§ Motion made, and Question proposed—
§ "That this Bill be read a second time."—(The Earl of Lauderdale.)
THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE
My Lords, this is a Bill which has passed through the other House of Parliament without any opposition whatever, and it falls to my lot to submit it to your Lordships. The Bill provides that in all rooms of a. shop, wareroom, warehouse, or other premises where goods are actually retailed to the public, and where female assistants are employed for the retailing of goods to She public, the employer carrying on business in such premises shall provide scats behind, the counter and in the showrooms, or in such other place as an inspector under this Act may direct, for the use of the assistants employed by him, and such seats shall be in the proportion of not less than one seat to every two assistants employed in each room. Under the Bill any person failing to comply with these provisions is liable, on summary conviction, for a first offence to a. fine not exceeding £3, and for a, second or subsequent offence to a tine not less than £1 and not exceeding £5. The third clause enacts that it shall extend to Scotland only, 1283 and the fourth, clause provides that it shall be read and construed as one with the Shop Hours Acts 1892 to 1895.
§ LORD SHAND
My Lords, I think I may truly say that, although I have had the honour of a seat in this House for a. number of years, I have not often intruded upon the House or occupied your Lordships' time by taking part in discussions on, matters of general business. On the present occasion, however, I cannot allow this Bill to pass without comment, and, indeed, protest. Having got it this afternoon and given it my best consideration, I have come to the conclusion that on several grounds it is one that the House should not allow to pass its Second Reading. I often sympathise with the noble Earl on the Cross Benches (the Earl of Wemyss) in his efforts to preserve liberty of action in our daily life, to avoid legislation imposing harassing restrictions, and to prevent improper interference with liberty of contract. I confess I did not agree with my noble Friend with reference to the Money-Lending Bill, for I was strongly of opinion, as many of your Lordships were, that in regard to that particular matter there was a crying evil—that young men who were utterly unacquainted with business were taken advantage of, and that in money transactions there was a great deal of what may be popularly called the "spider and the fly," which it was necessary to deal with by legislation. I think, with the Amendments we have adopted, that we have in the Money-Lending Bill a Measure that will be of great value to the country. The Bill now before your Lordships is one of a. wholly different character. I hope I shall not be credited with any want of sympathy with female shop assistants, for whom it is proposed to provide the means of sitting down in their daily occupations. But the questions I would like the House to consider are these: Assuming that the evil exists, is this a, proper remedy; and, in the second place, is the subject of such magnitude that we should have the two Houses of Parliament passing a Bill dealing with it? The noble Earl behind me said the Bill was passed without opposition by the House of Commons. The fact is the Bill has passed without 1284 any notice in that House, for no discussion whatever took place upon it. I suppose it came on after midnight, and some honourable Member lifted his hat, and the Bill was passed. I am surprised to find that the Bill is to be applied to Scotland only, and I would ask the noble Earl who has moved the Second Reading of the Bill why Scotland should be singled out for this, invidious distinction. Is it for a moment contended that this is an evil which does not equally exist in England or in Ireland? If that contention be maintained, I dispute it. But I am afraid that it is just one of those cases in which a Measure is to be applied to Scotland as an experiment. The idea probably is that it could be extended later on to England and Ireland. If this is a good Measure it ought surely to apply to the whole kingdom. I do not think the subject is one for legislation at all. If there is an evil, public opinion will meet it and put it right. Let those who are interested in the shop assistants call meetings and make representations to the employers. I am sure that voluntary effort will put matters of this kind right. If the evil exists, it is not too much to expect time ladies will make known their sympathy with the shop assistants, and withdraw their support from the shops where anything which can be regarded in the nature of cruelty is allowed, and so the evil would be cured, Such a matter of detail should not be made the subject of legislation. I could understand, though I should not invite, a general Bill which gave the Home Secretary power to interfere, in many matters of trade, for the comfort and safety of the employees and gave him power to pasts a regulation of this kind, but if the discomfort of shop assistants iv to be made the subject of legislation I do not know where it will stop. I am fully acquainted with the climate of Scotland. Very often in the morning when people go to their business, the weather is fine and bright, but later in the day and unexpectedly there comes a heavy rainfall. If this legislation is adopted we shall probably have a. Bill to compel employers to provide their servants with mackintoshes, goloshes, and umbrellas. I do not know whether this is to be made a Government Bill, or whether it is to receive Government sup- 1285 port. I, however, appeal to the noble Marquess at the head of the Government to leave this in open question, and if he should consent to do so I will take it upon myself to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (the Marquess of SALISBURY)
I confess I knew nothing of this Bill before I came to this House, and I was not aware that such a Bill was passing through the other House of Parliament. I was very much struck by the observation of my noble Friend behind me, that this was at once too small and too large a Bill to be adopted without very much more careful examination. It is not necessary to say that it is a, very small Bill for Parliament to legislate upon. But besides that, it is in its effect and ultimate purport a very large Bill, because it is introducing us to an entirely new field of legislation which may carry us exceedingly far. In such matters as facility for standing up and sitting down, we have hitherto trusted to the instincts of humanity, believing that people could manage them themselves. But if tee were to say that they ought to sit down, and to See that proper opportunities are provided for sitting down when they desire, I do not see the logical process by which we should confine it to warehouses and shops where female assistants are engaged in retailing goods to the public. The image of the housemaid crosses my mind. How often she must desire to sit down! Are you prepared to have an army of inspectors in examine the house of every householder to see that there are a sufficient number of chairs placed at stated intervals, so that at each moment of exhaustion, the housemaid may sit down in comfort? I am afraid you will find you have undertaken more work than you can do. I have every sympathy with those assistants—and certainly there are no more in Scotland than in other places—who suffer from the want of considerateness and kindness of their employers in this and other respects. I look for the only safe and only effective cure of such evils to the gradual working of civilised opinion, which is carrying the duty of philanthropy more and more to the hearts of every class. And I think you will do more wisely to trust yourselves 1286 to that, but, at all events, do not allow this Bill to slip through as an unconsidered thing. It is the sanction of a principle which will call for your consideration in other matters, and will produce great embarrassment. If we are to do it, at least let us have an inquiry into the matter. There has been no inquiry whatever. Let us ascertain if the shopwomen of Scotland require more sitting down than the shopwomen of England. Let us understand on what grounds this very exceptional adoption of a very far-reaching principle has been introduced in this silent, and what I might also say, surreptitious manner. I no not think, without in the least, prejudicing any views which on further investigation we, may take, it is right to make so large a breach in the principles by which we have hitherto conducted our legislation without touch more care and inquiry than has hitherto been given to the subject. So, if my noble Friend divides the House, I shall be compelled to go with him.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed—
§ "That this Bill be read a second time this day six months."—(Lord Shand.)
§ LORD SHAND
After what has fallen from the noble Marquess, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months.
THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE
After the observation of the noble Marquess, I see no other course open to me but to let the Bill drop.
§ Question put.
§ Bill rejected without a Division.