The facts are that the Bill was recommitted on 7th May and had its Report and Third Reading on 16th May. The total time taken by their noble Lordships was 24 hours 52 minutes, or approximately three and a half working days of this House. I say to the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, that I suspect that the doubling of the Whitsun Recess has been done to provide the Government with an excuse for surrendering to this mean and contemptible campaign against the shopworkers of Britain.
In recent times certain right hon. Gentlemen opposite and the newspapers of the "Establishment" have lectured trade unionists and told them that they should accept arbitration and the findings of committees of inquiry. There was a committee of inquiry into this question—the Gowers Committee—which was accepted even by a Conservative Government, but then, because of an orgy of Poujadist spite in certain sections of the Press and on the lunatic fringe of the Tory Party, we find that the Government, which acted upon the basis of a high-powered committee of inquiry in the first place, have now retreated and have abandoned the Bill.
The Government have done this without consulting great representative organisations of opinion. I ask hon. Members opposite to remember that the Bill as it was presented originally in another place had the support not only of my own union, with its 357,000 members but of the T.U.C., with 9 million members, the Standing Joint Committee of Working Women's Organisations—far and away the most represenative women's organisation in Britain, with roughly 2 million members —the Co-operative movement, with 11 million members, the National Chamber of Trade, representing 860 local chambers of trade, and 34 national traders' organisations.
At the beginning of May, when all this discussion was taking place, the National Chamber of Trade held its annual conference in the Empress Ballroom, Blackpool. It supported the original draft of the Bill on general closing hours, with but one dissentient. Let hon. Members opposite reflect that these people in the Empress Ballroom were not trade unionists; in the main, they represented the working shopkeepers of Britain. It is a disgraceful thing that after the Gowers Committee had reported, after pledges had been given by the Home Secretary in 1952 and the Prime Minister in 1955, and after the Government themselves had introduced the Bill into the House of Lords, they should first allow a protracted delay and then the deletion of the most progressive Clauses of the Bill in the Lords and, finally, last Thursday, that there should have been this ignominious; surrender.
I protest against this doubling of the Whitsun Recess. The struggle to obtain decent legislation for shop and allied workers has a long history. It stretches back for a hundred years, during which we had the early closing riots, with shop windows being broken and trade union leaders gaoled. That is the social history of shops legislation. I say to hon. Members opposite that if Britain is not prepared to come into line with the advanced countries of Europe and the Commonwealth—for example, Scandinavia, Western Germany, Austria, the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland, Luxembourg, Australia and New Zealand—it means that Britain will continue to be a leader of reaction at conferences of the International Labour Organisation.