HL Deb 02 June 1938 vol 109 cc870-7

Debate resumed on the Motion for the Second Reading.


My Lords, I do not rise to oppose this Bill, the Young Persons (Employment) Bill, because I think everybody agrees that the objects which it seeks to attain are most desirable. I do, however, want to raise a point which, although it is really a Committee point, should, I think, be raised on the Second Reading, because it has a point of principle in it. It is as to the effect of the Bill with reference to van boys employed by railway companies. The noble Earl, Lord Munster, in introducing the Bill, I think described the Bill as dealing with juveniles employed in unregulated occupations. That can hardly refer, really, to van boys employed by railway companies, because railway company employees are quite definitely regulated under Part IV of the Railways Act. There is an elaborate machinery in being for the determination of all questions relating to conditions and rates of pay, which in fact works very effectively, very efficiently, and has conduced to very amicable relations between the railway companies and those whom they employ.

Those regulations have recently been revised and improved, and I venture to say there is probably no large industry, in this or any other country, in which the machinery for the regulation of employment is so effective or so efficient. These van boys who are employed by the railways are not quite in the same category, for another reason, as the ordinary van boy who is included in the Bill, because van boys generally are looked upon as in a blind-alley occupation. That is not so in the case of railways, because railway van boys when they reach the age of twenty can apply, and have the right to apply, for advancement into other grades. The vast majority of them do so apply, and continue in the service of the railways throughout their working lives. Most of them are the sons of railway servants, and I doubt whether their fathers would let them go into the service of the railway companies unless they were satisfied with the conditions of service. There is also a guaranteed week and guaranteed pay; that is, they are guaranteed a full week's pay, even if they are not wanted for the whole week, and a full day's pay, even although the railway does not require them for a whole day.

Their work consists of being on a van with a man who drives the van, whether it be a horse or a motor van, and their principal job is to keep an eye on the contents of the van when the man in charge is delivering goods. Incidentally these vans not only deliver goods but also at the same time collect merchandise. Therefore it cannot be quite certain that they can keep to the hours required of them. Every effort is made to see that they do so, because the railway companies, like other big organisations, are anxious to avoid, if they can, any question of paying overtime. Your Lordships will however realise that a van delivering and collecting parcels and merchandise may be delayed for various reasons. If the hours are limited you cannot replace a boy on the van, if he has gone over his time, because if he has not got back to the depôt you do not know where he is or where to send his relief, to replace him. Therefore it is quite impossible from the point of view of working that the railway van boy should be replaced.

In the proviso in Clause 1 the Bill says that where "overtime employment of any designated person"—I suggest incidentally that "designated person" is a rather inharmonious expression to use about these people and that the Government draftsman might try to find something nicer— under an employer has taken place in twelve weeks (whether consecutive or not) no further overtime employment of that or any other designated person under that employer or under any person succeeding to his business shall, during the remainder of that year, take place in connection with the business carried on at those premises. That means that if one van boy, through shall we say misfortune, or circumstances over which the railway company has no control, is employed overtime for twelve weeks in any one year, as I read it, all the van boys of that railway company are not allowed to be employed overtime any more during that year. That of course is rather a serious thing. The four main line railway companies employ something like 2,750 van boys, so that a large number of van boys employed by each of those companies would be affected. That is the position as it is under the Bill; and their occupation is regulated by the Railways Act, and has been very satisfactory.

A rather important principle is here concerned. The machinery for regulating employment in the railway industry is extraordinarily effective. If this Bill passes into law in its present form it is attacking, so far as the railway companies are concerned, the principle of voluntary collective agreement, and that is very important. It may be attacking it in only a small way, but it is attacking it all the same; it is making a breach in an arrangement which is satisfactory, and which the Government would like to see strengthened rather than weakened. I should like to quote the words of the Minister of Labour in another place on May 27 last, when he was replying to a Motion by Colonel Sandeman Allen to amend the Road Haulage Wages (No. 2) Bill, and said: All the interests are to make voluntary collective agreements. We with to make voluntary collective negotiations more and more effective in the industrial and economic life of the country. And later on he added: But in attempting to improve what is defective machinery in the road haulage industry we ought not to do anything which would have any adverse effect upon the admirable machinery for collective bargaining in the railway world. He went on to quote the Baillie Committee as follows: The facts relating to the regulation of the wages and conditions of road transport workers employed by the railway companies afford a refreshing contrast to the position existing in the road transport industry generally. And later on: It would constitute a grave disservice to the principle of settling wages by means of organised voluntary collective bargaining if the present effective machinery for the harmonious settlement of wages by means of the railway machinery of negotiations were disturbed. One can entirely agree with those statements of the Minister of Labour, and I hope the noble Earl will bear that in mind when he is replying, because it seems to me quite definitely that the inclusion of railway van boys in this Bill will be making a breach in the railways' admirable arrangement.

I would make a suggestion to him to which he might perhaps reply. Clause 10 (3) (a) excludes from the Bill all those young persons who are already included under the Factories Act, 1937, the Coal Mines Act, 1911, and other Acts there mentioned. Perhaps he might add to that paragraph those who are included under the Railways Act. I admit that that goes a bit further than van boys, because there are other young persons employed by the railway companies, but I do not think anybody as yet, least of all the trade union concerned, has had any complaint to make of their conditions of employment. So far as I understand, the particular trade union which is concerned with the railway companies is of the opinion that the Bill as at present drafted, with the inclusion of the railway van boys, will probably be unworkable so far as they are concerned.


My Lords, I do not think it would be right and proper for a Bill that is so vitally important for the lives of thousands of working-class lads to receive a Second Reading in your Lordships' House without some comment, however brief, from those who sit on these Benches. It will probably not be beyond the recollection of many noble Lords that my noble friend Lord Sanderson has on several occasions in recent years espoused the cause of the van boy, the errand boy, the page boy and the lift boy and urged very persuasively that the Government should take action to regulate their conditions of employment. I am perfectly certain that he as well as his colleagues will be exceedingly gratified that the Government have decided in this measure to bring the conditions of work of adolescents engaged in occupations of this kind into line with the conditions already prevailing among their more fortunate contemporaries in factories, shops and restaurants. It is a considerable step forward that we should have the employment of young people in occupations which at present are outside the protection of Parliament brought within the sphere of legal protection and put on all fours with the employment of young people of the same age in other forms of business.

We are very gratified that the Government have acted on the Report of the Departmental Committee that they appointed, but at the same time there is a very long way to go. I should like to support that contention by reading one recommendation of the Departmental Committee. On page 38 of their Report the Committee say: Pending comprehensive legislation for all young persons which should aim at restricting their weekly working hours to something substantially less than forty-eight, with suit- able provision for further day time education, we recommend, as an immediate step, the following restrictions": and the "following restrictions" are in fact the substance of this Bill. I beg the Government to take into consideration very seriously this recommendation because it shows that the members of this Committee are fully aware that these adolescents, taking the long view, should not be treated as wage-earners but as students engaged in learning the art of living rather than learning the way to earn a living, and that they hope that the Government will increase the opportunities offered for both full-time and part-time education, with the limitation of working hours in order that these opportunities may be fully enjoyed by young people of both sexes. That is, after all, merely putting the children of working-class people on the same footing as the children of well-to-do people, as the children of every member of your Lordships' House. In the long run that is surely what we all wish to achieve for those for whom education must be provided in this country, to whatever class they may belong and whatever the financial position of their parents may be.

There is one major point which was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that I should like to support and which I urge the Government to consider very seriously. This Bill limits the total hours of work that can be pursued by any young person during the working week, but it allows these young people to continue at work up till ten o'clock at night. That is surely presenting a temptation to hotel managers which it would be very difficult for them to resist. However injurious and undesirable it may be for a page boy of fifteen to be kept at work until ten o'clock at night, with a long interval in the day in order to bring his working hours within the scope of the Bill, it is obviously desirable from the point of view of the business, and unless the Government protect the child one is afraid that advantage will be taken of the loophole that has been left. I hope it may be possible for an Amendment to be agreed upon and accepted at a later stage that would prevent the fourteen-and fifteen-year-olds from being employed later than, say, eight o'clock at night.

I sincerely hope that the Government will resist the proposal that has been made by the noble Earl, Lord Radnor. I am speaking in this matter for myself, without consulting my colleagues, but I feel that if any organisation, however powerful and influential it may be, claims exemption from the provisions of the general law, the Government are likely to find that similar organisations will put in similar claims during the course of the Bill. It does seem to me unreasonable to suppose that regulations which are desirable for van boys employed by companies engaged in road transport should not be desirable for van boys employed by railway companies. I therefore sincerely hope that no exceptions will be made for the benefit of any organisation, however forcibly it may be able to support its claims in Parliament.


My Lords, perhaps I might be given an opportunity to reply to some of the questions which have been raised in the course of the discussion of this Bill. My noble friend Lord Radnor raised a proposal that the railway companies should be excluded from the provisions of this Bill. Of course, we are perfectly prepared to consider any representations that may be made to us by the noble Earl or by the railway companies. While I can give no guarantee or promise that we can consider an Amendment such as that which he has broadly outlined, if he has any observations to make I feel quite certain my right honourable friend will be perfectly prepared to discuss them. He also raised the point of whether some other words could be found for the description of a young person under sixteen years of age. I must own that I support him in his suggestion, and I have no doubt additional words can be found which will meet the object in view.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, informed your Lordships that young persons might work up to ten o'clock at night. If they look at subsection (4) of Clause 1 they will find that, even if that is so, every young person has got to have an interval of eleven consecutive hours' rest, so that if he ceases work at 10 p.m. he cannot start work before 9 a.m. next day. Subsection (7) of that clause gives the Secretary of State certain powers to relax the provisions with regard to weekly overtime, and your Lordships will recollect that under subsection (6) there are certain powers also given to enable the Minister to prescribe by regulation certain conditions for safeguarding the welfare of young persons. Your Lordships will excuse me at this late hour from going into all the points which have been raised, and which we shall consider between now and the next stage of the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committeed to a Committee of the Whole House.