LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I desire to make an appeal to the noble Lord who is to move in a few minutes the Second Reading of the Shops Regulation Acts Consolidation Bill. This is a 264 Bill of twenty-two clauses and more than twenty pages, and it was only circulated to your Lordships this morning. I think in all he circumstances that this is not quite treating the House as it ought to be treated. I say nothing as to who is responsible. I understand that the Bill is only a Consolidation Bill, but still those who are interested would like to look through it. I am sure it would be interesting to the House to hear what the noble Lord has to say about the Bill, but the appeal I make is that after the noble Lord has made his statement in moving the Second Reading he should agree to a friendly Motion for the adjournment of the debate in order that we may be able to come to a consideration of the Bill with some understanding of it.
Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS)
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I have to apologise to your Lordships for the fact, mentioned by Lord Balfour, that the Bill was only circulated this morning. I do not know whose fault it is, but when I introduced the Bill last week I was under the impression that it would be circulated in time to give your Lordships sufficient opportunity of studying its details. In the circumstances I am bound to say that I think the appeal made by the noble Lord, that the debate on the Second Reading should stand adjourned, is a very reasonable one, and I would suggest that next Monday would be a convenient day upon which we might resume the discussion of the measure.
I do not think it is necessary for me to say very much at this stage, but I would like to emphasise the fact that this is really nothing but a consolidation measure. There are no extraneous matters introduced; there are no amendments of the existing Acts; and if your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading I shall move that it be referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills which is to be set up on the Motion moved the other day by the Lord Chancellor. I understand that it would not be possible for any Bill involving extraneous matter to go before such a Committee; consequently your Lordships can rest assured that this measure is nothing but a Consolidation Bill pure and simple.
265 It is desirable that the Bill should go through without any delay, for this reason. The Act which your Lordships passed last session dealing with the question of shops comes into operation on May 1. Previous to that date it will be necessary for the various local authorities to issue regulations. The central authorities—that is to say, the Home Office in England, the Secretary for Scotland in Scotland, and the Lord-Lieutenant in Ireland—will have to issue a circular to the local authorities and others concerned, pointing out the provisions of the new Act and showing in what way they must be complied with. It would be more convenient if it were possible to issue that circular with reference to a Consolidated Act than with reference to all the Acts which it is now proposed to consolidate. The shopkeepers themselves will no doubt be in considerable difficulty in understanding the exact provisions with which they ate now called upon to comply unless this Consolidation Bill is passed.
There are six Acts in existence dealing with this subject—the Act of 1892, which deals with the hours of young persons in shops; the amending Acts of 1893 and 1899; the Act of 1899, which deals with the question of seats for female assistants in shops; the Act of 1904, which introduced the principle of early closing upon a sort of voluntary basis; and, lastly, the Act of last session. All these Acts refer to exactly the same subject. There is necessarily a certain amount of overlapping, and it would be extremely convenient, both to the Departments and to the public, if a Consolidation Act were passed and passed before April if possible. I do not think that a study of this Bill will reveal any difficulties to any student of it. If your Lordships will glance at it, you will see that in the margin reference is given to previous Acts from which the clauses in the present Bill are derived. In many cases they are copied verbatim and, I think, present no difficulty whatever.
But there is one point of considerable complexity, and that is the question of the application of this Bill to Ireland, and it arises in this way. The Act of 1911, and, indeed, previous Acts, only applied to Ireland in part. The rural districts in Ireland were entirely excluded from the operation of the Act of last session. Consequently there is a difficulty in a Consolidation Bill—it is merely a matter of drafting, 266 but it does present some complexity—as to how best the case of Ireland can be dealt with. One or two alternatives presented themselves to the draftsman. The one selected is to set out in the schedule those parts of the Act which apply to Ireland. I do not know that I can elucidate this very much. It really is a Committee point, and when the Bill goes before the Committee believe it is the practice for the draftsman to attend, and he will be able to explain to the Committee why he thinks this the simplest way to accomplish the desired end. However, my Lords, I think it is only reasonable that we should adjourn this discussion for a few days in order that your Lordships should have an opportunity of studying the Bill a little more at leisure, and I have pleasure, therefore, in agreeing to the adjournment until Monday.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Ashby St. Ledgers.)
§ The further debate adjourned to Monday next.