asked the Prime Minister whether he will give facilities for the passing into law during the present Session of Parliament of the Shops (Hours of Employment) Bill; or whether His Majesty's Government proposes to introduce legislation in the present Session to restrict the hours of labour for shop workers, waitresses, and barmaids?
I have been asked to reply to this question. I have examined the Measure to which the hon. Member refers and which he has himself introduced, and I do not see that it has the effect of definitely restricting the hours of employment of shop assistants. What it proposes to do is—roughly speaking—to provide that hours worked beyond 48 shall be treated as overtime and paid for as such—a very different proposal. As the hon. Member is aware, the Government have already, in the Shops Act of last Session, passed a Measure which indirectly but effectively limits the hours of employment of workers in shops.
Is it not the fact that there is nothing whatever in the Shop Hours Act of last year which limits the hours of labour for shop assistants; and is the right hon. Gentleman not aware from the evidence given before his own inquiry that there is considerable overwork of a large number of young women and girls in the distributive trades?
May I ask whether evidence was not taken before the Committee to the effect that work was carried on for many hours after a shop had been closed against the entry of customers, and that the closing of a shop is no indication that the assistant has finished work?
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that a good deal of the criticism he is now receiving might have been avoided if he had proceeded on the lines of limiting the hours of labour?
Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that the Committee was not concerned at all with the hours of assistants and were specifically excluded from taking evidence on that point? Would it not be far more logical to proceed on the method now suggested; by limiting the hours of shop assistants rather than the hours of opening of shops?
It is true that the proposal of the hon. Member was not submitted to the Committee. It was appointed to inquire into the working of the Shop Hours Acts, 1920 and 1921, and those were the Acts on which it reported.