HC Deb 01 May 1928 vol 216 cc1525-8

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to restrict the opening of shops on Sunday. I have been asked by the representatives of a large number of influential associations to introduce this Bill, but, before consenting to do so, I made it my business to go very closely into the pros and cons concerning it. Nobody who considers the position as it is to-day could imagine for a moment that it would now be possible totally to abolish Sunday trading. Conditions are such that any ill-advised attempt to impose absolute closing of shops on Sunday would be doomed to failure. Indeed, it is futile to attempt to legislate in advance of public opinion. But this Bill is merely to provide for the restriction of Sunday trading within reasonable limits, and as such, I regard it as a social reform felt, to be long overdue. I, therefore, ask the House for that courteous consideration and indulgence usually accorded to the First Reading of a Bill. It has behind it the vast majority of the retail trading community, the whole of the religious community, and, so far as I have been able to ascertain, a very large body of public opinion. Indeed, it has been expressed on many occasions that the growth of Sunday trading is jeopardising our Sabbath day of rest. It will perhaps assist hon. Members in considering the merits of this Bill if I refer to legislation which has led up to its drafting. It may not be appreciated generally that there has been no Bill to restrict Sunday trading passed through this House and placed on the Statute Book since the reign of Charles II, when a Bill was passed making Sunday trading illegal, and a fine of 5s. was imposed for each offence. That still remains the law of this country, save for an Act of the London County Council which specifies that street traders are only permitted to trade under licences issued by the London borough councils, and in many districts those licences are issued for only six days a week.

It will be seen, therefore, that this evil of Sunday trading is one which remains unchecked. If I may, I will give a few figures to illustrate my point that the present Act is entirely obsolete and unfitted for present day conditions. In Cardiff there are over 1,000 shops open every Sunday, and in the City of Hull in 1926 there were no fewer than 18,698 convictions. Indeed, the shopkeepers pay their fine of 5s. weekly and regard it rather in the nature of a licence. Hon. Members must appreciate the changed conditions which prevail compared with those of 250 years ago in the reign of Charles II, when this fine was first imposed. In parts of the London area 90 to 95 per cent. of the shops are open for at any rate a part of Sunday, and in many provincial towns one in every 200 of the total population is actually engaged in Sunday trading. Altogether there are 250,000 shops which are open on Sunday. Another menace which is growing up in our midst is the Sunday hawker, and it must not he understood that these hawkers are individual traders who are attempting to earn an honest living, because in the majority of cases these hawkers are supported and financed by syndicates.

I claim that the Bill which I propose to introduce represents the greatest common measure of agreement and reconciles the conflicting interests involved. It is evident that some measure of Sunday trading in certain commodities must be permitted, and so long as public houses are open on Sunday, so long is it necessary that other places for obtaining refreshment should be provided. Therefore, provision is made for exemption accordingly, as also to permit the sale of newspapers and periodicals, medicines, and medical and surgical appliances. The Bill also provides for the sale of many other necessary commodities during specified hours. I wish at this point to make it quite clear that this Bill will not abolish Sunday trading, but merely restrict it. In the short time at my disposal it is not possible to go through the details of the Bill, but the chief obstacles encountered in the past have been met, I believe, to the satisfaction of all concerned. If, however, this condition of Sunday trading remains unchecked, competition among the poor shopkeepers will be such that it will be necessary for them to be tied to their shops all and every Sunday. Hon. Members who enjoy their game of golf or their tennis or motoring on a Sunday—and quite rightly—will, I am sure, be the first to come to the assistance of their less fortunate brothers, for whom, through the tyranny of a practice forced upon them in the struggle for existence, Sunday brings no armistice in the battle of life. This is essentially a non-party matter, and I hope the House will give favourable consideration to the Bill.


On a point of Order. When an hon. Member is introducing a Bill under the 10 minutes rule, may we have your ruling, Mr. Speaker, as to what the position of affairs is if his introduction takes longer than 10 minutes?


In such a case I should deal with the matter. In this case the hon. Member has kept exactly, I do not say to the rule, but to the understanding of the House in regard to what is called a 10 minutes Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Frank Sanderson, Sir Herbert Nield, Sir Arthur Shirley Benn, Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle, Mr. Ammon, Mr. Rosslyn Mitchell, Mr. Robert Morrison and Mr. Crawfurd.