HC Deb 31 March 1909 vol 3 cc343-5

I ask the indulgence of the House for a few moments while I ask leave to bring in a Bill to provide for the closing of shops and the prohibition of street trading on Sunday, and while I endeavour to explain the meaning of this Bill, what is the cause of its introduction, and what are the evils it seeks to remove. The subject is not one that has arisen to-day or yesterday. As long ago as the time of Charles II. a Bill was introduced and passed showing the determination of the people of this country that Sunday should be kept a day of rest. That Act has remained on the Statute Book until now, and it is in force at this day. But it is not made use of, because it is supposed to be somewhat out of date, and more especially because the fines under it are so small that any trader who wishes to go against the law can afford to snap his fingers at it. It seems to me that this is a Bill which is required in the interests of the community, and in the interests of the employers and assistants, who find their present position almost intolerable, and have pleaded for an amendment of the law to make it effectual and more in accordance with the conditions of modern times.

This question has been dealt with by four Committees. A Committee sat in 1832, another in 1847, another in 1905, and a Select Committee in 1906. The result of that was that a Bill has been introduced by Lord Avebury and carried through another place without opposition. I think I shall best show what the feeling of all these Committees has been by quoting the Report of the Committee of 1905. They say:— That the Committee are convinced by the evidence that Sunday trading is on the increase, that the Bill is urgently needed, that it is desired in the shopkeeping interests, and will inflict no serious hardship upon the poorer classes, that it will confer a great benefit on tile country generally, and commends itself to the reason and conscience of the community. There is no doubt whatever that Sunday trading is very much upon the increase, that whereas it was formerly confined to articles of food, now china, glass, furniture, drapery, and other articles are being sold, and that many shops which were closed formerly are now opened until one p.m., sometimes till four. The question is: Are we asking by this Bill for a change which will go against public opinion? I think I shall be able to show that public opinion is very strongly in favour of the Bill. A deputation waited upon the Home Secretary last autumn, in which no less than 343 tradesmen's associations of every kind, in every part of the kingdom, were interested, representing thousands of shopkeepers and assistants, and asking for the change contemplated. I have received myself the strongest representations from the Meat Trades' Association asking that a Bill might be passed into law, and a very remarkable canvass was held a few weeks ago in the towns of Greenwich and Deptford. In one case 380 shopkeepers petitioned for the change, there being 90 opened at the present time, and in another 364 shopkeepers, 125 being now opened. A large amount of signatures were at the same time obtained from persons pledging themselves not to trade on Sunday.

What does the Bill do? The Bill provides that barrows, shops, and stalls shall be closed on Sunday, but in cases of hardship that there shall be an appeal to the Home Secretary, who shall have power to open them if the measure is found to press upon the poor. The Bill does not interfere with post offices, telephones, and the selling of drugs, or the sale of milk, or cream, or newspapers. Bread, cooked meat, fish, and fruit are allowed to be sold up to 9 o'clock in the morning. The fines are made effective. The first fine is 5s., the second 20s., and for a third offence it is £5, and there are other exemptions. We understand that the Home Secretary has this measure very much under his consideration. The matter has not been debated in Parliament, I think, during my time, and this is an attempt to make Parliament and the public realise how keenly the interest and the sympathy of the shopkeepers and assistants are with the proposed change, how much they are in favour of it, and how great a danger there is if no such measure is introduced that Sunday rest will become a thing of the past, and will soon be altogether done away with. In support of this Bill we make no appeal on religious grounds. We do not seek to impose religious truth upon other people, but on social, physical, and national grounds we ask that traders should have an opportunity of protecting themselves against the greed of unscrupulous rivals and the thoughtlessness of the public. The question is so urgent, it has been trifled with so long, the mischief is so spreading, the danger of a secular Sunday is so real, that we would by introducing this Bill at least seek to awaken the attention of the public to it, and to endorse the appeal made by that most influential deputation to the Home Secretary last autumn that the Government should take up this as a real practical measure, intended to pans, and likely to pass, if given a fair chance, and thus sustain the credit of the position that they gained by the passing of the Childrens Bill, which comes into force to-morrow, into law. On these grounds I beg without trespassing further upon the House to ask for leave to introduce this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed: "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the closing of shops and the prohibition of street trading on Sunday." [Sir John Kennaway.]

Motion agreed to. Bill presented accordingly and read the first time; to be read a second time, 21st April.