HL Deb 12 August 1904 vol 140 cc353-68


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in asking your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading, I do not think it will be necessary for me to go at any length into the arguments in favour of the Bill, or the provisions contained in it; for this reason, that your Lordships' House has a very intimate acquaintance with the questions raised by this Bill. Last year a measure was passed through all its stages in this House containing practically the same features as this Bill. The House may remember that four years ago my noble friend Lord Avebury, who has taken a very keen interest in this subject, and may be said to be the father of this Bill, introduced the question to your Lordships House. His proposals were not then accepted, and a Committee of the House of Lords was appointed and sat in 1901 to consider the whole matter. That Committee made a strong Report urging the necessity of dealing with this question, but recommending a change in the mode of procedure under the Bill. Last session two Bills were introduced, one by my noble friend Lord Ribblesdale and the other by the noble Lord opposite, Lord Avebury; and on that occasion Lord Avebury's Bill, which contained the same provisions, was accepted and. read a second time.

I would remind your Lordships what those provisions are. Power is given to the local authorities to make closing orders, which have to be confirmed by the central authority. The closing order may fix the hours on the various days of the week throughout their area at which shops must be closed, but not earlier than 7 o'clock on ordinary days, and on one day in the week not earlier than 1 o'clock. Whenever the local authority are satisfied that a case has been made out for such an order, they have to take the opinion of the district, and if there is a majority of at least two-thirds of the shopkeepers affected in favour of the order, they may make it. The order has to be confirmed by the central authority, who in this case is a Secretary of State, and it is also laid down in the Bill that the closing order shall be laid before each House of Parliament as soon as it has been confirmed, and that if an Address is presented to His Majesty asking that the order may be cancelled, His Majesty in Council may annul the order, and the order so annulled becomes void. These are practically the provisions of the Bill which your Lordships passed last year.

With regard to the local authority, there is a small alteration. The local authority in that case was the county council in all counties and the county council in London. Under the present Bill the local authority includes urban councils where the population is over 20,000. The authority in London is also altered from the county council to the borough councils, who, it is thought, from their local knowledge, may be able to carry out the Act in a more satisfactory manner than the county council, which has a much larger area to deal with. The other alterations are not material. There are exceptions made to the operation of the Bill in the case of certain trades, which will be found in the schedule. They are practically the same as before. The Bill is, however, in a somewhat different form from what it was originally. It is differently drafted, but the main features of the Bill are the same as those which your Lordships have previously agreed to.

That would be all that it would be necessary for me to state were it not for the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Wemyss, has a notice on the Paper that he intends to move an Amendment to the Second Reading, declaring that, in the opinion of this House, it is inconsistent with its dignity and character as a deliberative and legislative Assembly, that a Bill should be submitted to it in the last days of the session that interferes with trade, and, for the first time in modern legislation, limits the working hours of full-grown men. Let me say at once that no one regrets more than I do that this Bill has to be considered at such a late period of the session. Personally, I should have been very glad if it could have been introduced into your Lordships' House at an early period and then sent down to the House of Commons; but, at all events, I may say this, that if there is any measure the introduction of which at a late period of the session does not make much difference, it is this Bill, which your Lordships have fully considered on previous occasions, and to which both sides of the House have given their assent.

With regard to the objection to the Bill that it interferes with trade, I would; only say that the interference will be safeguarded by being in the hands of the councils representing the ratepayers and the traders themselves. I agree with the noble Earl that the Bill is a serious interference with the working hours of full-grown men. The Bill is necessary, because it is proved by the statistics which my noble friend Lord Avebury has laid before the House that shopkeepers have done all they can to arrange the earlier closing of shops by voluntary means, and have failed for the simple reason that two or three shopkeepers in a locality can defeat the whole object. An overwhelming majority of the shopkeepers interested have declared that it is necessary in order that they may have shorter hours that some legislation should be passed dealing with the subject. There is a rather curious incident with regard to the contention that this Bill limits the working hours of full-grown men. I understand that in the other House a very well-known Baronet, who is a great authority on labour questions, actually voted against the Second Reading on the ground that the Bill did not interfere with the hours of adult labour. He was strongly of opinion that the Bill ought to have gone further than it did, and he refused to give his sanction to the measure on the ground, openly stated, that it did not interfere with the hours of adult labour.


Who was that?


Sir Charles Dilke. I leave my noble friend to settle with the right hon. Baronet whether this Bill does or does not limit the working hours of full-grown men; but I think it is a curious coincidence that in one House the Bill should be opposed on exactly the opposite grounds to those on which it was opposed in the other House. I hope your Lordships will recognise the necessity, which has been stated over and over again, for passing some measure of this sort. This Bill fully guards the interests of all concerned, and there are such reasonable provisions that they prevent any injustice being done or any order being made unless it is clearly the wish of the great majority of the shopkeepers themselves and also of the council of the particular district that it should be made. I hope your Lordship will excuse the fact that the Bill has come forward at such a late period of the session when it cannot be given the same consideration that it would have received if introduced earlier; but, at all events, we can say that this is a Bill about which your Lordships know everything, and therefore I hope the House will be inclined, not only to give it a Second Reading, but to allow it to pass through all its stages to-day.

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


My Lords, those of your Lordships who happened to be in the House yesterday will recall the fact that when the noble Marquess the Leader of the House proposed the suspension of the Standing Order to enable the Government to pass any Bill they chose through all its stages at one sitting, I entered a protest against legislation being passed in that way at the fag end of the session. I anticipated that we might have measures containing serious principles, such as this one does. There is another one to come on later, upon which I shall also have something to say, namely, the Outdoor Relief (Friendly Societies) (No. 2) Bill, which is a very important measure affecting the administration of outdoor relief. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with a speech on this occasion. I have often spoken upon this subject, and I am perfectly content to rest my case on the fact that the Bill has been brought forward at this late period of the session and can only become law by the suspension of the Standing Order. It cannot by any possibility be discussed, and by bringing forward a Bill which cannot possibly be discussed you are lowering this House in the estimation of the public. I may say that I have amended the Motion which stands in my name. It will now read in this form— To move to resolve, That, in the opinion of this House it is inconsistent with its dignity and position as a deliberative and legislative Assembly, that a Bill should be submitted to it, in the last days of the session, that interferes with trade in streets as well as shops, and for the first time in modern legislation limits the working hours of full-grown men. My noble friend stated that Sir Charles Billie holds the view that the Bill does not interfere with the working hours of full-grown men. If full-grown men, instead of being able to work till eight or nine o'clock if they choose, are turned out of the shops at seven o'clock that is an interference with their power of working and of earning wages. I say deliberately, that this is the first time in modern legislation that Parliament has been asked, manifestly and clearly, to interfere with the working hours of full-grown men.

I hold that in a land of liberty, though this is not the view, I know, of the trade unions, a man should be able to work as long as he likes, for whom he likes, and for what wages he likes, and if he cannot do that, our boasted liberty is gone. We know what the small end of the wedge is in legislation. There is not one of your Lordships who is not suffering at the present moment from the land legislation which was passed originally for Ireland under so-called exceptional circumstances, but which soon spread to Scotland and England. Instead of taking as a warning what goes on in our Colonies, you are taking it as an example. Do your Lordships know the extent to which State interference with labour has gone in New Zealand? I should like to know how my noble friend Lord Avebury would like to have the hours of labour in his household laid down as they are in New Zealand. I am inclined to think that in your Lordships' households seven o'clock, the hour fixed in this Bill, is not the hour at which business is stopped. I am told that in New Zealand cooking is forbidden on Sundays, and that the only place in New Zealand where you can get a hot dinner on a Sunday is Government House. I point to these things to show how this legislation grows.

This Bill interferes with trade and will add to the difficulties of trade. It shuts up all shops at seven o'clock. It shuts up the great establishments like Harrods' Stores and Marshall & Snelgrove's. They, I believe, are in favour of this Bill. But the Bill also shuts up the small shop of the widow, and of a man and his wife, who employ nobody; and I say, my Lords, in a free country that that is monstrous. It does more than that. Indirectly it sweeps the streets of all trading barrows. I am sure it is unnecessary for me to state what a convenience the barrow trade is to working men and others who have to buy their provisions late in the evening. Well, all that is done away with by this Bill. I venture to think it is unjust that through the coercion of the great stores and the large tradesmen the small trading community should suffer, and the public should be put to this great inconvenience. I enter my protest against this special legislation and the want of principle that pervades it. At the bottom of it all is fishing for votes. Humanity is all very well, but votes are much more important than humanity. I regret that His Majesty's Government should have considered it necessary to suspend the Standing Order, thereby making this House ridiculous as a deliberative and legislative Assembly, and to force this Bill through all its stages in one sitting. I have entered my protest, and I now beg to submit my Amendment to the favourable consideration of your Lordships.

Amendment moved— To leave out all the words after the word 'That,' for the purpose of inserting the following words, viz.: 'in the opinion of this House it is inconsistent with its dignity and position as a deliberative and legislative assembly, that a Bill should be submitted to it, in the last days of the session, that interferes with trade in streets as well as shops, and for the first time in modern legislation limits the working hours of full-grown men.'"—(The Earl of Wemyss.)


My Lords, I hope the House will not agree to the Amendment moved by my noble friend. My noble friend's description is really a travesty of the Bill. I deny that the Bill interferes with trade or with adult labour. All who are really interested in this Bill desire that it should become law.


What! All the little widows who keep shops?


Under the Bill the small shops will determine the hours of closing; it is not so much the large shopkeepers as the small shopkeepers who need this Bill, for the large shopkeepers can leave the late work to their assistants. But the shopkeepers all over the country are in favour of this Bill. The only objection some of them have to the measure is that it does not go far enough. Some of the provisions intended as safeguards I should have been glad to see omitted. They are cumbersome and unnecessary and may introduce difficulties. I regret also that as regards London the borough councils have been substituted for the county council, not that I have not every confidence in the borough councils, but their intersecting boundaries will create a difficulty where one side of a street is in one borough and the other in an adjoining borough. At this period of the session I feel that it is impossible to propose Amendments, and I have confidence that if in this case difficulties arise, if some of the so-called safeguards prove to create unnecessary delay, friction and expense, His Majesty's Government will introduce an amending Bill in another session.

But though not altogether in the form that had been wished, and though encumbered with some unnecessary provisions, this is a most excellent measure, and will do great good. It may seem a paradox, but I believe the measure will do good even where it is not actually put into force. At present it happens over and over again that while the great majority of shopkeepers agree and are anxious to close at a reasonable hour, two or three obstinate men resist the wishes of all their neighbours. At present no pressure can be put upon them, but henceforth they can be told, "Well, if you will not agree we shall appeal to the local authority," and this in many cases will be effective. The measure will confer an immense boon on our towns and cities, and bring much happiness into the lives of the shopkeeping community, in whose name I thank the Government, and especially my noble friend Lord Belper in this House, and the Home Secretary and Mr. Cochrane who had charge of the Bill in the other House. The noble Earl said the Bill ought to receive more consideration at your Lordships' hands. I cannot help reminding him that it has been before the House of Commons twenty-five years, that it has several times passed its Second Reading, that it has been before three Select Committees, that it has twice passed through Grand Committee, and that during all this time there has been no opposition to it from the classes in whose name my noble friend claims to speak. I therefore trust your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.


My Lords. I am in favour of the Bill, and will not, therefore, vote for the Amendment of my noble friend, but I do feel considerable sympathy with the protest against the passing of so many measures by the suspension of the Standing Orders. I think this has happened to a greater extent this session than at any period I can recollect. I do not wish to bring any particular accusation against those who now sit on the Government Bench. It is a long time since I sat there, but I can recollect the Conservative Party's eloquent denunciation of Liberal Governments, whose peculiar wickedness it was supposed to be to do these things. I am not sorry that the Conservative Party should have an opportunity of realising the pressure which is put on members of a Government in this House to take such steps. Another reason for not speaking too strongly on this matter is one of prudence—the prudence probably of an old man. The Party opposite has been in office now for a great many years. There naturally might occur a change, and when I look at the symptoms of the present day and recall some recent by-elections, I am bound to say that I think the country is evidently a little tired of the present Government, and that it is not altogether impossible that the Liberal Party may ere long find themselves on the opposite side of the House, and in that event I do not wish to create an inconvenient precedent. I wish to be quite frank about the matter.

I have two suggestions to make, one of which no doubt could be carried out by any Government, the other could only be carried out by a Conservative Government. My first suggestion is this. Government Bills are kept on the Order Paper of the House of Commons long after it is quite clear that they have no chance of passing. I venture to suggest that if the Order Paper were cleared earlier of such Bills, and what is called the "massacre of the innocents" took place in the month of June, by which time the Government must know the Bills which they cannot pass, I think there would be a chance of surviving Bills coming up to your Lordships' House earlier. This suggestion, as I have said, could be carried out by any Government. My second suggestion is one which a Liberal Government could not carry out, but one which might be carried out by a Conservative Government, and I have wondered why it has never been done of late years. It is that more Bills should be originated in this House. A Liberal Government could not do that, because their Bills, if introduced in this House, would be cut into ribbons by the vast Conservative majority here, and would be passed on to the House of Commons in a condition in which their authors would not know them. Obviously, no Liberal Minister could take such a foolish step as to introduce an important Bill in this House; but the Party opposite, whose majority seem to be very obedient and easily managed, might frequently initiate Bills in this House, which procedure would give us useful occupation at that time of the session when we might just as well go into the country and have no sittings at all for any good we do. It would also afford to this House an opportunity for fully considering a number of Bills which at the present moment come up to us at the end of the session in these unsatisfactory circumstances. I do not blame noble Lords opposite for the state of things complained of. I attribute it to bad management in the House of Commons. The management in the House of Commons has not been successful, and it is the result of that bad management that these Bills come up at this time.


My Lords, this discussion, which I suppose is intended to be on the Amendment of the noble Earl, has been of a rather wide character; not, perhaps, unusually wide for the lax rules under which we do our business here; but some of the observations which have been made tempt me to say a few words on this subject. The noble Marquess made two suggestions. I am not sure that either of the suggestions he threw out will meet the difficulty. At any rate, one of them has been frequently tried. If more Bills were originated in this House, I am afraid there is no security they would receive great attention in the other House. It has been often tried. I tried it myself during my tenure of office, and the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack has also tried it. The noble and learned Earl would be able to tell your Lordships that year after year Bills which he thought necessary in the legal interests of the country have been passed through the House, but have not met with any favour in another place. Then, with regard to the proposal to have what is called the "massacre of the innocents" at an earlier period, I am afraid that that might make the difficulty even greater than it is at the present time, because those whose measures had been massacred might join in bringing pressure on the Government not to pass those which had temporarily survived, and enmity might be created instead of diminished.

The noble Marquess, it seemed to me, spoke of this matter rather too much as one of controversy or at least of comparison between one Government and another. I think it is quite possible that both sides are in fault and have succumbed to temptation. I remember being partly responsible with the Government of which I was then a member in passing a Factory Bill through this House with great rapidity at the end of the session, and that was by no means an uncontroversial measure. I think it is not the interest of this or any Government, but the interest of the House itself that is at stake. I know there are great difficulties in managing the business in another place. There are a large number of Members there who desire to speak, and they have a great, deal of business to get through. Indeed, no one deny that the other House is overweighted with work, and the difficulty, I am afraid, is not a temporary one. Our grievance here is that we have nothing to do for many of the early months of the session, and that we have so much to do in the last few weeks that we cannot really do it.

In my humble opinion the remedy is to be found in the introduction of the system which is sometimes applied to private Bills, namely, to carry over Bills which have passed the stage of Second Reading from one session to another. I am aware that there are objections to that, but it is a matter which in the interests of this House we ought to insist on being done. For instance, what harm would accrue to any public interest if the particular Bill which is the subject of discussion at this moment were carried over till the beginning of next session. The suggestion I make is not applicable to all Bills. It is not applicable to money Bills or Bills required for the public service. There are some Bills on the Paper which will be passed through all their stages at one sitting and to which I offer no objection; but just look at some of the others. There is the Outdoor Relief (Friendly Societies) Bill, which is not uncontroversial. The Shop Hours Bill is certainly not wholly uncontroversial. The noble Lord who represents the Government in this matter may minimise the controversy upon it, and the noble Lord who is its godfather may say it is universally accepted. I believe there is a misapprehension about that. It was introduced first of all in the interests of shop assistants, and next in the interests of shopkeepers.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I have always been supported by the shopkeepers, and I have said so from the beginning.


The argument as to assistants has certainly been used by some. As to the principle of this Bill, I think it will inflict a great injustice on small shopkepers if it is passed. No one is injured by permitting these peope to sit in their back parlours reading the newspapers whilst waiting for a customer after the large shops in the districts have closed. The insistence of the larger shopkeepers in shutting up all shops is to my mind a cruel injustice, and I have no hesitation in saying so. The Shop Hours Bill has not even been circulated to your Lordships and we are told that it is very differently drafted from the Bill which has already been before the House. Copies of the Bill were not accessible until your Lordships came down to the House this afternoon.

Then take the other Bills. They include the Weights and Measures Bill, the Reformatory Schools in Scotland Bill, and a number of others. I ask your Lordships what public interest would be damnified if these Bills were carried over from one session to another and discussed fairly and properly at the beginning of another session? No interest whatever would suffer. There are, I know, some objections to it, but the fact of the matter is this. If this House desires to preserve its character as a legislative Assembly, more of its Members must remain during August or enough must stay to say they will not stand the treatment. In other words, until the House goes on strike no attention will be paid to its complaints. I should be sorry to threaten reprisals in the event of such a change happenng as the noble Marquess opposite seemed to contemplate, but I say this is a matter largely for the House itself. If it had not been for the notice standing in the name of the noble Earl I had intended putting on the Paper a notice to move that further proceedings on this Bill be suspended in order that the Bill may be proceeded with in the next session of Parliament. I know perfectly well that it is no use moving that now, because I should, judging by the sparse attendance of noble Lords to-day, run the risk, by taking a division, of adjourning the proceedings on the Bill till another day. I do not want to carry measures to that length, but I say seriously that, if the House means to preserve its character as a deliberative and legislative Assembly, it will have to take some step of this kind. I think that the practice has gone further this session than I ever remember in previous years.


The Factory Bill year was worse.


Well, the noble Earl the First Lord of the Admiralty and I were jointly responsible for that at that time, and, therefore, as the noble Marquess opposite said, we must not say too much about it; but I think there are relatively more Bills coming up at the end of the session this year than in that year. I know perfectly well that verbal protests of the kind I am making are not much use. My real object is to urge the consideration of the point which I have suggested, and to show that there is a means, which I believe not to be unconstitutional, because each House is master of its proceedings, which would be effective, which would not destroy the labour of the other House of Parliament, and which would restore freedom and efficiency to this House. I think this is a subject which has not received the attention it deserves.


My Lords, I have so often during the last few days expressed my regret that your Lordships should be called upon to transact the remaining business of the session under such pressure that I will not take up your Lordships' time by repeating those professions, which I assure your Lordships are sincere. We must remember that what we have to deplore is not merely the suspension of the Standing Orders, because that is merely the symptom of the disease. The disease itself is the congestion of business at the end of the session. Whether we in point of form maintain the Standing Orders and pass each Bill through its stages one at a time, or whether we suspend the Standing Orders and pass two or three stages in one evening, does not seem to me to matter very much. I was relieved when I heard my noble friend Lord Ripon admit frankly that we on this side are not the only offenders in this respect, and when, as I thought, he was about to propose that both Front Benches, confessing that they were habitual criminals, should, so to speak, wear the white sheet and promise repentance, I was quite inclined to take part in a movement of that kind in company with him, but I observed that he immediately went on to divest himself of the white sheet and to promise that, on an occasion which he evidently did not regard as very remote, he would reappear in his old and unregenerate character.

I think it is our duty to seek for some remedy for this state of things. Whether it is to be found in any of the three proposals which have been made this evening—an earlier "massacre of the innocents," the introduction of more Bills in your Lordships' House, or the carryover of Bills from one session to another—I will not now attempt to decide; but I can assure your Lordships that we do feel that this is not a question between the two Front Benches, but a question concerning, in the first place, the interests of the public in seeing that legislation is properly conducted, and in the next place those of this House whose dignity and reputation are involved.


My Lords, it is interesting to hear the Government declare that they are in this matter criminals. Perhaps the occupants of the Front Opposition Bench will forgive me if I say that they are now on ticket-of-leave, and think it possible that they may ere long find themselves locked up again, and therefore, they will not be hard on the criminals who now sit on the Government Bench. I venture to think that this discussion is rather an academic one. We have heard this sort of thing year after year. The Leader of the Opposition got up the other night and made a most earnest protest against the Standing Orders being suspended, and then he refused to divide the House against their suspension. The noble Marquess on the Front Opposition Bench has to-night protested most strongly against the course pursued, but has said he is going to vote for the Bill, and so it goes on year after year. The business of this House continues to be crowded into the last two or three weeks. We are told by the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees that to introduce a Bill into this House is a futile thing. He mentioned the fact that the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack had introduced Bills which had never become law. But whose fault is that? It is entirely the fault of the Government in the House of Commons. If they gave that precedence to the Government Bills introduced in this House which they are able to give, those Bills would have the same chance of passing into law as Government Bills introduced in the House of Commons. It is a mere matter of arrangement. There is no earthly reason, that I see, why this Bill, and, still less, why the Bill next on the Paper, the Outdoor Relief (Friendly Societies) Bill, should not have come up to this House months ago. They were not, as I understand, Government Bills.


This is a Government Bill.


But the next Bill on the Paper, the Outdoor Relief (Friendly Societies) Bill, is not a Government Bill, though it is supported by the Government in this House. Both Bills touch important questions of principle. The Outdoor

Resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and com-

Relief (Friendly Societies) Bill is so. short and simple that it surely would have been possible to have got it up to this House in proper time. We shall never get over this difficulty until the independent Members of this House set their faces against passing Bills at this time of the session and refuse to be parties to it. It is a very serious step to take, but it is the only step that will have any effect. We very nearly defeated the Factories Bill a year or so ago. We might have done it, for there were not thirty Members in the House at the time; but we abstained from doing it because of the tremendous importance of the Bill. In the same way I agree that it would be inadvisable to defeat the Education (Local Authority Default) Bill because of the importance of the principle involved; but unless noble Lords, independent of the two Front Benches, determine to resist the passage. at this late period of the session of measures of small importance as to the exigency of the moment, but of great importance as regards principle, then I say we shall never get over this difficulty. Holding that opinion, I intend to vote with my noble friend Lord Wemyss if he takes his Amendment to a division.

On Question, whether the words proposed to be left out shall stand part of the Motion, their Lordships divided. Contents, 30; Not-Contents, 11.

Canterbury, L. Abp. Hardwicke, E. Avebury, L.
Halsbury, E. (L. Chancellor.) Onslow, E. Belper, L.
Vane,E.(M.Lond'nd'y)(L.Pres.) Selborne, E. Braybrooke, L.
Salisbury,M.(L. Privy Seal.) Waldegrave, E. [Teller.] Emly, L.
Westmeath, E. Kenyon, L.
Lansdowne, M. Churchill, V. [Teller.] Kilmarnock,L. (E. Erroll.)
Ripon, M. Gordon, V. (E. Aberdeen.) Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)
Hutchinson,V.(E. Donoughmore Lawrence, L.
Clarendon, E. (L.Chamberlain.) Suffield, L.
Crewe, E. Addington, L. Windsor, L.
Denbigh, E. Ashbourne, L. Wolverton, L.
Northumberland, D. Hood, V. Iveagh, L.
Sherborne, L.
Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch Armstrong, L. Stalbridge, L. [Teller.]
and Queensberry.) Balfour, L. Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.) [Teller.]
Grey, E. Glenesk, L.

mitted to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.