HL Deb 18 May 1926 vol 64 cc209-25

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill which stands on the Order Paper in my name. I need not remind your Lordships that during the last fifty or sixty years Parliament has passed a series of Acts—Factory Acts, Workshop Acts, Education Acts—and this country has recently joined with the other great civilised nations of the world in passing laws regulating the conditions of employment. As a result of that, there is very general legislation protecting persons over eighteen years of age who are engaged in factories and workshops, and those of school age, fourteen and under, are also protected by the great Education Acts which have been passed.

It is interesting to find that in 1922, in the Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Workshops, the Chief Inspector refers to the fact that whereas, before the War, the total number of hours worked was something like sixty a week by adults—that is, in factories—the War experience had altered the general attitude and point of view of employers, who, during the War, found that it was good business to reduce the hours of labour as far as possible. The Inspector states that as a result of the War experience and other experience, adults work, as a general rule, from forty-four to forty-eight hours a week. He also makes another significant comment—significant because it is associated with the question I am raising to-day—that as regards juveniles the weight of public opinion has not been sufficient to reduce the number of hours, and that legislation had been necessary with regard to the hours during which juveniles worked. The result of this is that practically all those over 18 years of age are safeguarded and protected by legislation, national and international, that these under 14, that is to say of school age, are also protected, but that for the large group of young persons from the age of 14 to the age of 18 protection is only partial. In London there are at the present moment over 14,000 boys of the age of 16 to 17 employed without any legislative protection, and 13,000 girls of the same age, 16 to 17, also without legislative safeguards or protection.

I submit to your Lordships, therefore, that there is a real need to give full protection to juveniles between the ages of 14 and 18, such as the nation has thought fit and desirable to extend to those of school age below 14 and to adults over the age of 18. As recently as this year the Home Secretary, speaking in another place, said that additional legislation was necessary. Not very long ago, I think it was two years ago, the London County Council in a report referred to the inadequacy of the law in protecting juveniles of both sexes in refreshment houses, and also boys who are employed as messengers or as pages in hotels and restaurants. As to the nature of the employment, you will find that most of these juveniles are employed as van boys or in cleaning out boilers in ships, or as pages in night clubs, restaurants and cinemas, or as waitresses associated with refreshment houses. Broadly speaking, that is the problem we have before us.

As regards the actual number of hours worked by many of these juveniles I could quote countless cases, but I will not take up your Lordships' time in doing so. I could quote recent cases investigated this year and cases which were investigated a year ago, including, for instance, the case of a girl, investigated this year, who worked a total of 58 hours a week. If it is unwise in the national interest for adults to work more than a general standard of 48 hours a week, surely it is doubly unwise to permit young girls to work ten hours more during the course of a week. That is merely one case. I could quote a large number of cases of boys and girls working 50, 56½, 58 and 59 hours a week, a total which is far in excess of what civilised opinion considers desirable as regards adults. I could also quote to your Lordships cases of page boys employed in night clubs up to three or four o'clock in the morning, which is most undesirable. It is obvious that a great deal of subsequent ill-health must be due to the unwise and unsatisfactory hours worked by these young persons. I have been asked to bring in this Bill to deal with juveniles below the age of 18, when they come automatically under the Workshops and Factories Act and cease to be juveniles. It is at eighteen that they come under the operation and within the scope of the Factory Acts and labour legislation and of the great scheme of insurance, and may enter the labour exchange. At 14 years and below they are protected, broadly speaking, by the Education Act.

The Bill which is before your Lordships empowers local education authorities to exercise and utilise the same powers which have been given to them to deal with children of fourteen and under. The Education Act of 1921 was, in a large measure, a Consolidation Act. In Part VIII of that Act, Section 90 and onwards, the powers are enumerated. They are authorised to prescribe the age below which it is illegal for young persons to be employed, the hours during which employment is illegal, and the total hours per week beyond which employment of juveniles is illegal. They are empowered by that Act to prohibit entirely, or to permit subject to conditions, employment in specified occupations which may be considered unsuitable for young persons. There are also sections in that Act which make it impossible for too zealous education authorities to go forward on lines which might be considered unsatisfactory. The Secretary of State for the Home Department has the duty under that Act of confirming by-laws which are put forward by education authorities. Those by-laws require the confirmation of the Secretary of State before they can be brought into operation. They also have to be published for thirty days before taking effect. The Secretary of State has to consider any objections which may exist against those proposals and he is empowered, if he thinks it desirable or necessary, to hold a local inquiry. Thus, there is adequate safeguard to ensure that nothing foolish is done. The education authorities are bound to submit their proposals to the Secretary of State before they become statutory.

It may be asked: Why give this power to the local bodies, to the local education authorities? Why not have a general regulation? This country has developed a system of local responsibility, of local initiative. Parliament is constantly passing Acts which empower local authorities to do certain definite specified things dealing with health, education, inspection of children and the feeding of school children, and as local opinion becomes ripe the local authority, education or health as the case may be, exercises the powers which have been conferred upon it by Parliament. Experience shows that that is a very wise, satisfactory and statesmanlike way of proceeding, leaving it to local initiative to determine the moment at which particular powers should be utilised. The problem may vary in different localities and as one gets local experiments made one gets a fund of experience which subsequently enables the central department, very possibly, to make general Regulations.

I hope, therefore, that we may get a Second Reading of this Bill to-day. It deals with juveniles at perhaps the most critical time of their lives, the formative age between 14 and 18. I need not remind your Lordships of the total amount of time lost every year through ill-health. One knows, as a, result of the experience which has been gained under the great Insurance Act, that the total number of weeks lost through disablement or ill-health, if totalled together, are equivalent roughly to 400,000 adults being out of work for a whole year. Undoubtedly a great deal of that ill-health is due to the seeds that were sown in youth. Accordingly it is a good business proposition to protect the young arid I hope that to-day your Lordships will agree with me that this is a wise and statesmanlike measure.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Viscount Astor.)


My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months. Your Lordships will, I feel confident, have a large and real sympathy with the object of the noble Viscount and the promoters of this Bill. That object, I take it, is to make Regulations beyond those contained in the existing Factory and Mines Acts for the employment of young persons between the ages of 14 and 18 and to protect them from excessive hours of labour and injurious conditions of employment. But while we all feel that sympathy, I venture to suggest to your Lordships that this Bill is open to two fatal objections. In the first place, it is conceived on wrong lines and is impracticable, and in the second place, it is in any case premature because it deals with matters which can properly be dealt with only after the conditions of the employment of these young persons in factories have been settled by the Bill relating to factories which the Government are pledged to introduce at an early date.

I have said that this Bill is conceived on wrong lines. The noble Viscount has pointed out that under the Education Act, 1921, local education authorities are given wide powers to make by-laws for their own localities, subject, of course, to confirmation by the Home Secretary, for regulating the employment of children of school age—that is, broadly speaking, children under 14—and, in the case of street trading, of boys and girls under 16. That procedure is working well and a large number of local by-laws have been made regulating locally the employment of these children of school age and of boys and girls under 16 in the case of street trading. But this procedure, which your Lordships will note involves the making of local regulations for controlling the conditions of work of school children, is not, I venture to submit, suitable for the regulation of the hours of labour of persons between 14 and 18 who have left school, who are out of the jurisdiction of the school authority and are employed in industrial and commercial undertakings, such as railways, shops, offices, agriculture and so on. Many of these occupations are clearly not suitable for regulation by local by-laws.

There are something over 300 local education authorities in this country—I believe, to be accurate, the number is 317 —and you might, and probably would, have varying codes of regulations applying to different districts. This variation might, and I think would, inevitably seriously prejudice not only employers, but the young persons themselves in one locality as compared with their competitors in another locality, and large undertakings such as the railways, which extend over a large number of localities, would find themselves seriously hampered and harassed by the variation of these local regulations. Accordingly, I venture to urge upon your Lordships that matters like the employment of young persons after they have left school and between the ages of 14 and 18 are not matters for local by-laws, but for a wider form of legislation. Furthermore—a hypothesis to my mind wholly untenable—if local regulations by by-law were the proper form of dealing with this subject, it is really very difficult to understand why the local education authority, though proper enough for dealing with the employment of children of school age who come under their direct jurisdiction and of whom they have some knowledge, should be chosen as the authority for dealing with a subject that must be considered from the industrial and social standpoint rather than from a purely educational standpoint.

On those grounds I ask your Lordships to say that this Bill is conceived upon wrong lines in providing through local by-laws for the regulation of the employment of persons between the ages of 14 and 18 and also that the authorities who are given power to make these by-laws are not the proper authorities for dealing with the matter, even if local jurisdiction were desirable. But apart from the objections that I have urged there is another and, I venture to think, a very serious objection to this Bill. The Bill is really inappropriate at the present moment. We know that the employment of persons between the ages of 14 and 18 in factories and mines is dealt with by the existing Factory and Mines Acts and no doubt it is generally agreed that further legislation is desirable, not only for the amendment of the provisions of the Acts dealing with factories and mines, but, as the noble Viscount very truly said, to regulate the employment of young persons between the ages of 14 and 18 in occupations that are not covered by the Factory and Mines Acts.

It must be obvious, however, that the question of the hours and conditions of employment of these persons in general employment must await the decision of Parliament as to the regulation of the hours and conditions of labour in factories. We know that this question of the hours and conditions of employment of young persons in factories will be dealt with by the Bill that is promised by the Government for next Session, if not earlier. I submit that it is reasonably clear that decisions as to the hours and conditions of labour of young persons in factories will have a most important bearing on the question of hours and conditions of employment in industries which are not covered by the Factory and Mines Acts, and accordingly it appears to me essential that this whole subject should be dealt with comprehensively and that it would be unwise and impracticable to deal with it by means of this ill-conceived and inappropriate Bill.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months"). —(Lord Danesfort.)


My Lords, as representing the Home Office in this matter, perhaps it would save time if I said a few words as to the position of that Department in relation to this ques- tion. I hope that I may be allowed to congratulate my noble friend on the extremely moderate manner in which he has put his Bill before the House and also to say that the Home Office ha cc every sympathy with the objects for which this Bill is introduced—namely, that there should be some regulation of the hours of labour for young people between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. I should like, however, to put before my noble friend and the House one or two reasons why, on the whole, I think it is most inexpedient to proceed with this Bill at the present time. Those reasons have been given with great lucidity by my noble friend behind me, but I think the Home Office can give some assurance to the House that this is a matter which they mean to take up at the very earliest opportunity they can and proceed with it by means of a very much better and shorter method than is proposed in this Bill.

There are several very strong reasons against giving a Second Reading to this Bill. In the first place, I think it is quite clear to every member of this House that the regulation of the labour of young people between the ages of fourteen and eighteen is not a matter which ought to be dealt with haphazard by by-laws introduced by 300 different education authorities. It has been well brought out before the House that, while these 300 educational authorities have full right and power to deal with children of school age, when you get outside the school age and between the ages of fourteen and eighteen you ought no longer to be under education authorities. You are dealing then with a matter which closely affects the social and industrial condition of the whole of the country. These 300 education authorities, with their various by-laws, are not bodies which should deal with this question. You would have endless confusion all over the country with different local authorities issuing different regulations of every sort and kind for all the various employments in which children between the ages of fourteen and eighteen are engaged. Quite possibly they might inflict on certain industries great hardships. For instance, you might have a big cycle or motor works in one part of the country in which boys of this age were not allowed to be employed, and you might have other great works in another part, under a different local authority, where these youths were allowed to be employed, and these firms might be in competition. It is a matter which ought not to be dealt with sectionally but by laws and Regulations which obtain all over the country.

There are also two other very strong reasons which I hope may induce my noble friend not to press for a Second Reading of this Bill in what I hope will be a reluctant House. They are these. A Factory Bill has been promised by the Home Secretary. I think I am not going too far when I say that the Bill has been drafted.


It was drafted long ago.


And it is going to be introduced this Session, if possible, and will remain the principal business of legislation during the Session. to conic. There are, however, difficulties in the way. As the noble Lord opposite is aware, a Convention has been signed at Washington relating to an eight-hour working day all over the world. The difficulty is that different countries take different views as to what constitutes an eight-hour day. This matter has to be made clear before general legislation can be introduced, and this is not a time at which to have a Bill going forward in this House while another Bill, dealing with the various questions raised, is really in course of being introduced by the Government. I should also like to point out to the House that the machinery of this Bill is such that I am afraid the Home Office, on whose behalf I am speaking, cannot possibly give assent to it. Therefore, I ask my noble friend whether he does not think he has sufficiently ventilated the subject, and whether he has not already raised sufficient interest in the measure to justify him in not pressing forward the Bill at the present time.


My Lords, while the speech to which we have just listened is disappointing, so far as this particular Bill is concerned, I feel that it is encouraging in connection with the whole subject, for, speaking on behalf of the Government, the noble Lord has told us that at the very earliest opportunity the Government will deal with the particular problem with which this Bill proposes to deal. I am not quite so convinced of the difficulties of dealing with this problem by local bylaws. It seems to me that where labour among young persons of fourteen to eighteen varies so greatly in different districts, there is a good deal to be said for allowing particular localities to deal with the matter in their own way. I think that by that means hardship might be avoided. On the other hand, it is encouraging to know that a new Factory Bill is to be introduced at an early moment, and that it will deal with the particular problems which this measure attempts to solve.

The problem is one of very real urgency. There are large numbers of young persons between the ages of fourteen and eighteen who are working hours which are bad for their health. I can quite easily quote to this House cases of lads and girls of fifteen and sixteen years who are working from 7.30 in the morning to 7.30 or 8 o'clock at night. I can also give some cases where the hours are even longer, and certain other cases where the long hours are worked for six days a week, with only half a day free on Sunday. I think it will be generally recognised that this kind of work is extremely detrimental to the health of those who have just left-school. A great deal of the educational teaching which they have received is rapidly forgotten and largely wasted, and while these long hours are worked, especially by those engaged in what are known as blind-alley occupations, it is impossible for them to have any opportunity of training themselves for their future work. Many of these lads will lose their work at eighteen and be totally unfit for work in any other trade.

Take one illustration only. In London a large number of boys are working as van boys. Every van boy expects to become a van driver, but, as a matter of fact, only 15 per cent, ever become van drivers. At the age of eighteen the other 85 per cent. are thrown out on the streets through no fault of their own, and as a rule are quite unprepared for any other occupation or trade. If the hours were shortened, and if those shorter hours were combined with an extension of educational policy, some of the time of the boys might be spent in learning another trade. Of course, I do not pretend for a moment that if this measure were passed we should find all the van boys in London eagerly rushing to school. I imagine that the majority of them, if they thought this measure was intended to promote that end, would be whole-heartedly opposed to it. But I do wish to secure that these boys should have more time for leisure and more time for the enjoyment of opportunities of training for other trades. Personally, in view of what has been said by the noble Lord who spoke for the Government, I cannot help feeling that the wiser course would be to withdraw this particular measure and to trust that as soon as possible the Government will deal with the question.


My Lords, I think everyone in the House will sympathise with the purpose of the noble Viscount who brought forward this Bill, and will probably desire that young persons, as they are called, between the ages of 14 and 18 should be further protected. I admit that when I first saw the Bill I hoped that the noble Viscount would press it to a Second Reading, but having heard the speech made by the noble Lord opposite on behalf of the Home Office I hope he will think that a discussion will be sufficient, and will not feel it necessary to carry the matter further. The noble Lord referred to two points upon which I should like to say a word. He spoke of the Factory Bill, in reference to which we are aware that a promise has been made. In substance the Factory Bill was drafted during the period when the Labour Government were in office. There may have been some alterations since, but it was largely the work of Mr. Henderson when he was Home Secretary. One cannot help feeling, in reference to what was said on behalf of the Home Office, that it would be almost impossible to deal with a matter of this kind under the jurisdiction of these 317 education authorities. I agree with what was said by the right rev. Prelate that when this question is dealt with it Will partly be an educational matter. The object is not only to prevent children being overworked at this age, but also that additional educational advantages may be secured for them.


My Lords, the noble Lord opposite says he is sure that everybody in this House sympathises with the noble Viscount who brought in the Bill. I do not at all. I think the noble Viscount has brought in an extremely foolish Bill, and I hope it will be rejected. I should like to ask the right rev. Prelate, who made an extremely interesting speech just now, a question about van boys. How does he suppose that this Bill will prevent van boys continuing to be van boys, unless there is an ulterior object behind the Bill—namely, that all young persons under 18 shall be retained in school?


I do not want to prevent their continuing to be van boys; I want to shorten their hours.


That is one of the things which I hope will not be done. Let us consider for a moment where we really are. This is a poor country, having lost a good deal of its business and the only way in which it can regain it is by working longer hours and working harder. Yet the noble Viscount comes here and says that in other countries only short hours are worked. I beg to say that that is incorrect. I do not know where these other countries are. It is true. I believe, that at the League of Nations it was said that other countries would introduce a 48-hour week, but in point of fact they do not have a 48-hour week, but work for a much longer period. The noble Viscount says that here in England adults work from 44 to 48 hours a week. Where is that? It may be true of the mines, but with that possible exception I am not aware that there is any regulation anywhere which prevents people working more than 48 hours a week. Something of that sort was tried on the railways, and it was a tremendous failure. It was brought in by the Socialistic friends of the noble Viscount—because this is a Socialistic Bill if it is anything at all.

Let me put this question to the right rev. Prelate. Does he not agree that the proper persons to regulate the future of a boy's or girl's life are the parents? This Bill is going to take away from the parents the right to regulate their children's hours of labour and put it into the hands of local education authorities. Just see what it does. Local education authorities may make by-laws for persons under the age of 18. They may say the age below which employment is illegal; that is to say that if I have a child of 17, and I desire that he shall go into the Army, if it is a boy, or into domestic service if it is a girl, I am not allowed to do that because the noble Viscount says the Local education authority is to deprive me of my rights as a parent. I am quite certain that the Bible does not teach that. I am open to be contradicted by the three right rev. Prelates whom I see on those Benches, but from my knowledge of the Bible, I am quite certain that it does not teach that.

Then the Bill refers to the number of daily or weekly hours during which employment is illegal, and lastly it prohibits absolutely, or permits under conditions, the employment of persons under 18. The local education authorities may say: "You are not to work at all." The noble Viscount says that in night clubs pages work very long hours. The noble Viscount apparently knows more about night clubs than I do. I have never been in a night club, and I do not know how long the pages work, but I do think that to pass a Bill of this sort merely because in certain night clubs pages work long hours would be suicidal. I am glad the Government are not going to support the Bill, and I hope that when they bring in their factory legislation it will not be too Socialistic.


My Lords, I have been somewhat surprised to find a Bill of this kind brought in by a private member. I have never heard anywhere any serious demand for such a Bill. The noble Lord opposite is right when he says that you are proposing to take away the powers of parents over their children. From my experience even the parents find it very difficult to deal with young men between the ages of 14 and 18. Some of the men I know under 18 are married men and have families. Surely, if they can bring up a family they are fit to decide whether they should work themselves. I think that at the present time we are interfering too much with the various industries in the country. Had there been any serious demand for this Bill I should not have opposed it, but I am sure that it will do more harm than good if it is passed. Certainly it ought not to be passed unless it is clearly shown that there is a strong demand for it in the country. I know that there are many education authorities which think it desirable to have control of some of the clever boys under 18. But surely that could be done without introducing a general measure of this kind, giving control over the whole population between the ages of 14 and 18.

I am sorry that the Government have pledged themselves to bring in such a measure, and I feel sure that when they do bring it in they will find there will be a good deal of opposition to it. Between the ages of 14 and 18 is the very time when a boy learns his business. When you talk of education, what is education? A boy who is going into business gets more in the way of education between 14 and 18 from his office or his trade than he will ever get by attending school until he is 18. I feel sure that the reason why so many of our men are not as equal to their work as they ought to be is that they have not begun young enough and had a sufficiently good training in their trade.

I hope your Lordships will not pass this Bill. To me it seems extraordinary that such a measure should be brought in by a private member. It ought certainly to have been introduced by the Government. It takes away the liberty of all parents of children between 14 and 18 and of the children themselves, and I think that such a measure ought not to be passed on the demand of a private member. As time goes on I hope that His Majesty's Government will give more consideration to this question. If they do so and endeavour to acquaint themselves with the opinions of parents on the subject, I feel sure they will bring before your Lordships' House a measure worthy of consideration.


My Lords, I had no intention of intervening in this debate until I heard the last two speeches. Those speeches are exactly of the kind which were made in your Lordships' House against the legislation inspired by Lord Shaftesbury, which we are all agreed was right. Having lived for many years with the people who would be affected by the Bill—and that is my only justification for addressing your Lordships on the subject—it occurs to me that the last two speakers have made some mistakes. My noble friend is much too kind hearted, I know, to believe that the prosperity of the country should be built up on a child's heart, to use the famous expression in the "Cry of the children" which so much helped those who demanded legislation on this subject years ago.

I was glad to hear what was said by my noble friend about the Home Office. It sounds very plausible to talk about depriving the parents of liberty, but when one knows the condition of the parents who would be affected one recognises that they are not wholly to be trusted in such matters. They are struggling along; they want a little more money here and a little more money there and you have to protect them even from themselves. If you live in the midst of an over-worked population you will realise that you have to protect the children from their own parents. The argument of the noble Lord, Lord Joicey, would apply to the well-to-do who have comfortable homes, but I know from my own experience that it does not apply to these over-worked populations. I hope the noble Viscount will not press his measure at the moment. I hope also that none of the speeches which have been made will discourage the Government in carrying into effect much needed legislation in this connection.


My Lords, we have had a very interesting discussion. It has been interesting to learn, regarding all those great measures of amelioration which were begun by Lord Shaftesbury and which successive Governments have helped to pass, that there are still some members of your Lordships' House who disapprove of them and who do not realise that they have put us in the very van of modern civilisation. Need I follow my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam into the most interesting question as to what is a Socialist? I am entirely satisfied with the assurance which has been given on behalf of the Government. The Government recognise that. there is a problem which ought to be dealt with and they have announced today that they intend at the very earliest moment., in fact, this Session, to introduce a Bill dealing with other matters but including clauses in regard to this particular problem. In the circumstances I have no intention of pressing the Bill to a Division and I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.


My Lords, might I suggest that the proper Question to be put is that this Bill be now read this day six months? That has been moved and I would ask my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack whether the Question could not be put in that form.


My Lords, I understood that the noble Viscount wished to withdraw his Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill. He could not have done that without the unanimous consent of the House and if the noble Lord had any objection to make he could have made it then.


My noble friend has moved the rejection of the Bill, or rather that it should be read this day six months. The Question has been put that the word "now" shall stand part. Surely, that Question must be put arid the House will decide whether the word "now" shall or shall not stand part, possibly without a Division.


My Lords. I think the usual practice, unless my noble friend insists, is, first of all, to withdraw the Amendment and then to withdraw the Motion. That is the usual practice where it is desired not to press a matter any further. Of course, if my noble friend Lord Danesfort, who made an admirable speech, desired to press his Amendment to a Division, no doubt your Lordships would divide. But I think the better plan would be, as my noble friend below the gangway does not desire to press his Motion, to give him leave to withdraw it. I think that is the usual practice. My noble friends are both right on the point of Order.


My Lords, I know nothing about the practice in your Lordships' House and therefore I speak with diffidence, but according to the practice in another place if the Bill was withdrawn I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, could bring it in again in a fortnight's time. I do not know whether that is the practice here, but it is so in another place, and for that reason it is always insisted there that the Question shall be put and the Motion negatived. I should be inclined rather to insist unless the noble Viscount gives an undertaking that he will not bring in the Bill in that way.


I have no hesitation in giving that undertaking.


My Lords, in view of that undertaking I have no hesitation in withdrawing my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.