HL Deb 12 May 1902 vol 107 cc1305-17


Order of Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, at an earlier period in the session I submitted to your Lordships a Bill to provide for the early closing of shops. This was opposed by the noble Lord who represents the Home Office on the ground that it did not contain the safeguards suggested in your Lordships' Committee of last year by the noble Marquess at the head of the Government. I am sorry if I made a mistake in not inserting them, but I was under the impression that the noble Marquess would prefer his own words, and it was impossible for a private Member to introduce special provisions with reference to expenses which the noble Marquess admits would be necessary; but in moving the Second Reading I stated our readiness to insert any words necessary to carry out the suggestion. The noble Marquess, from a reason which we all regretted, was absent on the occasion, and my noble friend Lord Belper thought it necessary to urge the rejection of the Bill. This caused widespread disappointment through the country, and as the Government were prepared to allow the Bill to pass provided it contained certain provisions, which we on our part were ready to accept—so that there was really no substantial difference—we have had provisions drawn which I understand satisfy the noble Marquess.

The Bill, even without these additional safeguards, carried out the recommendations of an unanimous Resolution of the House of Commons. It had passed through two Committees of the House of Commons; it is in accordance with the Report of the Committee of your Lordships' House which sat last year, and is unanimously supported by the Committee. I will not repeat at any length the evidence which I brought so recently before your Lordships. The Committee state, as a result of the inquiries, that in many places the shopkeepers and shop assistants are working from eighty to ninety hours a week, hours which are, of course, grievously injurious to health. The medical evidence, indeed, was very weighty, and, as the Committee observes— Such serious warnings from the heads of the medical profession cannot safely be disregarded. In factories the hours are now fifty-six and a half, so that shop assistants are actually working thirty hours a week more than factory operatives. We have had Rill after Bill, Act after Act, dealing with factories and workshops, and I have never been able to understand why nothing should be done for shops.

Now, what are the provisions of this Bill? Firstly, two-thirds of the shopkeepers must memorialise the local authority. The local authority may then, if they think fit, pass a regulation for the closing of shops at the hour suggested by the shopkeepers themselves—not, however, earlier than seven o'clock on five days and one o'clock on one day in the week. We had thought that these safeguards were ample, but the noble Marquess insists on, and we have inserted, provisions that, in addition, the consent of the Home Office must be obtained; and finally, the orders must be submitted to Parliament. Before anything is done, therefore, the shopkeepers must propose, and the local authority, the Home Office, and Parliament must assent. Many of the shop assistants are, I know, afraid that a Bill so hedged round with precautions will effect little; but, knowing the strong feeling of the shopkeepers, and having confidence in the local authorities, we take a more sanguine view. Moreover, in many cases the wishes of the great majority of shopkeepers are at present set at defiance by a minute minority, and the very existence of this Act, the knowledge that a power exists which can be called into operation if necessary, will no doubt in many cases be sufficient. My Lords, I have told you the long—the terribly long—hours which prevail in many places. Let me give you one case. Mr. Wollauer, who represents the London Master Bakers Society—some 6,000 to 7,000 employers—told the Committee that he and his colleagues employ between them from 18,000 to 20,000 women, of whom nine-tenths are now working 90 hours a week. His Society supports the Bill, because, he says— These hours are unnecessarily long and exceedingly cruel, and it is white slavery for the 18,000 to 20,000 females to whom I refer in our own trade. Happily, in the case of this measure, there is no conflict between class and class, between employers and employed. I speak for over 300 Shopkeepers' Associations, representing all trades and all parts of the country, all of whom support our Bill, while, as far as we know, only two oppose it. Your Committee also point out that in such a matter the Trades Unions may fairly be considered to represent the working classes. The Trades Councils of England, Scotland, and Ireland all support the measure, which, indeed, they would wish to see made more stringent. I should like, if it were in order, to read to your Lordships the Reports of the two Committees—the Committee of the House of Commons and the Committee of your Lordships' House. My last argument is derived from a Paper issued to your Lordships by my noble friend Lord Wemyss. It is a statement against an eight hours. Bill. This is, however, a twelve or fourteen hours Bill——


The principle is the same.


In matters of this kind we must look to the way in which the principle is to be carried out. The noble Earl's Paper contains a passing reference to this Bill, evidently written by some one who had not seen it, or at any rate who quite misunderstood it. But I wish specially to point out that none of those who signed have any special concern in the matter. We all know my noble friend's energy, his perseverance, his enthusiasm, his persuasiveness. He has succeeded in obtaining a certain number of signatures of manufacturers ship builders, mine owners, and others—a mere handful out of the innumerable companies and firms engaged in the commerce of the country. But he has not been able to obtain the support of one single Shopkeepers' Association. I appeal to this House in the name of over 300 Shopkeepers' Associations. In moving the Second Beading of this Bill, I do so in the name of the Trade Unions, of the shop assistants, of the Shopkeepers' Associations all over the country, and of the medical profession. The Associations I represent are not confined to any one part of the country. They represent the-shopkeepers in every great city and town in England, Scotland, and Ireland, in the North and South and the East and West; and in their name I implore you to pass this Bill, and thus give effect to the unanimous Report of the Committee whom you yourselves appointed.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(Lord Avebury.)


My Lords, I think that many of your Lordships will share my surprise at the unexpected re-appearance of this Jack-in-the-box Bill, which I thought, and I am sure many of your Lordships thought, we had put comfortably to rest for the remainder of the session, when on February 18th the Second Reading of this Bill No. 1 was rejected by a considerable majority, but has again been sprung upon us and calls itself No. 2. This No. 2 Bill is in principle absolutely the same measure. The only distinction is a slight difference in procedure. Under the first Bill, local authorities were given power, where two-thirds of the shopkeepers agreed, to close shops on certain days and hours, and thereby oppress the remaining third. But under this Bill this can only be done by a Provisional Order, which has to come before Parliament. That is almost a distinction without a difference—at any rate, the difference is only a slight one of procedure. My noble friend stated that I had been unable to collect any evidence against this Bill. The memorial to which he referred had nothing to do with this Bill, the evidence it contained having been collected from another purpose; but I used it to show the feeling which exists with regard to this matter.

MR. Harris, the Secretary of the Traders' Defence Association, writing to me with reference to the Memorandum on my noble friend's Bill—this Memorandum, by the way, is identical with the Memorandum on No. 1 Bill—says that, whereas it is there stated that the shopkeepers are warm supporters of the Bill, in reality 90 per cent. of them are opposed to it. My noble friend speaks of the number of meetings that have been held in favour of this Bill, and says none in opposition to it have been held in London; but this gentleman informs me that three large meetings—one at the Cannon Street Hotel—have opposed it. There is another statement in the Memorandum, namely— As regards London, a petition in its favour has been signed by more than half the shopkeepers affected. Mr. Harris characterises this as a monstrous statement, for no steps of the kind have been taken. I have received a number of other letters on the subject, all of which go to show that the Bill will be the ruin of small traders and a great inconvenience to working men, many of whom can only trade after the hour at which it is proposed to close these shops. If 100 per cent. of the employers and 100 per cent. of the employed were in favour of the Bill, that would, in my mind, in no way affect the vital principle of the Bill—namely, the interference with trade by the regulation of the labour of adult men. That is the broad principle at stake. If the principle were admitted in this case, do your Lordships think it would stop here? It would go on to everything; it would go even into my noble friend's house, for I doubt whether there is any house in which servants do not work pretty well up to twelve or fourteen hours a day.

The Table of the House of Commons groans under Bills which constitute an interference with liberty in every direction. There is the Shops Bill, which regulates the hours for meals, and provides that no one is to work more than sixty hours a week. Then there is the Wages Boards Bill, which seeks to fix the minimum wages to be received in certain trades. That, to my mind, is going back in legislation to the Dark Ages. The Mines (Eight Hours) Bill was lost by one vote, but the House of Commons had no guidance from the Government as to how to vote upon that measure. Again, there are the Coal Mines (Employment) Bill, which provides that a person shall not be employed in any mine unless he has taken up mining as a profession and been so employed before he has reached the age of eighteen years; the Shop Clubs Bill, which interferes wish arrangements between employers and employed as to membership of shop clubs; the Home Industries Bill, which places those who carry on work in their homes under the Factory Legislation; and, finally, the Trades Union and Trades Disputes Bills. Your Lordships' House, as the highest Court of Appeal, gave a most admirable judgment recently in favour of justice and liberty, but that judgment was hateful to trade unionists, who have introduced the two latter Bills in order to endeavour to upset that judgment. If you pass this Bill, the Second Reading of which my noble friend has moved today, on what principle can you refuse consent to the other Bills I have referred to?

I venture to say that the facts of the present and the experience of the past show that when once the thin end of the wedge is inserted, it is a very difficult thing to stop. The Factory Acts were first applied to children; in the cotton factories they were then extended to women, and finally everywhere, and now we find my noble friend introducing a Bill to regulate the labour of adult men. What has the thin end of the wedge meant with regard to education? Mr. Foster promised the House of Commons that the School Board rate would not be more than 3d. in the £ at the outside; but a greater fraud was never perpetrated. In London the School Board rate is now 1s. 2d. in the £; in Bradford, Is. 5½d.; in Halifax, Is. 6¾d.; in Rotherham, 1s. 11d.; and in West Ham, 2s. 6d. The total cost of Education in England and Wales from all sources being in 1890 £12,336,986. And now the child of the poor man is to be further assisted in the matter of secondary and university education up to a senior wranglership. I hope the ratepayers of the country will consider the figures I have quoted before they give their assent to still further taxation in this direction. The same thing has happened with regard to land legislation. I recollect hearing Mr. Gladstone say, when introducing his first Irish Land Bill, that it was exceptional legislation solely for Ireland; but it very soon crossed to Scotland; it is now in every one of your Lordship's estates, and at the present moment we have a further Bill, introduced by the present Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, to get rid of Irish landlords, and fixing the price of land.

If this Bill of my noble friend is passed, depend upon it other measures of a like nature will follow, for all experience shows that when once the Legislature goes on a wrong line of principle there is no end to its application. I say then principiis obita, but where shall we find resistance to these evil principles in legislation. I doubt whether we can hope for the Prime Minister's assistance in resisting this Bill. The noble Marquess has wisely said that the noblest idol before which man can bow is liberty. [The Marquess of SALISBURY dissented.] Does the noble Marquess dispute that?


Not, perhaps, the sentiment, but the language in which it is couched.


If my noble friend supports this Bill, he will, I venture to think, be dealing a heavy blow at his own idol. And I fear we cannot, looking to the character of their legislation, look to the official Conservatives for help. And as to the so-called Liberal Party there has been a great deal of talk of late about the principles of Liberalism, but the principles of present-day Liberalism are absolutely different from those of Liberalism of the Pre-Gladstonian period. The word "Liberalism" is derived from "liberty," but there is nothing of liberty to be seen in the action of the Liberalism of the present day. It is a clear misnomer. Up to the time of Mr. Gladstone's Irish Pill of 1870 the business of Parliament was to remove restrictions and to leave Englishmen free to manage their own affairs; but since that year the business of Parliament has been more or less to interfere with the liberty of the subject. There is then no help for liberty in so-called modern Liberalism. Lastly, we have Lord Rosobery and his political friends. I do not know what view my noble friend below the gangway (the Earl of Rosebery) will take with regard to this measure. He started with a clean slate, but I am afraid he has written this Bill upon it. At any rate, he voted for the first Bill which your Lordships threw out, and, again, I fear no help is to be got from this quarter. What then is to be done? Is there no hope anywhere? Yes! There is in your Lordship's House. You, in our Constitution, practically occupy the place of the Supreme Court in America. You are our last Court of Appeal in politics. You are independent, and all-powerful. The nation looks to your Lordships to be true, as I am sure you will be, to your independent position; and I confidently trust that you will throw out this Bill, and not sanction on the 12th of May a measure which in principle is identical with a Bill which you rejected three months ago.

Amendment moved— To leave out 'now,' and add at the end of the Motion 'this day six months.'"—(The Earl of Wemyss.)


My Lords, I think it is desirable that the House, before it proceeds further with the Bill, should consider the question whether the measure is in order. The Bill the Second Reading of which the noble Lord has moved today is almost the same as the Bill which was rejected by the House a few months ago. The Memorandum preceding the Bill is verbatim the same as the Memorandum which preceded Bill No. 1. Of the seventeen clauses of the Bill, ion are identical with the clauses of the other Bill, and the question is whether the difference is such as to justify the House in departing from the Rule that When a Bill is rejected it shall not be reconsidered again the same session. The distinction between the two Bills—I admit it is a very important distinction—is that, whereas in the former Bill the local authorities were able of their own motion to close shops on certain days and hours——


Subject to the approval of the shopkeepers.


Precisely so; but without any outside controlling power. By this Bill their resolution would not be valid until it was confirmed by Parliament. I quite admit that that is a very important change. Although this is a delicate and difficult point to decide, it seems to me, judging by precedent, that the Bill is not so very different from the Bill thrown out in February as to justify the House to depart from the Rule governing the reconsideration of rejected Bills.


I feel bound to state what my opinion is in reference to this matter, for I regard it to be as much our duty on this Bench to see that the Rules of the House are complied with as it is the duty of the noble Marquess and the noble Earl' the Chairman of Committees. When I saw the notice that had been given of the present Bill, it at once occurred to me that there might be some point of order in regard to introducing the measure again so soon after it had been thrown out. I, therefore, gave very careful consideration to the question. When the former Bill was before the House I supported it, and I argued that, in view of the Report of the Committee, which included among its members the noble Marquess the Prime Minister, it ought to have had a Second Reading; but the Government thought differently, and voted for the Amendment of the noble Earl rejecting the Bill. On considering the present Bill, I have come to the conclusion that, even if it is generally admitted, as I think it ought to be, that with very few exceptions Bills thrown out ought not to be introduced again the same session, this Bill is so important that an exception should be made in its favour. The Report of the Committee urges the; immediate and pressing necessity for a measure of this kind; and when I bear in mind the evidence given by medical men before the Committee of the need of doing something in the interest of the health of those employed in shops, I think your Lordships ought to make an exception in this case and give the Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, when this question was brought to my attention on the First Reading of the Bill, I certainly thought such a great and important change had been made in its provisions that it was for the House to decide whether it should proceed. I, therefore, did not stop the Bill at that stage. If it is once admitted, as it seems to be, that the Bill comes within the Rule, then the constant practice of Parliament has been peremptorily to reject such a Bill, and not allow it to proceed. In saying this, I express no opinion on the merits of the Bill; but to depart from the established practice on the ground suggested would be to cause serious inconvenience, not only to this House, but to the other House of Parliament.


My Lords, I feel that this is an exceedingly difficult question to touch, because we are rather leaving the ground of politics and entering upon that of metaphysics. The question is whether this is the same Bill as the one which the House rejected in February. Questions of absolute identity have puzzled philosophers more than any other, and I do not profess to have any powers of perception superior to those which have been generally displayed on the matter. I confess that I am very much impressed by the authority of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, in so far as the question relates to the Orders of the House. The merits of the Bill are a matter for subsequent discussion if the Bill proceeds; but, dealing merely with those Rules and traditions which are so precious for the maintenance of due order in debate, I fail to see, in view of the opinions expressed by the two authorities of the House, how the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition can ask for special indulgence in favour of this Bill. If we are going to consider the substance of Bills brought before us, and determine from that whether we shall observe our Rules or not, it does not require much insight to see that our Rules will rapidly disappear. Therefore, while absolutely reserving all questions with respect to the merits of the Bill, I shall feel obliged to follow the advice of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and the Chairman of Committees.


I think the noble Marquess rather overstated the expression of opinion of the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack. I gathered from what the noble and learned Earl said that he held himself very free indeed as to expressing any definite opinion on the question whether this is the same Bill or not. Indeed, he rather hinted that he had been disposed to come to the conclusion that it was not the same Bill, but that he was somewhat affected by the arguments of my noble friend Earl Spencer, which he seemed to seize upon, in order to find a reason for coming to the conclusion that this is the same Bill as the one your Lordships rejected three months ago. I am sorry to differ from my noble friend beside me. I submit that the new clause is of such a far-reaching character that it practically makes the Bill a new Bill. As the Bill was originally drafted, a local authority, moved by a two-thirds vote, could at once close the shops in its locality after a certain hour; but, under the present Bill, on every single occasion when it is proposed to bring this power into operation, special reference will have to be made to Parliament, and the parties will be able to come before Parliament, and urge their reasons for supporting or opposing the proposals of the local authority. That does seem to me to be so large a change in the procedure as practically to make this a new Bill. Therefore, I shall vote in favour of allowing the Bill to proceed.


Having had a long experience of the Rules of this House, I must say that when I saw this notice on the Paper it struck me as somewhat extraordinary that a Bill almost identical with one we had already rejected should be again introduced in the same session. I mentioned the matter to my noble friend Lord Morley, who concurred in the opinion I held that the Bill was out of order, and should not be allowed to proceed. To get out of the difficulty, I beg to move the previous question.


On this point I would like to call the attention of the House to what took place in connection with the Act providing seats for shop assistants. That Bill was thrown out on Second Reading, because it applied only to Scotland, but exactly the same measure was again introduced during the same session applying to England and Wales. That Bill passed the Second Reading, but when it reached the Committee Stage, I moved, as an Amendment, that Scotland be included, which was agreed to. Therefore, by the insertion of that Amendment the House agreed to a proposal which it had rejected earlier in the same session. I mention this to show that we have not been unbending on this particular point.


I venture to hope that we shall not discuss this Bill on the motion for the previous question. Let us decide that first, and then noble Lords may discuss Lord Wemyss's speech ad infinitum.


It has been stated that the Memorandum on this Bill is precisely the same as the Memorandum on the former Bill. The Memorandum has nothing whatever to do with the Bill. It is not official in any respect, and ought not to be considered on a point of order.

Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

Then, the original question being stated, the previous question was put, whether the question shall be now put. Resolved in the negative.