HL Deb 28 February 1882 vol 266 cc1819-27

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it was a Bill very simple in its character and short in its provisions, being comprised in four clauses. It was, however, of some importance, as its object was to protect those persons who were not able to protect themselves by combination or other means—namely, women and young persons—from working in shops beyond certain hours. The Bill was only intended to apply to warehouses and shops in which textile fabrics and articles of wearing apparel were sold, and therefore would affect only one branch of trade. It proposed that the hours of labour for women, and for young persons between the ages of 14 and 18, should be reduced to 10. However, as a longer time would be required at certain periods of the year for the convenience of customers, he proposed that, on application to the Home Secretary, an extension of the hours of labour during 60 days in the year might be obtained. This proposal was not at all a new departure, but was very similar to the Act of 1874, and still later the Consolidation Act of 1878, which limited the hours for working in factories and workshops from 10½ to 10 hours. He had no intention of asking for any exceptional powers in respect of adult male labour, as it seemed to him that that would be impossible to limit their hours by legislation. The long hours of female labour had been reduced in the West End by the force of public opinion; but there were districts in London, such as Islington, Hackney, and Walworth, and in the large towns of Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, and Bristol, where it was no uncommon thing to find the hours of labour extending to 13 or 14 hours, and where shops re- mained open to 10, 11, and even 12 o'clock. He should not have brought forward the Bill had he not met with some encouragement out-of-doors. But the Trades Union Congress had passed a resolution in the autumn, saying that, though much more was needed than the provisions of his Bill, it constituted a step in the right direction, and the Bill should therefore be supported. His proposal had also been advocated by many of the Sub-Inspectors examined in 1876 by the Royal Commission appointed to consider the effect of the Workshop and Factory Acts. Mr. Sub-Inspector Hudson then said— I should strongly recommend a regulation to be made prohibiting retail shops from being kept open later than 8, except Saturdays.…. Such a regulation would be popular among the shopkeepers themselves. Mr. Sub-Inspector Oswald said— The assistants in shops would regard it as a great boon to be put on the same footing as workroom hands; and the masters would not, as a rule, object if all were under the same regulations. Mr. Sub-Inspector Johnson said— I have before stated in my Reports that the long hours and gas are thought to be injurious, and that females ought to have some protection. Mr. Sub-Inspector Cameron said— In my opinion, the only effectual means of bringing about a cessation of the undoubted hardship implied in attendance behind a counter to the late hours referred to would be to legislate for the absolute closing of all retail premises after a certain hour.… As it would admit of no unfair competition, I imagine retail shopkeepers would themselves become its advocates. Among hundreds of cases that came under his notice, he would refer to the following:—A young woman called on a lady at Brixton to ask whether the Girls' Friendly Society could obtain shorter shop hours, and she went on to say— It is not only for myself I care, but for the younger ones. These hours are ruining them body and soul. We all went in to business at a quarter to 8 this morning, and it was exactly 10.15 P.M. when I came out. Fourteen and a-half hours on one's feet! We may only sit down for 20 minutes for dinner and 15 minutes for tea; and to-day I was interrupted to go and serve customers three times from dinner and twice from tea. In Liverpool, in 1881, in 184 shops the hours of labour were 13 and upwards for five days in the week. In 33 shops they amounted to 12. It would be said by some that it would be next to impossible to limit the hours of female work, as it would throw women out of employment, and lead to the demand of male instead of female labour. He did not agree in this view; female work would always be the cheapest, and in linendrapers' shops females best understood the requirements of customers. A reply also had been made in the following words by a Sub-Inspector:— It is possible that, in the first instance, it might lead a few shopkeepers to attempt to substitute men's labour for that of women and young persons'; but I think this would speedily right itself, for I feel sure that it would not be found to pay, for in these shops there is, as a rule, no necessity for late shopping, and very little is actually done. Mr. Assistant Inspector Walker, referring to the same question, had said— It is possible that this might be the case in a few instances. But it is believed that this would take place to a very limited extent, as female labour is equally, if not more, suitable in many instances than male, and considerably cheaper. As to the machinery for carrying out the Bill, it would be quite possible to throw upon the police the duty of inspecting shops, in order to see that the provisions of the Bill were complied with. On this point Mr. Sub-Inspector Striedinger had given the following evidence to the Royal Commission:— If the Legislature of this country should ever interfere with the hours of opening and closing retail shops, offences against such a future enactment could be proved just as easily as the fact of keeping a public-house open, and the same machinery which is intrusted with the enforcement of the Licensing Act might be used. The Bill did not contain any clause imposing a penalty; but in cases of non-compliance with the measure, he was advised that a fine of £3 or £5 could be inflicted in a manner analogous to the infliction of punishments under the Factory Acts. Though the Bill might require several Amendments in Committee, he hoped the House would affirm the principle, and allow it to be read a second time.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl Stanhope.)


recognized that the Bill was brought forward with good intentions. He admitted that it would be worthy of cordial support if it could reduce the hours of female labour without having the effect of reducing wages, or of forcing shopkeepers to employ men in the place of women. It should be borne in mind that women found it very difficult to obtain employment, and the Bill would probably have the result of still further reducing their opportunities of service. Under these circumstances, he should propose in Committee to strike out the word "women" from the measure, so as to restrict its application to the employment of young persons. This would involve an alteration of the whole Bill. Women who wanted to earn their livelihood would be incapacitated under this Bill. With regard to the extension of hours in certain seasons, it would be highly inconvenient in those country towns where customers did their shopping at late hours that the shopkeepers should be obliged to apply to the Home Secretary for the requisite permission.


said, that, as the consistent advocate for more than 40 years of general freedom of contract for adults, he must support the noble Duke's proposal. The principle of limiting the hours of employment of children and young persons was first introduced with regard to factories by the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury); and the principle, by its excellent results, had commended itself to the deliberate judgment of the country, and had been since extended to mines, workshops, and factories generally. But it was a different thing to interfere with the hours for the employment of women. A body most competent to judge in a matter of this kind—the Society for the Promotion of the Employment of Women—were of the same opinion as the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset) They declared, as the result of their inquiries, that the passing of the measure would cause the dismissal of a large number of women from their employments. This was one of the many instances in which the principles of political economy would speedily vindicate their truth—as they were sure to do sooner or later—by results.


said, he quite saw the force of the objections which might be stated to this Bill; but, on the other hand, he also perceived that some substantial advantage might result from its passing into law. He could not help thinking that the Bill, in an amended form, would be very valuable. In regard to the question of overwork, it was quite unnecessary to suppose or suggest that the employers of those young people were more hard-hearted persons, or less interested in the welfare of their employé, than those who employed other kinds of labour. But they could easily understand that when an employer was expostulated with as to the length of hours he kept his employés per day, he would reply that he could not be expected to shorten his hours of business, while his neighbour, a few doors off, continued the long hours of work. It seemed to him that was a position of affairs in which the Legislature might step in with benefit to the class in question, and with hardship to no one. Another excuse might be urged very plausibly by employers—namely, that whenever there was a vacancy on their staff there would immediately be 10 or 20 applications to it. That he believed to be true; but it appeared to him that the very fact that those young persons were not in a position to combine in any organization for their own advantage afforded another reason why Parliament might very beneficially exercise some control in the matter. Attention had recently been called by medical men to the deleterious effects produced on the health of young women by constant standing in shops. He had paid some attention to this matter, and some time ago more than 100 leading tradesmen were good enough to respond to his invitation to meet at his house and discuss this question, and consider whether any remedy could be adopted. He was bound to say the opinion of the majority was that the obstacles were too serious to lead to any hope of immediate reform. But, at the same time, he might mention that several West End firms had now supplied seats for their employés, to their great comfort and advantage. A medical man of great experience told him only the other day that if some fixed time could be provided for meals, and especially dinner, the effect on the health of young women would be much less serious than it was. At present there was, no doubt, often an hour appointed; but the shop girls were liable to be called away from meals to wait upon customers so often, and in such a way, that the appetite was affected, and a dinner became more a name than a reality. This Bill was not "paternal legislation." He could not help thinking it was a step in the right direction, because it was protective legislation in the best sense. He contended that the protection of life, of which this measure formed a part, was one of the first duties of the Legislature; and he, therefore, hoped Her Majesty's Government would support the Bill, and that their Lordships would give it a second reading.


said, that the matter was well worthy of consideration, for, at the very lowest calculation, there would be, at least, 200,000 persons affected by this Bill. It affected their health, their general state, and their future. He heartily approved the principle and the object of the Bill; but he was very much afraid that it had not been constructed in a way that would secure the object in view. In the first place, it began with a provision which would raise very considerable opposition, if not in this House, certainly in the other House of Parliament. His noble Friend said that the Bill should apply to women and young persons. Now, the argument for the limitation of the hours of labour in factories and workshops arose from the character of the employment, and inquiry showed that the employment was so severe, and so oppressive to the health of women, that persons most adverse to the protection of women under the Factory Acts were overwhelmed by the weight of the evidence, and agreed to women being placed under the protection of the Act. The labour of the persons to be protected by the Bill, though severe and trying, could not be placed in the same category. Though he would not vote, in this instance, against a Bill for the protection of women, yet if his noble Friend persisted in keeping in the Bill this provision relating to women there would be no hope of carrying it through either House of Parliament. The Bill also provided that shops were not to be open for more than 10 hours each day. Now, observe the number of inconveniences which would arise and the hostility which would be created by the Bill. In the first place, a great proportion of the traffic of shopkeepers in the East End took place in the evening. He mentioned this to show the noble Lord that he must devise some means of carrying out the protection intended by the Bill. The Factory Acts said that a person should not be employed more than a certain number of hours during the day. This Bill said nothing of the kind. It said only that shops should not be opened for more than 10 hours a-day; but when the shop was closed, a shopkeeper might keep his young people on his premises to as late an hour as he pleased, and everyone knew that many persons were so kept. There was thus no protection to women and children against undue hours of labour to be found in this Bill. Neither was there any provision for the appointment of Inspectors to see that the Act was carried out; there was no authority under which the Act was to be administered—action was, in fact, entirely left to the outside public, and punishment for breaches of the law could be obtained only by the process of indictment, an expense and trouble which very few indeed would undertake. There were many other matters in which the Bill would be found to be incomplete as it stood, and he did not think it desirable to pass such imperfect measures, which would only bring discredit on legislation. He would vote for the Bill, which related to a subject in which he had always taken great interest; but he would prefer to see it withdrawn and another and more complete measure introduced even in this Session.


said, the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) had expressed so much better than he could the feelings of respect with which they all hailed the exertions of his noble Relative (Earl Stanhope) in the cause of overworked women and young persons in shops and warehouses, that nothing he (the Earl of Rosebory) could say would strengthen his words. At the same time, his noble Friend (the Earl of Shaftesbury) had so convincingly exposed the inconveniences that would attend this Bill in the working of its details, that nothing he could point out would strengthen those objections. No doubt, his noble Friend had quoted opinions given by Sub-Inspectors of Factories in favour of some reform of this kind; but his own objection was not that the Bill was mischievous, but that it was absolutely and wholly inoperative to remedy the evils aimed at. He believed it was well known that the shopkeepers at the East End of London did most of their work in the evening. Had his noble Relative in any way ascertained what were the feelings of the shopkeepers with reference to this Bill? Had he in any way ascertained what the feeling of the customers in those shops would be in regard to this measure? Because those were most important questions. The House would remember that they were not legislating for large West End shops like Marshall and Snellgrove's; they were legislating for large classes of the community, whose wants were narrowed by circumstances, and who had not the same opportunity of making themselves heard and felt in that House as some other classes might have. Then, as regarded the employment of women, there was a great deal to be urged in favour of what was said both by the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset) and the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) as regarded the effect of this Bill on their chances and opportunities of employment. Everything that would tend to make the employment of women more difficult and more paralyzing to employers was to be deprecated. He wished to point out that under the Bill establishments where young men and boys were employed would be absolutely free from inspection; but those where young women and girls were employed would be liable, not only to supervision of a casual kind, but of an authorized kind. It offered temptations to rival tradesmen, actuated by spite or prejudice, to institute proceedings against each other, and to watch for the opportunity to do so. His noble Relative had said that the magistrates would be able, under this Bill, to find out the shops that might keep women at work above 10 hours. He spoke under correction; but the information he had received was to the effect that there was no public functionary through whom an offending shopkeeper could be proceeded against. His objections, however, were all made against the details of the measure, and not against its principle; and one of the chief objections he felt arose from the kind of work which it would throw upon the Home Office. It threatened to transmute the Home Office into a Domestic Office. How would the Home Secretary be able to undertake the duty of seeing whether an application for extension of hours was well-founded or not? There would be applications made from every village and every hamlet for leave to keep open beyond the authorized hours, and how could the Home Secretary know whether to grant them or not? An army of Inspectors would be insufficient. He did not know that there were any other details on which, to trouble the House, and he could only express his warm sympathy with the objects of his noble Relative, and his belief—which, he held most strongly—that another Bill would be brought forward to effect this valuable reform. It would not be his duty to divide the House against the second reading; but if he had any influence with his noble Relative he would endorse the appeals made from various quarters of the House, and ask the noble Earl to withdraw the measure this year, and try if some more effectual Bill could not be brought in on some future occasion.


, in reply, said, after what had fallen from his noble Relative, and, in particular, after the objections raised by the noble Earl, he felt he had only one course to pursue, and that was to withdraw the Bill; but he might state that it had been drawn upon the lines of the Factory and Workshops Acts.

Motion and Bill (by leave of the House) withdrawn.