HL Deb 02 June 1938 vol 109 cc866-70

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It was the present Chancellor of the Exchequer who, as Home Secretary, in 1936 set up a Departmental Committee to inquire into hours of employment of young persons employed, firstly in the capacity of van boys, errand boys, messengers, porters or warehouse boys in connection with any commercial or industrial undertaking, and, secondly, in the capacity of page boys or lift or other attendants in hotels and places of public entertainment. As a result of their inquiries, the Committee were satisfied that a definite need existed for the regulation of hours of the young persons forming the subject of their inquiry. The evidence which they obtained showed that a substantial proportion of the young persons concerned were working from fifty to sixty hours a week, exclusive of any intervals for meals or rest; and a large number of cases were quoted to the Committee in which the number of working hours was greatly in excess of sixty. The Committee accordingly recommended that there should be a statutory limitation of hours applicable to all the young persons to whom their inquiry related. They also considered that the statutory limitation of hours should be extended to certain classes of employment which were not strictly within their terms of reference, but which they regarded as "borderline" cases. These were page boys employed in clubs or Turkish baths: lift boys in offices or blocks of flats: young persons employed behind the counter of a laundry or cleaners' receiving office: and those employed as operators or film winders in cinemas.

The recommendations of the Committee so far as they apply to the first set of young persons I mentioned has already been implemented by Section 98 of the Factories Act, 1937, which regulates the hours of young persons employed in these capacities, and which your Lordships approved of last year. The present Bill deals with the remainder of the young persons to whom the inquiry related and with the "border-line" cases to which I have already referred. It is proposed to provide for a limitation of weekly hours to forty-eight a week. In the case of young persons under sixteen this limit is to be reduced to forty-four after a period of two years. Overtime is restricted to fifty hours a year, and subject to certain other conditions will be permitted, but only in the case of young persons over sixteen. Clause 1 (2) provides for a statutory interval for meals, subsection (3) makes provision for a weekly half-holiday from 1 p.m., and subsection (4) provides for the prohibition of night employment so that a young person may not be employed after 10 p.m. or before 6 a.m. Subsection (5) makes provision for a whole holiday in any week in compensation for any employment on Sunday. In addition to dealing with the unregulated occupations it has been thought desirable in Clause 4 to include a provision for amending the Shops Act, 1934. This Act at present provides that the normal maximum weekly hours of these young persons shall be forty-eight a week.

It will be within the recollection of most noble Lords that when the Factories Act which we approved last year was before Parliament a provision was included reducing the hours of young persons under sixteen from forty-eight to forty-four after the Act had been in operation for one year. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated at that time that it would be necessary to consider an amendment of the Shops Act in order to effect a similar reduction of hours of young persons employed therein. It is now proposed to make this reduction by Clause 4 of this Bill. You Lordships will observe, however, that this reduction is not to come into operation until the Bill has been in operation for two years. It perhaps would be appropriate that I should say just one word on that point. We have been in consultation with the principal organisations representing shopkeepers, who rightly point out to us that under that Act the hours of young persons were fixed at fifty-two a week for a period of two years. They were reduced to forty-eight as recently as the beginning of 1937. These reductions of hours of juveniles, if they are to be carried out by shopkeepers, involve a considerable amount of reorganisation. They, therefore, ask that we should provide that a period of two years be allowed before the hours of these young persons are still further reduced to forty-four a week. My right honourable friend took the view that in this instance they are entitled to this period of grace to enable them to make their arrangements to meet the further reduction of hours.

I think the only remaining point to which I need draw the attention of your Lordships is that of the question of the enforcement of the Act. It is proposed, following the recommendation of the Departmental Committee, that enforcement should be entrusted, generally speaking, to the local authorities at present responsible for the administration of the Shops Acts, but in the case of railway companies which operate in a very large number of local authorities' districts it has been represented to us by the railway companies that it would be a great convenience to have central administration. Accordingly we propose that in the case of railway companies enforcement of the Act should be in the hands of the Home Office Factory Department. I am not able to give any exact estimate of the number of young persons whom this Bill will affect, but I understand that between 60,000 and 70,000 young persons whose hours are not regulated at present by the Factories Act will come within the scope of this Bill. I am further told that the amendment of the Shops Act will apply to about 150,000 young persons under the age of sixteen employed in shops. Before I close my remarks and ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill, perhaps I might be allowed to pay a tribute to the ladies and gentlemen who composed the Departmental Committee and who have issued a Report which I understand is accepted unanimously by the great majority of people in this country. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Munster.)


My Lords, I have been in touch with this question of the employment of young persons for a great many years at intervals through the Home Office. Perhaps, therefore, I might be allowed to express my warm support of the proposals of this Bill. It has long been known that serious abuses exist in regard to the overwork of young persons, but it has never been found possible to deal with this question by any comprehensive measure. It has been found necessary on account of the controversies that have been raised to deal with it piecemeal. Under the Factories and Workshops Acts a number of these young persons have had their grievances remedied. Under the Shops Acts a large section again have been dealt with, and in the Factories Act last year there were brought into the regulations those van boys, messengers and others who are engaged in connection with factories and clocks. But there still remained a margin of several thousands of young people designated under the somewhat invidious name of "unregulated young persons." This Bill will now deal with their case. The Departmental Committee found that nearly half of some 12,000 van boys were working forty-eight hours a week or more, and over 1,500 were working sixty hours a week and more. The Juvenile Employment Committee which has done admirable work in this connection found that seven-eighths of the page boys and lift boys were working, including rest and meal times, no fewer than seventy-two hours a week, and sometimes as many as eighty hours a week.

There is one defect in this Bill still remaining. The hours of work of these young persons from fourteen to sixteen years old may be up to ten o'clock at night and may begin at six o'clock in the morning. That means that they will often have to leave their homes at half-past five or earlier in the morning, and may not get back to bed—of course the period is not continuous—until after eleven o'clock on those nights on which they are allowed to work until ten o'clock. These very early hours, or alternatively these very late hours, may be worked continuously for five days a week. That is not allowed, of course, under the Factories Acts, where other and stricter provisions apply, and I hope that at some future time it may be possible to remedy this remaining grievance. Another point I would mention is that Clause 1 (7) gives very large powers of exemption to the Minister. I hope that those powers will be somewhat sparingly used. The Bill, as a whole, makes a considerable advance, and I trust that it will receive the approval of your Lordships' House.


My Lords, the Royal Commission is now due, and I suggest to your Lordships that we should adjourn the debate on this Bill.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.