HL Deb 25 July 1935 vol 98 cc865-70

THE EARL OF IDDESLEIGH rose to move to resolve, That this House would welcome legislation designed to bring lending libraries carried on with a view to profit within the scope of the Acts that regulate the hours of opening in the case of shops. The noble Earl said: My Lords, no doubt many of your Lordships have observed the very great growth in the last few years of popular lending libraries; that is, libraries which carry on their business with the public in a very simple way. They do not require any subscription or any deposit, and any member of the public who likes to pay twopence can take a book out and keep it for a week. The books in which they deal are admirable from the point of view of the entertainment of the public, but no one would claim that they have any particular educational value. They consist, in chief, of fiction, and I am informed that the books most in demand are those which deal with the subjects of love and blood—both excellent things in their places.

I have nothing bat commendation and praise for the commercial initiative of those who have provided the public with cheap and harmless entertainment in this manner, but I felt it my duty to call the attention of the House to the fact that there are no restrictions whatever upon the hours during which these lending libraries may be open. They do not come under the definition of "shops" in the Shops Act, 1912, which governs the hours of opening in the case of shops. Nor were they included when the later Act of 1028 was passed, for the simple reason that these popular libraries were not then, apparently, contemplated. I have in my hand an advertisement of one of the large firms which are responsible for lending libraries of this character in various parts of the country. I may say that it is my information that most of the twopenny lending libraries are in the hands of large firms, and that there is not much scope for individual initiative in this branch of trade. The particular firm to which I am referring has twenty-five branches in towns throughout England, from Liverpool in the North to Worthing in the South, and of those twenty-five branches two open at eight o'clock in the morning, and the rest open at half-past eight in the morning. I would venture to direct the attention of the House to the hours at which they close. In the case of nine of these branches the closing hour is eleven o'clock at night, and in the case of the rest, with one exception, the closing hour is ten o'clock at night. Thus, looking down the list of branches I find that there is a library at Manchester which opens at eight in the morning and closes at eleven at night; that is to say, it is open for a fifteen-hour day.

But that is not the most surprising feature of the situation. I see at the bottom of this advertisement an announcement that all branches are open every day, Sundays and early closing days included. Therefore they are open between thirteen and a half hours and fifteen hours daily for seven days in the week. I am glad to say that, in so far as Sunday trading is concerned, I have just this moment received information that a judgment has been given by the magistrates of Bull that carrying on the business of a lending library is included in the words "trafficking in goods" as used in the Act, and that therefore it may be established as illegal to open a lending library on Sundays as well as on weekdays. If that judgment holds good, the scandal of these places being opened on Sundays as well as on weekdays will, I trust, be terminated. But that will not help with regard to the very long hours during which they are open on weekdays, nor will it provide for their having an early closing day.

I submit that there are two good reasons why that state of affairs should be ended. In the first place, one cannot help feeling uneasy with regard to the hours of labour which the employees of these libraries are asked to work. I have no information on that subject, and I have not the means of acquiring it, but unless these libraries are carefully regulated and inspected I fear that there is a great risk of employees being asked to work hours that are altogether excessive. In the second place, these libraries are in competition, and probably very serious competition, with certain businesses which are already established and which, either voluntarily or compulsorily, comply with the various Shops Acts. That is to say, they are in competition with the older established lending libraries, such as the ones your Lordships all know—the various London libraries, Smith's Libraries, Boot's Libraries and similar lending libraries such as you find in provincial towns, and which have hitherto, in a very praiseworthy manner, voluntarily observed reasonable hours of opening. They are also in serious competition with newsagents and newsvendors, sellers of magazines and booksellers, into whose trade I believe they are making considerable inroads. It is, of course, perfectly legitimate, and even for the benefit of the public, that this competition should exist, but it is definitely most unfair that such a great advantage should be enjoyed by these newly-established libraries.

I am asking the House to pass a Resolution expressing its desire for legislation on this subject, and such legislation would, I think, be perfectly easily introduced and passed through both Houses. It would only be necessary to add the words, "lending library" in Clause 19 of the Shops Act, 1912, which reads in part: The expression 'shop' includes any premises where any retail trade or business is carried on; The expression retail trade or (business ' includes the business of a barber or hairdresser, the sale of refreshments or intoxicating liquors, and retail sales by auction,… You have only to add the words "the lending of books;" but it would he necessary, I think, to make an exception to assure that the business of Sunday school libraries and church libraries and public libraries, which are, of course, on an altogether different footing and provide a very different class of goods, were excepted from these provisions. I very much hope that the House will see its way to accept this Motion, and I trust that there will be an early opportunity of promoting legislation on the subject. The matter is one which concerns a very considerable number of business men, and which, I fear, may concern a number of employees of the business to which I have alluded. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House would welcome legislation designed to bring lending libraries carried on with a view to profit within the scope of the Acts that regulate the hours of opening in the case of shops.—(The Earl of Iddesleigh.)


My Lords, I reply to the Motion of the noble Earl with considerable apprehension, for it raises the question of the interpretation of the law. The point which he has raised largely rests upon the interpretation given to the word "shops" in the Shops Acts. A shop, as the noble Earl has said, is defined as including "any premises where any retail trade or business is carried on." As to the meaning of the expression "retail trade or business," the Act states that this expression "includes the business of a barber or hairdresser, the sale of refreshments or intoxicating liquor and retail sales by auction'' and the noble Earl's suggestion is simply that the Act should be amended to include lending libraries. But I am sure the noble Earl will appreciate that there is no precise definition of the term "retail trade." The expression is, however, generally taken to mean the sale of goods in small quantities to the public.

The lending libraries to which the noble Earl has referred are one example of the type of establishment which has all the appearance of a shop but in which retail trade as generally understood is not carried on. A number of inquiries have been addressed to the Home Secretary from time to time as to the application of the Shops Acts to this type of establishment, Your Lordships will of course appreciate that the Home Secretary has no authority to interpret an Act of Parliament—such interpretation being, of course, a matter for the Courts of Law—but he has always expressed the opinion that places where articles are let for hire are not shops unless articles are also sold on the premises. I understand that that view is also held by the local authorities, who are responsible for the enforcement of the Shops Acts.

The noble Earl, in moving his Motion, referred to the case, Lee versus Craven, which I understand is a case which was published in The Times during April of this year. That was a case taken under the Sunday Observance Act. The High Court ruled in that case that the appellant, who carried on the business of a lending library, was a tradesman within the meaning of the Sunday Observance Act, 1677. Therefore the carrying on of a lending library on Sunday was prohibited by that Act. There is another case which was decided in 1922, Dennis versus Hutchinson, in which, in summing up, Mr. Justice Avory observed that in construing any word in an Act of Parliament, unless there is a precise definition, it is always necessary to look at the object of the Act. In that particular Act, the Shops Act, he pointed out that the first three sections are confined to the employment of persons. From that explanation the noble Earl will see that the cases which have occurred with regard to this matter confuse the issue rather than make it more clear.

The noble Earl will, I am sure, be pleased to know that the Government certainly do not wish to dissent in any way from the terms of the Resolution that he has moved, but I fear that, owing to the heavy commitments in their legislative programme, it is not possible for me to promise that the Government will contemplate yet awhile the necessary legislation to amend the Shops Act. On the other hand, I can assure the noble Earl that any legislative proposals he may wish to put forward will receive the most serious and sympathetic consideration of the Government.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl for advising the House to accept the Resolution I have moved. I cannot but feel that in giving that advice to the House he has to some extent committed the Home Office at least to the view that action is desirable. With regard to his suggestion that I myself should initiate legislation in the matter, I see a great many serious disadvantages, notably that I should have to do my best to draft the Bill or else employ the services of a draftsman, all of which things could be much better and more satisfactorily done by the Home Secretary. However, do I understand from the noble Earl that, if I did frame legislation, the Bill would be afforded facilities in the House of Commons?


I am afraid I cannot commit another place on that point.


I rather expected to receive that answer. Those noble Lords who have any experience or knowledge of the fate that almost invariably befalls Bills promoted by private Peers in this House will be able to assess the noble Earl's kind offer at its true value. I am satisfied, at any rate, to have been able to ventilate the subject, and I trust that very serious consideration will be given by the Home Office to the possibility of promoting a very short Bill, a one-clause Bill, in the sense I have indicated, because the matter is one which does affect a great many people and is causing a good deal of feeling throughout the country.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at four minutes before four o'clock.