HC Deb 12 May 1932 vol 265 cc2099-125

As amended (in the Standing Committee) considered.

NEW CLAUSE.—(Persons under 18 years of age not to be employed for more than 48 hours per week.)

No person under the age of eighteen years, not being a child, shall be employed for a longer period than forty-eight hours in any one week.—[Mr. Morgan Jones.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

Hon. Members will recognise that this Clause raises a very important general principle. When the Under-Secretary for the Home Department was introducing the Bill he stated that it was framed merely for one specific purpose, to improve the condition of life for younger members of society, both children and young persons, and in the discussion of the Bill both on Second Reading and Committee we have tried to keep that main purpose clearly before us. This Clause invites the House to make a declaration in the interests of children and young persons, a declaration that no one under the age of 18 years of age, not being a child, shall be employed for a longer period than 48 hours in any one week. Hon. Members will not be surprised to find us, on these benches, attaching great importance to the principle embodied in this Clause. There are large numbers of children under the age of 18 employed in unregulated occupations, the number being estimated, I believe, at round about half-a-million.

The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor), is moving a Clause of her own to deal with some of those children. Many hon. Members take comfort in the reflection that a large number of young persons below the age of 18 are safeguarded in legislation already on the Statute Book, but I think it cannot be contraverted that there are large numbers of these young persons who even now work 60 and even 70 hours a week. That statement only needs to be made to bring home to all hon. Members, to whatsoever party they belong, the gravity of the problem. No one, whatever his political views may be, would care to defend a situation where the younger and the more immature members of society who have already entered industry are called upon to work 60 or 70 hours a week, and we think the time has come when the House should lay down the simple but definite condition that 48 hours a week are ample for young people of these tender years to work.

In the old days, when the trade union movement was in its infancy, it used to be said that the leaders had something like this ideal before their eyes: Eight hours work, eight hours play, Eight hours sleep, eight bob a day. 4.0 p.m.

Whatever may be the present rates of wages, and whatever may be said as to the appropriateness of an ideal of eight hours a day for adults, surely no one will deny that such an ideal is not an inappropriate one for those below the age of 18. We have great confidence, therefore, in the propriety and the defensibility of the proposal I am now putting to the House. I believe it is true to say that there are something like 1,500,000 people employed in shops in this country, and most of them are below the age of 21. When people think of shop life they say, "Oh, but the Shop Hours Act is on the Statute Book; the situation is already dealt with; why need we worry any more?" In point of fact, the Shop Hours Act in no wise provides adequate protection for those concerned, because though the shop door has to be closed at certain fixed hours there is no insistence by the law that when the door closes it should shut out the shop assistant rather than shut him in. Even when the shop door has been firmly closed according to law, large numbers of shop assistants are still employed for a very substantial time in one form of service or another. It seems to us, therefore, that this is an appropriate time, when we are considering a Bill of this sort, for laying down this general proposition. May I advance another argument which seems to me not to be irrelevant to this issue? Everybody is acutely conscious of the fact that we are just now passing through a period of what is called rationalisation of industry. On every hand the machine is coming in, tending to displace labour in one direction or another, but though that is true, I rather fear that the possible tendency of the time is not so much to reduce the hours of labour for younger persons, but rather, if not to displace adult labour, certainly it is definitely and ascertainably to increase the number of hours which young persons work. Many countries at this moment are talking about planning in advance. No one can arrest this process of mechanisation which is going on in the world. It is inevitable. We must reconcile ourselves to the fact that if it is not here, it is certainly coming. It appears to me, therefore, that if not in the actual presence, in the immediate apprehension of mechanisation in ever increasing degree in our country, we ought to see to it that there should be a fixed limit of hours during which the younger people of our country should be called upon to labour for profit.

I need not, I am sure, advance arguments on social grounds in favour of this Clause. Younger people, naturally, have the desire, and require more time, for recreation, not only of a physical sort but also of an intellectual sort, and if we are to make provision for these younger people along these lines, we ought to Limit within certain hours the amount of physical labour which they may be called upon to give, in order that their leisure hours may be devoted to more intellectual and more beneficial purposes, be they intellectual or physical. The proposition seems to be so obviously commendable, so reasonable on the face of it, so appropriate to the days in which we live and so essential from the point of view of the conditions in which we must be presently called upon to live, that I forbear from speaking further in support of this Clause.


I beg to second the Motion.

The House has been engaged for months past in protecting all kinds of industrial interests by means of tariffs and in other ways, and I think that the House of Commons, which is essentially a protective House, will not object to the protection of young people who need protection, perhaps, as much as, if not more than, all the interests that we have been engaged in protecting. It can be said truly—the Undersecretary will, of course, know it very well—that there are great numbers of young persons under 18 at the present time working very long hours. I could, from my own experience, give many instances of young persons under 18 working up to 100 hours in a week. I draw the attention of the House also to the fact that for some years past international legislation has been considered and generally approved for adults. We have had, through the Labour Office of the League of Nations, suggestions going to all countries and approved by practically all countries, that the recognised number of hours for adults should not exceed 48, and I think everybody will agree that if 48 hours are considered to be sufficiently long for adults, it is not too much to ask that it should be definitely laid down as being sufficiently long for young people. Therefore, I hope that the Under-Secretary and the House will accept the Clause.

There is one other aspect which, I think, ought to commend itself to the House at the present time. It will have some effect, though not perhaps a very great one, on the question of unemployment. There is, as everyone knows, very grave unemployment in all industries in all parts of the country, and some small contribution would be made towards easing that great unemployment by limiting the number of hours that young people should be asked to work. In addition to that, there is, of course, as has already been said, the social side of the young people's lives. I spend a good deal of my life among young people. I always like to be with young people to keep myself young. I think that one of the best ways to keep oneself young is to seek the company of young people, and, frankly, I have always done so. Young people to-day, I think, require more leisure, more social opportunities than young people in the days when I was young. When the whole of life to-day is so strenuous, when everything is speeded up to such an extent compared with what it was years ago, young people, because of the very nature of their occupations, and because of the speeding up to which they are subject, ought to have a greater opportunity for leisure.

I am sure that if the Under-Secretary had his own way—I have seen enough of him to believe that—his own outlook on life would allow him to determine at once that these young people should have the opportunities which this proposed new Clause seeks to give them. I do not know, but I do hope that he has been able to induce his chief, and that his chief has been able to induce all the Members of the Cabinet, to give their support to this Clause. If it has the support of the Cabinet, I feel perfectly sure that it will commend itself to the great majority of Members of this House.


The House will recognise that we have in front of us to-day a very full piece of work in the Report stage of this Bill, and I am sure that to assist the Bill, with which everybody is in favour in principle, although they may differ in detail, the House will be ready, as far as possible, to shorten the discussion. I would suggest, therefore, that it would be convenient if we deferred the discussion in more general terms of the hours worked by children until the next Clause, which is to be moved by the Noble Lady, and that, perhaps, it would be sufficient on this Clause if we discussed the detailed proposals which it raises. The House will realise that, although the speeches of the Mover and Seconder were confined to instances of overwork by children in unregulated trades or, indeed, in shops, in fact the Clause goes far beyond that— so far beyond it, that although when the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones) was moving it, he may have been encouraged by sounds of support from the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), of course she will remember that when it was moved as a new Clause in Committee she, accompanied by a great majority of the Committee, voted against it, and I think the reason was that it extended too far, and was too rigid in its application.

Hon. Members will realise that the Clause brings within its scope not only employment in what we call unregulated trades, where it may well be said that the ordinary machinery of labour organisation is not strong enough to obtain proper conditions for those who are employed, but it extends into the factories, into the workshops and into the mines, into all the strongholds of labour organisation where it has been the custom to leave the fixation of these standards of hours to the ordinary machinery of negotiation between employers and employed. But, quite apart from that, I would point out what, in practice, the passage of a Clause in these terms would bring about. The hon. Member who seconded referred to the Washington Hours' Convention, and he rather suggested that if people were in favour of that for adults—although I had to point out in Committee that his own party were not so much in favour of it that they implemented it in any way when in office—naturally they must support this Clause for juveniles. There is, of course, this great difference, that the Washington Hours' Convention, as, indeed, every convention of the kind, does make some provision for overtime, some provision for work in case of emergency, some provision for longer hours in seasonal occupations, some provision for spreading over the week-end.

Although the House is, naturally, anxious to prevent over-employment of young persons, although it is naturally disturbed by instances which might be given of hours which are injurious to health, yet it will be recognised that, just as over-employment is bad for the young person, so no employment at all is bad for him, too, and you have got to beware that when you are dealing with these matters you do not, in attempting to protect the child, protect him so thoroughly that you deprive him of the opportunities of employment altogether. Here you are dealing, not with the case of children but of young persons from 14 to 18, that is, to an age when they are approaching what we look upon as adult in these labour matters, where they are doing the same work as adults, where they are at the moment in the same standard, and there is this very great danger, that if you impose upon the labour of these persons restrictions which do not apply to others, the almost irresistible temptation to the employer is to say, "Well, if I can employ this man of 17 only under these restrictions, I will employ someone of 18, and get rid of the restrictions altogether." The Noble Lady looks disturbed, but these were the arguments which induced her to vote against the Clause in Committee.

I would draw the attention of hon. Members to the position which will arise in rural districts if this Clause be carried. There, as hon. Members know, the hours of work in the agricultural industry are not at the mercy of chance. They are not even at the mercy of negotiation between employers and employed. They are fixed by a statutory board. What would be the position of a county where, perhaps, the statutory hours of work were 55 per week, and where young persons of 16 or 17 were limited to 48 hours' work? What possible chance of employment would these young people have in a. rural district where there was no other employment except in agriculture if they were restricted in the way suggested by this proposed new Clause? In a rural district a boy would frequently look forward to four years' employment before being taken into the agricultural industry. We know what is the position of those in an unregulated industry, and we know that some protection is afforded where the workers are regulated as to their hours by a trade union organisation.

This question will be raised more definitely by the new Clause which stands in the name of the Noble Lady, and the objections which I see to this particular Clause will not be present in that case. For these reasons, I suggest that we should defer the general discussion in regard to children's hours until we reach that Clause. The question is whether hon. Members are prepared to accept this completely inelastic system not only in an industry in which there is no protective machinery, but for those industries which are protected by legislative enactment and trade union organisations. I ask hon. Members to consider whether they may not, by accepting this Clause, be doing the greatest injury to the young person, and doing something which is even worse than over-employment, that is, depriving them entirely of opportunities of employment.


I rise to support this new Clause. The Under-Secretary says that what we ought to do in this case is to leave the matter to the trade unionists. We have no right to leave this question to anybody. This is our duty, and we should face it in this House. We have a duty to perform to those whom we represent, and we have no right to shift that responsibility on to any outside body whether it be a trade union or anybody else. We have been twitted with the charge that the Labour party are not in favour of the Washington Convention. That is quite true of the official Labour party, but it cannot be said of the group which I represent, because we have advocated that convention in season and out of season. We put that point to the late Labour Government just as we are putting it to the Tory Government. The National Government can call themselves by any name they like, for a rose by any other name smells just as sweet. The Labour Government, and every other Government turned down this Clause, or what is embodied in it, but that is no excuse for the present Government doing the same, because they have told the world that up to now they are superior to the Labour Government. Let us see how these superior individuals act. Let us see whether they are acting in a superior manner compared with the action taken on this question by the Labour Government. Up to now we have had no evidence of that, in fact, we have had evidence to the contrary this morning. The Seconder of this Amendment said that we had one of the best types of Tories sitting on the Front Bench in charge of this Bill, but up to the present we are getting nothing from him but a smiling countenance. Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. The Minister may have the appearance of an English gentleman, but his heart is the heart of a Tory. The question is what is the heart of a Tory? It is the enemy of my class. The Tories have ruled my class with a rod of iron, and it is because of the result of their rule right down the ages that we now have to bring in this Bill. They are giving us a wee bit concession, but it is just as far as they think it is right for their class to go. Hon. Members know the antecedents of the Under-Secretary who has just stated that employment for young people up to 18 years of age is not a bad thing. What about the hon. Gentleman's class, who never send their young people to work? It is all my class who have to go to work. Do hon. Members who support the Government send their boys into the factory, or do they send them down the pit? No fear. They have more sense, and rather than do that they would put them into the Thames. Hon. Members opposite send their sons to the universities. It is those of my class who are being dealt with here, and they are being dealt with by those who never knew what it was to work at 16, 17 or 18 years of age. If hon. Members opposite had had to work at that age instead of sitting in the seats of the mighty they would act very differently. I resent the suggestion which has been made that it is not bad for the young people of this country to be sent down the pit.

I have drawn attention time and again to this matter. Many of these young men who work in the pit are quite undersized, but some members of the Tory party stand six feet high, and they have never done any work in their lives. That is the difference. These workers are conspicuous, because they have the mark of the beast on them, the mark of toil, and yet hon. Members are supposed to sit here and say nothing about it. The Minister knows what he has said about it being a good thing for these young people to work is not true. If it is good for young people to work in these trades, why do not the rich people send their own sons to work in them? Hon. Members are now supporting people who have nothing to do and who have never worked in their lives. Their hands are unsoiled, and they do not know what it is to do an honest day's work. In these circumstances, I am supposed never to feel angry when those who are responsible, and who support that state of affairs, seem to my class-conscious mind to be insulting the working class. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."]

Viscountess ASTOR

I did not say that.

4.30 p.m.


I wish it were nonsense, but it is only too true. It is said that in the farming industry—you call it the agricultural industry—that it is essential that cheap labour should be available. Just think of it. This has been reiterated from the Treasury Bench by Cabinet Ministers who speak of agriculture as one of the key industries of this country. We have been told that our chief industry of agriculture depends for its success upon the employment of poor boys and girls who supply cheap labour, and we are told that this great industry of agriculture is relying on the poorest section of the community. I know it is essential that the young should acquire all the knowledge they possibly can about the particular industry by which they are going to make their living. I admit that readily. But see the difference between my class acquiring that knowledge and the Under-Secretary's class acquiring it. They acquire it in the universities, well fed, well clad, well slept and well educated: but my class are forced to it at the point of the bayonet known as starvation. The fathers and mothers of these boys and girls do not wish to send their boys and gills out into the fields to work, or into the cowshed, any more than yours do; they are forced to do it, and they are forced to do it under that most cruel system, the power of starvation. Then think of the conditions under which they live, move and have their being in the agricultural areas of England—worse than in Scotland. The agricultural labourer in England has just about half the wages of the farm labourer in Scotland. [Interruption.] You can get the figures.

There is another side to this question, apart from that which the Under-Secretary has stated. I would ask the House to consider the responsibility that rests on their shoulders in this matter. I would like the House to try to keep in mind the discussions that have taken place here since Monday—to bear in mind what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) on Monday, and also what was said on Tuesday by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I would ask the House to try hard to keep in their minds the contributions of those two right hon. Gentlemen to the discussions that have taken place here this week, and also the reply—oh, what a reply!—from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Then I would ask the House, bearing those statements in mind, to think of the Clause that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) puts before the House, providing that: No person under the age of eighteen years … shall be employed for a longer period than forty-eight hours in any one week. We have had placed before us all the facts, all the awful conditions, the serious and alarming situation with which this country is faced, when there are more men and women capable and willing to work than all the brains in this House can find work for—the Government have admitted that there are almost 3,000,000 people for whom they cannot find work; and we are asking the House to say, having regard to all those facts, that the time has now arrived when we should look around and see to what section of the community it would be best to say, "You lie off systematically." With all our shortcomings, we come before this House right from the people, part and parcel of the people that are going to be implicated here, and we say that surely, after Members of the House have listened to all the great minds, and have read what all the great contributors to the Press today have to say on the economic and industrial situation with which we are faced, here is an intelligent suggestion, a sound suggestion, a Christian suggestion if you like; we say that surely the best thing that can be done in the circumstances is to say that, since we have so much more human labour than we are able to handle, no boy or girl under 18 years of age will be asked to work for more than 48 hours in a week.

Rationalisation is now the order of the day. Shipyards are being eliminated and shut down, work at Woolwich is being eliminated and shut down, throwing engineers on the street by tens of thousands, and surely we are not asking too much when we appeal to the House to allow this Clause to be embodied in the Bill. It will be a monument to the hon. Gentleman. I have wrestled with him in Committee to the best of my ability; I have tried to drive things out of him. I am not giving up hope, because I have hopes of this House. Let the House remember that the language of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead and the language of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping is exactly what we of the Labour movement said in this House years ago. They are being driven to exactly the same position. But I do not want my class to have to pay any longer a heavy price for driving the ruling class of this country to see the light. I am giving the House an opportunity this afternoon to afford some indication that the Tories who are in power in this House —the power behind the throne—are going to give the working-classes of this country some concession. It is because I believe that this Clause would be a concession to the working-class that I support it.


The House ought not to dismiss this Clause so lightly as the Under-Secretary desires. I thought that his answer was hardly complete when he said that we had better wait until we reached another Clause. The principle embodied in this Clause is one which, I feel sure, the House will have to consider within a few years' time. We may be a little early now, but all big things have to have a start, and have to be mentioned in order to get people's minds turned into the right direction, and I think that the bringing forward of this Clause is a service to the community. My mind goes back to my reading of the reports of the discussions regarding the mining industry in the early days, when Shaftesbury brought before this House a Measure to abolish woman and child labour in the mines. In those Debates the same argument was put forward that it would be impossible to carry on if such a thing happened, and I dare say, in those days, the mind of the people would be that economic forces and the requirements of different forms of life made necessary the labour of women and children in the mines. As time went on, however, it was proved that it was not necessary. Today we are coming into a highly mechanical age, when science has almost got beyond the needs of everyone. We are faced with the trouble that we have too much labour, and the question is how to make useful the labour of those people who want work. We on these benches claim that it is necessary to set about providing that a smaller number of hours shall be worked by each person; and, if that be the first thing that we ought to do, no one can deny that the younger people ought as far as possible to be eliminated from the labour market.

The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) made personal references to Members on the other side in the right sense. I am not speaking with any feeling of antagonism towards those on the other side, but, unquestionably, their children never think of entering the labour market until they reach maturity. They say, quite rightly, that they will give their children a good education, sending them to college and so on, and the result is very evident in this House of Commons. As the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs pointed out, and as everyone must have noticed, most of the people of my class—I am speaking now of the labouring class —are of stunted growth. They are probably sturdy, but very few of us reach five feet eight inches in height. On the other side we see six-footers, and even people of six feet three and six feet four inches. Indeed, one hon. Gentleman can walk up the Gangway two steps at a time, he is so big, and he is a source of admiration to me every time he comes in. That is due to training and feeding and looking after your people. All that we are asking is that, while science will provide the needs of life, and while we have a surplus of labour—


Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the height of a man is decided by the activity of the pituitary gland in his head?


It may be. I thought the hon. and learned Member was going to say it was due to Scotch whisky that many of them are so big.


Where they make Scotch whisky they are very big.


While there is a surplus of labour in the markets of this country, we say that means ought to be adopted now in order to make it beneficial, and nothing could be better, in my view, than to limit the hours of what may almost be described as child labour, that is to say, the labour of young persons between the ages of 14 and 18. The House of Commons will probably not accept such a proposal to-day, but it would be the greatest thing that the National Government could do, and would resound through all the ages, if they would determine to set on foot a great limitation of the Hours of labour. Inevitably that will have to come, and we on these benches are offering them a great opportunity to take all the credit of embodying in legislation a Clause which I believe would be of lasting benefit.


I am sorry the hon. Gentleman has tried to side-track this discussion on to a smaller issue because, after all, this is a major issue. If we are defeated on this Clause I suppose we must support the new Clause of the Noble Lady, but I am certain, if hon. Members take the actual situation into their consideration, they must feel that there is complete justification for it. Our industrial legislation began with the protection of juvenile labour. The earliest Factory Bills were inspired by a desire to protect not the adult, who was supposed to be able to fight for himself, but the defenceless juveniles. Now we are in a position where in large numbers of industries, partly by legislation, partly as the result of industrial negotiations, protection has been accorded to adults, but there is this large field of juvenile labour which is still unprotected. The masses of the working people have received very little out of our growing productivity. I suppose their wages are higher than they were 50 or 100 years ago and their hours of labour are a little less, but we are living in an age where productive capacity appears to have outrun our ability to distribute the result amongst the people who could consume the goods. The problem that faces the world to-day is no longer the question of productivity. The Home Secretary said last week that it was not famine, it was plethora that was our trouble to-day. Then why, in a situation of that kind, should we call either upon the immature or the aged to make their contribution to the work of production?

Hon. Members must know, if they will look at the trend of the times, that three things must happen so far as labour is concerned. Hours must be shortened, and the working life must be shortened by raising the age of entry and by lowering the age at which people retire for their pensions. Indeed in a very tentative way we have been doing that for 100 years. Time after time we have raised the age of entry into industry. That I regard as one of the permanent benefits for the workers from our industrial development. We have excluded the young children, and generation after generation has raised the minimum age at which children shall be employed for gain. We have, in a very tentative and not altogether successful way, done something to relieve industry of the aged through two different pension schemes. This is an opportunity to carry that inevitable process a little further. We have men to-day in the prime of life who are prepared to do boys' work if they can get it, but they cannot get it. It seems to me right that we should, with the opportunities that we have to-day, restrict employment to people of adult years. I am prepared to visualise the day when no one works for gain before he is 21 years of age.


And old age pensions at 40.


Very likely. I have sufficient confidence in the productive capacity of mankind to believe that even that is possible. After all, men work to live, they are not here merely to live to work, and if human needs can be satisfied with a six-hour day and a 20-year working life, there is no reason why it should not be. I suggest to the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary that they are not going to do any disservice to anyone by accepting this Clause. I know there are difficulties. This subject is one very near my heart. A quarter-of-a-century ago, as a very young man, I studied this problem, and perhaps I am the only man alive who has read every Debate in the House of Commons on factory and mines legislation since the first Factory Bill was introduced over 130 years ago. The arguments which have been used to-day by the Under-Secretary are the arguments that were used by his forebears, his fathers, and his grandfathers. Every time a demand has been made, either for a limitation of the hours of labour or for the raising of the minimum age of employment, we have been told that this would encompass Britain's ruin. Hon. Members who have a little more leisure time now than I have at the moment, might refresh their memories in the Library of the House and go back to the old Debates on this very question.

Of course, there are difficulties. We have to-day a National Government with two political parties represented in it— [HON. MEMBERS: "Three."]—two political parties and certain other persons. Both those parties in the past have tried to prove to the people of the country that it was they who were responsible for industrial legislation. I have seen Conservative and Liberal leaflets trying to prove that those parties were primarily responsible for Mines Acts, Factory Acts, Minimum Wage Acts, and so on. To-day they are combined. Here is a glorious opportunity. The two great parties which have put all this legislation on the Statute Book can, if they choose, with all the strength of co-operation which applies in this sphere, though not in certain other spheres, prove the sincerity of their desire to improve the conditions of employment by further raising the regulation of employment to the age of 18. The Under-Secretary said that the Clause was too rigid. If there is one Department of State which understands rigidity, it is the Home Office, and it is bound to be so. Our industrial legislation has gone upon two principles, absolute rigidity in certain respects and latitude in others. There is a Factory Act on the Statute Book which is as rigid as words can make it as regards the age of employment and the hours of employment for certain classes of people. We are asking no more than is already embodied in legislation on the Statute Book, that there should be a minimum age of employment.


On a point of Order. That does not come into this Clause.


There are two points in the Clause. One is to raise the minimum age above the school-leaving age, the age of childhood, and the other to limit the number of hours.


I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has read the new Clause very carefully. It is a subsequent Clause which will deal with the raising of the minimum age. I do not think in that Clause you will find a prohibition under any age mentioned at all.


The hon. Gentleman knows that that is implied. Let me put this final point, because it is one of very considerable importance. When our modern industrial system began to develop, it was in very truth carried on the backs of little children. With the big industrial developments in the North of England, you had the employment of very large numbers of children who were little more than infants. That was an age when individualism was the order of the day. We had to escape from it, because it was wrong. We cannot to-day, in the face of an enormous volume of unemployment, carry our industrial system on the backs of immature workers.

I hope this House will look at this problem from a broad national point of view. There is a National Government with a very large majority. This is not a narrow personal issue on the part of Members on this side of the House. It is not a narrow party issue. It is a very big human and national issue as to how to utilise to the best advantage our industrial labour power. We should like to limit the hours of labour of young people. We should like to forbid their employment entirely until a higher age than now. We are asking for the young no more than has been accorded for a generation to large numbers of adult workers. The acceptance of this Clause is not going to destroy national prestige or in any way vary the balance of trade. It is going to do something which hon. Members opposite must know is reasonable.

It has been pleaded from this side of the House, above the Gangway and below, that the children of the well-to-do are enabled, because of circumstances that they do not control, to continue their education up to 18, because it is felt that it is to their advantage. Let us assume, if you like, that the mass of young people have to go into industry. It is not too much to ask that if they must go into industry their hours of labour ought to be limited to what is the practice for adults in most industries in this country. I hope that even now the Government will be prepared to accept this perfectly reasonable Amendment. The next Amendment on the Paper achieves very little. It is true that it is better than nothing, but if we could safeguard the hours of labour and the leisure of young persons under 18 years of age, I think we should have done something in this otherwise extraordinarily barren Session. I hope that the Home Secretary will agree now to accept what enlightened opinion demands in the national interest, as a contribution to the solution of the industrial problems with which the Government are gravely concerned.


The very earnest appeal made by the right hon. Gentle- man who has just spoken in favour of the new Clause would have been much more impressive if it had not been that he, as a Minister of the last Labour Government, had ample and annual opportunities for bringing forward a measure to deal with the ratification of the Washington Eight Hours Convention, and that the Labour Government never took the trouble even to give it a Second Reading. When one sees how vulnerable the right hon. Gentleman is on this and so many other matters, one cannot help feeling that from his fervid oratory to-day-considerable reductions will have to be made, in view of his failure in the past. I cannot help feeling that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the Home Office, was not altogether happy in one of his remarks. He said that this particular Clause was not satisfactory from a technical point of view and how much better the Washington Eight Hours Convention is. Yes, but what is the policy of the Government on the Washington Eight Hours Convention? It has been quite impossible to get the Government to commit themselves on the subject at all. They have been asked questions ever since the General Election, and they have said that they have not made up their minds what to do. I do not know whether, during this Debate, the Under-Secretary will be able to give some indication of what the Government propose to do, or when they intend to do it.

Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

I could not permit the Minister to reply to that question on this Amendment, which is limited in its scope.


I referred to it only because the Under-Secretary himself used it as an illustration in his speech. In principle I think the new Clause is absolutely sound. I would like to see it carried into law and applied in every industry, including agriculture. When one remembers that in 1919, in the days of great enthusiasm after the War, there was a National Industrial Convention, in which the representatives of employers and employed agreed unanimously to a 48 hours limitation throughout industry, one cannot help appreciating how far we have gone back since those optimistic days. In view of the situation to-day, in view of the fact that there is no chance of getting this particular Clause added to the Bill, the best thing we can do is to pass to the next Amendment and try to get out of that the most we possibly can from the Government.

Division No. 176.] AYES. [5.5 p.m.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) McEntee, Valentine L.
Attlee, Clement Richard Grundy, Thomas W. McGovern, John
Batey, Joseph Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Maxton, James
Briant, Frank Harris, Sir Percy Parkinson, John Allen
Cape, Thomas Hicks, Ernest George Pickering, Ernest H.
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Hirst, George Henry Price, Gabriel
Cove, William G. Holdsworth, Herbert Salter, Dr. Alfred
Cripps, Sir Stafford Janner, Barnett Tinker, John Joseph
Daggar, George Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Wallhead, Richard C.
Edwards, Charles Kirkwood, David Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen) Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Williams, Thomas (York., Don Valley)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Leonard, William
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur. Logan, David Gilbert TELLERS FOR THE AYES. -
Grenfell, David Rees (Giamorgan) Lunn, William Mr. Gordon Macdonald and Mr. Groves.
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Ysovil) Jamieson, Douglas
Albery, Irving James Davison, sir William Henry Joel, Dudley J. Barnato
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Donner, P. W. Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)
Atholl, Duchess of Doran, Edward Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)
Baillie, sir Adrian W. M. Drewe, Cedric Ker, J. Campbell
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Duggan, Hubert John Kerr, Hamilton W.
Balniel, Lord Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Kimball, Lawrence
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Dunglass, Lord Kirkpatrick, William M.
Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey Edmondson, Major A. J. Knatchbuil, Captain Hon. M. H. R.
Bateman, A. L. Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E. Knebworth, Viscount
Beauchamp, sir Brograve Campbell Ellis, Robert Geoffrey Leckie, J. A.
Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Ayiesbury) Elliston, Captain George Sampson Lees-Jones, John
Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th.C.) Eimiey, Viscount Leighton, Major B. E. P.
Belt, Sir Alfred L. Emmott, Charles E. G. C. Lennox-Boyd, A. T.
Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Entwistle, Cyril Fullard Levy, Thomas
Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton) Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Liddall, Walter S.
Biaker, Sir Reginald Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Lindsay, Noel Ker
Blindell, James Falle, Sir Bertram G. Liewellin, Major John J.
Bossom, A. C. Ferguson, Sir John Lloyd, Geoffrey
Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton Fox, Sir Gifford Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Fraser, Captain Ian Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander
Brockiebank, C. E. R. Fuller, Captain A. G. Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Gillett, Sir George Masterman Mabane, William
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C.(Berks, Newb'y) Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G.(Partick)
Browne, Captain A. C. Glossop, C. W. H. MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Gluckstein, Louis Halls McKie, John Hamilton
Burghley, Lord Giyn, Major Raiph G. C. Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Corn'll N.)
Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie Goff, Sir Park McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)
Burnett, John George Goldie, Noel B. Macquisten, Frederick Alexander
Cadogan, Hon. Edward Goodman, Colonel Albert W. Maitland, Adam
Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley) Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.) Mailaileu, Edward Lancelot
Campbell, Rear-Admi. G. (Burnley) Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter Mander, Geoffrey le M.
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.
Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City) Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middiesbro, W.) Margesson, Capt. Henry David R.
Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R.(Prtsmth., S.) Grimston, H. V. Marsden, Commander Arthur
Cazaiet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Guinness, Thomas L. E. B. Martin, Thomas B.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A. (Birm, W) Gunston, Captain D. W. Mason, Col. Giyn K. (Croydon, N.)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston) Guy, J. C. Morrison Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John
Chapman, Col. R.(Houghton-le-Spring) Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Meller, Richard James
Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.) Hanley, Dennis A. Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)
Choriton, Alan Ernest Leotric Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)
Christie, James Archibald Hartland, George A. Milne, Charles
Clarke, Frank Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n) Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chlsw'k)
Clayton, Dr. George C. Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)
Clydesdale, Marquess of Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Molson, A. Hugh Eisdale
Cobb, sir Cyril Heligers, Captain F. F. A. Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)
Colman, N. C. D. Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford) Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)
Colville, John Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Morrison, William shephard
Cooke, Douglas Hope, Capt. Arthur O. J. (Aston) Muirhead, Major A. J.
Cooper, A. Duff Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge) Munro, Patrick
Courthope, Colonel Sir George L. Hornby, Frank Nall-Cain, Arthur Ronald N.
Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry Horobin, Ian M. Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.
Crooke, J. Smedley Horsbrugh, Florence Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)
Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootie) Howard, Tom Forrest Normand, Wilfrid Guild
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro) Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) North. Captain Edward T.
Crossley, A. C. Hume, Sir George Hopwood Nunn, William
Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries) Oman, Sir Charles William C.
Culverwell, Cyril Tom Hurst, Sir Gerald B. Ormiston, Thomas
Dalkeith, Earl of Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 42; Noes, 235.

Palmer, Francis Noel Salt Edward, W. Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Patrick, Colin M. Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen) Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Pearson, William G. Scone, Lord Thornton, Sir Frederick Charles
Penny, Sir George Selley, Harry, B. Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)
Percy, Lord Eustace Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell) Train, John
Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston) Simmonds, Oliver Edwin Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L, (Hull)
Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich) Skelton, Archibald Noel Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wailsend)
Ramsay. T. B. W. (Western Isles) Slater, John Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)
Rankin, Robert Smith-Carington, Neville W. Weymouth, Viscount
Rathbone, Eleanor Smithers, Weldron Whiteside, Borras Noel H.
Reid, William Allan (Derby) Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor) Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Remer, John R. Soper, Richard Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)
Rentoul, Sir Gervais S. Stanley Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland) Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Renwick, Major Gustav A. Stevenson, James Worthington, Dr. John V.
Reynolds, Col. Sir James Philip Stones, James Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)
Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall) Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Rosbotham, S. T. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart Mr. Womersley and Commander
Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge) Sutcliffe, Harold Southby.
Runge, Norah Cecil Tate, Mavis Constance

NEW CLAUSE.—(Power of local authority to make by-laws with respect to employment of juvenile persons.)

  1. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Section, a local authority may make by-laws with respect to the employment of persons under the age of eighteen years, but not being children.
  2. (2) By-laws so made may distinguish between persons of different ages and sexes, and different localities, trade, occupations, and circumstances, and may contain provisions for prescribing—
    1. (i) the number of hours in each day or in each week for which and the times of day at which they may be employed;
    2. (ii) the intervals to be allowed to them for meals and rest;
    3. (iii) the holidays or half-holidays to be allowed to them;
    4. (iv) any other conditions to be observed in relation to their employment.
  3. (3) Nothing in this Section shall empower a local authority to make by-laws with respect to—
    1. (a) employment in or about the delivery, collection, or transport of goods except in the capacity of van boy, errand boy, or messenger;
    2. (b) employment in or in connection with factories, workshops, mines, quarries, shops, or offices, not being employment in any capacity as aforesaid;
    3. (c) employment in the building or engineering trades, not being employment in any such capacity as aforesaid;
    4. (d) employment in agriculture;
    5. (e) employment in domestic service except as a non-resident daily servant.— [Viscountess Astor.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Viscountess ASTOR

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

On the Clause which we have just dealt with the Under-Secretary made a speech almost in favour of the Clause the Second Reading of which I am now moving. Therefore, I shall be very interested to see what he says later. He stated that this Clause was almost a non-controversial Clause, that it was a Clause in which anyone could believe, and which the best of Governments could pass. I ask the House to remember that it is a Clause which has had the support of Governments since 1924. It is a permissive Clause. It gives local authorities power to make by-laws with regard to the employment of young persons under 18 in miscellaneous and unorganised trades. It deals with van boys, warehouse boys, programme sellers, page boys, errand boys and girls, petrol pump boys, ice cream sellers and so on, but leaves out more controversial subjects, such as the employment of agricultural workers, domestic servants and shop assistants.

If the House thinks that there is no need for legislation to protect juveniles, I want to assure it that there is need for legislation, and nobody knows better than the Home Office. I do not want to take the House back too far before the War, but in 1912 a, departmental committee was set up by the Home Office to look into the wages and hours of van boys and warehouse assistants. The report was out quickly. It said that some of the children in respect of whom I am asking the House to legislate now were compelled to work up to 100 hours a week. The Home Office brought in a Bill, but the War came on and the Bill came to naught. Since then we have had two departmental committees. The first was under the Ministry of Labour and was appointed to look into the catering trade. The committee found out that there were 23,000 juveniles in the catering trade between the ages of 14 and 18, and that 6 per cent. of those children were working from 60 to 70 hours a week. I am glad that the Lord President of the Council is present, because he knows all about this question. I think that if we can touch him up enough to-day he may live up to his ideals, and may even persuade his Cabinet to do likewise.

Next we had a select committee in respect of shop assistants, and it was found that 194,000 children were employed. Although the committee did not give a unanimous report, they were unanimous that there ought to be some legislation to limit the employment of juveniles to 48 hours a week. Under the present protection juveniles can work up to 74 hours a week. I am not asking to include juveniles covered by this protection. I am leaving them out—it is too controversial—although I agree with the last speaker that it would have been a good thing if the National Government had gone into the whole question and brought in a Bill to protect all juveniles. I do not agree with the Under-Secretary who said that if those children were protected there would be a chance of them losing their jobs. He knows as well as I do that for the last 10 years we have had to set up committees to look into the conditions of juvenile employment. We found that the real tragedy was that employers took children out of school at 14, and at 18 threw them out of a job. That is one of the great scandals of the position, and we do not know what to do about it. The Lord President of the Council himself set up what was called the Malcolm Committee who advocated the raising of the school age. Conservatives who have looked into these things know full well that we have data enough to enable us to bring in a drastic Bill without causing unemployment. In fact, it would increase employment. It is tragic enough for old people to be unemployed, but lamentable and irreparable harm is done to juveniles when they are unemployed.

I will deal with the last committee which was set up. It was the National Advisory Council for Juvenile Employment to consider the hours of boys and girls in unregulated industries. Their report only came out in January. The committee sat under Lord Goschen, a pro-Consul. Pro-Consuls take, I will not say very reactionary views, but very steady views. They do not take the views of some of our hon. Friends above the Gangway here. The committee was composed of representatives of local education authorities, of employers, of trade unions, of the London Advisory Council, of the juvenile advisory committees in England and Wales, and of the teaching profession, and a representative of the Ministry of Labour. They investigated as thoroughly as it is possible for any body to investigate anything, the miscellaneous and unregulated trades. They said that their report was the most thorough that had ever been brought before any Government. They consulted 280 out of the 283 local juvenile committees, and covered 71 per cent. of the juvenile population of the country. They pointed out that some of the juveniles were covered by the Shop Assistants Act, under which, they said, they could work up to a maximum of 74 hours a week.

The Majority Report was signed by 23 members, and the Minority Report by five members. What is so distressing to me is that the Home Office have taken the view of the Minority Report, and have failed to bring in the findings of the Majority Report. The Majority Report stated that it could be proved by their inquiries that it was necessary to take further steps to regulate the hours of boys and girls in those trades. The following opinion is interesting and very important, and I agree with them. They said that a maximum working week for boys and girls in unregulated occupations should be fixed by Parliament, and the reason they said that was that one local authority might fix one set of hours and another authority another set. I dare not ask for so much in my new Clause. They said that under the limits set up statutory powers should be given to local authorities to make by-laws prescribing shorter hours and additional conditions. I dare not ask Parliament to lay down a maximum, because I do not think we could get it even out of a National Government. All that I ask is that they should allow local authorities to bring in a law to regulate the industries mentioned. The Committee found that there were 118,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 18 who were working over 48 hours a week. They also found that there were 7,600 working between 66 and 74 hours a week. They pointed out that only 45 per cent. of those children had any chance of attending continuation classes, and that very few of them had any opportunities for normal and healthy recreation.

Having had that report, and knowing the pledges of the whole of the Front Bench, naturally, when the Bill was brought in, we thought that the proposed Clause would have been included. We looked for it. Evidently the Undersecretary was a little unhappy about it, because he said that he knew it would be a disappointment to a great many people to find that it was not included. I want to tell the House why some of us are not very willing to accept promises about the Bill. It is as well that this young, ardent and progressive House, and, I hope, this free House—[Interruption.] No, the brewers' day is over. I want those young and ardent Members to realise why some of us are a little suspicious of the promises even of most honoured and honourable persons in this House. We are tired of promises; we want acts. The former Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth brought in a Bill in 1924, and in 1925 Lord Desborough speaking for the Conservative Government in another place said that the question of juveniles engaged in employments which were not regulated by Statute was a matter which the Home Office intended to take up at the earliest opportunity. Lord Astor, my husband, withdrew the Bill because he took their word, but nothing was done. Then the late Lord Henry Bentinck, who was one of our greatest social reformers and one of the most fearless Members this House has ever seen, brought in a Bill backed by every party in the House, and still nothing happened.

When the 1929 election came someone wrote to the Lord President of the Council and asked him about the question, and his Secretary wrote back and said that he recognised the need for legislation in occupations not covered by the existing law and that it was the policy of the Conservative Government to deal with the question at the earliest possible opportunity. The Conservative Government did not have an opportunity. We were swept out. We had an enlightened House. No House had ever promised more, and no House ever did less. If they had kept a quarter of their promises they would still be sitting. We all know that they did not keep any of their promises. However, at that time we said, "Now is our chance. The Labour party are in, and they feel"—as the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) said—"passionately about the Bill." Mr. Sorensen brought in a Bill, and Mr. Clynes who was the Home Secretary, said that he was eager and willing to deal with the question, but still nothing happened. The year 1930 came, when that gallant man in another place, Lord Astor, again brought in the Bill. [Interruption.] He has fought as hard to bring in this Bill as he has to win the Derby. No one has ever struggled harder. He brought in the Bill and got an assurance from Lord Marley that the Government were very keen about it. The proposals were identical.


I think he worked hard to get you.

Viscountess ASTOR

He worked very hard. I think that that is a personal interruption, but I do not know what the hon. Member means. Lord Astor again brought in the Bill, and he was told that proposals identical with the Clauses in the Bill were being included in a new Bill. He again withdrew the Bill, and nothing happened. In 1931— this is an interesting point—when the Bill was brought in again Lord Brentford, a Conservative of Conservatives, said that this question of the children had come before them, and he knew that it was being dealt with by the Home Office, and would be in the Children Bill. [Interruption.] Look it up. I am making no mistake to-day, I can assure you. He said that the question was before them, and he knew that it was being dealt with by the Home Office and would be in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman opposite knows of it as well as I do. It is the Home Office Bill.


In 1931 Lord Brentford had been left the Home Office for a few years. I did not know that he was so completely in the confidence of his successor, Mr. Clynes.

5.30 p.m.

Viscountess ASTOR

Do not you know perfectly well—they all know—that this is the old Bill which has been before the Home Office since 1924, and so Lord Brentford knew all about it? This is what puzzles me. Mr. Shortt said that it was proposed to include provisions on the subject in the Children and Young Persons Bill, the draft of which was being completed. If the provisions were in the late Government's Bill, why were they taken out? I have tried to find out why they were not put into the present Bill. As far as as I can make out, the Government did not put them in because they were afraid that they would not get through the present House of Commons. I do not think that that is fair on the House of Commons. The House of Commons ought to have a chance to vote on them. I do not believe it. I believe that we have a much more enlightened House of Commons now than any Prime Minister has ever had, certainly since I have been in the House of Commons, and that has been for some years. After all, you have a House of Commons which will do what you tell it if you put your finger high enough. We have had those definite promises, and yet it has been left out of the Bill. They were afraid of the House of Commons. I have looked up what the Under-Secretary said when he introduced the Bill and I know that he was very unhappy in speaking about it. He was speaking against his conscience. It is pretty hard that the older Members of the Government should put up one of our youngest and most progressive Members—

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