every time an attempt has been made to reduce the hours of labour in any industry. The argument about doing injury to trade and to the community was advanced in the case of the miners, in the case of the engineers and in the case of agriculture, because even there some attention has been given to this question. I remember as an apprentice in the engineering industry when there was a strike to compel a reduction of hours from 54 to 53. Reams of correspondence and circulars came from expert economists and others to show that this basic industry would be jeopardised if the working hours per week were reduced even by one. But in due course a 53-hour week came about by voluntary agreement. And to-day in that industry, which was supposed to be placed in such jeopardy by a reduction from 54 hours to 53 hours, the average 828 number of hours worked is only 44. Over the long period of 20 years we find that the co-operative societies, in connection with the distributive side of their business, have reduced their hours. At present their working week does not exceed 48 hours and, in the main, is 44. There is much to go upon in that fact, because the retail purchasers from the co-operative societies are fully representative of the nation, and this example proves the applicability of a reduction of hours to this trade.
I feel—and the House ought to feel—that to-day, in connection with this controversy, there is a menacing situation. At present only 27½ per cent. of our workers have 48 hours or less, while 72½ per cent. work any number of hours up to 65. The position of the small trader has been mentioned, and this perhaps has the greatest weight among the arguments advanced in opposition to the Bill. We are told that the small trader will be driven out of business unless he is able to work one or two assistants for the present long hours. But if a concern is so near the border line that it must sweat a few employés, in the matter of hours and frequently, also, in the matter of remuneration, then I contend the community will not be injured, and, indeed, as a whole, may be benefited when such a concern goes out of business. The same arguments were advanced in relation to various other industries, but it is significant that in those cases where a reduction of hours has been applied by voluntary agreement, the small trader has not gone out of business. In spite of the growth of combines there are, relatively speaking, as many small traders in those trades to-day as there were previously, even in the face of a voluntary reduction of hours. After all, the small trader is in the happy position of being able to utilise that very wise Measure passed by this House, the Early Closing of Shops Act, through which he could have that reduction of hours which would enable him to have a little more of the material enjoyments which come from the working of shorter hours.
I should like to make a short reference to the three classes which would be beneficially affected by the passing of this Measure. The individual would certainly greatly benefit. He would benefit in health, for we know that the average 829 shop assistant suffers, perhaps in the nature of things, through the goods which he is handling, in a relatively vitiated air, for these long hours and often with hurried mealtimes. All these things certainly militate against good health, and shorter hours would improve that position. Every individual ought to be entitled to a full family and domestic life. My constituents who are concerned assert that that is practically impossible in their case, particularly those who require to travel by bus or by train, or on foot, to and from their places of occupation. The leisure that they enjoy is almost exclusively confined to the week-end, and they advise me that a full family life is not possible for them under present conditions.
As affecting the public, I assert that there is a loss of spending power among those assistants who are deprived of reasonable hours of work. The overworked shop assistant has not the opportunity for amusement or the other civic enjoyments which others have, and therefore there is, generally speaking, a loss of spending power. Longer hours are, moreover, a very bad example in these days to other employers. If it can be demonstrated that So-and-so are working successfully for long hours, that is an example that is followed in the case of other employers of labour, and the tendency to shorter hours which ought to prevail everywhere, and which is observable generally throughout the world, is actually arrested by the continuity of long hours in these trades. Then I would say that the physical fitness campaign is an impracticability so far as those who are in the distributive trades and are working long hours. If we could have a test taken, I am certain that we should discover that the standard of physical fitness is substantially lower in these trades than it is in, say, the engineering and shipbuilding trades or the scholastc and other professions. Therefore, if it were only on the ground of physical fitness, we ought to grant this opportunity. If the State is to stand the international competition in the world we require, as a main source of its strength, the average citizen to be physically, intellectually, and socially as fit as possible.
Then there is the question of the unemployed. We are advised that although there are on the books 2,000,000 shop 830 assistants, there are no fewer than 200,000—my colleague who moved the Second Reading of the Bill asserted that there were between 200,000 and 250,000—of them, fit, eager, and anxious for employment who are unable to discover that employment. We believe—and I have the assent on this point of those in the distributive trades in responsible positions who appear to know—that if this Measure should be carried for the reduction of hours to 48, they could absorb certainly 50 per cent. of the unemployed in these trades at the present time. If there is to-day an average annual charge of £1 per week upon the State for shop assistants who are unemployed—I am taking the family man and the non-family man and woman—the average annual charge, therefore, for these people is the striking figure of £10,000,000, a figure which cannot be controverted, and if this Bill were passed, my advisers inform me that there would be a saving to the State of some £5,000,000, and a. better community at the same time.
We have an abundance of precedents for this kind of legislation. We hear of the failure in France of the 40-hour week, but we dispute that it was a failure. We believe that it was beneficial to the shop-keeping classes and shop employés in that great country and that it was political and not economic reasons that caused the ending of the 40-hour week, but I am informed that in that country a substantial number of employers are continuing the 40-hour week, finding that it is beneficial to themselves, to their employés, and to the community. Finally, we have plenty of examples abroad, in our Dominions and in other countries. The day in which we live is one in which the community ought to set their hands to the reduction of hours of work and to improving the status of the industrial classes. It is interesting to note, in the information which we have from the great Republic of the Russian Soviet, the assertion, which seems to be well-founded, that as a result of the last two five-year plans unemployment and poverty have been eliminated and shorter hours obtained; that a maximum of seven hours, except in the dangerous trades, where it is six, per day, with a five-day week, is worked universally; and that the aim and object, in harmony with the 831 day in which we live, of the next five-year plan, which has just been put into operation, is to raise the status and standard of life and culture of the industrial workers of Russia to a degree that does not exist in any of the capitalist countries of the world. I therefore hope this country will not be behindhand in following these examples, and that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Annesley Somerville
I will try to answer a point which has been mentioned more than once in the Debate. I refer to the comparison between social services in this country and those in the Dominions, especially in regard to the shortage of hours. That point is often raised by hon. Members opposite here and at their meetings in the country, and I hope that they will go on raising it, especially in constituencies which are mainly agricultural, like my own, because they will not find much sympathy there. Take the case of New Zealand. I have twice listened to Mr. Nash, who is the very able Finance Minister of New Zealand, explaining the system in that Dominion. He has done it extremely well and most lucidly. At the end of one address I ventured to ask him, "Does not the success of your system depend upon the support that you get from this old capitalist country?" He had to admit that it did. The success of their experiment depends altogether upon their selling a sufficient amount of their primary products at a sufficient price to this country.
§ Mr. Somerville
No, because they are in competition. May I explain why I invite my hon. Friends opposite to pursue that point in the agricultural constituencies? New Zealand is doing that in competition with our fanners and agricultural workers. The more they sell here, the less our farmers can sell in the home market, and, therefore, the farmers are rendered less able to pay their workers a good wage. I hope that that point will be continuously and strongly urged in the agricultural constituencies by my friends in the Opposition.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I was about to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I think that he has left that point now.
§ Mr. Somerville
The main point in the Bill is the shortening of hours. A shortening of hours means a shortening of the hours of production.
§ Mr. Leslie
We are dealing in this Bill with a purely domestic occupation. It is not a productive occupation, and why we mentioned Brazil, the British Dominions and other countries is that there would be no international complications because no foreign competition is involved.
§ Mr. Somerville
But if you shorten the hours in domestic occupations you will have to continue to shorten them in other occupations. Each occupation in the country has an effect upon the others. This seems to be a good sample of the kind of logic we get from the opposite side. Hon. Members pour scorn on the objection that it is not possible to expend large amounts on other objects besides armaments. The shortening of hours would mean diminishing the powers of production and the wealth of the country. We rejoice to see that in Australia they have the promise of a health insurance scheme, but it has had to be postponed because of armaments. I would, therefore, invite hon. Members of the Opposition not to point to Australia for support of their claims in regard to social services.
France has been mentioned several times in the discussion. What is the position, however? When M. Blum was in power he introduced the 40-hour week. The result was a general slackening in the whole power of production in France, and a condition of things was produced which was leading to disaster. We know of the kaleidoscopic state of the parties in France and how they come together for various objects and then separate. It was seen by various parties that this could not last, and a combination was formed which put M. Daladier into power.
§ Mr. Somerville
I would submit that the question of the 40-hour week in France is relevant to this discussion, and it has been mentioned several times on the opposite side. When M. Daladier came 833 into power in conjunction with M. Reynaud, Finance Minister, he made it practically permissive. The result has been a revival in France of the power of production and of the spirit and strength of the country. That is an object lesson for all of us. I would ask the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) to explain what has been said by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) with regard to hours in Russia. It is not the general belief that measures taken in Russia in the last six or seven years have led to a shortening of hours. One would like to have a little more proof of what has been said by the hon. Member with regard to the shortening of hours there. I doubt whether the hon. Member would like to live in Russia. One does not notice any great eagerness on the part of those who praise the regime there to go and experience it. I once sent three working-men from this country to Russia to test conditions there, but I must not pursue that or I shall be out of Order.
Reference was made to the small man. On this side we have the greatest sympathy for him and want to protect him. We think that the co-operative principle is admirable, but we hate to see the small man swallowed up by the co-operatives. It is not good for the country because the small man pays Income Tax and the co-operative societies do not pay nearly as much as they ought to. The hon. Gentleman said that if the small man is having a hard struggle and not succeeding let him die. That is the spirit on the other side. On this side we are individualists. We support the small man, and hope that he will thrive and prosper, because he is the backbone of the country. We do not want to see him swallowed up by the large stores and by the co-operative stores, however wholesome the influence of the co-operative system may be in other directions. I have tried to show why it would not be to the advantage of the country that the hours should be shortened in the way proposed by this Bill, in view of what we see in the Dominions, in France and in Russia, and in view of the action of the Party opposite, who have not supported their own theory. In view of these considerations this is a Bill which, in my opinion, ought not to get a Second Reading.
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Woods
I should not have intervened had not the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull) thrown out a number of challenges to those who have some knowledge of the working of the co-operative societies, because in my view the case for the Bill has been overwhelming. The Opposition have had to scrounge all over the world to produce arguments against it, and, indeed, I wonder why they did not pay a visit to Mars. The statement has been made that the co-operative societies do not pay for the first 15 minutes of overtime, and as that point has been argued at some length it is just as well that the facts should be clearly stated, because the hon. Member for Enfield said that here the Opposition had something of which they were ashamed and were not prepared to disclose the facts. In the co-operative distributive trades, and in most other sections of their activities, wages and conditions are the result of negotiations with trade union representatives. The vast majority of the societies make trade union membership compulsory, and all the conditions are the result of negotiations. It must be obvious that in the distributive trades, there cannot be the same precision in regard to hours as in a factory, where the machinery stops at a given moment and the men can leave off work. In the distributive trades there must be occasionally marginal differences and the Bill makes full recognition of that fact.
The agreement with the trade unions is that there shall not be a margin of more than 15 minutes. It is very seldom indeed that the whole staff of a department are retained as; long as 15 minutes, but they might be kept two or three minutes after the shop had closed. That is accepted as part of the give and take. If they stay beyond the 15 minutes the whole of the time is taken into consideration. There is a good deal of give and take; facilities are given during working hours to members of the staff for shopping and other purposes, and the whole agreement is perfectly satisfactory to the unions and to the staff. This Bill would apply to the co-operative societies as to other shops, and already it has been demonstrated in the co-operative movement, as the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Somerville) has acknowledged, that it is possible to carry on the distributive business with the recognition of restricted hours and trade union conditions, and in 835 spite of those restrictions for the consuming public to be satisfied and for the business to expand.
All that this Bill asks is that what has been demonstrated to be possible in the co-operative industry should be applied generally. Even if the Bill were carried into practice many co-operative societies would still be giving considerably better conditions than are provided for in the Bill. I do not want to draw a contrast with the position of the small trader. Many small traders treat their staffs quite decently; already many of them are giving conditions such as the Bill provides for, and they are not the least successful of traders; but they have to contend against the same problem as confronts all employers who give decent conditions to their workpeople, that when they have put up their shutters other businesses are still carrying on, and only carrying on at the cost of exploiting their staffs.
I do not think any one can be entirely ignorant of the facts. On many occasions when interviewing applicants for employment in the distributive trades I have asked "Why do you want to leave your present employment?" and almost invariably the answer has been "Because of the long hours." When the question is asked "Cannot you join a union?" the reply is, "If I did I should get the sack." When we go into the question we find that often they get no holidays and that after the shutters have been put up they have to take stock, because the shop is never closed for stocktaking. They have to spend hours and hours throughout a whole week in order to get through the stocktaking by a given date. When a vacancy at a shop where trade union conditions exist is advertised the overwhelming majority of those who apply are already in employment but are seeking a change on account of their long hours. I remember one young man of 18 saying that his normal working week was 70 hours, and on top of that there was the additional time occupied by stocktaking twice a year. I think the case for the Bill is overwhelming and I hope the House will give it a Second Reading and remit it to Committee.
§ 2.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Doland
I rise to support those on this side of the House who are against giving a Second Reading to this Measure. 836 I was most interested to listen to the hon. Lady for Springburn (Mrs. Hardie), who said that she had been engaged in the distributive industry all her life and was therefore justified in giving us her experiences, which evidently were not very nice from the assistant's point of view. I, too, have spent the whole of my life in the distributive industry, and I think I can speak with some knowledge and authority about this problem. I admit straight away that it is a problem, but I think we are approaching it from the wrong angle. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading gave us some glaring examples of bad employers. Compared with what we have been told about bad employers we have heard very little of the good employers. I agree that bad employers should not be allowed to penalise their employés with the excessive hours of which we have heard, but are not these bad employers in a minority? I say unquestionably that they are. Is this Bill the way to remedy these ills? I say decidedly No, because in my opinion, and I think it has also been admitted from the other side, it will impose undue hardship for a very large number of people.
There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the Bill, if passed into law, would close up a very large number of small shops. That has been admitted by at least two members. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill said that the smaller trader had better get out of business if he could not comply with its terms, or words to that effect. That is a very great hardship, particularly considering the very large number of small employers. It has been stated on this side that a report has been handed to the Ministers concerned after the discussion that has taken place between the appointed representatives of the employers and employés. If that is a fact, as I believe it to be, surely it would not be in the interests of industry to give a Second Reading to the Bill before we know what are the recommendations of those chiefly concerned. The introducer of the Bill doubted very much whether any action would be taken by the responsible Minister. I believe that action will be taken. I admit that three years is a long time, but I believe it is the intention of the Minister to give effect to their decision as far as it is possible to do so.
837 I stand for the small shopkeeper, because I know his difficulties. I started business about 1901 with about £100 saved after being a journeyman in my trade; consequently I have taken the opportunity which this country gives in a democratic manner to all to advance in their industry as I have done. The shift system would unquestionably impose a burden on the thousands of small shopkepers. I know from experience how crippling it would be to the small man. The last two hours are vital to him. There is no doubt that they mean a living for him or bankruptcy. It has been stated that there are a quarter of a million unemployed shop assistants. Will the Bill help them? I say decidedly, No.
§ Mr. Doland
That is a personal matter. I must admit that in the gentlemen's outfitting industry, in which I am engaged, the hours, as far as I can tell, are 50 per week—two hours above the 48 now asked for. I understand the hon. Member suggests that a number of the quarter of a million unemployed could be employed if the Bill were passed. The last speaker even suggested that 50 per cent. would be absorbed. I question that very much indeed. We have to-day a statutory number of hours when shops may be kept open, and I believe the average would be, after taking into consideration the various orders made by local authorities, 55 hours. Therefore extra labour would be required for seven or eight hours a week in order to comply with the Act. Would this solve the problem of the 250,000 unemployed shop assistants? Would it absorb 50 per cent. of them? I cannot conceive such a suggestion being made after proper and due consideration. An hon. Member emphasised the necessity for a reduction of the hours of labour. He spoke entirely from the production side. In my opinion, that is entirely different from the distributive side. He said the whistle blows and they close down their works. The distributive side has to consider the millions of people who have to do their shopping, and they cannot answer the whistle at a certain hour. They are restricted in their hours for the purpose of shopping. They have to do it in the early morning before going to business, in the luncheon hour or after they leave their business. 838 Would it not be better to leave this matter in regard to hours for employés to the hours that we have already allotted for shop opening? I think that would be reasonable.
I agree absolutely and emphatically with those who say that it is wrong to keep employés behind closed doors after the shop is shut. Let us approach it from that angle. As an employé in the City and in the suburbs I have worked from eight in the morning until 10 at night, and I have been lucky to get home at one on Sunday mornings, but conditions are very different to-day. Let us approach the problem gradually. Let us say to the employés, "You shall be restricted in your employment to the hours during which the shops are open." You will then be doing no hardship, in my opinion, to those small shopkeepers whom I wish to protect. I disagree with the last speaker in regard to what he said about the 40-hour week in France being a success. I think it was nothing of the kind. I think that 40-hour week meant the franc going to where it has gone. I think it was an absolute failure. Suppose that we did have a 40-hour week, then we should have to take an extended hour surely for shopping. They cannot do their shopping while they are employed.
It is, perhaps, unfortunate that our methods of shop keeping and shopping by the people have been built up over long periods of custom. Shopping, in the main, is done in the dormitory areas during the last two hours, and to attempt to alter those long customs would throw many people now earning a living into unemployment and would not solve the problem of a quarter of a million shop assistants who are now out of work. In the event of this Bill ever becoming law, the only opportunity for shopkeepers to comply with the law and stand a chance of survival would be to close the shop completely on one day a week—I think that was the custom in France in regard to the 40-hour week—as well as on Sundays, and start work later in the morning. We all know what chaos was produced in France when M. Blum brought in his Bill, and I hope that this Bill will not be put on the Statute Book.
§ Mr. Montague
Before the hon. Member sits down, may I ask where do these shop assistants shop who work 50 hours a week.
§ Mr. Doland
They may shop near the precincts of where they are working and go out in their lunch-time. Perhaps it might be done in the early morning, or after they themselves have finished.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis
I spent rather more than 14 years of my life working in a draper's shop and my father spent the whole of a very long life in that trade. Therefore, this question of the conditions of labour in the distributive trades is one which naturally has always interested me very greatly. As I understand it this morning, there are really two issues before us. The first is: Should Parliament limit the hours of labour of all assistants in the distributive trade regardless of age or sex? Secondly, should these limited hours amount to 48 hours in the week? It is to those two questions that I propose to address myself. I think there are two general considerations which we have to bear in mind when we are considering any aspect of this problem. The first is that for a great number of years there has been a steady improvement in the conditions of labour in the distributive trade. I think that that arises probably from a variety of causes, to which better facilities for education both for employers and employed have contributed. Then again there is the question of the competition of other opportunities for employment, and improving conditions in other industries naturally react on the distributive trade. But whatever the principle or reasons there is no doubt about the fact that there has been over a very long period of years a steady improvement in the conditions of labour of shop assistants.
The second general consideration to which I would draw attention, is one which has been mentioned and on which there seems to be some disagreement. That is the question of the cost of living. The Mover of the Second Reading said of the distributive trades that here we had no question of international competition; we were dealing with a purely domestic occupation. That is perfectly true so far as it goes, but it is very far, of course, from being the whole story. If you have a certain number of people employed today in a certain job of work and the 840 hours of those people are shortened, the job of work has still to be performed and more people will have to be engaged to complete it. Clearly, if the wages of the work-people in question are not to be reduced—and surely I may assume that no one who puts his name on this Bill desires that they should be reduced—then quite clearly the cost of performing that job of work will be increased. There is no more important factor in the cost of living than the cost of labour. When at any stage of production or distribution in any necessity of life there is an increase in the cost of labour, that filters through and increases the cost of living, and, when the cost of living is increased, that affects our competitive power in those industries which depend upon export. I mention this because I feel that the picture given by the Mover, though correct so far as he went, gave us only a part of the whole picture.
§ Mr. Leslie
If you read the report of the Select Committee you will find evidence which clearly proves that the prices to be found in shops where 48 hours or less were operated were no higher than those in shops with 60 hours or more in operation.
§ Mr. Lewis
That may very well be. It might depend upon the efficiency of the management of the shops concerned or other factors. I do not think the hon. Member will deny the correctness of the fact that I have tried very simply to state. Having briefly referred to these two general conditions I come to the points raised by the Bill. I think there is abundant evidence that the hours of work in very many shops in this country to-day are too long. I say that particularly bearing in mind the fact that the work is of a very tiring nature. It entails a great deal of standing, and in busy shops it entails a great deal of nervous wear and tear and constantly dealing with the requirements of a number of different persons, and very often not very reasonable persons at that.
I remember vividly a good many years ago talking one day to a young woman who had recently entered the employ of my own firm and who had come to us from a big firm in the West End, who were well known for their good treatment to their workpeople. This other firm had recently built a new hostel, in which the young women employed by the firm could, 841 if they wished, live. It represented a great improvement on anything of the kind that had ever been put up in the West End before. It was very well built and fitted, and had opportunities for re-creation, such, for example, as a dance room and a swimming bath. It was in every way a most admirable building for the purpose. I asked this young woman what the staffs thought of their new hostel, and her answer was, "It is certainly a most delightful place, but when we get back from our day's work we are too tired to enjoy the opportunities provided." I believe that in all the circumstances that was not at all an unreasonable statement of the position at that time. Therefore, when I am asked whether Parliament should intervene in this matter, I hold the view that it should.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) said that in his view the best method of settling matters of this kind was by agreement, and I think he is right in that contention where it is possibe for effective agreement to be obtained. But one great difficulty in the distributive trades has been the difficulty of organising the workpeople in the industry into effective trade unions. I do not want to take up the time of the House by explaining the reasons for that, but as to the fact there is no dispute. Only a very small proportion of the shop assistants in this country belong to their unions, and clearly that makes effective bargaining, from the trade union point of view, very difficult, and, indeed, largely impossible. When my hon. Friend says that these matters should be settled by agreement, I feel that the analogy between these trades and those in which the labour is highly organised completely breaks down, and for that reason I personally think that this is a matter in which Parliament may rightly be asked to intervene.
The second question is whether the hours should be limited to 48. In my view, the figure suggested is not unreasonable. We have to consider, not merely the actual hours worked, but the fact that the workpeople have to get to and from their work, and in many cases, in a big town, that means a considerable journey. It may be said that that is not the fault of the employer, and I agree, but it helps to use up the nervous energy and strength of the workpeople, and we have to recognise it. I think that in all the circumstances, having regard to the 842 conditions generally, to ask for a standard period of 48 hours as the normal working week for shop assistants is, in these days, perfectly reasonable. I do not, however, believe that it can be obtained to any very wide extent without Parliamentary action, and, therefore, I am prepared to support Parliamentary action. I am aware that there are many firms, particularly big firms, who to-day give the conditions asked for in this Bill, but the custom is not by any means widespread in the industry, and I think that, if we wait for the natural operation of improved conditions, to which I have already drawn attention, we shall have to wait a very long time indeed before that result is achieved. In saying that, I do not wish it to be thought that I am not alive to the dangers of laying down particular hours by Parliament. Several references have been made to the experiment of a 40-hour week in France, which at any rate shows the dangers and difficulties of legislating too drastically in these matters. What is asked for in this Bill is not, in the circumstances, unreasonable.
There is a certain amount of argument as to how people who themselves are engaged in the industry should do their shopping, and someone suggested that the other shops that cater for them might open a little longer. But then someone on the Front Bench opposite pointed out that, if that argument were pursued to its logical conclusion, it would mean that the original shops would have to keep open still longer in order to enable the other employés to do their shopping. Clearly, that is not the way to deal with the matter. It is true that facilities have to be provided for workpeople to shop at a time when the normal shopping public does not want to do so, and the answer is that shops must vary their hours—either open earlier and close later, or close at some other time in order to keep the hours right. The matter, no doubt, is difficult and complicated, but I find it impossible to believe that the difficulty will not solve itself. Therefore, for my part, on the clear understanding that the two principles we are discussing are, first, whether Parliament should intervene in this matter at all, and, secondly, whether in that case the period of 48 hours is reasonable, I personally shall support the Bill.
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Robinson
In the first place, I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis), who has put forward a reasonable and logical argument, and evidently knows the case from A to Z. I want in particular to deal with one point which in my opinion has been stressed unduly by hon. Members on the Government Benches. I refer to the small business man. The Mover of the Bill said this morning, in guarded terms, I thought, that the small business man working alone does not come under the Bill, but if he employs an assistant he does; and in support of his argument he said that, if a 48-hour week would drive such a man out of business the sooner he is out the better. I agree with that point of view. I remember that some years ago, when a similar Bill was before the House, the small shopkeepers of Liverpool, by mass meetings and by canvassing, were invited, by those who were against an earlier closing hour, to ventilate their grievances and complaints. I discovered then, when I was leading the local Labour party, that the majority of the small shopkeepers actually desired earlier closing, and the agitation in favour of longer hours was killed by the small shopkeepers themselves, because they wanted leisure.
The hon. Member for Balham (Mr. Doland) tried, I think, to square the circle. He said that he was a director of 15 stores in London. If the small shop-keeper has anything to fear, it is the chain store, and gentlemen like the hon. Member with his 15 stores will have no mercy on the small man. Take the case of the small chemist. After his father has spent money to enable him to qualify, he gives him the money to open a small druggist's shop. If Boot's open a branch next door, what happens to that small chemist? And what happens to the small tailor if Burton's open a branch next door to him? Many of the big firms are good employers of labour; but they have no mercy on the small trader. This Bill, on the other hand, will not do any damage to the small trader.
My own union has shown that sickness and nervous breakdowns among our members are entirely due to long hours. A shop assistant has to be a psychologist. Hour after hour he is on his feet, on hot summer days, in sale periods, trying to deal with unreasonable customers—and 844 the customer is always right. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) was right when he said that distributive work was an occupation in an entirely separate category from the productive trades. It has no foreign competition, such as the productive trades have—though actually there is only one trade which is entirely without foreign competition, and that is the undertakers. There is no need to tax the foreigner in regard to the burying of dead bodies.
§ Mr. Robinson
Quite so. The speech of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) was commendable. He spoke as a busines man himself, and I hope that the House will agree with him and give us this Bill.
§ 2.38 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Agnew
The speeches delivered to-day have shown that the House has considered this subject in a non-party atmosphere. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) made a speech which had the effect of supporting the Bill. I cannot support the Bill, because it deals with the subject in too isolated and rigid a way, tackling only one aspect of the problem and ignoring all the other matters that ought to be considered in dealing with the welfare of those who work in shops. It may be that the Bill, if put into operation, would benefit shop workers in some of the great cities who are not at present enjoying the benefits of comparatively small hours. If the Bill were restricted to that I should support it; but in the rural districts and the villages it will be found that, in some places, the 48-hour week is not desired by those who work in the shops. They would be the first to realise that the immediate effect of putting a 48-hour week into operation would be to put the shop-keepers out of business. It may be said that it is a good thing that a business should go out of existence altogether if its finances are so delicate, but that would not find jobs immediately for all those assistants who would be displaced and who would perhaps have to leave the villages in which they lived and go elsewhere.
There are parts of the country where during some periods of the year the work is comparatively heavy, and at other 845 times very light. In Cornwall, where we have a large number of visitors in the Summer, there is a strong case for not unduly restricting the hours during which the shops may be open when the visitors are coming and creating business for the residents. But in the winter all is quiet there, and those assistants who are kept on have perhaps not as much work to do as they themselves would wish. What the Bill fails to do is to deal, on the one hand, with the shop assistants in the great cities who have a high pressure of work—perhaps too high a pressure of work—the whole time, and, on the other hand, with shop assistants in these other places who have not enough to do in some parts of the year. Action is being taken, fortunately, to deal with this question, even if the House does not give the Bill a Second Reading. Conversations are proceeding between representatives of the employers' organisations and of the workers' organisations. I should like to see that conference much more comprehensive in its membership.
Several hon. Members have pointed out that one of the difficulties of dealing with the welfare conditions of shop workers is that there is not one organisation, or one group of organisations, of workers which can really speak for the whole industry. It would be a good thing if these shop workers could voluntarily join together, and then they could properly express their views in a conference, such as that which is going on now, and reach agreement for the benefit of all. An illustration of the lack of cohesion among the various efforts being made is furnished by the fact that the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading is, I understand, closely connected with, though not still an official of, a trade union which is supporting the Bill, which deals with only one aspect of the matter—hours of work. It does not touch the wages or any other welfare conditions, and, in addition, the union with which he is connected is a party to these very conversations which are going on the whole time, with the employers' organisations.
§ Mr. Leslie
We balloted for this Bill a long time ago. These conversations have been going on for three years, and we think the time has come when something should be done. The 1934 Act dealt only with hours of young people, and this Bill 846 proposes to follow up the 1934 Act and to extend it to those over 18. It is a simple Measure, and that is why we ask hon. Members opposite to support it.
§ Lieut.-Commander Agnew
That is where I join issue with the hon. Member. I believe that if he would have a little more patience and have faith in the trade unions and other bodies which are having these conversations, he would find that some machinery would be devised whereby the industry could adjust itself in exactly the same way as other industries have been able to do, so as to improve the lot of their workers. It is a striking thing that this is legislation by reference, that the wording of the Bill has been applied to that part of an Act which relates to the employment of children and young persons. I would like to see a Bill brought in which would reduce still further the hours which children and young persons have to work in industry and shops—that would have been a thing that we could have done—and leave this greater and much more complex question to be dealt with at a time when the conversations between the two sides of the industry are completed.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
I was interested to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Lieut.-Commander Agnew) say in his opening remarks that if only this Bill had intended to do something else he would have supported it. He then proceeded to tell us what he might have supported had the Bill proposed it, and the things which he was prepared to support would have rendered unnecessary the bringing in of a Bill at all. He suggested, as did the hon. Gentleman the Member for Windsor (Mr. Somerville) in a speech a little earlier, that, if the Labour party would only continue to press this Bill in the country districts, it would suit him and his party, because there would be no sympathy for it. The basis of the argument raised by the hon. Member who claimed to speak as a man of great experience and as the managing director of 15 shops was that to cut down the hours of labour at the end of the day, when the people in the districts were wanting to shop, would lead to the ruin of the individual who was engaged in trade. Whenever an attempt has been made to reduce shop hours or the hours of workers in shops, that 847 argument has always been put forward. It has always been the last two hours that were of value, and when shops remained open until 11.30 and 12 o'clock at night it was always the last two hours that were going to be of the most value.
I would suggest to these Jeremiahs who see the end of all things, that, if shop hours were reduced, there would still be the last two hours. One would always find—as I am sure, would the hon. Gentleman opposite who supported the Bill from his long experience in shops—that whatever the hour the individual is working in the shop, if the hours are left open he will always have a customer in the last two minutes of the last two hours. That is the common experience of all people who have worked in shops. The arguments which I have heard from the benches opposite during the last two hours have all revolved around one thing, that you cannot cut down the hours because that would interfere with the liberty of the people who were wanting to go into the shops. The further suggestion was made that we should not do this with regard to workers in shops because if the Bill became law we should have to carry it into productive industry. Again I find myself wondering whether we are not to make improvements in any department of life because such improvement will call for further improvement from other departments.
What amazed me was that the hon. Member in that same speech used the argument that it would be ill-advised for us to reduce hours because the experience of France in introducing a 40-hour week had led to the tragic situation in which France finds herself. Had the hon. Member remained in the House, I would have suggested that if he had thought of the people who were responsible for placing France in the position in which she was in consequence of the introduction of a 40-hour week, and had studied the question of the attitude of this country towards France at that time, he would have turned his attention to the attitude of the textile employers in this country when the textile workers in France were brought down to the 40-hour week. He might have found some reason, not for attacking this Bill, but for supporting the international regulation of hours which France, under the Blum Government, was seeking to create.
848 The argument has been used on the opposite side of the House that if the Bill passed into law the small man would be swallowed up, and, said the hon. Member for Windsor, "We do not want to see them swallowed up by the co-operatives, because the small man pays Income Tax and the co-operatives did not pay much Income Tax." He did not make the mistake of saying that they did not pay any Income Tax. Thanks to this Government they pay something which they ought not to have to pay. He said that he did not want to see the small shop-keeper swallowed up by the co-operatives. If he had the interest of the small shopkeeper at heart it does not matter very much whether he is swallowed up by the co-operatives or the general store or by Boots the chemists. If it is a question of swallowing and his sympathy is with the individual who is to be swallowed, I do not see that the co-operatives are in any different position from the multiple shops.
The question I want to put in answer to that particular argument is, is there an individual anywhere, the small shop-keeper he has been speaking about, who engages other labour, who can be brought into that position by the hours being reduced to 48? Somebody mentioned that you might do this in cities but not in the countryside. I have had the privilege of living both in city and countryside and I know something about the shopping conditions in both, and about the small shopkeepers in both. I cannot visualise a situation in which the small shopkeeper employing one or two individuals being swallowed up, under this Bill, either by the Co-operatives or by the large chain stores as a consequence of the 48 hours, if he is not in danger of being swallowed up already in spite of whatever hours he works.
The tragedy of the situation, so far as the small man is concerned—and I wish hon. Members paid as much attention to that fact as they have given to this Bill—is that he is in danger of being swallowed up, and is extending his hours, not only his own but the hours of those working for him, in seeking to keep off the menace of competition from outside. He is fighting a losing battle, and it is not a question of our hindering him. I believe that by insisting on the chain store and the larger employer observing these 849 hours we shall be helping the small man rather than hindering him as has been suggested. I was amazed to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Camborne say that he would prefer a permanent conference to legislation.
§ Lieut.-Comdr. Agnew
I did not say that I would prefer a permanent conference. I said that there was a conference sitting, which has been in session for three years, and I meant that it was more likely to be fruitful than the poor result that this Bill would yield.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
I gathered that that was in the hon. and gallant Member's mind, but he followed it up by saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie), who has been a trades union secretary, should have faith. It was that statement that amused me. A trade union secretary has to have faith, much more faith in his organisation in attempting to overcome these difficulties, than the hon. and gallant Member can possibly have in his Government.
§ Lieut.-Commander Agnew
For my part, when I look across at hon. Members opposite I always find great difficulty in discovering which of them is the expositor of the true faith.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
So long as we understand that the issue is faith, I do not mind, because that simply illustrates the point that I am making. The hon. and gallant Member spoke of the value of the conference that has been going on so long that it is well nigh permanent. He said that it had been sitting for three years. Ever since the Shop Assistants' Union and the National Union of Distributive and Allied Workers came into being there has been a perpetual conference going on. Trade union secretaries have been engaged in it either in one part of the country or another. The trade union secretary must have faith, faith in his organisation, and sometimes faith in Parliament. He has faith in this Bill. The hon. and gallant Member says that it is a poor thing. My reply is that if Parliament gives sanction to the 48-hours' principle suggested in the Bill, the work which the hon. and gallant Member has done in the conference towards creating public opinion for the regulation of hours, not only in this trade but others, will be brought to some fruition, and those things of which he has 850 spoken, his suggestion that children and young persons should be kept out of industry longer than they are, and that their hours should be brought down immediately, will be brought nearer fruition. Then, if the hon. and gallant Member draws a place in the Ballot and he introduces a Bill of that kind, I am willing to put my name and many of my hon. Friends will be willing to put their names on the back of the Bill.
§ 2.59 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Lennox-Boyd)
I can explain the attitude of the Government to this Bill in a very few sentences. We have no quarrel whatever with the aims of the Measure. We are as anxious on this side of the House as are hon. Members on the other side to improve conditions among those who work in the retail stores and shops of this country. It appears to me quite obvious that it is not only unfair to those who work there that their conditions should be, as they are in a number of cases, burdensome, but it is also unfair to those employers who have made reasonable arrangements that they should as a result be placed at a less effective competitive power compared with those of their rivals who have not troubled to make any such arrangements.
There have been some very interesting speeches from hon. Members who have spoken from first-hand, practical acquaintance with the retail distributive trade. It is helpful and instructive to those of us who may sometimes be regarded as uninstructed amateurs, that when we come to discuss a subject of this kind we should find that there are hon. Members who have had practical experience of the difficulties of the retail trader and those who work in the retail stores and shops. I should like, in particular, to commend the speech made by the hon. Member for Springburn (Mrs. Hardie). It was one of the most delightful speeches I have heard in this House. The point of view she expressed, based on a lifetime of experience, could not pass unnoticed in a House where practical experience is, quite rightly, regarded as the first qualification to take part in discussion. We have also had two speeches from my hon. Friends the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) and the hon. Member for Balham (Mr. Doland), both based on practical acquaintance with the retail trade.
851 The point of view of the Government is this: For some considerable time, through the good offices of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, we have been endeavouring to get the employers' and the employés' organisations from both sides—I do not like the phrase "both sides" when there is no need for controversy—to meet together and hammer out a solution which could be presented to the Minister of Labour for serious examination. In fairness to my right hon. Friend his own personal part in these negotiations should be pointed out, and if hon. Members opposite are inclined to minimise the part that my right hon. Friend is playing in bringing these organisations together, they would be well advised to look at the comparatively recent resolution of the Trades Union Congress, and they will realise that those who are really acquainted at first hand with this problem appreciate the part that he has played.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) introduced the Bill in a speech which no one could call unsuitable for the occasion. It was couched in sensible and practical terms. He spoke, however, of the joint conference, to which I have made reference, as having sat for three years and achieved nothing. I dispute the statement that it has achieved nothing. Its most valuable contribution has been that it has brought the employers' organisations and the workers' organisations together, and even if they had not succeeded in presenting a report, the very fact that they have been brought together and have sat constantly round the same table to talk over the problems which were mutual to both groups, is an achievement in collective negotiation the value of which it would be foolish to underestimate. If it has taken a long time for this conference to come to any solution, it does not follow that they have been unduly lax in discharging the task imposed upon them. Surely, the very time they have taken is a measure of the difficulty of the problem.
I would point out to hon. Members opposite something with which I am sure those who appreciate this difficulty will agree, that just as they found it impossible while they were in office even to carry out the preliminary arrangements on which legislation could be based, so if they were in our position now they would 852 think not once, not twice, but many times before they tried to impose an arbitrary and partial arrangement on the retailers of this country, without regard to the various differences that obviously exist.
The hon. Member said that the joint conference had sat for three years and "hatched" nothing, but I would point out once more what has been said on both sides to-day that the trade union of which the hon. Member for Sedgefield was a very distinguished ornament has played a very effective part in these negotiations, and that their representative has joined with the others in the course of the last few days in "hatching" a very remarkable report. I do not suppose that many hon. Members have yet had time to read that report in detail, but I would commend it to hon. Members as a very striking illustration of what can be produced when employers and workers together examine a business in which they are both concerned, not with the view of trying to find difficulties but with the view of trying to find a solution. The report is that of the Retail Distributive Trades Conference on Wages, Hours and Conditions of Employment. It is a unanimous report, produced by employers and employed, and I can give an undertaking on behalf of His Majesty's Government that the report will be seriously and sympathetically examined.
Meanwhile, it seems to us, and I believe this view will commend itself to the House-as a whole, that it would be singularly inopportune at this moment to pass a Bill which deals with only one aspect of the problem, the problem of hours, cuts across these negotiations and this report, and which would most certainly destroy the harmony which has been so carefully and successfully built up between the employers' organisations and the trade unions in the course of the conversations over the last year or two. If the Bill is carried, instead of it being a justification of the efforts of the trade union representatives on the joint conference, it would, I think, as some of them will agree, vitiate much of the good work they have done and undermine the solid foundation they have built up upon which we hope one day legislation may be framed.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
Is it not a fact that the particular individuals who sat in this conference have backed the Bill during the time the conference has been sitting?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
If that be so, then I must say that the addendum to the report by the workers' side makes rather surprising reading. I must read this addendum:The trade unions urge that the machinery proposed in the Scheme "—That is the scheme in the report, not the scheme in this Bill—for the regulation of wages, hours and conditions of employment shall be brought into operation as speedily as possible. While recognising that there may be technical and administrative difficulties which may prevent the Minister bringing the Scheme into operation simultaneously in all sections of the retail distributive trades, the Unions express the hope that the scheme will be applied in the first instance to as many sections as practicable.''The whole point is the realisation that there is an infinite variety of differences among shops of all kinds which does prevent a uniform solution being arbitrarily imposed by this House or by the Minister of Labour.
It is only courteous to the hon. Member who has introduced the Bill for me to make one or two references to the terms of the Measure. As I have already hinted, it makes no allowance for the infinite variety between different kinds of shops, large and small, for the commodities which they sell, perishable or non-perishable, or for the districts in which they are situated. As has been pointed out, there is a great deal of difference between districts, residential and non-residential, a district like West London where people can shop at any hour of the day, and a district where the shopper can shop only when his working hours are over. The very fact that there is this variety and that a uniform solution is impracticable has been recognised in the most effective way in other agreements regulating hours and wages in industry. Hon. Members are aware of the agreements made in regard to the multiple grocery shops and the multiple boot and shoe shops. In the latter case, for instance, the regulations only apply to towns over 10,000 in population, a clear recognition that you cannot have one Act applying uniformly to all towns and villages throughout the country without inflicting hardship on some areas.
The second charge I make against the Bill is that it deals only with hours, leaving wages and conditions out altogether, and that this will operate to the detri- 854 ment of those retail distributive workers whose interests, quite sincerely, we all have at heart. I can imagine shorter hours imposed by Statute forcing some traders to take on more assistants, but if there is only a limited amount of profit it means lower wages for those who are already there. If this is so, and the Bill makes no provision to stop it, I cannot believe that retail distributive workers who examine the Bill carefully will really give their support to it.
In this country we live by progress, gradually evolved, based on voluntary agreement, and the most serious objection to the Bill is that it pays no regard to the joint conference. The very setting up of this conference was a great step forward. Their first report took it a stage further. At the Ministry of labour, we were bound to point out the difficulties of some of the early proposals, but I do not believe that anybody who attended meetings between the Department and representatives of both sides, as I did, would hold the view that we deliberately created difficulties in order so to magnify the vastness of the problem as to prevent any solution being reached. We pointed out the difficulties, but it is much better that these difficulties should be carefully examined straight away so that when legislation is introduced every possible difficulty should have been surveyed Now comes the next report, which my right hon. Friend received only two or three days ago. I can give the most emphatic assurance that we will examine this speedily and carefully. I believe that better progress can be made along these lines than by means of a Bill which, if passed now, would undermine much of the solid work of the last few months and years. No one need doubt either the representative character of the people who, on both sides, have drawn up this report or the intention of the Government most seriously to examine it. In view of this, while I have every sympathy with the motives by which the hon. Member for Sedgefield is animated, I cannot support the Bill, and I shall vote for the Amendment.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
We have heard the declaration of the Government's attitude towards this Bill, an attitude which, indeed, we had anticipated from the moment we saw the Amendment on the Order Paper, for that Amendment was 855 simply a means of rehearsing the Parliamentary Secretary's speech. If I may say so without flattering the hon. Gentleman, he delivered his speech in the usual grandiose manner which becomes a junior Minister when he wants to say a lot and mean nothing. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Minister of Labour's part in these negotiations, and frankly, I want to say that the right hon. Gentleman has done very good work. To bring together organisations representing these vast interests is indeed an achievement. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough recently to accede to a request of mine to inquire into the conditions of employment in public houses, which are very nearly a part of the retail distributive trade. We must not therefore minimise the good work which the right hon. Gentleman is doing in this direction.
But the main argument of the Parliamentary Secretary against the Bill amazed me. He asked why we cannot wait until we can deal with this matter in a comprehensive manner, but then, in the next sentence, he said how difficult it is to deal with this matter of hours of labour because it is so comprehensive. If the hon. Gentleman will look up the Acts of Parliament that have been passed to deal with shop life during the last decade, he will see that every one of them has dealt with a small department of the retail industry and that not one of them has attempted to deal with this colossal business in a comprehensive fashion. There was early closing, Sunday trading, the restriction of hours of work of young persons—at each stage we touched only the fringe of the problem. Consequently I do not think that argument ought to avail with the House to-day.
There is one redeeming feature about this Debate. It is a new feature in Parliamentary history, which has emerged only during the last 20 or 25 years. Both shopkeepers and shopworkers have come at last to the Floor of the House of Commons and have spoken here with actual experience of life in shops. That is a new feature. Up to 25 years ago this sort of work was left to men like Sir Charles Dilke and I pay my tribute to him and to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) for what they did for shop assistants. To-day's Debate, therefore, marks a new 856 stage in the consideration of the problems of shop life. For centuries, bankers, landowners, railway magnates and the like have been able to express their views in this House. To-day we have the shop-keeper and the shop assistant bringing their practical experience to bear on the consideration of this very important problem.
I think that hon. Members ought first to understand the dimensions of the problem. There are 2,250,000 shop assistants in this country. The number has increased by nearly 1,000,000 since the war and there is one shop in this country for every 40 inhabitants. It will be seen, therefore, that we are indeed a nation of shopkeepers. There are more persons employed in distribution than in any of the four largest industries. Let me ask hon. Members also to note the fact that in some towns over 50 per cent. of the shop assistants are women and girls. I have figures to show that at the moment about 40 per cent. of those to whom this Bill would apply are women and girls. Therefore, the difficult problem of organising women and girls ought to be borne in mind when we are dealing with an issue like this. Let me say, in passing, to the Parliamentary Secretary that some of us who are connected with shop life are very disturbed by the consideration that Acts of Parliament affecting shops are not properly implemented. I feel sure that the day will come when, as the result of representations from both shop assistants and shopkeepers, there will be a demand that all these Acts effecting shop life shall be administered by the Home Office or the Ministry of Labour just as the factory laws are enforced at this moment.
Hon. Members have, I feel, failed to grasp one or two of the problems which arise in connection with this Bill. Let me try to explain to them what are the different types of shops in this country. There is the small trader, the co-operative society, the multiple shop, the departmental store and the fixed price chain store. Let us try to get a proper perspective by putting it thus. I think it is true to say that, at the moment, more than 50 per cent. of retail trade is still done by the small trader. That is indicated by the figures given to me. This Bill would hardly affect the small trader at all and I am a little astonished at some 857 of the arguments which have been employed against it on that score. One is that if we limit the hours of labour in shops and close the doors earlier, people of the working class will not be able to do their shopping. That argument has gone by the board long ago. I worked in a shop, and I saw the Saturday night closing hour changed from 11 o'clock to 6 o'clock, and I do not think anybody complained about it.
The next argument used against the Bill is that a committee is dealing with the subject and that to pass the Bill would be to sabotage the work of that committee. Let me reverse the position. Quite frankly, some of us are of the opinion that the existence of that Committee is sabotaging this Bill, and I have yet to learn that Parliament ought to be controlled in what it is going to do by any committee of employers and employed outside. Unless Parliament is supreme over all such bodies, then Parliament really does not do its duty. With regard to the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), whenever there is a doubtful job to be done by the Tory party, they ask the hon. Gentleman to do it, and to-day he did it, I thought, rather better than he has done it before. I wanted to tell him that he always gives me the impression that he is suffering from political typhoid.
§ Sir Cooper Rawson
Would the hon. Member mind repeating what he said just now about the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), who is now in. his place?
§ Mr. Davies
Yes. I want to tell the hon. Member that he is getting a reputation, whether he likes it or not, that whenever there is a doubtul piece of work to be done by the Tory party, he is the man whom they call upon to do it, and if they are not paying him well for doing it, he is being sweated unduly. I do not know whether the hon. Member for En- field (Mr. Bull) is in his place, but he——
§ Mr. Davies
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not be offended when I put it that he did not really understand this problem at all when he said that if shops are closed earlier, they will lose trade.
§ Mr. Davies
That is a common form of saying things that you do not like saying otherwise. I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand this simple proposition, that if all shops open at the same time in the morning and all close at the same time at night, there is no trade to be lost, because there is only so much trade to be done anyhow.
§ Mr. Davies
I answered that point before the hon. Member was in his place. I am sorry that my own Member of Parliament, the hon. and learned Member for Withington (Mr. Fleming), is not in his place. The extraordinary thing about those who moved and seconded this Amendment and their supporters is that they all make good speeches and then depart from the House. I want to deal with what the hon. and learned Member said, because this is a strange piece of hyprocrisy. He deplored almost unto tears that Miss Margaret Bond field did not bring a proposal before Parliament to get the Washington 48 hours Convention passed into law, and I guarantee that if she had brought such a Bill before Parliament, he would have been the first man to oppose it. That is Tory hypocrisy, and that is what we have had to-day from the other side almost all the time.
Now I come back to the small shopkeeper, and he is supposed to be opposed to this Bill. One hon. Member said that the right hon. Member for Epping is the President of the Early Closing Association. That Association does me the honour of inviting me to a splendid lunch once a year, and after this speech I suppose I shall get another invitation. Hon. Gentlemen must understand that the small shopkeepers are organised in the Early Closing Association, and they are much keener for early closing and a shorter working week in their shops than hon. Gentlemen claim on their behalf. As a matter of fact, the Association has been working for at least half a century and have brought pressure to bear on the Government to close shops earlier. I am a constituent of the hon. and learned Member for Withington, and I want to say that I am literally ashamed of him as my Member of Parliament. Could I say anything stronger about a man?
859 The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Somerville) used the argument of the French experiment. That, he said, had brought down M. Blum and his Government and had brought in a Right Wing Government instead and that now all was well in France. The hon. Gentleman must understand that we are much more modest that the French Socialist and Trade Union movement. They wanted a 40-hour week. All we are asking in this Bill is a 48-hour week with 50 hours overtime in the year. So I cannot see the pillars of the British Empire rocking in their sockets by the passing of this Measure. I am glad that the argument that they cannot afford it has not been used to-day. Hon. Members on this side have been rightly complaining about the tremendous profits on armament making. The highest of them, however, pale into insignificance by comparison with Woolworths, Marks and Spencers, Selfridges, and the rest of them. Perhaps this will whet the appetites of some hon. Gentlemen. Some of them may be already connected with those firms. This little book, Dod's Parliamentary Companion, is a very handy book. I wish it gave the whole history of hon. Members.
§ Mr. Davies
Can Marks and Spencers afford a 40-hour week? In 1936 they paid 77 per cent. dividend, a 40 per cent. cash dividend, and a 10 per cent. capital bonus. The argument that they cannot afford to put this Bill into operation fades away in the face of these figures. I know a little about Woolworths. They were bankrupt in America until they started in the Welsh community of Scranton, and then they were put on their feet again because the Welsh people have a habit of paying on the spot for everything they buy. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Harrow (Sir I. Salmon) here. He is deeply immersed in this problem. Does he support the Bill? He is an authority on Sunday trading; that is where he shines. He becomes eloquent on that subject, but he is silent on all others. Let me give Woolworth's profits.—75 per cent. dividend and 35 per cent bonus. This is the one industry above all others in this country which could afford to put into operation a 48-hour week without affecting profits in the least.
860 I am astonished that hon. Members opposite have not picked up this bit of information, that the employers in the distributive trades who work there employés not more than 48 hours a week, who treat them well by paying good wages, and giving them wages during sickness and holidays with pay, are the very ones who make the best profits of all. If you feed a horse well he will pull a bigger load, and the same observation applies to human beings. I think it was Daniel Defoe who said that in his time shop assistants lived like lords on the wages of dustmen. I am sorry to say that a lot of them live like that now, and in spite of the attitude taken up by the Government, if hon. Members want to give encouragement to the Commission that is, now sitting to proceed with the work that we intend them to do they can do no better than vote for this Measure to-day.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Williams
I must confess that if there had been a Division upon this Bill at five minutes past 11 this morning I should almost certainly have voted in favour of it. It is a Bill with a human appeal. [Interruption.] If hon. Members want converts they had better listen to me, as they may profit from it in making speeches on another occasion. At the outset I will say something about the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies). I always listen to him with respect, and on an occasion like this. when there are so many experts dealing with the matter, a person such as myself with far less experience must, in looking at it, not from a party point of view, but from the point of view of some 2,000,000 people in this country, have regard to the question of how the Bill is going to work and what good or otherwise it is going to do. I was hoping for some wise advice from the hon. Member for Westhoughton, but I notice that he and a large number of other Members in his party seem to have lost some of their sprightliness. There does not seem to be that drive, that freedom of thought and opinion which we are accustomed to expect from British workmen. [Interruption.] I certainly never meant it in that way. Shall I say "trade unions"? I will amend my words to "trade unions," because I think I shall be accurate in that.
We expected a great deal from the speech of the hon. Member for West- 861 houghton, but in the middle of it the leader of his party drifted in, and after that he became even less exuberant than he was before, and he was not very bright up to then. I realised exactly what was happening. We have heard something lately about purges, and I have no doubt that hon. Members in that part of the House have to be very careful, of what they say. That is why I want to make it perfectly clear that the hon. Member for Westhoughon has said nothing which would make me think that this was a good Bill, because if he did, and I said it was, he might be accused of trying to drag me into the Popular Front. I was interested in his desire to stop sweating, and I notice that this desire was directed to a namesake of mine who sits opposite. He, at any rate, made it plain that, whatever else happened, any social reform had no earthly chance if you ever had a Socialist Government.
There is a fallacy entertained by Members on all sides of the House, that the sole enemy of the small shopkeeper is the co-operative society. The big chain store is just as much an enemy of the small shopkeeper as the co-operative society except for one factor that, as far as co-operative societies are concerned, as we have learned to-day, they so often have that 15 minutes overtime. So that in dealing with shopping as a whole, if we are going to look at the point of view of the small shopkeeper, we have to dissociate him very largely from the multiple shopkeeper, because he has not the big money behind him, he cannot afford to get his organisation and he cannot afford to buy on the same big scale. The hon. Member for Westhoughton made it very plain that he was ashamed of his local Member. Of course, I may have a Socialist living in my division, and possibly coming back here, but I am not very much affected by what they say. I was, however, interested that the hon. Gentleman was so frightfully insistent on disclaiming his own Member. It bears out what I said just now, that there is this tremendous desire among certain Members above the Gangway that, whatever else they say or do, no one can possibly accuse them of having any dealings whatever with Members of any other parties. Again you see the prospective influence of a purge always waiting in the background ready to drop on the front bench.
862 I should like to say something about the extraordinary interesting speech that we had from the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie). I listened to it with great respect and I realised that I was listening to a man who had spent his life in trying to improve, as many of us would like to do, the conditions of people in these shops. I fully realise, as many others realise, that there is very much to be done. As a whole-hearted supporter of the Tory party, I believe that the methods of bargaining which have been brought in by the trade unions have been, generally speaking, of very great value to industrialists as long as you endeavour to talk things over rather than fight things over. At one point in his speech I was not convinced in the same way as I had been by the rest of it that I should support the Bill. He said that if you had shorter hours you would naturally have more people employed. We would all hope so. If there were more people employed you would have accomplished something beyond improvement in the conditions of the people already working. Then he came to the edge of what, I think, is an equally important matter. If you are going to shorten hours in this way, and without agreement, I want to be fairly certain that there is not going to be an excessive burden in the shape of increased prices put on the goods in the shops. The hon. Member took me to that point, and then left me rather inconclusive as to whether I should support the Bill whole-heartedly or not.
I listened to the hon. Member for Clayton (Mr. Jagger). He also had the qualities which enabled him to speak strongly and obviously sincerely out of a deep personal knowledge of the distributive trade. He pointed out that agreements had been made with the big shops on many occasions. He said that something like 60 per cent. of the trade was not yet subject to any agreement. It has been pointed out during the Debate that it is much easier to get agreements with big shops than with the thousands of little shops. It is equally obvious that it becomes increasingly difficult to lay down a hard-and-fast rule, as this Bill suggests, for a series of small shops. I do not think we should necessarily vote on the ground that this Bill would be good, or not, for one small section of the community. The question should be whether it is likely to improve the whole conditions of the trade, 863 and whether it is a Bill which the trade can accept. When the hon. Member pointed out that there were these difficulties, I felt that, like any other proposal which comes from the Socialist party, it is one about which the first thing you say is, "It looks very nice and attractive," but the more you think about it the more you are convinced that it is hopelessly impracticable. The party above the Gangway seems incapable of producing legislation which is practicable.
When I came to the end part of the hon. Member's speech I was very unhappy in my mind. Up to then we had had a moderate, kindly and useful Debate. But the hon. Member then began abusing the Amendment. If there is one hon. Member in this House who is never provocative, who has great knowledge and skill, and who will never make a pugnacious speech unless he is attacked, it is my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams). But the effect of the pugnacious speech of the hon. Member was to stir up my hon. Friend, and he went for the Socialist party good and hearty and left them rather wiped out, if I may use that expression. The result was that, while up to that time I had been inclined to vote for the Bill, I began seriously to think about it, and I have come to this conclusion, that it is a most amazingly clever election move. It has been pointed out quite clearly that there is no hope of legislation on this subject unless it is brought in under a Tory Government. That, I think, represents pretty closely what the Mover of the Bill said. But, of course, he does not expect his party to get in next time, and obviously he wants this legislation quickly. If the Bill became law, what would be its effect? These regulations would be imposed on a large number of shops, and, by approximately the time of the election, you would have a fine campaign throughout the country on the good old D.O.R.A. lines—the wicked Tory party, more trade rules and regulations, and all that kind of thing—and some disturbance, though not as much as some hon. Members think.
This is not a Bill which we should pass at the present time, especially in view of the argument, which has drifted through the whole Debate, that gradually, by agreement within the trade itself, an 864 enormous improvement has been brought about in the conditions of the men and women working in that trade. As long as that kind of thing goes on, it is far better that the Government should do their best by using their good offices, either here or outside, to encourage it. If that movement does not advance as quickly as some of us would like, and if the Government feel that it is necessary, or would be an advantage, to bring in a Bill, I would far rather rely on the Government to deal with the matter than support a Bill which, however kind-hearted it may be, has no regard for the negotiations which are going on to-day, and, apparently, no regard for the fine work that is being done both by employers and by employed to improve conditions, but which is simply a one-Clause Bill, not very happily worded, and full of references to other Acts which are not comprehensible to those who do not happen to be lawyers, and I am not even certain that they are legally correct. This little Bill has undoubtedly come from Transport House, and it is a very clever piece of propaganda. My last words are to congratulate the Mover and Seconder of the Bill, and to say that I will willingly bear testimony to their leader that they have been absolutely loyal to their party.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Haslam
I desire to draw attention to the position of the distributive traders of the holiday resorts. The position of these traders is entirely different from that of the ordinary distributive traders, employers and employed, in the large centres of population, for whose benefit, I understand, this Bill is brought in. In holiday resorts the business of catering for visitors is the sole business, and that business is very seasonal. In some places, it may last six months; in others, it may last only two months. That is the position in the resort that I have the honour to represent, Skegness. These holiday resorts are becoming more and more important, owing to the general advance in conditions of employment and wages, owing to more and more holidays being given, and owing to the movement for holidays with pay—and, if I may say so, to the very energetic and enthusiastic way in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is taking up that movement.
I hope to see that movement spread. I desire to see the overworked shop assis- 865 tants given an opportunity of coming down to the seaside resorts. But in these places conditions are wholly different. There is a season of two or three months in the year, and for the rest of the year there is nothing to do. It is customary in such places for all concerned in the catering trade to work during that very short season from any hour in the morning until any hour at night, and they are only too pleased to do it. They have from 6 to 10 months of idleness during the year, and, as hon. Members opposite know, idleness is not a good thing. Exceptions have nearly always been made in favour of seaside resorts in Acts of Parliament dealing with shops, notably in the Shops Act, 1912, by reason of their special circumstances. I say without hesitation, that, if shopkeepers were compelled by law not to employ their assistants for more than 48 hours per week in seaside resorts, it would cause great confusion. There was often a great rush of people entering the shops at 6 o'clock at night—[Interruption.] I can speak from my own personal experience, because I live at Skegness. Visitors come in wanting this, that or the other. It must be remembered that shops exist to serve customers. The Bill does not take into consideration this important class of the community and many other classes of shopkeeper, including that of the small shopkeeper for whom I always stand up, and the House should decline to give it a Second Reading. In any Bill brought in to deal with hours of labour, the people in the seaside resorts should be considered.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Sir C. Rawson
I would like to support what has been said with regard to seaside resorts, which have been badly hit by
§ Shops Acts in the past. Many businesses besides the catering trade have been very seriously affected at the seaside, especially photographic shops and other businesses on the sea-front. Businesses of all kinds are far too much tied up with red-tape at the present time. I believe that the ordinary shopkeeper is willing for conditions to continue as they are. There is no demand for this Bill. I have not received a single request to vote for it. If there had been proper organisation concerning the need for supporting such a Bill, I should have received many thousands of requests. [Interruption.] If hon. Members opposite have not had a proper organisation, it shows that there is no real demand among the shop-workers for the Bill. An attempt has been made to make a comparison between the Co-operative stores and chain stores and other shops, but one cannot really make any comparison at all because Co-operative societies are exempt from taxation, which other shops have to pay.
§ Mr. Leslie rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Sir C. Rawson
I hope that there will be no hasty vote given in connection with this Bill. As the conference is still going on, hon. Members ought to consider very carefully before they vote either for or against the Measure.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 114; Noes, 135.867
|Division No. 46.]||AYES.||[4.0 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Cornell)||Daggar, G.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Hardle, Agnes|
|Adamson, W. M.||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Harris, Sir P. A.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)|
|Ammon, C. G.||Day, H.||Hayday, A.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Danman, Hon. R. D.||Henderson, A. (Kingtwinford)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)|
|Banfield, J. W.||Ede, J. C.||Hicks, E. G.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedweilty)||Hills, A. (Pontefraot)|
|Barr, J.||Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)|
|Bellenger F. J.||Frankel, D.||John, W.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Gallacher, W.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)|
|Bevan, A||Gardner, B. W.||Kenned)', Rt. Hon. T.|
|Broad, F. A.||Garro Jones, G. M.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Lathan, G.|
|Burke, W. A.||Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Lawson, J. J.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Lewis, O.|
|Chater, D.||Griffths, J. (Llaneily)||Lunn, W.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Graves, T. E.||Maedonald, G. (Ince)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Collindridge, F.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||McGhee, H. G.|
|MacLaren, A.||Ritson, J.||Thorne, W.|
|MacNeill Weir, L.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)||Thurtle, E.|
|Markham, S. F.||Russell R.J. (Eddisbury)||Tinker, J. J.|
|Marshall, F.||Sanders, W. S.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Mathers, G.||Seely, Sir H. M.||Viant, S. P.|
|Messer, F.||Sexton, T. M.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Montague, F.||Shinwell, E.||Walker, J.|
|Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Silkin, L.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster)||Silverman, S. S.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Noel-Baker, P. J.||Simpson, F. B.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Oliver, G. H.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Paling, W.||Smith, E. (Stoke)||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Parker, J.||Smith, T. (Normanton)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Parkinson, J. A.||Soransen, R. W.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Pearson, A.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Price, M. P.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Pritt, D. N.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Mr. Leslie and Mr. Jagger.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Fleming, E. L.||Munro, P.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.|
|Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W.||Framantle, Sir F. E.||Palmer, G. E. H.|
|Andenon, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Furness, S. N.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||Gilmour, Lt-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Pownail, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton|
|Barrie, Sir C. C.||Gluckstein, L. H.||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Gower, Sir R. V.||Rankin, Sir R.|
|Beaumont, Hon. Ft. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Beit, Sir A. L.||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Reid. Sir D. D. (Down)|
|Blair, Sir R.||Hambro, A. V.||Rosbotham, Sir T.|
|Bossom, A. C||Harvey, Sir G.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Haslam, H. C. (Horncastle)||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Russell, Sir Alexander|
|Briscos, Capt. R. G.||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buthan-||Sandeman, Sir N. S.|
|Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Heare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Sandys, E. D.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Cary, R. A.||Hulbert, N. J.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Hume, Sir G. H,||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Channon, H.||Hurd, Sir P. A.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Chorlton, A. E. L.||Keeling, E. H.||Spens. W. P.|
|Colville, Rt. Hon. John||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.|
|Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Latham, Sir P.||Touche, G. C.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Tufneil, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Cross, R. H.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Crowder. J. F. E.||Lindsay, K. M.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Lloyd, G. W.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Davison, Sir W. H.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|De Chair, S. S.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Wedderburn, H. J. S|
|De la Bère, R.||Macnamara, Lieut.-Colonel J. R. J.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Dorman-Smith, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir R. H.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. Ft.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Williams, H. G. (.Croydon, S.)|
|Duggan, H. J.||Meiler, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Elliot, Rt. Han. W. E.||Mitchell. Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Mr. Boll and Mr. Doland.|
§ Question proposed, "That the proposed words be there added."
§ Mr. Marshall rose——
§ It being after Four of the o'Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.868
§ Whereupon Mr. Speaker adjourned the House, without Question Put, pursuant to Standard Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned at Ten Minutes after Four o'Clock until Monday next, 27th February