HL Deb 15 June 1938 vol 109 cc942-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, though it happens that this measure is being moved from the Opposition Benches in this House, I do not think that any one would say that it could be termed in any sense whatever a Party measure. This Bill is in fact the result of agreement and compromise. It has emerged from a compromise between the Opposition and the Government in another place and between the conflicting interests and divergent points of view which it raised, and I think that it may be regarded as a happy testimonial to the democratic form of Government. To emphasize the fact that a very large measure of agreement was obtained in another place, I should like to point out that it received its Third Reading without a Division, and without so much as a single hostile speech. Its form, of course, has been very considerably changed in the course of its vicissitudes in Parliament. It started its life as a Bill to abolish night baking throughout the country, but, after a prolonged discussion during the Committee stage in another place, it became what it is now, a Bill to restrict and regulate night work in the baking industry.

It may not unreasonably be asked why those who work at night in the baking industry should be protected to any greater degree than those who work during the night in police stations, hospitals, or factories where furnaces have to be kept going both day and night. The really important difference, I think, is this, that the 25,000 to 30,000 night workers in the baking industry have been accustomed to be awake and at their labours at night, and to sleep during the day, the whole year round all their working lives; instead of having alternate spells of night and day work, which of course is the method in all other occupations where people have to attend to their jobs both during the day and at night. They have therefore been cut off from all normal social and domestic relations, and have become a sort of nocturnal species of the genus homo, produced by the middle-class industrial revolution of the nineteenth century. That is the special position of the night bakers which has led to many efforts to improve their conditions, of which this is the last and, one hopes, will be the most effective.

I should like to emphasize the fact that this is not a Bill to put an end to night baking as such, but only to stop what would generally be agreed as the most objectionable and injurious form of work at bakeries at night. What broadly speaking the Bill says to baking firms is this: "You may not any longer work your men at night for six nights a week the whole year round, except of course during the holidays; but, instead, you may adopt any of the four alternatives that the Government offer you." First of all, they may do all their baking by day—in the morning or in the afternoon—and close down their premises between eleven at night and five in the morning. One sincerely hopes that many baking firms will find it possible to do their work then. But we all know that there are serious difficulties that would have to be faced, especially by the large firms, and it may not be possible for them without considerable economic sacrifice to adopt such a reversal of their present system.

The three other methods that will still be perfectly legal are more likely to appeal to those firms in which a serious loss of clientele might result from the complete abolition of night baking. The first alternative that this Bill offers is to permit night work for five nights in the week, instead of six, provided of course that the other two nights are free. The next method that is offered to baking firms is that they may work their men through Friday night and into Saturday morning in order to cope with week-end deliveries; the men may also start their labours at four o'clock every morning of the week, save only Sunday. Finally the third alternative in this Bill and the fourth alternative for all bakers who are at present employing men at night work is that, as in many other occupations, they may employ their men for twenty-six weeks in the year, that is to say for half the year, at night, provided that the work does not continue for more than three weeks on end at a time, with the exception of certain rush periods, during which elasticity would be permissible.

Those are the broad and salient features of the Bill which I am commending to your Lordships for a favourable consideration. I should like for a few moments to deal with the detailed provisions that it contains. Clause I lays down as a general rule that there may be no baking between eleven at night and five o'clock in the morning, and then a number of exceptions to this general rule are specified and described in the subsequent clauses. The first of these exceptions comes in Clause 2. Clause 2 says quite plainly that night work may still be allowed, provided that it only takes place during five out of the seven nights in the week. Clause 3 contains the second special exception to the general principle of the Bill. Bakers may employ their men on night work on Friday nights into Saturday morning, and they may also start work at four o'clock instead of five o'clock on the other mornings in the week, Sundays always excepted. Clause 4 contains the third exception to the rule against night baking. In this clause night baking is allowed for twenty-six weeks in the year, but not for more than three weeks on end without a special permission being obtained from the Secretary of State.

Clause 5 requires employers to give notice of their intention to avail themselves of any of the exceptions provided in the Bill, and also to give notice of their intention to discontinue the practice of any such exception that they may have claimed in the past. Clause 6 gives the Home Secretary discretionary powers to exempt people from the provisions of the Bill in certain special circumstances, and the circumstances in question are very carefully laid down in the subsections of Clause 6. Clause 7 is a saving for biscuit factories. Biscuit manufacturers are specifically exempted, but if they are also making bread or cakes in their factories then those parts of the factories where these commodities are made will be subject to the provisions of the Bill. Clause 8 repeals provisions in certain earlier Acts of Parliament which were aimed at preventing bakers from working on Sundays. It is considered that the protection afforded by this Bill will replace the protection that was given in earlier Acts of Parliament.

Clause 9 is the first of the administrative clauses. It says that the Bill is to be administered and enforced by the factory inspectors of the Government in the same way as the Factories Acts. Clause 10 deals with penalties for offences under this Bill and they are the same as penalties incurred by people who go against the provisions of the Factories Acts. Clause 11 enables firms who want to enlarge their premises to provide for additional machinery required by them for day-work to get an alteration in the contracts they have made in the lease of their premises by application to a County Court. Clause 12 deals with purely administrative machinery. Clause 13 is a definition clause, and the last clause, Clause 14, which is certainly of great importance, specifies the procedure whereby the Act, if this Bill becomes an Act, will come into force. It says that the Act will become operative on the 1st January, 1940—that is to say, about one year and a half from now—or, alternatively, as soon as a Trade Board has been appointed for the baking industry by the Government and a Resolution has been passed by both Houses of Parliament. One naturally hopes that the latter procedure will, in fact, be adopted. We understand that the Government are strongly in favour of the appointment of a Trade Board, and clearly it would be desirable for as much agreement as possible to be obtained between employers and employees in the near future pending the time when this Act makes different conditions in the baking industry compulsory for all firms.

I very much hope that this Bill, which is a real if humble step forward in the direction of better conditions for those employed in the baking industry, will receive the same favourable and, indeed, unanimous accord in this House as it was fortunate enough to get in another place. I trust that my plea may be reinforced by those of your Lordships who have much more experience of this industrial problem than I can claim to have. We are sufficiently fortunate to have with us both an ex-Home Secretary and one who was Chairman of the first Departmental Committee appointed by the Government to inquire into the conditions of work in the baking industry, and especially to inquire into the problems of night baking. I sincerely hope, when your Lordships have listened to those who are far better qualified than I am to expound the merits of this measure, that the Bill may receive a favourable hearing and a Second Reading. I beg to move that it be now read a second time.

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


My Lords, you may remember that last year when the Factories Bill was before this House a clause was moved in the Committee stage for the abolition of night baking, that clause being moved by the noble Earl who has just spoken. Some of us on that occasion urged strongly that the opportunity ought not to be missed of remedying by legislation what is an undoubted and has been a long-standing grievance. However, at that time the Report of the Departmental Committee, presided over by Lord Alness, which was inquiring into the question of night baking, had not yet been received, and for that reason the Government declared that no action could properly be taken. The Report was, in fact, received between the Committee stage and the Report stage in this House, but in those circumstances it could not receive proper consideration. I for one expressed at that time great regret that the situation should be as it was, for one feared that if an opportunity for legislation was missed it might be long before Parliament would have occasion to review the subject. However, very fortunately, within twelve months a Private Member's Bill in the House of Commons secured a place in the Ballot, and this Bill, after being greatly modified in the course of its passage through the other House, has passed through that House and is now before us.

The Report of the Departmental Committee—Lord Alness's Committee—declared that night baking, as now prevalent, involves serious social disadvantages for the operatives… At the same time the Committee thought that its complete abolition was too drastic, and they said: We think that some less damaging and more effective means should be sought for reducing to a minimum the social disadvantages under which the night baker labours. The employers themselves seem to recognise that there is room for improvement in the conditions under which night baking is carried on. And they proceeded to make a number of specific suggestions. Following upon that Report, the employers and the employed came together, and when the Bill was in Standing Committee of the House of Commons it was announced that an agreement had been arrived at between them on the lines of a compromise. The whole matter is very technical and complicated, as these industrial questions frequently are, but the essence of the Bill as now before us is that it offers three alternative plans for the employers under which they may be permitted to carry on night baking. This scheme has been accepted, though somewhat regretfully, by the representatives of the operatives, and the Standing Committee of the House of Commons completely recast the Bill which was before them in order to embody in it the compromise that had been reached.

That is the Bill which now comes before your Lordships' House, and I would venture to support the plea that has just been addressed to your Lordships by the noble Earl who has just spoken. For thirty years and more this matter has been a serious grievance among a large and highly deserving class of working people. The noble Viscount who then led the House, Lord Halifax, told us last year that he himself had been Chairman of a Departmental Committee on this question nearly twenty years ago which had put forward a scheme for adoption. For a whole generation this question has again and again been before Parliament. Now at last, to-day, a happy agreement has been reached between the contending parties. That agreement has been embodied in the Bill, has been endorsed unanimously by the House of Commons, and will, I trust, receive similar approval at the hands of your Lordships.


My Lords, I welcome this Bill. I had the honour of presiding over a Departmental Committee which inquired into night baking some nineteen years ago. That Committee made a very elaborate investigation and issued a unanimous Report, recommending that night baking should be restricted and that in some cases it should be the subject of certain exceptions. I remember that when that Committee was appointed there was a great outcry about night baking, due to the fact that night baking had been to a large extent suspended in consequence of the Bread Order made under D.O.R.A. during the War, and it was hoped at that time that the principle of that Order might in some way be continued. Our Report was made, and after that the agitation about the abolition of night baking seemed to fall flat. The Report was not given effect to in any Bill, but I am glad that the principle underlying that Report has at last been adopted and forms part of this Bill. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said these matters had been under discussion for about thirty years. As a matter of fact the subject of night baking has been under discussion for ninety years. The first Night Baking Bill was introduced in 1848 and then there was a long pause until some time about the 'nineties. After that Bills were introduced with considerable frequency. I am glad this matter has again come before your Lordships, and I am confident that this Bill is a good one for dealing with this vexed question.


My Lords, I rise only to state to your Lordships the attitude which His Majesty's Government hold towards this Private Member's Bill. We know that the Bill has been greatly improved during its passage through another place, and it is now, as the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading said, definitely a compromise. In those circumstances we do not propose to offer any opposition to the Bill on its journey through your Lordships' House in substantially the form in which it has reached us from another place.


My Lords, I should like to wind up this debate with a very few words. In the first place, I would thank the Government for the position of neutral non-intervention observer which has been adopted, certainly with very admirable results, in my view, on this occasion. I should also like to thank those noble Lords who, with the weight of their long and very specialised experience, have recommended the measure to your Lordships. I should like further, if I might not inappropriately do so, to congratulate the noble Earl who has spoken for the Government on the appointment which we have heard with the utmost satisfaction announced in the Press. I commend this Bill again to your Lordships, and I thank the House very cordially for the extremely favourable reception that has been given to it.

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