HC Deb 08 May 1931 vol 252 cc761-81

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The Bill seeks to bring into relation with modern conditions old laws that have long stood on the Statute Book, and that, to a very large extent, are mostly unobserved. The House will have in mind the discussion which took place two or three weeks ago, on the related subject of the Sunday opening of cinemas. It was reported to us, that in regard to amusements as well as in regard to business, that the laws which operate in this country were mostly passed in a period when circumstances were entirely different from what they are at the present moment, and that they badly need amendment. The law in relation to the opening of shops, the key law, was the Sunday-Observance Act, 1677, many of whose provisions are still apparently in operation, since they have never been repealed; but most of them are entirely ignored. It enjoins "propriety on the subjects of this realm", but does not seem to prescribe any penalty if that admonition be not observed, but it did require the forfeiture of wares, merchandise or goods exposed for sale on Sundays, and that such goods should be sold by the local authorities for the benefit of the poor. It penalised the drovers and the butchers who travelled on Sundays and forbade any use of boats on Sunday, and, if the value of the goods, in certain cases in which the Act imposed fines for the forfeiture of goods, was not sufficient to pay the fine, the Act condemned the unfortunate delinquent to spend two hours in the stocks to expiate his crime. On the other hand, Sunday travellers were regarded as free sport for any Dick Turpin or other robber, because it was quite impossible to bring an action against or prosecute anyone who robbed a Sunday traveller. Going a little further than one would have expected, it made it illegal to serve any writ on Sunday.

The Act now has no kind of relation to modern conditions, and in fact, save in particular places and in exceptional circumstances, it is not in force at all. The result is that all over the country in the last two or three decades, since it became clear that the Act was not really operative, there has been a steady and disconcerting growth in the opening of the smaller shops. In some of the London boroughs, 90 per cent. of the general smaller shops are open for a part or all of Sunday. That is true, apparently, in Kensington and areas like Hoxton, and some parts even of Chelsea and Westminster. It is not merely the case in London, but the practice is steadily extending, particularly in the poorer areas, in all the provincial towns. There is no question that the tendency is increasing to open shops on Sunday, not the bigger shops, but the small general shops run by one man and his wife and members of the family. There is equally no question that that presses very hard on the unfortunate shopkeeper. Many of them have told me how terribly worrying, and how destructive of physical and mental rest, is the constant necessity of having to sit in the shop or within reach of the bell, not only for six days of the week, but for a part or the whole of Sundays.

It is easy to say that they can shut if they please, and that there is nothing to prevent them from putting up their shutters and going off like other people to church or to reasonable recreation in the fresh air in the country, but anyone familiar with the circumstances in which the small one-man traders carry on their business in the back streets of the big industrial towns, knows how near the poverty line they are, how precarious is their livelihood, and how constantly obsessed they are by the chance that, if they do not open, somebody else will and will get customers whom they can ill afford to lose. The Shop Hours Act dealt with the big shops a decade or two ago and required that shop assistants should be given their proper rest, but the early closing laws do not apply to the closing of shops on Sunday, and do not assist this particular class of rather unfortunate people for whom I am appealing.

This Bill proposes to repeal the existing Sunday Observance Act, and starts off with a general Clause closing all shops on Sunday. It recognises that there are classes of shops which are dealt with under other legislation and which for special reasons require to be open on Sundays. There are, for example, licensed premises, and the sale of intoxicating liquor, which are dealt with under the general licensing legislation, and this is not the place in which to deal with them. It is plain also that the sale of refreshment for consumption on the premises, and railway station refreshment rooms are proper subjects for exemption. The same applies to medicines, to the sale of newspapers, and to repair outfits for motorists and cyclists. The exemptions on the First Schedule are of general application. In the Second Schedule the Bill provides for adjusting variations of the general provisions to local circumstances by giving local authorities power under proper precautions and after proper inquiries to make exemption orders permitting certain classes of shops to be open for a limited number of hours.

It applies the same kind of principle to the opening of shops such as bakers, dairymen, chemists, confectioners and tobacconists that the House approved a week or two ago in the case of cinemas. No local authority is under any obligation to make any such order, and any such order will apply to a specific district and can be subject to such exemptions and exceptions to meet local circumstances as the local authority may decide. If they decide that two hours to be permitted in the morning in the case of chemists or provision dealers, are too long or unnecessary, they may leave it out altogether. What they cannot do is to permit opening for longer than the short period prescribed.

Another provision in the Bill adjusts the procedure to special circumstances. There is the case, for example, of the Jews in certain areas of East London. As is well known, it is customary to have businesses open on Sunday, and it used to be customary, though often the custom is no longer observed, for such businesses to be closed on Saturday. The Bill makes exceptions for Jewish traders under proper precautions, and under the condition that if they open on Sunday the order which will be made by a local authority which permits that, must require that their businesses are closed on Saturday. It provides also for the connected case of street markets. I believe that there are in London 52 street markets. Many of them are in the limited areas where the Jews carry on their trade, but some are not. The Bill requires that any orders of general operation shall apply to street markets as well as to shops, and that any orders which are made by the local authority shall apply to trading carried on otherwise than in shops as well as to shops, though it makes a special exception in the case of newspapers.

In view of the criticism of this Bill which has been raised in the past, it is important to note that it deals with the case of shop assistants. It was said when this Bill was before the House in an earlier form, that it might prejudice the position of shop assistants. To meet that situation, a Clause has been inserted by which no shops will be entitled under the provision of the exceptions stated in the Bill to open on Sunday unless all the shop assistants employed on that day have received a holiday of not less than one unbroken day during the previous six days, in addition to any statutory half-holiday which they are entitled to receive under other Acts. That meets the view of those of my hon. Friends on this side of the House who objected to the previous Bill on the ground that it might adversely affect the interests of shop assistants, and I submit that this Bill completely safeguards their position. That Clause will make it very difficult indeed for any shop, except the small one-man shop, to take advantage of the exemption orders by which it might open on a Sunday. It achieves the main purpose of the Bill, which is to stop the tendency of the multiple shops, particularly in the butchers' trade and the bakers', in some districts to open their shops on seven days a week, under the pressure of street markets.

This is not, in the party sense of the word, a controversial Bill. It is a Bill which circumstances as they are developing to-day render necessary, and it is a corollary of the decision the House took a week or two ago in regard to cinemas. In the discussion then the point was made that if cinemas were opened shops would be opened, and that gradually the circle of Sunday trading and Sunday work would grow. This Bill would prevent that. If Parliament proceeds, as I think it is the desire of the majority that it should proceed, with the amendment of the law dealing with cinemas and certain other forms of amusement, it is necessary to do something on these lines in the case of shops. The details of the Measure can be threshed out in Committee, where, indeed, its provisions can be correlated with those of one or two other Bills which have been passed in the last Session or two or which are now under consideration. I submit that it will be a very useful piece of legislation, and will be of value to tens of thousands of small shopkeepers who, for various reasons, have a difficult and troublesome time, and lead a hard and exiguous life, and I hope that it can be passed with the general approval of all parties.


I beg to second the Motion.

It affords me great pleasure to do this, because I had to oppose the Measure when it was introduced last year. The objections which I raised at that time have now been removed, and those who are particularly concerned with the general shop assistants of the country are in favour of the Bill. Certainly all the federations of grocers in the country are in favour of it, and drapers and other traders also. I have received a telegram from the Scottish Grocers Federation stating that they strongly support the Bill and asking for the inclusion of Scotland. The Bill is another attempt to bring some order out of the chaos which exists in the distributive trades to-day. The case for it is overwhelming. Sunday trading is on the increase. There is not a part of the country to which I go, not even excepting South Wales, where attention is not drawn by publicists to the increasing number of shops open on Sundays and the difficulties this occasions to those who are looking after the spiritual life of the people. In Newport no fewer than 500 shops are open on Sundays, and in Cardiff something like 1,000. An investigation carried through by the London County Council showed that in Hampstead, Paddington, St. Pancras and part of Marylebone 75 per cent. of confectioners', tobacconists' and barbers' shops were open—the hairdressers' shops, of course, are now closed owing to the Act which was recently passed—and of the fruiterers', greengrocers' and general shops 50 per cent. In Islington and Finsbury, of the general shops in minor streets, 80 per cent. were open. In the eastern district of Wands-worth and Battersea and Lambeth no fewer than 8,000 shops are open on a Sunday.


All day?


Some of them all day, but most of them part of the day. This Bill tries to deal with the evil in a realistic fashion. Under present circumstances I doubt whether it would be right or proper to close every shop upon a Sunday, allowing no one to open. I know that is an ideal, but we cannot all get our ideals. One must face the fact that in crowded urban areas poor people have no accommodation for storing food in the places where they live—they may have one or two rooms only, in which a number of them are crowded together. They buy their food from day to day. In some cases the man, who is earning the money, and who is paid day by day, does not bring home the money until late on Saturday night or on Sunday morning. In such areas some means must be found for the poorer people to obtain the victuals which they cannot store in their own homes. This Bill says, therefore, following the precedent which was laid down in the permissive Closing Act, 1904, that local authorities shall have power, with the assent of a two-thirds majority of those concerned, to say that certain classes of shops in the schedule can open for two hours or a little longer. In the past I have objected to this permission, because no provision was made or is to-day made, for those who are employed in shops which open on Sunday.

Let me point out that it is not merely a question of the shop itself being opened for two hours on the Sunday morning. The districts in which the evil occurs are urban districts, so probably the shop assistants live a long distance from where they work. They have to travel in on the Sunday morning, they have to open up the shop and arrange the display of goods, all of which takes time. In the case particularly of perishable goods, like fruit, meat and so on, the display is very important, and takes quite a long time. Then, at the close of the two hours' opening, the assistants have to clear up, and in the case of butchers' and fishmongers' shops there is a great deal of cleaning to be done, and by the time the assistants have travelled back to their homes a great deal of their Sunday has been taken up. Hitherto there has been no protection at all for assistants who are so employed, but this Bill will afford some protection. It says that no assistant shall be employed in one of these shops on a Sunday who is not getting one full day off during the week in addition to the half-day to which he is entitled by statute. It gives the local authority power to regulate the opening of certain shops on the Sabbath day.

I have indicated the tremendous support which this Bill has amongst all those who are organised shop assistants, grocers and other traders. In the last few years we have held very large meetings in all parts of the country in favour of Sunday closing. There are other instances which I will give. For example, there is the Jewish point of view which has been met in this Bill and in this connection. The "Grocers' Gazette" stated recently that: These will insist that they shall not be bound to close on Sundays if they do not open on Saturdays, their own Sabbath … In any case I do not think it right that Jews in any trade should be the means of preventing non-Jews from keeping their Sabbath nor that Jews should by keeping their places of business going on Sunday rob the neighbourhood of its Sabbath atmosphere. That has been put right. As far as the Trade Union Congress is concerned, at Belfast, in 1929, the following Resolution was carried: In view of the increasing practice of a large number of multiple firms and general stores of bringing to the shop a part or the whole of their staff for work on Sundays, this Congress urges upon the Parliamentary Labour party the great need for some form of protective legislation with the object of securing a weekly unbroken day of rest for all distributive workers. I have here a letter from a clergyman in South Wales who says: The appeal from shop assistants is, in the judgment of many of us, a symptom of a reaction that is beginning to make itself articulate in all classes of the community against the madness of modern times in flinging away, on the one hand, and allowing to be filched away on the other, one of the most precious of all our social and national heritages—the day of rest. One of the Hackney newspapers in October, 1930, reported that: The Hackney Borough Council agreed to the licensing of Sunday street trading in perishable articles at two markets for an experimental period of one year. The issue of licences is to be confined to those already licensed to trade in Hackney during the week, and no person is to hold licences for more than six days in each week. 12 n.

In this matter I am a realist, and, as far as I can gather, the only objection to the proposals of this Measure comes from the confectionery trade, by which is meant sweetstuff shops. I admit that those shops are a great temptation. I remember as a little boy being given 2d. or 3d. to put in the missionary box when I went to Sunday School, and I am afraid that the red and pink wares of the confectioners tempted me more than once, and I fell, with the result that the missionary box did not get its full contributions. I wonder how many heathen are now going naked and bowing down to wood and stone because of the temptation of sweet shops to the erring Sunday School youth of the country. Certainly the confectionery trade has a very unsavoury reputation in this matter of closing. It was the confectionery trade, backed up by the wholesale confectioners and manufacturers of the country, which created the agitation for the repeal of D.O.R.A., and which led to this House extending the hours of opening of confectioners' shops from eight o'clock to 9.30 at night, and this House gave no compensation at all in the shape of extra wages for the extra time which those girls were called upon to work. The confectionery trade still resents any attempt to close them down on the Sabbath day. I am not going to be moved by the attitude of the wholesale confectioners in this matter. The only other objections which I have to meet come from the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) who more particularly represents the cooperative movement.


No, I do not.


Then the hon. Member represents the co-operative employés, and I understand that he is going to object to this Measure, on what grounds I do not know. If the hon. Member is going to object on the grounds that there is a Shops Committee, of which he is a distinguished Member, sitting to deal with this question and has not yet made its report, may I point out that that committee is dealing with hours of employment, and its terms of reference do not cover Sunday trading? [Interruption.] If they do cover Sunday trading as well as conditions of employment I am not aware of it, and, if that be so, I shall be all the more delighted. I remember that in 1912 an attempt was made by the Liberal party in a Bill introduced in that year to deal with the Sunday closing of shops, and they dealt with the question along the lines of general closing, with the exception of special conditions applying to the Jewish population, but, for some reason or other, that part of the Bill was dropped. This Measure deals with the question in a much more realistic way, and I hope it will be supported by hon. Members opposite.

How my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton can oppose this Bill in the interests of co-operative employés passes my comprehension. After all, this Measure is in the interest of the co-operative movement; they are quite fair employers and they are agreed that all unjust and unfair conditions in respect of their competitors should be removed. This is an attempt to secure uniformity in regard to the hours of Sunday opening, and for that reason I think it ought to have the support of the hon. Member for Westhoughton. If this Measure is being opposed on Sabbatarian grounds, may I point out that a large number of Christian churches are supporting it because they want to have power to regulate Sunday trading in their localities. For these reasons I have much pleasure in seconding the Motion.


I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."

I am opposed to the passage of this Measure into law and I will give very shortly my reasons for opposing it. I confess that I cannot understand hon. Members on this side of the House pleading the cause of shopkeepers. I am taking up this matter from the workers' point of view. I have carefully analysed the provisions of this Bill, and I do not think I ever came across a more loosely-worded Measure during the time I have been a Member of this House. The first Clause would close every shop on Sunday and the next 14 Clauses show how to open them. In fact, this Bill is an impossible Measure, and I am astonished that my hon. Friend has been deluded into believing that it will provide one day's rest in seven for shop assistants. There is a Select Committee now sitting dealing with shop life, and I may remind the hon. Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Hoffman) that we have not confined our investigations simply to the question of the hours of labour. We are dealing with conditions of shop life generally. I am a little surprised that my hon. Friend's have been caught in this way. It is assumed that, if a Bill is passed through the House of Commons to provide one day's rest in seven, that object will be attained. But that does not follow. Unless you have some authority to prosecute people who break the law, the law will be broken. Ample evidence as to that has been given before the select committee, and has already been published. An Act of Parliament is at present on the Statute Book to provide one day's rest in seven for people employed in public houses, but we have been told by a witness employed in a public house that that law is of no avail at all. There is no organisation to enforce the provisions of the law. I can assure my hon. Friend that, with 50,000 private shop assistants organised out of 1,500,000, there will be very little hope of enforcing these provisions if they are passed into law.

Let me now pass to other criticisms that I have to make of this Bill. I do not like the wording of the title of the Bill—" Shops (Sunday Trading Restriction) Bill." It is nothing of the kind. The title of the Bill ought to be, "A Bill to legalise trading on Sundays." Shops are not entitled, under certain laws, to open on Sundays now, but this Bill would make it legal for them to do so. Consequently I say that the title of the Bill is subtle and misleading.

The onus is placed upon the local authority to determine whether shops shall be open on Sundays or not. It may interest Members of the House to learn how local authorities deal with the opening of shops at present. Only this week the Blackpool Corporation arrived at an agreement with regard to the opening of their shops on weekdays. That agreement will show the tendency of the times in relation to the opening of shops. I oppose this Measure in the main because of the tendency of the times to revert to pre-war conditions in regard to the opening of shops. The report says: The Watch Committee of the Blackpool Corporation have recommended that shops should remain open until 9.30 p.m. from Monday to Friday and 10.30 on Saturday, from Monday, June 29th to Saturday, October 17th, and that fancy goods dealers be allowed to keep open until 11 p.m. on Whit Monday, during August Bank Holiday week, and the Saturday before August Bank Holiday. I guarantee that if this Bill becomes law, and the Blackpool Corporation pursues its present attitude, all the shops in Blackpool will be open for six months in the year on Sundays as well as on weekdays. There is nothing in this Bill that will safeguard any shop assistant in Blackpool against having to work seven days a week.

I do not oppose this Bill because I am a Sabbatarian. Philosophers and statesmen throughout the ages have determined, I had hoped once for all, that six days' work is sufficient for any man during one week. Wherever men are called upon to work seven days in the week, their wages for the seven days have always been equal to six days' wages. I oppose Sunday labour, therefore, not on Sabbatarian grounds. Some of my hon. Friends, I am afraid have mistaken me. I oppose Sunday trading and Sunday work on human and physical grounds, and those grounds are good enough for me. As I have said, this problem is not a new one. Some of my hon. Friends think that we are travelling to modernity—that we are becoming more modern because we are calling upon everyone to work seven days a week.




I did not say that the hon. Member said so. I said "Some of my hon. Friends." I do not know that he comas into that category at all. As I have said, I oppose this Bill on other grounds. I belong to the largest trade union of distributive workers in this country. We have approximately 110,000 members engaged in the distributive trade, and the whole of them are employed in the co-operative movement. The argument has been put forward this morning that the poorer districts of this country must be catered for by allowing shops to be opened on Sundays to provide them with groceries and fruit and so forth—


Perishable goods.


No; the Bill includes grocers; the hon. Member had better read the Bill. It refers to bakers and flour confectioners, chemists and druggists, dairymen, fishmongers, greengrocers, fruiterers and florists, grocers and provision dealers, sugar confectioners and tobacconists.


They may be open for two hours.


The co-operative movement is at any rate a working-class movement; it caters for the working people of this country; and I have yet to learn that the 6,000,000 co-operators in this country, who are in the main working folk, have ever asked that the co-operative movement should open its shops on Sundays. The co-operative movement has led the way from the beginning in regard to shorter hours of labour, a weekly half-holiday, and so forth, and there are co-operative societies in the poorest districts in the land who do the whole of their trade in a 44-hour week. I would point out, by the way, that I do not represent the co-operative movement here; I speak for co-operative employés.

I have been asked what difference this Bill would make to the co-operative movement. It would make this difference: The co-operative movement would be entitled to say, if Sunday trading by private traders were legalised, "We cannot compete with these people, and we also must open for two hours on Sunday as well." Consequently, this would affect the co-operative movement very greatly. I think I am right in saying that neither the co-operative movement nor its employés would be willing to support in any way whatever the opening of shops on Sundays. [Interruption.] I am not disputing that there is the question of selling milk; I am dealing with the goods that people can do without on Sundays or can buy on any other day of the week. [Interruption.] The Bill will do away with conditions that we desire should remain.

The argument is employed that the poor shopkeeper must pick up a few shillings on Sunday, but surely there is only so much trade for him to do anyhow. In the main, the people who go shopping on Sundays can make most of their purchases on any other day of the week if they so desire. It is a truism, as I think the bon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) and the hon. Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Hoffman) will agree, that if some shops are kept open in this or any other country for every hour of the day and night throughout the week, there would always be somebody coming in to buy something. I have told this story before, but perhaps I may be allowed to repeat it as an illustration. At one period of my life I worked in a shop which closed at 11 on Saturday night, and there were always six ladies who came in at five minutes to 11. We closed at 10, and the same six ladies came in at five minutes to 10. We closed at nine, we closed at eight, we closed at seven, and they still came at five minutes before closing time. It is a bad habit.

With regard to the case of people who have no storage for their food, I would point out that it pays shopkeepers to sell often and in small quantities, because then their profits are greater. It would be much cheaper for the poorer members of the community to buy less often and in larger quantities. All shopkeepers and shop assistants know that. I would do all that I could to abolish the bad habit of always running into the shop. In this country the shop is fast becoming an institution. We are told, I think, on fairly good authority, that the increase in the number of shop assistants in this country since the war has been about 350,000.


More than that—750,000.


I will leave it at the figure I have given. I do not know that there are exact figures available. The claims of the community upon shop life nowadays are astonishing.

I object to the Bill on other grounds. The hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) has argued that the municipalities can undertake the task of issuing orders. I know what will happen in one or two municipalities with which I am familiar. If you give the local authority power to determine whether Sunday trading shall be carried on or not, most of the business of the City Council, which meets once a month, will be Sunday trading. Housing, the clearance of slums, public health and all the rest of it will be smothered by the arguments about Sunday trading.

I made a special inquiry recently as to the attitude of the leading trade unionists on the Continent towards the six-day week. They said, "This is what we cannot understand. For half a century we have been fighting for the establishment of the English week-end and, since the War, you in England have apparently been fighting for the Continental Sunday." That is the case in a nutshell. This tendency to open shops is undoubtedly a tendency towards the Continental seven-day week. I am very jealous indeed that people should not be called upon to work every day in the week. If we passed this Measure— happily there is no chance of it becoming law—the one-man shopkeeper would work every day in the year without a stop. What else can he do? If you give an order from the town council that shops are entitled to open, it is obvious that the one-man shopkeeper will be there every day throughout the year. [Interruption.]

I understand that the hon. Member for Grimsby is going to support the Bill. The other day he introduced a Bill to close all butchers' shops on Sunday. We carried a Measure the other day to close hairdressing shops on Sunday. A conflict is proceeding regularly on the Floor of the House of Commons, one section wanting to close certain establishments on Sunday and the other wanting to open them. There would never have been an argument at all in favour of opening them were it not for the fact that one little shopkeeper is always afraid that another little shopkeeper is going to keep open. [Interruption.] On that principle all you want to do, with 2,500,000 unemployed people, is to allow all the factories and coal mines to be open on Sunday so that one man may steal the other man's job.

I have tried to study the social conditions, the wages and the standard of life of people in other countries, and I am pleased to say that up to now I have found that the standard of life of the working people of this country is among the best. The six-day working week is more universally applied in this country than in any country of which I know, except Iceland. Iceland is a very important country just now. They may have a Republic very shortly. Co-operative Societies' committees always used to tell my trade union officials, "We cannot possibly close at 10 o'clock if the private trader is allowed to open to 11." Once private traders are allowed to sell their goods on Sunday, we shall have no argument at all, unless we oppose this Bill, against the co-operative movement asking that they shall follow suit. [Interruption.] I know the co-operative movement better than the hon. Member does. There are Members of the House who have been on co-operative society committees, and they know full well that the problem in the towns is always, not what the cooperative movement can do of its own accord, but what it must do in view of what private firms are doing.


This would help it.


I am probably thinking in Welsh and the hon. Member is speaking in English.

I know full well the difficulties of selling milk and perishable goods on Sunday. With the growth of cold storage people can manage to do almost anything with perishable goods. But in spite of the increase in the technicalities of cold storage, the demand still comes for the opening of shops on Sunday. The demand for the opening of cinemas and shops on Sunday in a certain town has come from an organisation calling itself the Sunday Freedom League. All the freedom they desire is to sell their wares on Sunday. I want these gentlemen who want to make a profit on Sundays at the expense of the working community to know that we shall do nothing at all to help them. There is a conflict of opinion. Some of our friends will say, "If you give legal sanction to the opening of shops on Sunday, you limit and restrict the hours of trading on Sunday." My argument always has been that it is better for Parliament to say that it is preferable that ten thousand shopkeepers shall break the law by opening on Sunday than that we should legalise the opening of a million shops, because that is what it means under the Bill. The title of the Bill is a misnomer. It does not restrict trade on Sunday. It will legalise the opening of certain shops which are now closed. I therefore oppose the Measure and trust that it will be defeated handsomely.


This Bill is drawn so widely that I do not think its promoters have given it the consideration that it deserves. As drawn, it really says that a person who may be desirous of going, say, up the river on Sunday, and finds that it is wet, and he cannot go, and wants to send out to buy something to eat, is prohibited from getting it under the Bill. But this is the strange part, that if, on the other hand, you are desirous of having beer, you are entitled to purchase it and take it away, but you are not entitled to purchase ginger ale and take that away. It occurs to me that very little thought has been given to the details of this Bill. One has only to consider for a moment that only this day week we unanimously agreed upon the desirability of showing all parts of Europe, Central and South America, and indeed all parts of the world, what a fine place England was to visit and what a fine place it was in which to live. Here we are giving consideration to the question of how difficult it should be for any one to make life reasonable on a Sunday. I fail to see that there can be any crime in a person visiting, say, our parks and requiring to obtain there, in the afternoon or in the evening, buns from a stall to take away for friends in the park. I fail to see why it should be an illegal act. They are not allowed to purchase any food except that which is to be consumed upon the premises.

By means of such legislation as this—especially in view of the cry that we have heard up and down the country—"Dora" is really being introduced. For what purpose? It is really going to serve no real object. The Mover of the Second Reading went out of his way to say that the hours that particular foodstuffs might be sold—that is, as provided in the Second Schedule, from 8 till 10 o'clock—are so uneconomic to the little shopkeeper that people would be put at a very great disadvantage, or that they would certainly have to pay much more for the commodities they were purchasing on that particular day.

We have a very fine country, and we have been building, and are building, some beautiful roads. It seems to be unreasonable to suggest, if men or women or their families are travelling by charabanc, say, for a distance of 200 miles and they are desirous, on their journey, of purchasing food to eat en route because they prefer to do it in that way rather than go into cafés, that they should not be permitted to do so. I do not think that this grandmotherly legislation is going to be very good for the people, nor do I believe that the House of Commons, when they are fully seized of some of the absurdities which are bound to arise under the Bill as at present drawn, will agree to such a Measure as this. I hope that the Bill will not be given a Second Beading. It will not help the workers of this country one iota. This is not the way to deal with this important question. I do not desire—I do not think that anyone desires—to see all the shops of all descriptions in this country open, as has been suggested, nor do I think that the Bill is really going to do what its pro-motors are seeking to do. They would be well advised to wait for the findings of the Committee which is already dealing with the hours of employment. Generally speaking, I hope that the House will not agree to this Measure.


I wish to speak in support of the Bill, which, I think, goes as far as it is possible to go at the moment towards achieving what most of us desire in this country—that all unnecessary work should be cut out on a Sunday, not alone for the benefit of those who happen to be working for wages, but for those who may hold a small business of their own whereby they are trying to get a living. Although I am a very keen co-operator, I think that at the same time even those who are small shopkeepers have some right to be protected against themselves and those of their fellows who are in the same line of business. Reference has been made by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) to the fact that there are Acts of Parliament on the Statute Book which would prohibit-all Sunday trading, but they are absolutely ineffective because they have no moral authority to-day, and do not meet the circumstances of our modern times. The Member for Westhoughton in speaking on this Measure seemed almost to repudiate the hon. Member who seconded the Motion as a colleague or as a friend. In his advocacy of what he called the full Sabbatarian point of view, he appeared to be so confused that I wondered whether professional rivalry, rather than his bad habit of thinking in Welsh had not overcome his judgment. At all events, it is no commendation of the Welsh language if that is the kind of argument he uses.

He spoke of the facilitis of cold storage. Think of the idea of having an electric refrigerator in a one-room tenement in which such a big proportion of our people have to live to-day. I want to know something of the conditions of the people in the very poor districts whose living very often is casually made, and who never know what money they may have to spend from one day to the other. The idea of storing food in their homes is almost ridiculous when five, six or seven people live in one small room in the heat of the summer weather. My hon. Friend would seem to have studied the conditions in other countries better than he has studied the conditions in this country when he says that those people can quite conveniently buy their food during the week. It is almost impossible to do so in those districts, and it is a very big proportion of our population which is living in one or two room tenements to-day, to our shame be it said. I have spent some Sundays in shops in a very poor locality with friends in order to see the conditions of the people. I was struck, as I spent the whole day there, by the fact that although a friend of mine opened his shop for two or three hours in the morning, during the whole of the day there were knocks on his door and he was asked to provide people with food. When I found the same children coming twice and three times in the day for a pennyworth of bread, I said that I could not understand the position at all. He said, "You have not yet understood how the people in this district live. That child is the son of a widow who has many other children. My shop has to be that woman's pantry. Those people are always hungry, and if they get in a day's supply of food it would be eaten at the one meal."

Those are the conditions in some of those districts, and this sort of thing is within the knowledge of all those who live in the poorer districts. Therefore, to meet modern requirements, there must be some restrictions. Just as the hairdressers, particularly the small proprietor hairdressers, were very glad to assist in pushing forward the Sunday closing of hairdressers' shops, so the great mass of small shopkeepers, whose lives are so full with the petty details of their business that they can take no part in politics, will bless this Bill if it becomes an Act of Parliament, because it will give them some opportunity of freedom at least on one day or part of one day in the week, which they have not at the present time. I am much surprised that the Bill has not had a campaign in its support such as we had in regard to the Bill for Sunday opening of cinemas from those who profess to be anxious for the English Sunday.

In many districts because some shopkeepers keep open the rest, in order to get a living keep open also. I started life in a retail shop, after leaving school, but I very soon left that for another sphere. That was in the days before the Thursday closing of shops. I was at the shop from 8.30 in the morning until 9.30 at night, and until 11 o'clock on Friday. I worked very late on the Saturday night and caught the last train at a quarter to 12. At that time nearly all the shopkeepers were anxious to close earlier, but they used to go to the doors of their shops to see whether their competitors were closing before they would close. That is why I would like to see this Bill passed, and not because it will affect the co-operative movement. I know that the spirit in the co-operative movement would not tolerate the opening of shops on Sunday. Our co-operative shops usually close about two hours earlier than the ordinary shop. Some time ago a co-operative society took over a very big business of private enterprise, which was not doing well, and the immediate effect was that those employed in that business had their hours reduced from 56 to 48, although the other shops kept open. It meant also an immediate rise of 10 per cent. to the employés, in order to bring them up to our co-operative conditions.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton need not fear that this Bill will legalise and extend the opening of shops on Sunday. It will restrict the opening in the specially exempted businesses from 10 or 12 hours on Sunday to two hours. My principle in life has been that if I cannot do all the good that I would like I do all the good that I can. This Bill will do a tremendous amount of good for hundreds of thousands of small shopkeepers and employés, and certainly we shall do no harm to anyone by passing the Bill. I hope that it will be passed into law this Session, or that in some succeeding Session it will have the special support of the Government and be put on to the Statute Book.


I very much regret to take up the time of the House, but I can assure hon. Members that my remarks will be very limited. There is one point that I wish to bring to the notice of the House. I represent a constituency where a tremendous number of people gain their livelihood by street trading. If this Bill were carried into effect it would very seriously jeopardise their opportunity of getting their living under the present methods of working. I know, as most hon. Members know, that it is easy to adjust one's methods of living, but one does not in perspective realise all the possibilities of readjustment as well as one might. Under this Bill the street traders about Middlesex Street and Whitechapel generally will be up against great difficulty if the Bill becomes law. One point has been overlooked by those who have drafted the Bill, and that is that it may be very unfair to the small trader compared with the multiple shops.

With respect to Clause 9, it has been stated that as far as Jewish shopkeepers are concerned, they shall have the power to decide whether they will open on Saturday or Sunday. That alternative is not as reasonable and fair as it would appear. We have only to look at the jewellery shops opposite this House to realise how the law can be avoided, if one desires to do so, and one has sufficient capital to run more than one shop. There, we see that one jeweller's shop closes on the Thursday and the other on the Saturday, so that they are able to take advantage of both days. It is the decided opinion of the small traders in Whitechapel among the Jewish fraternity that this Bill is going to give an advantage to the multiple shopkeeper inasmuch as, having more than one shop, they can close one shop on the Saturday and another on the Sunday, whereas the one-man business is forced to decide on which day he will close. Therefore he is at a great disadvantage compared with his wealthier competitors. I wish to make that point clear, so that the Bill may be amended in Committee.

Question "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.