§ 3.45 p.m.
§ House again in Committee.
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER moved to delete Clause 1. The noble Lord said: My first reaction on seeing this Bill was one of surprise that the time of Ministers, in a day when they are preoccupied with much more important matters, should be taken up in an endeavour to alter the existing closing hours of shops. But perhaps it is because they are so preoccupied with other matters, and therefore have not had sufficient time to give this matter full consideration, not only from the point of view of those who have a special interest but from the point of view of everybody, that they make this proposal to shorten the hours of opening. Unlike the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, who spoke in favour of shortening the hours, mainly on behalf of shopkeeping interests, I speak quite unashamedly for the consumers, their customers.
§ In order to get this matter into the right perspective, I think I must repeat that this Bill has nothing to do with the hours of work of employees. With all due respect to the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, it is quite beside the point to introduce a suggestion that any kind of social reform is endangered by the Amendment that I am now moving, if it is old-fashioned to think that a man should be free to work in his shop if he wishes to do so, then I gladly plead guilty. But I think the words of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in replying to me in the debate on Second Reading would have caused great amusement if they could have been repeated either across the Channel or across the Atlantic, where shopkeepers enjoy the freedom to serve their, customers, which the noble Lord, if I remember rightly, dubbed conditions of "near slavery". I suppose that, if this clause is approved, we may expect some other Department of State, in the interests of protecting allotment holders, to introduce a Bill to see that they do not stay too late on their allotments. And as for the poor slaves who call in the evening on behalf of the Saving Movement to collect those savings which are so important to the national economy, and the many others who have to do their work in the evenings 687 to suit their clients' convenience, I suppose some Department of State will not rest until they have interfered with the service that these good people render.
Surely, service to the public is the raison d'être of any shopkeeper; to meet the convenience and requirements of his customers should be the primary object in which he should glory. Surely, a time when everyone in this country should be thinking of new and improved methods is no time for restrictive legislation of this kind. As one responsible journal described this clause last week;
It is nothing but an attempt to enact a barefaced restrictive practice designed to compel the consumer to shop at hours which suit not his, but the shopkeeper's convenience.
This restriction ill fits in with the appeals for initiative and enterprise, to which we are so often exhorted. I repeat that no more inappropriate time could have been chosen for legislation of this restrictive character. New and promising experiments are being tried to meet the greater convenience of the public as to form and method in retail trading which should help to check increasing costs of distribution. This clause is an attempt to stultify and to prevent change. Having, in the manufacturing section of the economy, attacked restrictive practices, the Government now come forward and foster restriction in the retail section. Perhaps some of the officials in the Ministry responsible have been listening to those economists who are always talking of "balancing the economy ", and are trying to achieve it in this way. Take away a restrictive practice and put on a restriction: take away a restrictive practice in the manufacturing industry and put on a restriction in the retail trade.
§ Let us be clear. There is one reason only for opening a shop, and that is to serve customers, and the more the shopkeeper studies his customers the better he should do. By deleting Clause 1, as I beg to move, no shopkeeper is compelled to stay open one minute longer than he wishes. I quite understand and realise that there is a division of opinion among shopkeepers, and many will wish to keep their present hours. But every shopkeeper would, and should, be free to choose his hours so that he can open, say, in the afternoon if he wishes, and close later in the evening. If he did so, there would be fewer complaints from the staff in the offices and the factories 688 who have to ask for time off from their work in order to do their shopping, or who have to bring it in in the morning and let it go bad before they can take it home in the evening, or who have to go without their meals, or have a very short time for lunch, in order to do some shopping to take home with them in the evening. Let us remember that they are the people for whom the shopkeeper exists, and it is the overriding consideration of the consumer which should be the deciding factor in a matter like this.
§ I ask that we should have no half measures, and I think it is really fantastic that we should have to argue a case of this kind at all. A desire for administrative tidiness is no excuse for taking away a freedom of this kind. Nor should we be told that the Government's proposals are a compromise between what the noble Viscount has asked for and what I have asked for; nor that it is part of the policy of "the middle way" which appears to be so popular with some modern Conservatives—a compromise between freedom and control. You cannot have a compromise between freedom and control. The law can restrict freedom in a proper case. If it does, however, there must be good reason for it; there must be some damage which would be caused by not restricting that freedom, or there must be a balance of advantage, or a balance of damage which would be greater if the freedom were not restricted. It is not possible in this case to show any such damage. Therefore, I suggest that there is no valid reason why freedom should not be given to shopkeepers to fix their opening and closing hours so as to perform the services that they are out to give. I should like to appeal to Her Majesty's Government to withdraw this clause altogether, and if they will not do so I would ask your Lordships to say, in no uncertain way, that this attempt to frustrate and strangle enterprise shall not have the sanction of this Committee. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Leave out Clause 1.—(Lord Grantchester.)
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
It is evident to anybody who has taken the trouble to read, not only the Bill, but the Amendments which have been put down, that the debates we shall have 689 are not going to follow strictly Party lines. Therefore, I will underwrite my insurance premium straight away by saying that any comments I make upon this Bill are my own only and are not to be taken to implicate anybody else. Others may, or may not, agree with me.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has made a speech upon the liberty of the subject, but it is evident to me that he has never spent one day of his life in retail trade or in service to the public. I quite agree with him that the retail trade exists for one purpose and one purpose only, which is, to serve the public. But "serving the public" is slightly different from keeping open all night on the off-chance that somebody may want something. Between the two extremes of the pendulum that will swing constantly in the debates in your Lordships' House, the responsibility which rests upon Parliament to-day is to determine what is a reasonable requirement in all the circumstances of service to the public. What is "reasonable"? If he will forgive my saying so, I believe the noble Lord is wrong when he says that this Bill has been brought in to suit the shopkeepers' convenience. My noble friend read out a list of respectable organisations who do not quite agree with the hours set out in the Bill. So far as I can gather, the most responsible trade organisations in the country appear to think that the hours written in Clause 1 effect a reasonable balance, with the exception that perhaps there should be exemptions here and there. I do not think we should ever serve the interests of the public in the widest sense, in the best possible way, by having rigidity. There is a world of difference betwen a slavish consistency and the wide-open licence which the noble Lord has mentioned.
I have had a good deal of experience in the distributing trades, and I can remember when we used to be shanghaied into staying open all hours of the day or night. The reason was because somebody else did it—competition. The real reason why people stay open at night—they have to close up in the end, because the cost factor nearly breaks them—is because their competitor down the street stays open. Ninety per cent. of the money that is thrown away on advertising in this country is spent only because competitors 690 advertise. The only reason why many shops keep open very late at night is to try to prevent their competitor from getting the odd piece of custom. If the shops were kept open all night there would not be any more goods sold in the aggregate. So what is a reasonable balance? As I say, with one or two exemptions where I think, perhaps, this Bill errs upon the mean side, I would be against its being thrown wide open.
It is a specious argument to talk about the liberty of the small, individual shopkeeper. Remember that when we were discussing the Catering Wages Bill, there was always the same argument about the small hotel and the small boarding house. There is no sweated labour in this country like the father and the mother who employ their children in a shop, a hoarding house or a small hotel. There is no sweated labour like it, outside any real. organised effort to improve conditions. I know that the little shop round the corner is very useful when you have forgotten something late at night or want to get a "tip" for the winner of the 2.30. The shopkeeper has generally got it. But we cannot go back to the old conditions. I do not particularly like the expression "the law of the jungle" and I am not enamoured of the argument about the impact upon the very large shop that a multiplicity of small men will have. When is it reasonable to expect—except in matters of life and death, when there has to be pharmaceutical trade on hand—shops to be open? With one or two exemptions, about which I shall take the liberty of expressing a few personal opinions later on, I think that to pass this Amendment would put the clock back and would be a bad thing for the consumers of the country, who would, in the last analysis, have to pay a terriffic increase in cost; because unless you are going to reimburse the employee, what are you going to do?
After all, we must not think that the only shop that would enjoy the liberty which the noble Lord so much wants would be the small shop round the corner. The medium shop would stay open, the competition would grow, and the cost of the article would go up. Eventually, this wonderful liberty would redound against the interests of the public. That has been my experience of over thirty-five years in the retail trade. There is an optimum 691 hour up to which it is, in all the circumstances, right and proper to offer a service to the public. And do not forget that service to the public does not begin and end with the opening and closing hours. Cost comes into it as well. I suggest that it would be setting the clock back years and years to say that every shop and every retail establishment in this country should be able to open at any hour that suits, not the demand of the public, but the whim of the shopkeepers, who are afraid that, if they close their doors, their competitors may get one other sale that they themselves will lose. So I hope the Government will resist, and that your Lordships will support the resistance of, this Amendment.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ LORD McCORQUODALE OF NEWTON
I am one of those who are sorry that any changes such as are suggested in this clause are being brought about at the present time, for other reasons than those which have been mentioned by the noble Lords who have spoken. It is a truism to say these days that we live in times of grave economic difficulty. It is a truism, but none the less true, and I believe that the bringing in at this time of this Bill tends to produce a climate in industry as a whole which is bad—which is bad at this time, at any rate, when we have all to make a tremendous effort if we are to maintain and improve our standard of life in this country. The urge to produce more, to sell more abroad, is the theme song of every Minister and others when they go to the country. We have to produce more and sell more abroad of what our customers overseas require. Time after time one hears in most important speeches that it is what the customer overseas wants that we have to supply, and that the customer is not interested in our system of life or welfare or whatever it is here. All he is interested in is what are the prices, when can he have the goods, and is the quality right?
If that is so, surely this is an odd Bill and an odd clause to produce at the present time; for those individuals whom the Government are urging to produce more are not only producers but are also consumers. They are told that the customer overseas is always right; but, 692 when they become customers, they are told that they do not matter very much. I would suggest that it is difficult for the ordinary person to equate those two. If the customer overseas is always right, the customer at home should have some measure of attention paid to his needs. It seems to me that the cutting down of shop hours—I am not asking for them to be raised, or anything of that sort, as the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches asked—just at this moment must tend to impress upon people over here the view that, "Oh, all is so right that we need not bother". They will think that the convenience of the salesman and of the shopkeeper is of more importance than the demands of the consumer when he is a consumer at home, although we are always trying to tell them that, when he is the consumer abroad, his requirements are of paramount importance. That is why I cannot help feeling that a psychological error has been made in producing this Bill at this moment.
I am not criticising the Bill as such, but it seems to me an extraordinary measure, and especially the bringing in of this clause just at the time when industry is responding to the calls made upon it. I have personal reason to know how well that industry is responding, because I have the privilege of being Chairman of the Productivity Council in this country now and we get reports from all over the country. When people in industry are, in the main, responding splendidly to the demands made for productivity, it would appear to me that this beaurocratic measure, which might have been delayed for five years or ten years without any harm to anybody, just deadens the enthusiasm of the people of this country. Therefore I must say that I regret that it was brought in at this time.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I think the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has performed a very useful service in moving this Amendment. I await with great interest my noble friend's reply. I want to give him some of the reasons why I have a good deal of sympathy with the case put by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, though I shall certainly delay my decision until I know the Government's reply. I listened with the greatest interest to the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, whose attitude to this Amendment 693 was sufficiently indicated in the vigorous speech lie made in support of his own earlier Amendment. We all know the noble Viscount's lifelong concern with the interests of the distributive workers. I should like to assure him—I think he will accept it from me—that I do not believe that this clause in the Bill is necessary for the interests of the distributive workers, and I shall endeavour briefly to say why.
Here, as the mover of the Amendment said, we are not discussing what hours shops shall be open, or what are to be the terms of employment of any employee. The terms of the employment of the employee are surely legitimate questions to be settled in negotiation between the employers and the trade unions. What we are here considering are the provisions of the criminal law. It does not in the least follow, because it may be a good thing, from the point of view of the terms of employment, that a worker shall not work more than a certain number of hours, or because it may be a good thing that shops should close generally at a particular time, that it is right to make it a criminal offence for anybody, whatever his wishes, to open a shop at a different hour. That does not follow in the least.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will be able to say, with perfect truth, that I have not spent any of my life in retail trade, but I have spent a great deal of my life in the law. I have formed, as my noble friend who has charge of the Bill has formed, views on what are the conditions that make it desirable to make a particular thing a criminal offence, and I find it most difficult to see what it is that makes it desirable to provide by criminal law that, irrespective of the terms of the employment of the employee, irrespective of the wishes of the owner of a one-man shop, a man shall be bound to close his shop at a certain hour and that, if he does not, he will commit an offence.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, interested me greatly when he mentioned the Catering Wages Act. Let me tell him my view on that. I remember, as a junior member of the Government, which I think I was at that time, when the late Mr. Bevin introduced the Bill which is now the Catering Wages Act, supporting it; and I remember why 694 I supported it. I remember the argument of Mr. Bevin that then impressed me. At that time, the Ministry of Labour—I do not remember the exact technical term—was directing workers into certain trades, and Mr. Bevin said, "How can I direct a worker into this particular trade unless I am satisfied that there is a good wages structure in that trade?" That seemed to me a good argument, and if there were any question of forcing a worker into the distributive trade, then, of course, we should have to be satisfied on a number of subjects as to what the law should be But in conditions of full employment, when a worker is not bound to go into a trade unless he likes the terms of employment it that trade, why we should think it necessary to have this elaborate provision of the criminal law is by no means so clear to me.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Would the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting him? I do so only the better to follow his argument. Would he not agree with me that shops cannot keep open unless they employ labour; that the longer a shop is open, the higher the labour cost per unit sold must be, because of overtime and this, that and the other condition; and, therefore, that it costs more, in the long run, to the purchaser? Would the noble Lord agree with me on that point? I would not attempt to argue the legal point with him.
§ LORD CONESFORD
No, I would emphatically disagree. I was coming to that later.
As regards the cost, both noble Lords stated, as a reason for having this provision in the Bill and their support of it, that without it there would be great competition which would cause shops to be open later. If there were great competition, what would that mean?—that there were members of the public who demanded it. Does the noble Lord really suppose that members of the public would be indifferent to questions of price? My answer to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is that I disagree with the two points he has made. First he asked: is it not true that every shopkeeper has employees? The answer to that is: no, it is not true; there is such a thing as a one-man shop. The second point is: is it not hound to put up the price? The answer to that is that that is not the 695 experience in those countries where there is not this limitation.
My own quarrel with the whole approach of this Bill—here, as a Tory, I think that I am in agreement with an argument put forward by a Liberal—is that it is entirely wrong to spread the idea that industries, shops or anything of the kind, are run solely in the interests of the particular people engaged in them, ignoring the general public. I know the sincerity of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition when he says that there are some consumers' organisations which are not against these restrictions. I accept that from him. But I also know that there are many consumers who greatly resent this lack of liberty. I know, too, that there are many shopkeepers who see no reason why they should be subjected to the criminal law if they wish to work a little harder.
I entirely disagreed with the noble Lord. Lord Lucas of Chilworth (I may have misunderstood him), in one passage where he seemed to imply that, if this Amendment were carried, a great number of shops would remain open all night. I do not believe that for one moment. What they would do would depend on their own wishes. I entirely agree with the general proposition that liberty should be restricted where a good reason is shown, but I believe that the burden of proof is always on those who wish to restrict liberty. I say that there is nothing naturally immoral or obnoxious to the conscience in a shop remaining open after a particular hour. If people wish it to close at that hour, it is for them to prove that it is necessary. It is not for those who object to the restriction to prove that some great evil is done by the restriction. After all, it is possible to believe in liberty for its own sake; it is even possible to believe in the virtues of competition. In fact, I thought that noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench, at the time of the monopoly legislation, were, on various occasions, most conscious of the virtues of competition, but the scorn which they have thrown at competition in dealing with Clause I of the Bill contrasts rather oddly with their attitude on the other occasion.
To put the matter rather more philosophically, I would express my astonishment at how far we are moving from a 696 doctrine which will be familiar to my noble friend who is in charge of the Bill—the great doctrine enunciated in that classic of the law, Mayne's Ancient Law, when he describes the progress from status to contract—the progress in human affairs from the time when people's rights were decided for them by the status into which they were born to the state of affairs where things were decided by the contracts into which they chose voluntarily to enter. We have now reached the stage when we seem to be steadily progressing not from status to contract, but from contract back to status. People are not given, as they should be given, increasing rights to form their own contracts—in the case of workers, with the aid of their trade union, so that they can negotiate from equal strength. Freedom of contract is more and more restricted, and rights are more and more imposed by one's status—as a shopkeeper, as a landlord or in numerous other ways. I believe that, on the whole, the greater advance was in going from status to contract. I believe in freedom of contract, and that that freedom should be interfered with only where it can be shown that, if not interfered with, it would result in notable evils. I very much doubt whether that is the case here. For those reasons, speaking, perhaps, a little more from the point of view of political science and with the approach of a lawyer, I have a good deal of sympathy with the Amendment put forward from the Liberal benches this afternoon and I await with interest my noble friend's reply.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I had not intended to rise at this stage of the debate but wish to answer the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down. He said it would be charged against him that he had not much knowledge of the retail trade, but that he thought that was counterbalanced by the fact that he had a good deal of knowledge of the law. His argument seemed to be that what applied to the law could, with necessary changes, apply to retail trade. If the noble Lord does not mean that, I do not know what his argument was.
§ LORD CONESFORD
I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. I thought my devotion, for a considerable part of my life, to the practice of law, perhaps gave me some knowledge of the legal theory which defined the conditions that should 697 be satisfied before a particular thing was made a crime. The noble Lord will find it all set out in an early chapter of Kenny's Criminal Law.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
The point I was going to make before the noble Lord intervened, was that he seemed not to have realised the fundamental difference between the position of a lawyer and that of a retail trader. The difference is that the law of the country makes a monopoly in the hands of the lawyer. The lawyer may make contracts with his clients, and with solicitors working for his clients, under a system which is supported by the law of the land; and a "blackleg" cannot come in and work for a client, because the law forbids it. A man who is not a lawyer cannot don cap and gown and go into court to plead a case: he is not allowed to do so unless he is a member of one of the Inns of Court, and has properly been made a barrister-at-law according to the law of the land.
A shopkeeper is in an entirely different position. The great bulk of shopkeepers may make a contract. I agree with the noble Lord that contract to-day is a better plan than status. A band of shopkeepers can get together and make a contract with trade unionists who are going to be their employees; but they can be thwarted in their purpose by a "blackleg" who works his own people in a shop round the corner at an entirely different rate—a "sweated" rate. That cannot happen in the trade of the law, because the law of the land steps in to give to authorised solicitors and barristers a certain prerogative. That is where the difference comes in, and I suggest that that destroys the whole point of the noble Lord's speech.
§ LORD COLERAINE
I find myself so often and on so many points in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that I sometimes fear there may be a Liberal taint in my blood against which I must continually be on my guard. After listening to my noble friend, Lord Conesford, I believe lie stands in something of the same deadly peril. Like the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, I was surprised that Her Majesty's Government introduced this Bill. It seemed to me that Her Majesty's Ministers had many other preoccupations. With my noble friend Lord McCorquodale of Newton, I have a pre- 698 dilection for that poor creature who has such a rough time in the modern world—the consumer; and, like him, I hold that we already suffer from many restrictions and controls. I see no great advantage in adding to them, even in a minor way. Nevertheless, I do not think I can go so far as the noble Lord in asking for the deletion of Clause 1. Rightly or wrongly, we have given the Bill a Second Reading, and it would seem to me to be unreasonable to delete that clause—which I suppose is the most important clause in the Bill. Nevertheless, I believe that Her Majesty's Government might give some consideration to the deletion of that part of Clause 1 which deals with the preservation of the power of local authorities to decree even earlier closing hours than Clause I lays down.
Before I develop my argument, I ought to declare that I have a private and particular interest in these matters in that, although I am in no sense speaking for that company, I am a director of a company which through its subsidiaries, operates well over 1,000 retail shops throughout the country. It seems to me that some argument can be made against the existing practice under the Shops Acts whereby local authorities have power to vary the 8 o'clock closing hour to an earlier hour. In contiguous areas, that situation leads to anomalies; it gives advantage to one trader as against another, and does, to some extent, prejudice the customer. Further, from the point of view of large-scale retail organisation, which is very economical organisation, it becomes difficult if, in fairly narrowly defined geographical areas, there is a great variation of practice between one street and another, or between one side of a street and the other.
I believe, therefore, that a case can be made even against the law as it stands. I find it difficult to believe that it is desirable in this new Bill to extend that practice to compelling closing at an earlier hour. My noble friend the Minister in charge of the Bill cited, at an earlier stage, the Gowers Report, particularly that part of it which laid down that, from the point of view of the customer, 6 o'clock was too early an hour for closing t and though the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, says that the Cowers Report is out of date, that is evidently not the view of the Government 699 in this particular respect. There is no doubt that for, I would say, a very considerable minority of shoppers, 6 o'clock, which might be the hour of closing in various areas, is far too early. A great many married women working in offices or in industry are probably not free until half past five in the evening. It seems to me that it will make life very difficult for them if they are compelled, through the vagary of a particular local authority, to make a long detour in order to find a shop that is open until 7 o'clock.
There is the further point, I think, that it enormously increases the difficulties of enforcement if there are varying practices as between one local authority and another. For these reasons, I hope that the Government will give consideration to the arguments which I have tried to put before them. I had thought of putting down an Amendment on the point, but on consideration I decided that it would be better if I raised it on the clause, so that the Government could consider it at their leisure, and then, if they thought fit, either introduce an Amendment at a later stage or consider favourably an Amendment if it should be moved in another place.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a few moments, but I should like to align myself very strongly with what the two noble Lords, Lord McCorquodale of Newton and Lord Coleraine, have just said. I fail to see the reason for this provision at the present time. A great deal has been said about customers and the public. Lord Coleraine just touched on what I had in mind. There are a great many customers of shops—I am not now speaking of shops where sweets are sold—who get away from work only a little before 6 o'clock. I feel that these people represent a very large proportion of the shopping public to which such frequent references have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, I thought made a very good point when he said that what we want is a reasonable hour at which people in all walks of life would find it convenient to do their shopping. In my view, there is no question that 6 o'clock closing is too early.
700 I hope that the Government will do what they do not seem to have done at the moment, that is, consider the convenience of those to whom other noble Lords and I have just referred. They have been spoken of as the public and as consumers. To a great many of us here as consumers, this hour does not matter very much. But it is a different matter from the point of view of people working for their living in businesses, in factories or in big multiple stores. I am sure that they must find this 6 o'clock closing too early. I have yet to hear much grumbling on the part of the people one meets in going about on the question of shops being kept open late. I have heard a certain amount of criticism of the terms of the Bill so far as they mean earlier closing, for the reasons which I have given, which are quite simple reasons. I feel quite sure that if the Government will reconsider these points, they will find that there really is something in what other noble Lords and I have said.
One other thing I should like to say in regard to the whole of this question is this. A shopkeeper is not going to keep open unless he has customers regularly coming to his establishment and buying his goods. Presumably, if that is going on now, then quite definitely the customer is being suited by the hours at which shops are open, and particularly the smaller shops, which may keep open a little longer than the big multiple stores, selling various commodities which perhaps are not sought by the public who are buying consumer goods in the shops. I hope that the Government will consider the ramifications and the probable effects of this particular clause.
§ VISCOUNT THURSO
I wish to say just a few words, if the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, will be kind enough to allow me to precede him. In the first place, I should like to express my agreement with the admirable speeches we have heard from Lord Grantchester and Lord Teviot. It is not people like the noble Lords and myself who are mainly affected by the hours of opening of shops. I think they suit us very well as they are. But I believe that people should have a certain freedom in their lives to enable them to adjust their times for shopping and so forth. It is comparatively easy for us. I often go to a shop at what might be unusual hours in 701 the eyes of people engaged in industry. I like it very much. I do not go for the purpose which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has told us that he goes. I do not go to a shop in the evening to ask about the winner of the 2.30.
§ VISCOUNT THURSO
I thought the noble Lord said he went in the evening.
I agree with what the noble Lord opposite said about people who are working hard all clay. There are many such people—perhaps one might say that to-day they are by far the great majority of our population. If I look round among my neighbours in Twickenham, I note a great number of cases in which husband and wife are both working, so that their opportunities for shopping are limited. A great many of them have no motor cars, and very few have servants. Consequently, they find it difficult to fit time for shopping into their busy days. I think, therefore, that there is a strong case for doing what my noble friend has suggested and retaining a measure of freedom as to hours of opening and closing.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has suggested that people are ruining themselves by keeping their shops open just to meet competition, just for the sake of snatching an occasional order from someone who might want to shop at a late hour. I cannot believe that people are so foolish as to go on ruining themselves for such small motives. I am sure that matters will adjust themselves satisfactorily in the light of experience. People will not keep open their shops on unreal grounds, at unremunerative times. They will keep them open only when they find that it is good business to do so, and that there is a real demand for it on the part of the population around them.
The noble Lord also said he had heard this sort of argument in the old days, when the Catering Wages Act was under consideration. He said that he had heard all about the difficulties which would be met with at country hotels, and how difficult it would be for the tourist industry Where has the noble Lord been in recent years? Has he not heard of the 702 terrible difficulties which have arisen, particularly in the Highlands of Scotland, in small fishing hotels and places of that sort, as a result of the passing of the Catering Wages Act? Has the noble Lord not noted how one inquiry after another has had to be held, with a view to finding out how these difficulties can be overcome? There have been great difficulties, which have brought great threats to the prosperity of these hotels and to the tourist industry in Scotland. I should regret it if the noble Viscount. Lord Hailsham, and the Government were to lead us into similar difficulties in the retail trade of this country. I beg that we should follow the lines suggested by my noble friend Lord Grantchester and retain the freedom and free play of supply and demand between the consumers and shopkeepers of this country.
I should like to raise one point relevant to what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, who seemed to imply that if my noble friend's Amendment went through there would be complete freedom for all shops to be open day and night. That is an ideal state of affairs which, for reasons put particularly by my noble friend. Lord Thurso, seem to me to be desirable. I think that I should be entitled to go out and buy anything I want, at any time of the day and night, if there is a shopkeeper willing to serve me and anxious to do so. But I would say that, as I interpret it, my noble friend's Amendment would not have that effect. If we leave out this clause, we should presumably go back to the hours as they now exist—namely, that shops can be open until 8 p.m., or 9 p.m. on late nights, instead of, as proposed, 7 p.m., and up to 8 p.m. on late nights.
The noble Viscount who leads the Opposition pointed out that, although the present closing hour is 8 p.m., with a late hour of 9 p.m., the vast majority of shops, in fact, shut at about 5.30 p.m. or 6 p.m. I concede that that is so, but the fact that they do that is no argument for saying that nobody should open up to 8 or 9 p.m. We think that we should allow for shopkeepers who may wish to open until 8 o'clock. Nobody can force a shopkeeper to stay open until 8 o'clock, and most of them close at 5.30 or 6 p.m. That is not complete freedom, but it is more freedom than is given under the 703 present Bill. My noble friend Lord Grantchester informs me that he has no intention of increasing the hours of work by his Amendment. They will not be affected in any way. The hours of opening should not be put back so that they would be an inconvenience to the public, for whom, after all, the shops exist. They are not the property of trade unions or manufacturers; and they do not necessarily exist to give occupation to shopkeepers or employment to shop assistants.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I should not like this Amendment to be decided without somebody from this side saying a few words about it. We have had a most interesting debate. Three noble Lords from the Liberal Benches and three from the Benches supporting the Government have spoken, and I have been amazed at what I have listened to, especially from the Liberals. What passed across my mind was that here was one of the reasons for the decline and fall of the Liberal Party. Now we can understand how it was that at least 75 per cent. of the members of the Liberal Party up to 1914 gradually passed into other ranks, either to the Left or to the Right.
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER
May I interrupt the noble Viscount to say that the reason for the decline in numbers of the Liberal Party is that some have departed to the Labour Party to advocate restrictions, and the revival of the Liberal Party will come when we choose for freedom, as we are doing on this occasion.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
That argument used to work very well when the working classes had only a small modicum of education. That used to work very well in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, when almost every one of the arguments used to-day were used to show why the workers should go on and on, working for longer hours, and why boys should go down the mines before the age of ten and work for long hours. It was argued that that must be done in order to have the cheapest possible coal for the consumer, and that, by getting the cheapest possible coal, we should be able to increase exports overseas.
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER
The noble Viscount really should not indulge in remarks of that kind, because he knows that the question of working hours has nothing to do with this Amendment, nor even the hours of opening. My Amendment would enable a shopkeeper to open at two in the afternoon and keep open until nine, no longer than he opens now; but he should have freedom to choose the hours. I do not want him to work one minute longer than he wishes, or to employ a person one minute longer than he is willing to be employed.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
The noble Lord may express that view, but anybody with experience of legislation on this matter and of working for reforms in this matter, and with knowledge of the Early Closing Association and the struggle of the trade unions, knows perfectly well that unless there is protection of this kind under the Shops Act, as well as by other methods, the employees of shops are bound in the end to be exploited. And they have been so exploited. Do noble Lords know what it is for those who have grown up in the working class? I can see my own mother now going out to work—a widow with four children; my father died before I was old enough to be able to remember him. At what hour did she go to work?—at 7.30 in the morning. And at what hour did she return?—at 10 o'clock at night, day after day, week after week. Do you think that we hold these rebellious views because we are stupid? We have rebellious views because of what we have seen and because we know what workers have to be saved from. Your Lordships ought to be aware of the ordinary lives of the ordinary families in this country. That is why we plead for decent hours of work. My mother worked for a shop in those days. At different times in the last seventy years people in all Parties have co-operated to reduce the hours of work. Apparently, the noble Lords who have spoken to-day are going against the stream of progress. That is what is the matter with the views expressed this afternoon.
It has been said that if this clause is left out we shall retain the status quo. Why should we retain the status quo? Almost every other section of workers in this country have had the advantage in the last thirty years of steadily improving their hours of employment and 705 their remuneration. Generally speaking, none have been so far behind as the distributive workers. I have told your Lordships before, on another issue altogether, that even to-day not more than 10 per cent. of employees in the distributive trades are in a trade union, largely because of the number of shops with one, two or three assistants, who are almost incapable of being organised. Those people have to put up with conditions to an even worse degree, except in so far as the large trade union section have gained improvements and they can crawl up behind them and take advantage of benefits for which they have not been able to organise themselves. What nonsense it is to say that there is no connection between this Bill and the hours and remuneration of the people employed in shops! There is every connection between the two. The longer the shops are kept open, the worse, in the long run, will be the conditions in general for those who are employed in them.
We have heard from noble Lords opposite this afternoon that they are speaking especially for the consumer. They were not speaking for the consumer in the "hungry forties" of last century, when the consumers' movement really began. There is only one really great consumers' movement in the country: there are nearly 12 million of us, and we are behind not only the clause, as it stands, but the further progress that we have failed to get. Those are the people who speak for the consumers. Let me say this to those who sit on the Liberal Benches. Sidney Webb once said in one of his books—I cannot remember at the moment which one it was—that the people who talk about setting everything free must also remember this: that freedom to compete must involve freedom to combine. And if freedom achieves such conditions as the people will revolt against, they have every right to combine to secure their interests.
Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Viscount. I do not wish to distract him from his enthusiasm, but would he not agree that if one was employed in a shop that kept open long hours, which made one revolt against that kind of employment, one would then take 706 employment with one of those progressive shops that shut at 6 o'clock?
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
A man may at the present time; but under the system of "free for", and of not having an ordered and planned economy, who knows how long full employment will last? What will be the choice left to the workers who will be thrown out, as some are being thrown out to-day? It all depends on what one can get when one is out of work, and there is every reason to see that the conditions of the worker are reasonably protected by the action of their representatives in the Houses of Parliament who make the laws.
Perhaps the noble Viscount will allow me to interrupt. He seems to suggest that there have been criticisms from some parts of the Committee thaw hours should be longer, that conditions should not be good and that the worker should not be in such a good state. I have failed to notice anything like that in the debate.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
At any rate, we will go this far: that the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, if it were carried, would mean that the kind of hours they would work would be longer than are stipulated in the Bill.
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER
Certainly not. I want shopkeepers to have freedom to choose what hours they will open. I do not necessarily mean longer hours they may tie shorter hours. I know of one shopkeeper who wants to close for the next three months, because it suits his tax position. If he wants to do that, I want him to be able to do it.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
He must be a fortunate retailer to be in that position. But what I am interested to know is what will happen to his employees for those three months. Are they put on the dole? What sort of protection is there for them? We do get some extraordinary arguments advanced when we deal with this sort of subject.
I was interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and especially his remarks about the change from status to contract. There is little in the idea of contract to the distributive workers. In the days before the reforms 707 brought about by law, before the passing of the Minimum Wages Act of 1924 there were very poor conditions in the rural areas of our country, some of which the noble Lord knows so well, for the agricultural worker. And even to-day, when you revert to the sacred argument of contract, you see farm workers having to go, because of the practice of a particular county, once a year to be hired in public under a new contract. There are fewer than there used to be, because there is a chance of getting reasonable conditions while there is a Statute on our law-books like the 1924 Act. But I would not emphasise the great advantages coming from the movement from status to contract, because some of us have watched that and studied it carefully. We are here claiming that an Amendment of this kind would be reactionary and reversionary, and would not give even the conditions which the Government are willing to give in their presentation of the Bill. I hope that the Government will be reassured that, if they resist this extraordinary Amendment, the Opposition will go into the Lobby to support them.
§ LORD DERWENT
I would make the plea to my noble friend, when he comes to reply, that out of his legal knowledge he will tell us what this Amendment means. When the debate started, thought that I knew, but since listening to all the speeches with great care I do not know whether it means the status quo, or what it was in 1840, or what. I should be grateful if he would deal with that.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
We have had an interesting and rather wide-ranging debate on this Amendment. We have had philosophy, Mayne's Ancient Law and the Catering Wages Act; psychology, economics and freedom, wage slavery and goodness knows what else! The more profound and deep-thinking my noble friends on all sides of the Committee become, the more pragmatical I feel myself getting. I start from the proposition that we are in Committee on the Shops Bill dealing with an Amendment. The House has committed itself to giving the Bill a Second Reading, and is now engaged in trying to make it a better Bill. There are seventy-nine clauses in the Bill, and we have reached only the first clause.
708 The proposal made is that we should leave out the first clause, which in some ways is the most important clause of the Bill. That is what we are discussing. My noble friend Lord Derwent expressed a certain amount of doubt as to what the effect would be, and in fact it is not easy to see. I can tell noble Lords what would be the result of accepting the Amendment and nothing more; that would be quite clear. I must say that, right up to the time when the noble Lord, Lord Rea, spoke, I was under the impression that that is what the noble Lord who moved the Amendment intended; but when the noble Lord. Lord Rea, spoke, with all the authority of his Party, I realised that he intended the opposite. The effect of the Amendment, if it were accepted, and nothing more was done, would be. clearly, to take away the restriction on hours of opening of shops altogether. It would not leave the status quo in operation, but would destroy the restriction on the closing hours of shops altogether. The reason why it would have that effect is because, later on in the Bill, your Lordships will find a repeal clause, and that repeals all the existing restrictions. Clause 1 inserts a new set of restrictions. It follows, therefore, that if you simply do that which the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, proposes—that is, remove Clause 1 and leave in the repeal clause—you do away with all types of shop legislation affecting the hours of opening. There can be no doubt that that is the effect of the Amendment, as it stands.
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER
Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Viscount. I think my noble Leader misunderstood. My intention in moving the deletion of Clause 1 was to leave complete freedom—I realised that there was a repeal clause to the Schedule—so that it would leave the matter completely open. One noble Lord who spoke appealed to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, to leave it as it is; but that was a different suggestion.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I am glad that the noble Lord has made the position plain. He had in fact made it plain to me when he first spoke, but from what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Rea who, I understood, was the Leader of a united Party on this occasion, I supposed that I had been in error in construing the noble Lord's intention. I thought that I was right 709 and that the Leader of the Liberal Party was not correct on this occasion.
It is, therefore. to the Amendment as it is now intended to be that I will address myself, first of all, although I hope to fit in, in the course of my remarks, both the views of my noble friend, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, who I think argued for the status quo, and my noble friend Lord Coleraine, who argued for a modified form of the Bill—that is to say, a form of the Bill in which the various local options provided for by part of subsection (1), and parts of subsection (2) and (3) of Clause 1, would go. I start, therefore, from this proposition: Is it desirable to omit Clause I with the effect intended? As I have said, the effect, of course, would be to destroy the Bill altogether, apart from certain subsidiary projects which I doubt would be worth retaining. It would have been, therefore, in some ways better to debate this question on Second Reading, but I do not complain that it has been debated now, because, quite clearly, it is a matter which has to be threshed out.
I start, without, I think, very profound philosophical preconceptions either way. I believe this is the sort of thing which comes to be dealt with by balancing one consideration against another, considering the evidence on both sides, and seeking to obtain that rather elusive thing, justice. It is quite true, in a sense—and I think the Government have given effect to it in this Bill—that the interest of the consumer is paramount. It is quite wrong to suggest, as my noble friend, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, did, that we say the consumer does not matter so much. On the contrary, if he will forgive me, the whole burden of my song in resisting the first Amendment was exactly that he mattered more than anybody else. But he is not the only person who matters. The shop assistant matters, and flatters a great deal. The noble Viscount, in his natural disappointment because I would not accept the first Amendment, twitted me with not having made the kind of fervent speech which, for some reason, he anticipated my grandfather would have made, had he anticipated my father's action in accepting a Peerage. I will do my best on this occasion to satisfy the noble Viscount, because I think there is a great deal in what he says on this occasion.
710 It is perfectly true, of course, that the general rule in a free society is freedom of contract. Mayne's Ancient Law,, widely known to most of us, not in the course of practice but in the somewhat earlier and more spacious days of student-hood, does lay down this general rule, and there is a great deal in it. But when freedom of contract reached its apogee, at about the forties of the last century, it gave rise to what the leader of my Party described as the intolerable weight of serfage. Did not Disraeli refer to it in one of the most notable of his novels? One of the corollaries of the move from status to contract is the fact that socially vulnerable groups do, from time to time, require the protection of legislation. What groups do when they require it, and what degree of protection they should be afforded, is not, with due respect to my noble friends on both sides of the House, a question requiring primarily profound philosophical thought; it is pre-eminently a matter for the practical legislator to observe in the light of what actually goes on in the world as he sees it. That is why we have legislation limiting the Factories Acts.
In the 19th century my Party was largely kept alive by defending the cause of the socially vulnerable groups who were employed in factories in various ways, and limiting the freedom of the individual—as it was then put by the Liberals, and as it has been put now—to work as he liked, for how long he liked and for whomever he liked. it was the intolerable weight of serfage created by the absolute freedom of contract which led to social legislation under the great Lord Shaftesbury. I personally support this Bill, and the form in which it appears in Clause 1, on precisely the same theoretical and practical grounds as those on which Lord Shaftesbury put forward his Factories Acts—that is to say, that there is a real hardship upon the employee and upon the entrepreneur if they are left to the unbridled effect of competition. I think I would go all the way with my noble friend Lord McCorquodale of Newton in saying that in this matter freedom and the individual interest must be paramount. I shall endeavour to show the Committee that it is precisely that interest to which we have given effect by this particular form of legislation which we have adopted.
711 There is no evidence at all of any substantial movement, anywhere in the country, against the hours we propose. To hear the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, make his speech, one would suppose one was debating this question de novo—indeed, in the time of my grandfather. We never had a glimpse of the rather obvious fact that we have been living under restricted hours of shop opening, at any rate since I have been an adult—since the end of the First World War, which is since my quite early childhood. There never has been, so far as I know, any important organised complaint on the part of the consumer that he has been maltreated by the limitations imposed upon him.
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER
The noble Viscount is quite right that there is no organised opposition, but he has only to go into any of the big offices of the City and hear what the stall think about the present position.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I am not so sure that the offices in the City have been really so seething with indignation for the last forty-five years on this matter as one would suppose. If they had been, I cannot believe that the great offices in the City would not have managed, in one way or another, in one House of Parliament or the other, to make their views known. The more subjective observations which one overhears in conversation in private life are not always a reliable guide to public opinion. I am bound to say, therefore, that I am not impressed with the evidence of a supposed indignation on the part of consumers.
On the contrary, as the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, said in the debate we had on his Amendment, the evidence is that by far the greatest number of consumers would be satisfied with 6 o'clock, and that by far the greatest number of shopkeepers already shut at that hour. I resisted the Amendment of the noble Viscount only because I pointed out that there was a marginal number of shopkeepers and shop users who were not satisfied with 6 o'clock closing. But extend it to 7 o'clock, and the number is so small that the evidence is that it is infinitesimal except in relation to particular trades. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Mackintosh of Halifax, proposes to raise in a separate Amendment the question of the sweet and tobacco trade. I 712 therefore do not refer to it particularly, except to say that, so far as I am aware, the only people I have ever heard complain of the existing restrictions, which have been on for forty years, are those who belong to that particular kind of trade, and the kind of trade to which the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, referred, which is already dealt with. The tourist centre is already dealt with by way of exception in another clause of the Bill. Therefore, I would venture to say that this indignation is misplaced. It bears no relation to truth except in regard to two individual cases, one of which is an exception and one of which is open to discussion for the purpose of making it an exception.
On the other hand, there is very strong evidence, such as has been brought forward by the noble Viscount, of a strong organised movement of opinion in favour of early closing. The noble Lord refers to the trade unions, the co-operative societies and the Early Closing Association. They are powerful bodies of opinion. I sometimes wish that they were more fully represented in this House, although what they lack in quantity is sometimes made up in quality with protagonists like the noble Viscount. The fact is that that trade union opinion is behind the principle of the Bill and would, if any thing, like to go further with it. Your Lordships can say, if you like, that the trade unions do not represent the views of the workers. It may be that they do not, but I do not know why anyone else should represent them or know them any better. It is certainly true that the shop assistants are not particularly well organised into trade unions, because, of course, the distributive trade is a trade which it is particularly difficult to organise into trade unionism. It is, so one would think, precisely for the reason that trade unionism in the trade is relatively weak that one must at any rate contemplate without misgiving the possibility of legislation to protect them. It is all very well for my noble friend Lord Conesford to say that we are not discussing the interests of the distributive worker, or for the noble Lord who proposed this Amendment to say that we are not discussing the interests of the distributive worker. I know that these things are said in good faith, and with every sincerity, but I happen to disagree with them.
713 The fact is that those who represent the distributive worker think otherwise. The fact is that the Gowers Committee's Report, which embodied a careful review of the subject, even, if it is ten years old, thinks otherwise; and it happens to be, for the little that it is worth, that I think otherwise too, because I believe, quite sincerely, that if we did away with restrictions in the hours of shop opening, we should find a deterioration in the conditions of employment. It is perfectly true, of course, that in an ideal world it would be possible to invent legislation which achieved the same result by a different route—I do not deny it. You could, of course, introduce a Bill for five, six, eight or twelve hours a day for shop assistants and office workers and achieve your result by that kind of method. I myself fancy that shop owners would find it a great deal more onerous than the method which is now proposed, and I fancy that the consumers would not like it any better.
I also venture to point out—because this is not really a matter of opinion: it is a matter of certainty—that, although theoretically it would be possible to invent such legislation, if the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord were carried and became the law the shop assistant and the distributive worker would be left without any protection at all, because, whatever may be done in theory, such legislation does not exist in practice. I say quite frankly to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, that I do not believe that the trade union method of negotiation, much as I respect it in much better organised industries, and much as I recognise its efficacy, would be sufficient in an industry of this kind to give protection were all forms of restriction to be taken away. Therefore, I cannot accept the view either that this is not a social reform or that in a world in which all the restrictions were swept away there would be anything like the freedom or justice or that kind of balance between the interests of different sections of the community—between the consumer, in this case, and the shopkeeper and the worker—that I am sure, despite all theoretical statements to the contrary, every noble Lord in this House is trying to achieve.
Nor am I prepared to accept that this is an Amendment which would benefit the small shopkeeper. It is, of course, 714 the case that there is quite a strong movement inside the sweet and tobacco trade for exemption; that comes from the small shopkeeper. That point we can consider separately. But, generally speaking, I believe it true that the small shopkeepers are behind the Bill rather than the Amendment. At any rate, that is the view of the National Chamber of Trade, whose representative came to see the Government in the last few weeks and pressed the Government to go on with the Bill, precisely because they regarded it as in the interests of the small shopkeeper. Your Lordships may say that that is a restrictive practice. In a sense, all social legislation and all legislation is a restrictive practice. But on this matter one cannot have it both ways. One cannot claim that one's Amendment is in the interests of the freedom of the small shopkeeper and then, when it turns out that the small shopkeeper does not want it, abuse tile small shopkeeper because he is guilty of wanting a restrictive practice. Although each situation is rational in itself, those are not rational situations to hold together.
The noble Lord who moved this Amendment and certain other noble Lords have spoken in glowing terms of a coming era of shift working and staggered hours: that that is the great future of the distributive trade. I wonder. One thing I am quite certain of is that, if it is, it spells the end of the small shopkeeper, because he cannot afford to work in shifts or compete with the staggered hours of a multiple store or modern bazaar against workers working in shifts against him, his wife and his children. He is apt to look at it as if the removal of the restriction against himself means, in the long run, that he is bound to be a drudge, with his wife a drudge and his children drudges, working in a shop because he cannot afford to employ assistants in order to compete with the multiple stores which can employ assistants on eight-hour shifts. That may be open to argument, but, again, you cannot have it both ways. This thing which is alleged to be done out of pity and compassion for the small shopkeeper cannot, at the same time, he run as a great enterprising Amendment which is going to open the way to the shift working of the multiple store, because the two are antagonist interests. I am afraid that on that ground I could not accept it 715 Now it is said: "Of course, psychologically this is so bad. It is true that we have had shops legislation for forty years"—perhaps we had forgotten that. "We are now going to upset the tourist trade; we are going to break up the export drive and we are going to turn our backs on the expanding economy because it is proposed to reduce the late hour from 8 o'clock to 7 o'clock." I am bound to tell your Lordships that I do not, in fact, share the anxieties which are expressed in that direction. I cannot see another ounce of goods not being sold abroad because the shops in Bond Street are closed at 7 o'clock. I do not see anything inconsistent in a modern society with the drive for an expanding economy and the regulation of the distributive trade being regulated in this way, whilst factories are regulated by law according to hours and conditions. Moses is the man tile noble Lord ought to be attacking: he started this business with the Fourth Commandment. He was not talking about freedom on that occasion. He recognised a very simple fact. He recognised that, if it was socially desirable to have periods of rest, it had to be organised socially, by means of legislation—and I am rasher surprised to hear the noble Lord, who is such a pillar of the Evangelical Church, suggesting that there is something slightly immoral about supporting restrictions of this kind.
The evidence is that people who do not have to work too long often work harder in the hours during which they work. I have always insisted, when I have had hard periods of work, in fighting, both for myself and for my employees, to see that they get off for an adequate time. I do not believe it is in the spirit of enterprise to go drudging on for hour after hour; I do not think it is in the spirit of freedom; and, for that matter, where it can be shown that hardship would result from doing it, I do not think it is in the spirit of the Conservative Party.
I come now to the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Coleraine—and I must say that I was attracted by it. I agree with him that the variation between locality and locality can cause anomalies and even injustice. In one respect, I would go further than he does. Clause 716 1 (2), which provides an elaborate series of differentials for the local option, seems to me to complicate the clause a great deal without adding noticeably to its efficacy. I will, if he will allow me to say so, report to my right honourable friend what he has said about the matter. I feel sure that what he said will be considered sympathetically. I should not like to go further—I speak as one of the scribes and not with authority, but I hope that I may win his sympathy by telling him that I will mention what he said; it seemed to me to correspond with a possible change in the Bill.
That, I think, more or less concludes what I have to say. I sincerely believe that the Committee would be making a great mistake in passing this Amendment. I do not believe that the Committee yet realise, even having heard the noble Viscount opposite, quite what stormy passions, or quite what organised opposition, the Amendment would rouse in the community if it were passed. I have yet to hear a tittle of evidence that the Committee which reported favourably on this change, were wrong yin their judgment of the case, which was that the hours proposed were, if anything, conservative from the point of view of the consuming public; that there was no real evidence of a substantial demand for shopping outside these hours, but that there was real evidence that, if these hours were not adhered to, the marginal demand might be such as to give rise to considerable hardship and injustice, not only on the part of those who were employed, but also on the part of those who work for themselves.
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER
I should like to thank the noble Viscount for what he has said, with much of which I agree most heartily. I should also like to thank other noble Lords who have either supported, in whole or in part, the idea that I tried to put forward. I am not at all convinced that there is any unnecessarily competive element between the new and developing methods—the new big bazaar which might employ a shift, or open for a limited number of hours to suit its customers—and the small shopkeeper. I look upon the role of the small shopkeeper as a specialised rôle. If the noble Viscount will go across the Channel and see the owner sitting in his or her shop until 8 or 9 o'clock in the evening, willing to talk and pass the time with 717 anyone who comes into the shop and likes to look around, he cannot talk about sweated labour.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
May I interrupt the noble Lord? Will he tell us why the Poujade movement is so strong in France?
§ LORD GRANTCHESTER
I do not think I need go into that. Anyhow, the noble Viscount thinks that sweets should be served at any time. I have no objection to sweets being served at odd hours if people are willing to serve sweets. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Mackintosh of Halifax, will speak on that and give his reasons. But why sweets? Are sweets and tobacco to be a favoured trade? I object to this sort of discrimination for those who want sweets and tobacco. Why not for people who want bread? I will not press this matter any further to-day, but I hope that the noble Viscount will look at it again. If he feels then as he does now, all I can say is, why did he raise this question at all to alter the existing hours and attempt to cut them down? I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause I agreed to.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ LORD MACKINTOSH OF HALIFAXmoved, after Clause 1 to insert the following new Clause:
§ Special provision for confectionery
§ "Section one of this Act shall in its application to the trade or business of selling mineral waters or other non-intoxicating drinks, sweets, chocolates or other sugar confectionery, or ice-cream (with or without wafers or edible containers) have effect as if—
- (a) in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) thereof for the reference to seven o'clock there were substituted a reference to nine o'clock.
- (b) in paragraph (b) of that subsection for the reference to eight o'clock there were substituted a reference to ten o'clock; and
- (c) in subsection (3) thereof for the reference to six o'clock there were substituted a reference to eight o'clock."
§ When this Bill was before your Lordships' House on Second Reading, I intimated that on the Committee stage I should have something further to say on one aspect of the Bill which I think needs revision. It arises on Clause 1 and has to do with the hours of sale of chocolate and confectionery, together with soft drinks, ice-creams and tobacco lines. The Committee will, of course, be aware that the present legislation on shop hours has admitted the special case for these products, and has allowed them to be sold after the ordinary permitted hours. Under the present Act, shops generally have to close at 8 p.m. but chocolate, confectionery and tobacco, et cetera may be sold to 9.30 on an ordinary week-day and on what is called a late day, which is usually a Saturday, until 10 p.m. The present Bill seeks to bring forward the closing hours of shops generally to 7 p.m., but without any dispensation for the sweet shop, et cetera, thus depriving the industry of seventeen selling hours a week which they now enjoy—and moreover, the very hours which are the most important to many in this industry.
§ I am addressing your Lordships to-day at the express wish of all sections of the confectionery industry—the retailers, the wholesalers and the manufacturers: they are all unanimously behind what I have to say. I have also been asked to express the views of the cinema industry, which is also seriously affected by this Bill. The confectionery industry alone employs, in all its branches, over 300,000 people, and employs some —100 million worth of capital in the manufacturing side alone. I am sure the Committee are well aware of the reasons which have always been accepted for allowing sweetstuff shops and tobacco shops to be open longer than ordinary shops. People buy chocolates and sweets largely on the impulse of the moment. That is why the turnover of the confectionery trade is largely closely bound up with the hours at which the goods are on sale. If you are unable to buy that bar of chocolate or bag of sweets in the evening because the shop is closed, you do not buy two to-morrow; that 719 sale is definitely lost. But if you need a pair of shoes and cannot get them today you will most certainly buy them to-morrow. The sale of confectionery, ice cream and tobacco is closely bound up with the public's hours of leisure and entertainment. That is why the evening hours, which this Bill proposes to cut off, are so important, both to the public and to the industry.
§ The confectionery industry of which I speak particularly, and with which my family have had connections for three generations, is a very important one, with total retail sales of upwards of —250 million a year; so that the loss of only a small percentage of those sales would amount, in total, to many millions of pounds over the year. The confectionery manufacturing industry is highly organised. Generally speaking, it is highly efficient and includes some of the most progressive firms in the country. That means that their overheads are closely watched and the loss of a substantial amount in turnover, with its consequent increased costs, might be damaging to the very considerable export trade, amounting to-day to over —20 million a year, much of it to dollar countries. I know from my own experience that this export business is done on very small margins and sometimes on no margin of profit at all; and any increase in costs might well affect those dollar sales.
§ The effect of cutting off sales of sweets in the evening hours would be even more serious to the retailer. We have had a recent survey, and find that nearly two-thirds of the sweet shops in the country now keep open during the evenings. That cutting off of evening sales would undoubtedly mean that large numbers of shopkeepers would have to close down. Those shops often pay very high rent because their premises are in the middle of a town near to the entertainment houses. To take away from them the best shopping hours of the day would mean that many of them would have to go out of business; the public would go without their sweets and the pleasure of evening entertainment would be lost—a sort of gloom for gloom's sake.
§ When, in 1947, the Gowers Committee made their Report, on which this Bill is largely based, conditions in the confectionery industry, as in many others, were quite different. I know that the 720 Committee did all they could to say what would be right for normal conditions, but we must bear in mind that in the last ten years there have been major developments such as even people in the trade like myself would not have envisaged. In 1947, the public were rationed to four ounces of confectionery per week each. In the following year, this ration was reduced to three ounces, and shops could sell their meagre ration in a few hours each week. To-day, the picture is entirely the reverse. Manufacturers have modernised and enlarged their factories, and there is strenuous and healthy competition between them. The public, too, have a large choice of the best confectionery in the world—for this country leads all others in this industry. To-day the shopkeepers need more, not fewer, hours in which to serve the public adequately and to make a living. I am not pressing for longer hours, of course, but only for the same hours as at present.
§ I understand that the National Chamber of Trade, which is perhaps the chief protagonist for this Bill, has expressly stated, in its case to the Ministry, that it wholeheartedly supports the maintenance of late evening closure for the chocolate, confectionery and tobacco industry. I have talked the matter over with many people, including Members of this House, and everyone to whom I have spoken has agreed with the reasonableness of our case. Your Lordships may wonder why the promoters of the Bill seek to deprive the public and the confectionery trade of these particular trading hours. I believe the reason is difficulty of enforcement. It all boils down to the fact that a small percentage of shops, known as "mixed" shops, sell confectionery as a sideline to other things, like groceries or stationery. It is alleged that some of these shops take advantage of the position to stay open later, ostensibly to sell confectionery, but that in fact they sell a few other goods "on the sly." I believe that the difficulty of enforcement arising from the mixed shop has been greatly exaggerated, and that we are talking only of, say, one shop in a thousand. I would ask: is that sufficient reason to weigh against the legitimate claims of a large, efficient and important national industry, not to mention the convenience of the public and their right to enjoy their leisure unhampered by petty restrictions?721
§ Her Majesty's Government appear to have accepted this point of view, for we appreciate that the Bill continues to allow confectionery and tobacco to be sold on early closing days and Sundays, when the same alleged difficulty of enforcement will apply. I sympathise with the enforcement authorities who wish to have everything nice and tidy, but I am reminded of a cartoon which I saw in Punch when I was a child. It showed a customer coming in to see a business man in his office. He had put in a new filing system, and all around there were beautiful filing, cabinets with men running up and clown ladders. The customer asked, "How is the new filing system going?" and the business man told him, "Magnificently; it is a perfect success." The customer said, "I am very glad, for you have put a Lot of thought into it." Then he asked, "And how is business?" and the businessman replied, "Business? Oh, we have given up business. We are busy filing now." I am anxious to keep business going, even if it is not neat and tidy for the authorities.
§ I need not remind the Committee, for everybody has mentioned the fact, that the hours of shop assistants are not affected by this Bill; nor are their terms and conditions of labour. I should mention that some shops now able to employ assistants would be so adversely affected by this Bill that they would no longer be able to do so. The Bill continues to permit the sale of confectionery in the evenings in cafés, restaurants and railway stations, which is quite right; but that only strengthens the case for retaining for the legitimate confectioner the right to remain open after 7 o'clock. To permit it for one and not the other would be unfair discrimination. For example, a sweetshop may be next door to a café The sweetshop would have to close at 7 o'clock, but the café could keep open a great deal longer. Somebody might come into the café to buy a bar of chocolate. He is supposed to eat it there, but can one imagine him standing at the counter until he has finished his bar of chocolate? No; he would put it in his pocket and eat it outside. Yet the shop next door has to close.
Finally, I should like to say a few words on the Bill as it affects cinemas and theatres. I have already mentioned that sales of chocolates, sweets, ice cream and
tobacco are closely associated with the entertainments industry and are, in fact, all a part of show business. The cinema industry already carries a very heavy burden in the amount of entertainment tax, amounting, I believe, to some —30 million a year. This Bill would add further burdens. It is no secret that the cinema industry derives great financial assistance from the sales to its patrons of these products. I have seen it stated in recent years that the major part of the profit of quite large cinema circuits comes from their sales of these things. I am told that ninny small cinemas would have to close down without this ancillary source of income. True, the Bill purports to allow them and others to sell sweets and tobacco but only—and I quote the Bill:
so long a the sale is effected in a part of the theatre to which no members of the public other than members of the audience have access.
I am informed that the great bulk of sales of confectionery, put by one large circuit as high as 80 per cent., is sold not in the auditorium but in the confectionery kiosk in the public foyer. It is sought to treat these sale points in cinemas as ordinary shops which must close at 7 o'clock. It would be quite unfair to make shops near the cinemas, shops which may be part of the cinema premises and for which a high rent is paid to the cinema, close at 7 o'clock while a shop round the corner remains open.
§ My suggested Amendment to the Bill would meet both objections at the same time. It would permit sales of confectionery in ordinary sweet-shops and places of entertainment and it would permit the public to be served. I have purposely suggested the hour of 9 p.m. on the ordinary evening, because I am informed that by that time the "last house" in cinemas and theatres will have assembled, so that everybody will be happy. I see that my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth has a similar Amendment down on Clause 11. It may be that that is the better place for such an Amendment. I am not as experienced in these matters as is the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, but we are both trying to effect the same thing. The whole of the confectionery trade and the public seem to be unanimous in attaching importance to maintaining the right to sell sweets and other such things in the evening. This can be achieved without departing 723 in any way from the main provisions of the Bill, without causing any real difficulties in practice and without prejudicing the position of the shop assistants. The effect of my Amendment would be to allow confectionery shops to stay open for the sale of their products and tobacco, on ordinary days until 9 o'clock and on late days—usually Saturdays—until 10 o'clock. I beg to move.
After Clause 1, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Mackintosh of Halifax.)
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
Having fixed, by Clause I, the basic principle, this is where we come, as the noble Viscount has said, to the exemptions. Exemptions have bedevilled shop legislation ever since shop legislation existed. I hope the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, will agree with me, when I say that what we have to do is to find a mean that is reasonable. "Reasonable to whom?" it might be asked. I would suggest—reasonable to the consumer in this particular case. I think that the noble Lord who moved this Amendment has gone too far. I think that the hours of 10 o'clock and 9 o'clock at night for the ordinary shop are too late. I am leaving out of account, for the moment, the aspect that the noble Lord brought in at the last part of his speech—the cinema and the theatre. I think that they are to be treated entirely separately and that on this question as it affects them a separate case is arguable.
I have in mind the ordinary man in the street—if I may use that expression—and his wife. I suppose that the noble Lord, who knows far more about the confectionery trade than I do, would admit that the peak hours of selling in sweet shops are somewhere in the region of 7 o'clock and 8 o'clock. People are then going to places of amusement such as the cinema, and I think it would be rather hard if a man were deprived of the opportunity of calling at his local confectionery shop on the way there and buying his wife a box of chocolates. I am not going so far as to say that the Government are heading for domestic trouble in denying husbands the pleasure of buying their wives boxes of chocolates, but I cannot see that it would do any harm whatever to allow that. I think it is right: I think 724 it is calculated to meet the convenience of the public.
As Lord Mackintosh of Halifax has mentioned, I have an Amendment on this matter which I shall put forward at a later stage. I have tried, in that Amendment, to keep within what I thought was the scope of the Bill by bringing in permissive hours in precisely the same way as they are permitted now—in other words, the extra hour, and the early closing extra hour. I seek to apply them to the Clause I hours, thereby bringing the total permitted hours down by that amount. I think that is better than the noble Lord's Amendment. I do not like the hours which the noble Lord proposes. I would support the principle, however. In regard to the cinema or theatre I think the concession should apply only to places to which the general public do not have free access, places where only bona fide patrons of the theatre or cinema can purchase sweets and so forth. I believe that that is absolutely essential. I do not think that a cinema kiosk to which the ordinary public, not attending the cinema, has access should remain open longer than a shop. My Amendment seeks to confine purchases at such places to the bona fide members of the audience at the place of entertainment in question.
Where I find myself opposed to the noble Lord is that I think his hours are too long. I cannot see that the public generally need facilities for being served until ten o'clock. It may be that in certain areas at certain times of the year special provisions are called for. But we are dealing with the ordinary run. I have great sympathy for people at seaside resorts—not so much the shopkeeper as the people who are visitors at seaside resorts. They are on holiday, and why should they not be allowed to enjoy this amenity? But I fear I am getting away from this particular Amendment. I would not object to this Amendment if the hours were brought down by having the permissive extra hours that are enjoyed now added to the statutory hours for shops as provided in Clause 1. Apart from that, I have no objection to the noble Lord's Amendment.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ LORD BURDEN
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackintosh of Halifax, so rarely intervenes in debates in this House 725 that I am sure that anything which he submits to your Lordships is worthy of careful consideration. Speaking entirely on my own responsibility, may I say that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that perhaps a 10 o'clock rule would go a little too far. I think, also, that one need not attach very much importance to the competition, shall we say, of the cinemas. But I would not intervene to say something in support of the principle of this Amendment if I were not sure that so far as the shop assistants are concerned they are adequately protected by their wages board and, I hope, in most instances, by their trade unions. But while one does not want to shelter behind the position, one cannot close one's eyes to the fact that there are literally thousands of shopkeepers in this country who do not employ assistants at all. I agree with the Cowers Report that these people cannot be, or ought not to be, excluded from any general legislation.
But what is the position of these people? Many of them have invested whatever small capital they may have in these shops, and they have been able to stay open later. I venture to say that if this restriction is imposed upon them, plus the fact of the heavy additional burden which is falling upon them in connection with the new rates which they have to pay (notwithstanding the measure of abatement which. I understand, may be forthcoming) many of them, if not the majority, may perforce be driven out of business. In summer, as we all know, owing to the working of the Summer Time regulations, in many cases people go out late in the evening and like to purchase ice-cream and so on. As your Lordships will realise, the weather last year made the summer one of the worst in recent memory for the sale of ice-cream. The ice-cream industry has to measure up one year with another. Last year was very bad and they are hoping that we may be blessed this year with a good summer from their point of view. Thousands of shopkeepers depend on the sale of ice-cream during the times proscribed in the clause. If it is passed, it will be one of the most severe blows yet levelled at the ice-cream industry in this country. My noble friend is right in saying that perhaps the Amendment goes a little too far, but in view of the plea 726 that has been put up, I would suggest that even if the Government cannot accept this Amendment, they might give the matter second thoughts, to see whether there cannot be some alleviation of the strict conditions laid down.
§ LORD LUKE
I should like to support my noble friend Lord Mackintosh of Halifax in his Amendment. I feel that no one speaks with greater authority than he on the confectionery trade and I have been considerably impressed by what he said. I was also glad to hear Lord Lucas of Chilworth's plea for a reasonable deal for the consumer, and I think there is a great deal in what he said. I was particularly impressed by what my noble friend said about the hours of closing. Seventeen hours in a week are a considerable number to be curtailed off your business, especially when they are during the peak hours of sales. The clause as it stands does not seem to be in the public interest or in the interest of shopkeepers, but merely in the interest of curtailment, and that dot's not seem to me to be right. Obviously, there will be hardship among retailers, especially among small family shops, and I think we ought to pay particular attention to that. With regard to cafés and restaurants in cinemas, it seems to me that if there is to be an exemption it should be allowed all round, and one section ought not to be curtailed without the others. I think it is unfair that certain units should be penalised. I wanted to say these few words in support of my noble friend because I think there is a great deal in what he said and in his Amendment.
I shall not detain the Committee very long. I hope that what I say may satisfy noble Lords who have spoken in support of this Amendment, and, if I may address my remarks not only to this Amendment but to that to another part of the Bill in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, I think I shall probably facilitate the discussion of the Committee. The Gowers Committee decided against differentiating in favour of the tobacco and confectionery trade because they were anxious to avoid the complications which are imposed if we start differentiating and because of the practice of selling confectionery and tobacco in common with other goods. If it is proposed to differentiate, that difficulty has 727 to be accepted and dealt with in one form or another. My right honourable friend and I feel that there is a strong case to be made for the confectionery and tobacco trade. I do not share the view of the noble Lord. Lord Grantchester, in his reply to the discussion on the last Amendment, that if we differentiate in favour of confectionery, then we have to differentiate in favour of, for instance, bread. The reason was adumbrated, I thought persuasively, by my noble friend Lord Mackintosh of Halifax in his excellent speech. May I, in parenthesis, thank him for his kind remarks about myself?
Though I had no idea of this before I began reading my "homework" in connection with this Bill, the confectionery trade is what is called an "impulse" trade. This is a phrase new to me. I gather that the same is true up to a point of tobacco. I can afford to look at this matter with a certain degree of detachment because I do not smoke and my wife will not allow me to eat too many sweets. But I realise that a great many people not blessed with so much flesh as I have, when they see a confectioner's shop, get an impulse which they simply cannot resist. When they pass a bread shop, fortunately, in this country where no-one is overcome by famine, they do not get an impulse to go and buy a loaf of bread, say, at 10 o'clock at night. The housewife is content to shop at normal hours to provide her family with its needs, but in confectionery much of the trade depends on impulse, which, as my noble friend said, is not necessarily repeated next morning at breakfast time. The result is—I am approaching this problem pragmatically rather than philosophically—that a case can be made for treating confectionery as different from bread, and my right honourable friend has authorised me to say that he intends, if he can, to find a way of giving effect to noble Lords' desires in this matter. The Parliamentary draftsmen, who in this respect are my masters as well as the Government's servants, tell me that neither of the Amendments will do because they do not fit into the structure of the Bill. I trust that the noble Lords will be satisfied to accept a rather indefinite but none the less sincere promise on the part of the Government 728 that it is their intention to make an exception of the tobacco and confectionery trades, and will withdraw their two Amendments.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am grateful to the noble Viscount and accept his offer straight away. I am glad that he has done this because, if I may say so in support of my noble friend Lord Burden, this is relevant to something said by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, who poured scorn upon my remark that these long hours of opening were bound to be to the financial ruin of small shopkeepers. When we had a universal 10 o'clock opening, the demise of retail businesses was 20 per cent. per annum—that was the rate of bankruptcy. The bad debts so accumulated had to be borne by the consumer. I agree with my noble friend Lord Burden that the small shopkeeper who relies upon this type of business is going to be badly hit, and I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his promise. When it comes to my part in this, I will not move my Amendment and will rely on his promise.
§ LORD MACKINTOSH OF HALIFAX
I gladly withdraw my Amendment and thank the noble Viscount and the Government for their promise.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2:
§ Late days
§ 2.—(1) It shall be the duty of every local authority to make such orders under this section specifying pairs of weekdays as will enable effect to be given throughout their area to the provisions of paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of the foregoing section.
§ (2) An order under this section may be so framed as to extend to the whole of the area of the authority by whom it is made or to part only of that area and as to have effect as respects the generality of shops within the area to which it extends (either without exception or subject to an exception for shops where a particular trade or business is carried on) or as respects shops within that area where a particular trade or business is carried on, and different pairs of days may be specified by order under this section—
- (a) for the purposes of different trades or businesses;
- (b) as respects different parts of the area of the authority;
- (c) as respects different weeks of the year;
§ (3) Of a pair of days specified by an order under this section, one shall be designated by the order as the principal day.
§ (4) Subject to the following provisions of this section, the late day as respects a shop shall be that one of the pair of days for the time being applicable to the shop by virtue of an order under this section which is designated by the order as the principal day, unless the occupier of the shop elects as the late day the other day of that pair, in which case the late day shall be that other day.
§ (8) An election under subsection (4) of this section, an election under subsection (6) thereof and a variation under subsection (7) thereof of an election under the said subsection (6) shall be of no effect unless signified by a notice in the prescribed form displayed in the prescribed manner in the shop to which it relates, and when such an election or variation is so signified—
- (a) it shall, until revoked or, in the case of a variation, until the election to which it relates is again varied, have effect with respect to all weeks after that in which it is first so signified; and
- (b) so long as it is effective, the notice evidencing it must continue to be displayed as aforesaid while the shop is open.
§ LORD DERWENTmoved, in subsection (4), after "occupier of the shop" to insert, "shall have notified the local authority in writing that he". The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment, may I say a word or two about all the Amendments standing in my name? Most of them, but not all of them, are designed to improve the administration of this Bill when it becomes an Act. In putting down these Amendments I have borne in mind certain things which have been told me by inspectors under the Act. They are the poor devils who have to try to see that it is enforced—and I say "poor devils" because they have found considerable difficulty under the present Act.
§ What they say is that the law must be easily understandable to the shopkeepers, to the shopping public and to them, the inspectors, because a great number of the prosecutions brought arise from the fact that nobody understands the law. Secondly, they say that where there is good administration, it is to the benefit of both the public and the shopkeeper; and they also tell me that it is impossible to enforce a Shops Act, or a regulation under the Act, which is resisted and disliked, either by shopkeepers as a whole—not necessarily individual shopkeepers—or by the public as a whole. So in these Amendments that I have put down I have tried to see that they are simple, 730 to the benefit of good administration and unlikely to upset either the public or the shopkeeper.
§ The first Amendment is one of pure administration. It deals with the election by the occupier of the shop of his late day—"the other day of the pair" are, it think, the words used by the Act. There are two late days, and if he does not take one, he has to elect the other. All the Amendments say that when he so elects he shall do so in writing. The object of that is that, unless it is done in writing, it is almost impossible for the local authorities to prepare lists; and if there are no lists, it is almost equally impossible for those concerned to know whether a shop should or should not be open on a particular evening. I am advised that the large proportion of shopkeepers will have no objection to this Amendment, and that the only people who are likely to object are the very few who might wish to manipulate the law to their own advantage and to the disadvantage of their competitors. I beg to move.
Page 3, line 21, after ("shop") insert the said words.—(Lord Delivery.)
§ LORD BURDEN
Broadly speaking, I think this. Amendment is in line with the subsequent one. I think your Lordships will agree that if local authorities are to carry out the terms of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, they should not be faced with all sorts of complexities and difficulties which will arise if a man can, of his own volition and without any notification to anybody, jump from one early closing day to another. That, as I read it, it is possible for him to do under the terms of the clause as now drafted. I am sure it is the intention of the Government that the terms of the Act should be complied with, and, while we all know that the majority of shopkeepers are decent, law-abiding people who will honour its terms, there is another class, small, I agree, but difficult for the local authorities to deal with, who will take advantage of any possible loophole, not only breaking the law but acting to the disadvantage of their competitors who are loyally abiding by the law. In those circumstances, I hope that the noble Viscount will see his way to accept this Amendment, or to suggest phraseology which will meet the position.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
This is one of a number of Amendments the object of which, as my noble friend Lord Derwent has said, is to facilitate the enforcement of the Bill by making the shopkeeper who exercises one of the elections given him under this procedure notify the local authorities, instead of simply putting up a notice in his shop. I think there is a good deal to be said for these Amendments, and I do not deny that probably they would facilitate enforcement, at any rate, to a certain extent. The noble Lord who has just spoken is not quite right in thinking that the shopkeeper who puts up a notice can altogether escape from his obligations by taking it down, as he will see from the rather complicated phraseology of subsection (5).
My right honourable friend is disposed at the moment to resist this Amendment, although he recognises that it is a reasonable one and well worthy of consideration. The object of the framers of this Bill has been to reduce to the minimum the form-filling and red tape, and it is thought that the existing provisions of the Bill achieve that object. I think that is a very nice thing, whether one accepts that argument or the opposite one. The Committee, on the whole, have been pressing me to err on the side of freedom, rather than regulation, and so, to some extent, I am fortified in the attitude my right honourable friend has taken. I do not know whether noble Lords who have spoken to this Amendment will be satisfied if I say that my right honourable friend will take into account what they have said. He may want to take the opinion of another place, as well, because obviously it is a matter which will be discussed there. I would ask my noble friend Lord Derwent to withdraw the Amendment, but I do not close the door completely to the possibility that my right honourable friend might change his mind in the light of what noble Lords have said and what others may say.
§ LORD DERWENT
I am grateful to my noble friend for what he has said. I intend to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, but I would go so far as to say that, without local authority lists, this clause will be unenforceable; and unless election is in writing, local authorities will be unable to prepare a list. I should 732 like that to be on the record. But, subject to the undertaking given by my noble friend, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD BURDENmoved, in subsection (8), after "unless" to insert "notified to the local authority in the prescribed form and." The noble Lord said: I will formally move this Amendment. In doing so, I would say that I agree with the noble and learned Viscount that freedom is a good thing, generally speaking. But the object of these Amendments is that freedom should not degenerate into licence, and from that point of view we should like this matter to be looked at. I formally move the Amendment and no doubt the same procedure as was followed with the other Amendment can be followed here. I move it in order to have it on the record. I beg to move.
Page 4, line 12, after ("unless") insert the said words.—(Lord Burden.)
§ LORD MILVERTON
As this Amendment is in my name, also, I should like to say that I fully support what my noble friend Lord Derwent said about the last Amendment. I do not believe that these regulations are properly enforceable without that notification. I, too, would press that point. I know that it is a sound (Government principle that one should endeavour to reduce these restrictions and requirements as much as possible, but one of the main objects of this Bill is to take shops legislation out of the disrepute into which it has fallen because it has been in many respects unenforceable; and it was solely with the idea of trying to help in making this Bill and its provisions enforceable, and of letting shops legislation gain the reputation that such laws should have, that this Amendment was drafted. It was entirely with a desire to help, and I hope the noble Viscount will bring that to his right honourable friend's attention.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I am grateful for what has been said. I am very conscious of these arguments—indeed, I can assure noble Lords who have spoken that from the start my right honourable friend and I recognised the purpose behind these Amendments, and recognised what could be said, and what has been 733 said so forcibly, about the necessity for an adequate enforcement procedure. I have no authority to go further than I have gone to-day, but from what I have said I am hopeful that noble Lords will realise that what they have said will be conveyed to my right honourable friend.
§ LORD BURDEN
In the circumstances, and in view of the assurance that it will be looked at again, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWELmoved to leave out Clause 2 and insert the following new clause:
§ Late days
§ "2. The late day referred to in the last foregoing section shall be Saturday unless the local authority by order fix some other day as the late day and any such order may fix the same day for all shops or may fix—
- (a) different days for different classes of shops;
- (b) different days for different parts of their area; or
- (c) different days for different periods of the year;
§ The noble Earl said: The Amendments which stand in my name, like those of my noble relative. Lord Derwent, and the two noble Lords who spoke on the last Amendment, are put down with a view to facilitating the enforcement of this Bill, a duty that has been laid upon the local authorities. I have tabled a number of Amendments at the behest of the London County Council, who will be the largest single administrating authority under the Bill when it becomes law. The first of these Amendments in my name relates to Clause 2. It is essentially a conservative Amendment, and I hope for that reason it may appeal to the noble Viscount opposite and some of his friends on the Benches opposite. It is a plea for the status quo. What I am suggesting is that your Lordships should omit this clause, which proposes a new arrangement for the late day—the day on which shops can stay open from 7 to 8 o'clock 734 al night—and go back to the arrangement that exists at the moment under the Shops Act, 1950.
§ I should like to give your Lordships three arguments in favour of retaining the existing arrangement for the late day. The first of them is this. Clause 2, as it stands, is extremely complicated. What I think it does is to oblige local authorities to offer shopkeepers the choice of two days in the week, on one of which they can slay open late. One will be called the principal day, and if a shopkeeper chooses the principal day he will have no further bother. But if he chooses the other day, then he will have quite a lot of bother and a great deal to think about. What I am suggesting is that we should retain the simple arrangement of having one day fixed by the local authority as the late day for that area.
One of the most important recommendations of the Gowers Committee was that the law should be made more intelligible to the ordinary person—that it should he understood by shopkeepers and the shopkeepers public. What I should like to ask noble Lords to do is to regard themselves for a moment as a gathering of intelligent and conscientious shopkeepers, who wish to understand what their rights and obligations are under the law and to observe them; who want to keep open when they are allowed to keep open, and who do not wish inadvertently to stay open on the wrong night. I will read to your Lordships subsection (5) of this clause, which the noble Viscount opposite referred to as being complicated phraseology. I differ with him slightly in this matter, and would suggest that that was an understatement. Your Lordships will judge for yourselves when I have read the terms of this subsection. It says:
An election made under the last foregoing subsection "—
that is to say, the choice of the other day, the day that is not the principal day—
shall be revocable; but where such an election has been made in relation to a shop while a pair of days is applicable thereto by virtue of an order under this section, neither the right of revocation conferred by this subsection nor the right of election conferred by the last foregoing subsection shall, while that pair of days continues to be applicable to the shop, be so exercised in relation to the shop as to take effect with respect to a week earlier than the thirteenth after that with respect to which the
exercise, or the last exercise, of the other of those rights took effect in relation to the shop.
That is not all. If the shopkeeper understands this, he still does not know where he stands. He may well inadvertently break the law, and he has another particular right conferred by the proviso which qualifies the last paragraph. The proviso reads:
Provided that where either of those rights is (otherwise than by virtue of this proviso) so exercised as to take effect with respect to a week, the other of those rights may be exercised so as to take effect with respect to the week next following.
After he has read that, the shopkeeper knows exactly where he stands! I did not understand it when I read it, and I still do not understand it—it is quite unintelligible to me—but I have had the advantage of having it explained to me by a legal expert whose business it is to understand the provisions of this Bill. I am told—the noble Viscount will correct me if I am not right—that what it amounts to simply is this: that if a shopkeeper wishes to change his mind about his late day he cannot do so for more than one week unless he waits for three months. I may be quite wrong, and that may not be the right interpretation, but that is what I understood it to be. Surely, it is a little unfair to expect shopkeepers to get legal advice in order to understand what their rights are. This all arises from the fact that the Government wish them to have a choice between the days on which they may stay open.
§ My second argument is this. I am told by one of the most important authorities that this clause will be extremely difficult to enforce, and for this reason. There will be a strong temptation to break the law, under the spur of competition. One shopkeeper, seeing his neighbour open on a late night when he is not allowed to be open, may say, "Well, I will take the risk and I will stay open, although in fact I have had the other late night earlier in the week, or shall have it later." There will be a strong temptation to break the law and, therefore, this provision makes the law more difficult for local authorities to enforce.
§ My third argument is this. The noble and learned Viscount invoked the authority of the Gowers Committee when 736 he was answering the argument of my noble friend and Leader about Clause 1. We all respect the recommendations of the Gowers Committee. What I want to ask the noble Viscount, however, is this: why do the Government want to make an important change in the law which was not recommended by the Gowers Committee? The Committee heard all the evidence, and, surely, if there had been any considerable demand from shopkeepers for the choice of two days in the week instead of their late day, they would have embodied that demand in one of their recommendations. But the Gowers Committee said nothing on this subject. I hope that the noble and learned Viscount will say why, in this important respect, the Government wish to depart from the recommendations of the Gowers Committee. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Leave out Clause 2 and insert the said new clause.—(The Earl of Listowel.)
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I of course realise the attractions of an argument which is based on conservatism, and the noble Earl is perfectly correct in saying that this new clause is really "cribbed" out of the Act of 1950, which is the law as it is now. Indeed. I would say that it is not only conservatism; the word "reactionary" leaps to my lips in this connection. If he wants to put the clock back to 1950, I readily concede that there is something to be said for it, and I think he has said it very powerfully; but I would respectfully suggest to your Lordships that our attitude towards this particular Amendment ought to be a little harder than the one which I gave last time. My right honourable friend is disposed to reject it, although again this is not a matter which I would ever claim was finally closed or decided.
I will tell the noble Earl why it is that the Government resist it, and why, on the whole, they are disposed to ask your Lordships to reject it. It is this, In the first place, as regards the noble Earl's Amendment, the existing law makes Saturday the late day unless the local authority fixes another. This Amendment would abolish one of the important modernising and liberalising features of the Bill. All our information goes to show that the most convenient day is no longer Saturday, and yet Saturday is written into the law. For example, 737 in the West End I gather it has been found to be Thursday, and probably it is different in different areas. That is the first criticism I make of it. It would be Saturday under the Amendment unless the local authority changed it by order.
Secondly, it would give no choice of late day to the shopkeeper. The Bill we have put before your Lordships gives him an option to choose between a pair of late days. That is not an accident. All this is really my answer to the last of the noble Earl's questions. It represents the rationale of the Bill and, to that extent, it differs from the Dowers Committee recommendations. The Government think that the feeling behind this Amendment is that, if you are going to bring down the evening closing hour to seven, which is the very point which has caused so much controversy this afternoon—and noble Lords opposite must admit that I was pressed hard from all sides of the House to give way, but I stood my ground on that, with their help—if you are going to impose that added restriction on hours, this late day provision ought to be a little more flexible than before because there is likely to be a greater wish to make use of it. This Amendment, which has the attraction of reverting to the status quo—and that is an attraction which can never be wholly lost on Conservatives—is not one which the Government feel at all disposed to accept at the present time.
I would concede that under the Amendment the law would be slightly more easily enforced. I think that that is quite a legitimate point to make. The question is whether, for the sake of a little greater ease in enforcement, we are going to abandon what we regard as an important liberalising measure. My judgment would be that it is not worth while doing that. I am not terribly afraid of the example of the possible abuse of the clause given by the noble Earl. I am afraid that my experience, both of the Bar and in the country, has led me to believe that neighbours are not such good neighbours as the noble Earl's neighbours obviously are. If I kept my shop open twice illegally during the week when my neighbour was observing the law, I think I know somebody who would inform the police, the enforcement inspector, or whoever it was; therefore I do not take the view that it 738 would be quite so unenforceable as the noble Earl thinks.
Lastly, there is the question of phraseology. I agree that it looks very complicated—indeed, I said so, as he rightly pointed out, and I respectfully congratulate the noble Earl upon the use to which he put my unguarded admission. But I think he can overstate the complexity of it. By imposing a greater restriction on the shopkeeper, you can, of course, make the law mach more easy to be understood; but it is doubtful, to my mind, whether the shopkeeper will not prefer his freedom with a little difficulty in understanding what the law means, to restriction with complete certainty that he cannot do what he wants to do. That is, at any rate, my general approach to the problem. Moreover, I would say, again with respect to the noble Earl and recognising the force of much that he said, that he rather underestimates the ability of shopkeepers to understand complicated legislation. With due respect to his Party, shopkeepers are trained by such a long series of unintelligible regulations that they know pretty well what is what.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I accept, of course, what the noble Viscount says about the important reasons for offering this choice of days for the shopkeeper in place of the single day, as it used to be, but my complaint is about subsection (5). I am sure that he will agree with me when I say that I found it impossible to understand before he admitted that he himself regarded it as being a piece of complex phraseology. I should like to ask the noble Viscount this. If he feels that the clause is desirable as it now stands, could he not—for, after all, he is himself a very distinguished lawyer and he has as clear a mind as anyone in his profession—go through it rather carefully, with or without his Parliamentary draftsman, and see whether this subsection could not be made a little simpler and clearer?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I will say at once that this is a challenge which a professional man finds it difficult to resist. I do not offer any prospect of success. All that has been said will be considered before the Bill reaches another stage. I promise the noble Earl that if I see a way of making the draftsmanship plainer without affecting the sense of the Bill, I 739 certainly will not hesitate to take it. It sometimes happens that quite a simple form of words will do, but I am advised that this legislation, oddly enough, although one starts with the idea that it can be made very simple, is one of the most delicately balanced pieces of Parliamentary draftsmanship that the Parliamentary draftsman has handled for many a long year.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I am obliged to the noble Viscount for his undertaking to look at the drafting, because some of us have found this clause a little difficult. With those words, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 agreed to.
§ Clause 4:
§ Power of local authority in sea-fishing centres and holiday resorts to permit later evening closing and dispense with observance of early closing days
§ 4.—(1) A local authority whose area—
- (a) includes a harbour used for the purposes of the sea-fishing industry, being a harbour whose use for those purposes is substantially greater during some seasons of the year than during others; or
- (b) consists of, or includes, a place frequented (whether at all times or during certain seasons of the year) by tourists or holiday-makers;
§ (i) a direction that, as respects the weekdays in such weeks as may be specified in the order, there shall, in the case of shops situate within the area of the authority or within such part o that area as may be specified in the order or shops so situate where there is carried on retail trade or business of a class so specified, be substituted for subsection (1) of section one of this Act (other than the proviso thereto), a requirement that they shall be closed not later than such time as may be fixed by the order (being neither earlier than seven o'clock in the evening nor later than eight o'clock in the evening);
§ 6.28 p.m.
LORD MILVERTONmoved, in subparagraph (i) of subsection (1), to leave out
(being neither earlier than seven o'clock in the evening nor later than eight o'clock in the evening).
The noble Lord said: This clause gives power to local authorities at holiday resorts to permit for twenty-two weeks in
the year later evening closing than the Bill otherwise allows, but 8 p.m. is the latest time which may be specified. I have consulted various bodies who have every reason to be familiar with the circumstances to which this clause applies, and it is suggested that, the principle having been accepted of the need for special arrangements in holiday resorts, local authorities should be left to judge the extent of those needs and to make orders accordingly. There are other provisions in the Bill to ensure that shop assistants are not employed for excessive hours.
§ We all, I presume, know that there is a considerable traffic of "day trippers" to resorts. Many of them do not leave until ten o'clock at night, and a large amount of trade is done right up to the moment of their departure. It seems unreasonable to deny this trade to the shops, many of whom are, to a large extent, dependent upon it. It seems also unreasonable to deny their wares to the visitors. Other things apart, it would be almost impossible, I am informed, to enforce the 8 p.m. closing time. It is equally worth noting that there does not appear to be any reference in the Gowers Report upholding this proposal to increase control over the discretion of the local authorities. I beg to move.
Page 6, line 22, leave out the said words.—(Lord Milverton.)
§ LORD DERWENT
In supporting my noble friend, may I say that this is a most important Amendment. As the law stands at present, this matter is left to the local authority. It may well be—I have not studied all the resorts—that one resort, possibly Eastbourne, likes to close at 7 o'clock in the summer and finds that adequate. Perhaps Scarborough likes to close at 9 o'clock and finds that adequate; it is rather a place where families go. But we know perfectly well that Blackpool for a short period closes at midnight. Who are the men in Whitehall who think that they know what is the proper time for a seaside resort to close? I speak particularly on behalf of the Northern resorts, because they have a shorter season.
There are three classes of people who have to make their living in a space of three or four months, virtually for the 741 whole twelve months. They are the shopkeepers; those who provide the shops with goods such as local market gardeners and so on; and, what is often forgotten, the shop assistants. Many of them are technically unemployed in the winter—for seven or eight months of the year. In many cases that is how they like it. Except for occasional jobs, they make enough in four months to be all right for the rest of the year. I have asked about that in my own local town of Scarborough and they all tell me the same thing. The girls and the married women, who form the bulk of shop assistants in a seaside resort, make their money in those four months. Those who are in the minority, the men, are still employed in the winter.
Take Blackpool, which, in a way, is the extreme case. People go to Blackpool for the lights and everything that lights mean—and it means shops being open and people being able to pop into a shop to buy something. There are hundreds of thousands of people who go to Blackpool every year, but who do not spend a night there. In my own local village, all the male population, from, I think, sixteen to ninety-six (being mostly farm workers they do not take proper holidays, particularly 1n the summer) go off once a year early one morning to Blackpool, and they "beat it up," or whatever is the equivalent phrase, until midnight, while the shops are open till midnight The illuminations are on and everything is going on. At midnight these things shut down, and they get into their coach and they come back to the North Riding, arriving in the early morning of the next day, which is usually a holiday for other reasons.
There are hundreds of thousands of people who make trips like that, not only to Blackpool but to every kind of resort of that kind. It is their one holiday of the year. They come out of the mills they come out of the factories, and they go on this holiday. Are you going to say that, if they are late back from the beach in June or July, or whatever month it may be, and therefore do not finish their supper until nine o'clock, they shall find, to their horror, that the whole place is dark? That is what you are asking, and it is really absurd. The present system has worked all right up to now without any complaint. So far as one can find out—and I have tried to find 742 out from the shop assistants—there have been no complaints. Nor have there been complaints from the shopkeepers. The proper people in places like this to know what time they need to shut the shops are the local authorities. That is the law now. Why suddenly in these special cases (as the Government admit they are), are we asking for the law to be changed?
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
May I add my plea to those made by other noble Lords. I should have thought that for this short period this was a matter which could be left quite safely with the local authority. As the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has said, these folk have a very short time in which to make a living. They have to pay their rates all through the year, as well as their rents and everything else. Do the Government not think they could make an exception in this particular case, so that the local authorities can extend the hour to what they think would meet the circumstances of the case so well outlined by the noble Lord. Lord Derwent?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
This is a matter where my right honourable friend feels that there is a strong case to be made out for the Amendment proposed. Without actually accepting it, I think I can go a long way towards indicating that the Government will take a sympathetic attitude towards it. As my noble friend who proposed the Amendment pointed out, these words are a departure in the direction of greater restriction as distinct from Section 41 of the Shops Act, 1950. They were put in because we had increased the power of the local authorities to extend the hours for what I think is called the statutory season, from four months to five months, and there were some representations by the trade unions concerned that we ought to make some compensating allowance on the other hand by providing for the 8 p.m. closing.
As my noble friend and the noble Lord opposite have suggested, we have received a certain number of representations from some of the resorts concerned that much use was made of the greater freedom allowed under the Act of 1950, and my right honourable friend is, in fact, quite favourably disposed to the Amendment. He is anxious to take the opinion of another place on the matter as well, for reasons which I think will be acceptable both to my noble friend and to the noble 743 Lord opposite. It is essentially a matter in which local opinion and trade union opinion ought to be tested. I am therefore going to ask the noble Lord to withdraw the Amendment, and at the same time I am telling him that, as at present advised, my right honourable friend is very much disposed, at some stage before the Bill becomes Law, to accept it.
§ LORD MILVERTON
I thank the noble Viscount for the way in which he has received this Amendment and for his assurances, which naturally we find most gratifying. With the assurance which he has giver, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD DERWENT
Before my noble friend withdraws the Amendment may I ask this question. Supposing in another place this Amendment is not passed, we as a House have not been able to give our opinion on it. Is that right?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
That would be so. Of course, there are disadvantages in both courses, as I frankly concede. As I understand it—I see the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough opposite—the Amendment has not met with any opposition here; but I think this is very much a question upon which it would be desirable for feeling to be tested in the way I propose in both Houses, especially as I have said that the only reason for the greater restriction was some representation from the trade unions, which might be represented in another place. However, I will convey to my right honourable friend that no voice was raised in opposition to what my noble friend has said.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
So far as I am concerned, for all the reasons that the noble Viscount has stated, I think, if I may say so, that this is a most wise course for him to take, and he satisfies me.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
LORD JESSELmoved, after subsection (2) to insert:
(3) Where the occupier of any shop in any place in which a direction under paragraph (ii) of subsection (1) of this section is in force satisfies the local authority that it is the practice to allow all his shop assistants a holiday on full pay of not less than two weeks in every year and keeps affixed in his shop a notice to that effect, the requirement in this Act that in each week a shop assistant shall be allowed a half holiday on a business day shall not apply
to the shop during such weeks as may be specified in the direction as aforesaid.
§ The noble Lord said: This Amendment deals with the catering trade which the noble and learned Viscount charged with the Bill said a little earlier, if I heard him rightly, was deserving of special treatment. Under existing law, under Section 40 of the Act of 1950, permission is given to local authorities in holiday resorts to suspend for up to four months in the year the obligation to close shops on a weekly half-day; and, as a corollary to this, the weekly half-day need not be given to shop assistants while the suspension order is in force, provided that they are given two weeks' paid holiday in the year. This Bill preserves the first concession about the half-day on which the shop is allowed to be open, but not the second: it insists on a half-day for the shop assistants. The catering trade feel that this provision will make things difficult for them, with the great labour shortage they experience, and they would like to see the concession reinstated, at least so far as it is possible, for workers in the catering industry. Under the Catering Wages Regulations, staff are entitled to two weeks' paid holiday a year, and their interests are safeguarded by the regulations so far as payment of overtime is concerned. I am sure that this Amendment is in the interests of both overseas visitors and home holiday makers, to enable them to get decent service at the overcrowded restaurants. I beg to move.
Page 6, line 35, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Jessel.)
§ LORD DERWENT
I beg to support my noble friend Lord Jessel. Without going into the same detail, I may say that one of the great difficulties about this Bill is that it is, in effect, dealing with more than one industry; and what is suitable for a shop on a shop assistant is not necessarily suitable, in certain directions, for a catering establishment. The catering establishment has difficulties which do not apply to the shop. In addition, the catering establishment is controlled by the Catering Wages Act. I would therefore ask Her Majesty's Government, where they can give slight concessions in regard to catering establishments to which the Shops Regulations do not really apply, to do so.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I understand the reasons which have led my noble friend to move this Amendment, but I ant afraid that this is one which I. am going to ask the Committee not to accept. Its object is to restore the position under the Act of 1950 whereby, if a local authority in a holiday resort have made an order abolishing the early closing day requirement during the season, the employer need not give his assistants weekly half-holidays, provided lie has satisfied the local authority that it is his practice to give a paid annual holiday of two weeks. At first sight that is a very reasonable proposition, and it was in the Act of 1950; but the Gowers Committee thought that, as time had gone on, and conditions improved, the compensation of two weeks' annual holiday, if it ever had any value—and here I am quoting:has now become quite illusory when this is so widely given as a normal term of employment.I am hound to say that I agree with that judgment of the Committee, and I believe that legislation may be brought into contempt if it pretends to offer to assistants compensation which is, in truth and in fact, no real compensation at all because everybody gets it anyhow.
It may be said, of course, that employers might not be able to take advantage of being able to stay open on early closing day if they had to give their assistants a weekly half holiday. That again is an argument which is plausible but it is not one which Her Majesty's Government accept. There may be many other institutions, such as restaurants and garages, which are exempt from the early closing day requirement, but which, none the less, have to see that their assistants are given a weekly half-holiday; and I am bound to say that we have taken the view of the trade union on this matter. It is true that the trade union concerned is not very widely representative of the people employed, but Her Majesty's Government take the view that it does represent the views of the assistants so far as those views can be ascertained, and for the reasons I have given I must resist the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I am much obliged to the noble and learned Viscount for that answer. If the attitude which the noble 746 and learned Viscount has taken is maintained throughout the passage of the Bill, I think he will be absolutely right, and therefore I should not wish to trouble the Committee with any lengthy speech. This kind of thing stems from the Act of 1912. I think it was because of that Act that the Gowers Committee, in 1946, felt, as the noble and learned Viscount has said, that we ought to keep strictly to the progress that has been going on and which has been productive of demands of the kind which trade unions make, even in ordinary statutory wages councils and the like. I am quite sure the Committee had that in mind in making this recommendation. I will not therefore trouble your Lordships with a long speech on the matter—though I am quite capable of doing so.
§ LORD JESSEL
I thank the noble and learned Viscount for his answer. In view of what he has said I ask permission to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Clauses 5 and 6 agreed to.
§ Clause 7 [Modification. at Christmastide, of requirements with respect to early closing days]:
LORD COLERAINEmoved to add to the clause:
(3) Where a shop is closed all day on Good Friday it shall not be necessary for a day to be observed as respects the shop as an early closing day in the week in which Good Friday falls.
The noble Lord said: I believe the argument for this Amendment to be sound—it is certainly simple. Clause 7 of the Bill represents an innovation in shops legislation inasmuch as it recognises that the Christmas holiday period is a special period bah from the business point of view and from the point of view of the customer. So it lays down that where the shop is closed on two of the holidays, two early closing days may be dispensed with. Where it is closed on one of the holidays, one early closing day may be dispensed with. In both cases care is taken of the employee and the shopkeeper by the provisions of Clause 37.
§ My Amendment proposes simply that the same procedure should be adopted in respect not of the Easter holiday as a whole bat of Good Friday. When I saw 747 the clause for the first time, I could not understand why Easter had been left out of it. Perhaps it was not realised that, generally speaking, from the point of view of retail business, no less for the trader than for the customer, Easter and the days immediately before it are next only to Christmas for trade. It would therefore seem reasonable that Good Friday, at any rate, should be put in the same position as a holiday as Christmas Day or Boxing Day. If my noble friend cares to accept this Amendment, as I hope he may do, I propose on Clause 37 to move a further Amendment to safeguard the position of the employee, just as it is at present safeguarded under the clause. I beg to move.748
Page 7, line 30, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Coleraine.)
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I am afraid that this may be the last Amendment which we shall be able to reach tonight, so I am happy to say that this is one Amendment that I can accept in its entirety, without any further drafting whatever, though I hope the Committee will concede that we have given way on a number of others in principle.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ House adjourned at eight minutes before seven o'clock.