HC Deb 24 April 1936 vol 311 cc447-61

(1) Within the county of London any shop may be kept open on Sundays until two o'clock on Sunday afternoon on condition that the following provisions are complied with (that is to say):—

  1. (a), a notice shall previously be given to the local authority by or on behalf of the occupiers of the shop of their intention to keep the shop open on Sunday; and
  2. (b) if, after the said notice has been given, there is any change in the occupation of the shop or, in the case of a shop occupied by a company, any change in the directorship of the company, a further notice shall be given in accordance with the foregoing paragraph within fourteen days of the date when the change in the occupation of the shop or in the directorship as the case may be, occurred.

(2) Where such a notice as aforesaid is given to a local authority as respects any shop, then until the notice is revoked—

  1. (a neither that shop nor any other shop occupied by the occupiers of that shop shall be kept open on Saturday; and
  2. (b) there shall he kept conspicuously placed in the shop a notice stating that it is open on Sunday but not on Saturday.

(3) Any such notice as aforesaid may be revoked by a further notice in writing given to the local authority by or on behalf of the occupiers of the shop, but no such notice shall be revoked before the expiration of six months from the date when the notice was given, and where a notice has been revoked a new notice shall not be given under sub-section (1) of this section:

Provided that where the local authority are satisfied that there has been a change in the occupation of the shop they may, if they think fit, allow a notice to be revoked before the expiration of the said period of six months, or a new notice to be given in respect of the shop.

(4) Where the occupier of a shop is convicted of a contravention of any of the provisions of this section the court may direct, in addition to any other penalty provided for by this Act, that any notice under this section for the time being in force in respect of the shop shall cease to have effect, and the notice shall then be deemed to have been revoked in accordance with the provisions of this section.

(5) As respects any shop which is kept open on Sunday in accordance with the provisions of this section the Shop Acts, 1912 to 1934, shall have effect subject to the following modifications (that is to say):—

  1. (a) Sub-section (1) of section one and sub-section (1) of section four of the Shops Act, 1912, shall have effect as if for references therein to weekdays there were substituted reference.; to weekdays other than Saturdays; and
  2. (b) Sub-section (2) of the said section four shall have effect as if the word "Friday" were substituted for the word "Saturday" wherever the last-mentioned word occurs.—[Mr. R. C. Morrison.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.6 a.m.


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

When the Bill received its Second Reading it was carried by an overwhelming majority, only a few Members voting against it. Like a good many other Bills, when the Committee got to grips with the details they found that matters which had appeared comparatively simple became more complex. I think the promoters of the Bill and the representatives of the Home Office will agree with me that there has never been a Bill in Committee in regard to which, as in this case, the whole of the Members forgot any question of party allegiance and wholeheartedly endeavoured to improve the Measure. There were, of course, criticisms, but they were constructive, and there was not one hon. Member who endeavoured to spoil the Bill.

On Second Reading the Bill proposed to deal with the evil of the opening of shops on Sundays, the House realising that the evil was growing and that if it were not dealt with now it would be more difficult to deal with it as the years went on. It was proposed to deal with the evil by closing all shops on Sundays, with certain exceptions. But it was found necessary to make exemptions. Those exemptions were made in order to try and meet the position of people holding religious views which prevented them from doing business on the Saturday. To meet that position it was provided that people with conscientious religious objections to trading on Saturday should, in return for closing their businesses on Saturday, be permitted to open their shops on Sunday until 2 p.m. That was the proposal in the Bill when it went to Committee. The people who have religious objections to doing business on Saturday, we found, are Jews and Seventh Day Adventists. The Committee found, however, that in order to enforce the provision to meet these religious scruples difficulties would arise, because the Bill would stop Sunday trading for everybody except orthodox Jews.

This raised the question of the Jewish shopkeeper versus the Gentile shopkeeper. The position was further complicated by the fact that the Jewish traders are divided into two sections, the orthodox and the non-orthodox Jews. It was realised that in certain parts of London Gentile traders not being able to make a conscientious declaration of their religious objection to trading on Saturday would be unable to trade on Sunday in areas where they had so traded for a very long time. In these circumstances there would be a handicap put upon certain Gentile shopkeepers. Some of us saw that the Bill would create many other difficulties. In our discussions in Committee we were almost entirely confined to what would happen in London, but since then it has been realised that this is not entirely a London problem. We hear now of Sunday markets going on in Newcastle for 200 years and of Sunday markets in Manchester and other industrial centres. These complications suggested to some of us that we might endeavour to alter the Bill considerably by deleting the reference to persons holding certain religious opinions and merely laying down the simple proposition that if a person is prepared, irrespective of any religious belief, to sacrifice the whole of the Saturday trading, that person ought to be allowed to open on Sunday up to two o'clock.

I need not go into the question of the difficulties that may arise in certain localities as the result of the operation of the Bill. I put forward our simple proposition in Committee, but objections were taken to it. The first objection was that it would wreck the Bill. The promoters of the Bill knew perfectly well that there was no one in the Committee who wished to wreck the Bill, and no proof was put forward that we desired to wreck it. However, that argument carried certain weight with Members of the Committee. A further objection was the argument put forward by the representative of the Home Office, which is always a convincing argument, that the proposed Amendment would raise administrative difficulties. As a result of these objections my friends and I withdrew our Amendment, and we bring it forward to-day because circumstances have altered considerably.

Although our Amendment was withdrawn because the feeling of the Committee was against it, it became evident that there was a real difficulty confronting us, and the hon. Baronet the Member for Bethnal Green, South-West (Sir P. Harris) produced a Clause with the object of dealing with certain special areas, a kind of contracting-out Clause, so that the London County Council and the Common Council of the City of London might be able to meet the position that would arise in certain districts of London where the majority of shopkeepers open on Sunday, and where, if the Bill became law, the effect would be to close all the English shops on Sunday and leave the Jewish shops open. Realising the impossible position the hon. Baronet produced a proposal which is now Clause 6 of the Bill, enabling the London County Council, in conjunction with the Common Council of the City of London, to make special provisions for certain parts of London where these markets are situated. Very little mention was made of other parts of the country where similar circumstances obtain; the proposal merely segregated certain London districts and said that in these particular districts, irrespective of any religious opinions, people might open their shops on Sundays. The proposal may ease the position so far as London is concerned, but it will not solve the problem in the country. Indeed, I think it has made it more complicated, and that is the reason why I am bringing forward my proposal this morning. I have a letter here from one trade organisation which says: The Bill has emerged from the Committee stage extremely ambiguous. I think it is rather unfortunate that the Report stage and Third Reading should follow so quickly on the Committee stage. My difficulty is that while I want the Bill to become law, I do not want it to be passed hastily, and for us to have to regret any provisions it may contain. The new Clause proposes to do away with the exemptions provided for Jewish traders and to permit any trader, whatever his religious belief, to open on Sunday provided his premises are closed on Saturday. I am trying to extricate the promoters from the tangle which will arise from the Bill in its present form, and from any difficulties which may arise between Jews and Gentiles, by saying that if a man is prepared to sacrifice his Saturday trade, which is usually the best day in the week, he may be permitted to open on Sunday. The London Council of the Grocers' Association and the London and Metropolitan Associations of the Grocery, Provision and Allied Trades support the proposal, largely because under the Bill, as it is drawn, there will be no diminution of Sunday trading in certain districts of London but there will be a diminution of Sunday trading in other parts, and shopkeepers in those districts where they have been allowed to open on Sundays but who will now have to close, are considerably alarmed by the possibility that there will be a tendency on the part of the population of the districts where the shops will now be closed to concentrate in those areas where Sunday trading will be going on in full swing.

At certain periods of the year it is customary for big West End firms to advertise bargain sales, which attract large numbers of women, and if the Bill passes in its present form the effect may be that in certain districts in London where the shops in the surrounding districts are closed by the Bill, those shops which will be allowed to be open will advertise sales and bargains and, consequently, there will be a tremendous exodus from other parts of London to those particular areas. Realising this, these shopkeepers protest strongly, and they have some considerable doubt as to whether it would not be better for the House to reject the Bill altogether rather than pass it in its present form. In the event of the new Clause receiving a Second Reading it will be necessary to delete Clauses 5 and 6 which deal with the question of the Jewish traders and make special provisions for London.

11.21 a.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

This proposal is made necessary by an Amendment which was accepted in Committee. Anyone who compares the pro- visions of the Bill when it received its Second Reading with the provisions it now contains will realise that the principle of the Measure has been changed. On Second Reading the promoters were desirous of restricting Sunday trading, at the same time allowing those whose religious principles prevented them from trading on Saturday to open on Sunday. Owing to the difficulties which the promoters have had to face in regard to established markets, that principle has been surrendered. Where these markets are in existence the Bill now indicates that irrespective of religious views, Jew or non-Jew, the mere incident of having a business in these established markets will entitle the owner of that business to trade on Sunday morning. In that ease it is obvious, the principle having been changed, that we ought to do for the whole trading public what we are proposing to do for this particular section of the trading public. On the borders of these markets we shall have a Jew who because of his faith can open on Sunday, and next door a non-Jew who because he has not been able to make the declaration will be unable to take advantage of the situation.

My view is that the Clause which was accepted by the Committee and which detroys that principle ought not to have been accepted. It makes it necessary for us to regard the position from the standpoint of these business people, the interests of the general public and also from the standpoint of the question of the secularisation, of Sunday. I have been alarmed from my inquiries by the extension of trading on Sunday morning. It began with the things which were necessary, such as foodstuffs, but in my own division there is now a furniture shop which is open on Sunday mornings. Indeed, walking along one of the most respectable roads in the district in which I live, I saw a notice in an oilman's shop: Customers can be served on Sunday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. by applying at the side door. I am glad this Bill will prevent that sort of thing. I am certain that if people are compelled to surrender the whole of the Saturday trade, that will be sufficient to deter them from opening on Sunday morning. For those reasons I beg to second the Motion.

11.26 a.m.


This is a Private Member's Bill and all are entitled to express their own views. Consequently, the hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded the Motion will not mind if on one occasion I cross swords with them. This proposed new Clause would confer a privilege upon London under the law, and the first question that has to be decided is why this privilege should be conferred. Quite frankly, the colossal conceit of the Londoner offends my provincial susceptibilities, and I would like to say that London is not England and certainly not Wales.

Let me deal with the weakness of this proposed new Clause. The fact is that the hon. Gentleman is using a steam hammer to crack a nut. The problems connected with this Bill are not as big as he would like to have us believe they are. This Bill is designed primarily to meet the demands of the vast majority of the shopkeeping community in this country that they should not be called upon to work every day in the year. The only reason shops are opened on Sunday is that some members of the Jewish community open their shops on that day and in self-defence the Gentile shopkeepers open theirs as well. That is quite simple, and this Bill is therefore designed primarily to give the Jewish shopkeeper the right to declare on religious grounds that he will close all day on Saturday provided he may open until 2 o'clock on Sunday. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that if this new Clause is carried it will not only destroy the main provisions of the Bill, but will destroy the demand of 99 per cent. of the shopkeeping community and, in particuar, the shop assistants, whom I have the honour to represent in this House.

The hon. Gentleman is himself a leading co-operator. I happen to be an official of the Co-operative Employés Union. What would happen under this Clause is that any co-operative society shop would be able to open on Sunday and, without being a Sabbatarian at all, I wish to tell the hon. Gentleman frankly that all the co-operative society employés of this country and all the shopkeepers want their day's rest in the week not on Friday and not on Saturday. If they are going to have it at all, they want it on Sunday. I will go further and say that I find, to my great surprise and admiration, that all the Labour organisations I know of abroad—in France, in Belgium, in the Scandinavian countries—admire what they call the English week-end. I am determined to do all I can in my small way to see that this English weekend, this day and a half holiday every week, shall be upheld in this country and in the case of the shopkeeping community too. The hon. Gentleman must remember that there are about 3,500,000 people in this country who gain their living from shopkeeping. They are the largest section of the community so far as wages and income are concerned.

Let me say one further word before I sit down. The hon. Gentleman quoted somebody as saying that this Bill was ambiguous. Every Bill is ambiguous if one does not like it. I myself have used the same argument against a Bill, because I did not like its provisions. The hon. Gentleman also referred to Sunday markets in Manchester, but I have yet to learn that there is a. Sunday market in Manchester. Although I live there, I have never heard of one; there are Jewish shops which are open on Sunday, but I have never heard of a Sunday market. This problem to which the hon. Gentleman refers is a London problem. I would like, in conclusion, to ask the House to reject this proposed new Clause on the simple proposition that four-fifths of the people of this country live outside London, and that London shall not determine by law how we shall live in the provinces.

11.32 a.m.


I second very strongly the appeal made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) not to accept this proposed new Clause. May I point out that Clause 5 was debated for three and a-half days in Committee and was finally carried by 27 votes to one. My hon. Friend who seconded the Motion, suggested that the principle of the Bill had been changed because the new Clause 6, by allowing old-established markets in London to continue, broke into the religious question. But my hon. Friend must realise that in Schedule 1 there is any amount of exemptions which have no religious basis at all. I therefore submit that that argument must fall to the ground.

In moving the new Clause, my hon. Friend also suggested that the new Clause 6, by allowing old-established markets to open, would have the effect that in those areas sales would be advertised and everybody would flock there on Sundays in increasing numbers. I would, however, point out that Clause 6 only allows old-established street markets to continue in those areas where they already exist under the strict control of the London County Council, which has power to stop them. I, therefore, submit that that argument cannot be maintained. There is a further point. Every Committee which has investigated the question of Sunday trading has recognised the religious difficulty, and has recognised that in the case of conscientious believers in the Jewish Sabbath, whether Orthodox or Seventh Day Adventists, some allowance must be made, and I would like to quote the words which I quoted in the Committee from a letter of the Religious Liberty Association: If Parliament rejects the pleas of conscience in this case a precedent will have been set of which advantage will assuredly be taken when larger issues involving conscientious convictions arise in days to come." —[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee B), 24th March, 1936; col. 135.] I submit this final argument to the House. If this proposed new Clause is accepted, with the consequential Amendment abolishing Clause 5, what will be the result? In London anyone could open his shop on Sunday in preference to Saturday. Anyone who closes his shop on Saturday could open it on Sunday. But outside London the whole theory of making concessions to the conscientious objector would be abolished. Outside London, any orthodox Jew or any Seventh Day Adventist would be allowed to open his shop on Sunday. I suggest that that would be going against all the traditions of this House and the essential fundamental traditions of our country. I suggest that in order to make this concession to London we should be allowing an immense extension of Sunday trading in London, while preventing any concession being made to people who have strong religious feelings, anywhere in Great Britain outside London.

11.36 a.m.


At the Home Office we agree with the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) and the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) in opposing this proposed new Clause. I think the hon. Member for Westhoughton performed a service in putting this matter in the proper perspective. He pointed out that this was, relatively, a minor matter and that we ought not to elevate it beyond its due importance. If I may add a footnote to what he said, I would point out that the House, in giving the Bill a Second Reading, desired, in general, to restrict Sunday trading. But it was realised in that Debate, and was abundantly realised later in Committee, that certain particular difficulties had to be met in applying the general principle. Those difficulties related chiefly to the position of Jews and other people who conscientiously observed a different Sabbath from that which the majority of people in this country observed, and also the position of certain old-established markets in London.

The Committee, after a great deal of work, evolved a method, and, as I believe, a practical method, of dealing with those difficulties. The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) has now come forward with an alternative method, and to that extent I appreciate his motives in submitting the new Clause. But his alternative method involves an invasion of the principles of the Bill, and that is our main reason for objecting to it and for believing that his method is not so good as the method accepted by the Committee. In giving the Bill a Second Reading the House approved of the principle of a Sunday Trading Restriction Bill and not of a Bill to have one day's rest in seven. The effect of the new Clause would be to approve not the former but the latter principle. It would enable anybody, in London at any rate, who wished to do so, to open on Sunday instead of Saturday, whereas the general principle upon which we have been working hitherto is that there should be closing on Sunday with what may be called certain reliefs for those who conscientiously hold unusual beliefs. Therefore, the view at the Home Office is that it would be advisable to maintain the general system of compensation and reliefs which has been worked out in Committee, and that this new Clause would not be a good way of dealing with the difficulties.

11.39 a.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir ARNOLD WILSON

The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), I think, unintentionally, but gravely, misrepresented the facts to the House when he said that every committee which had examined this question had reached the conclusion that some concession must be made to religious convictions in dealing with the hours of trading on of Sunday. The only committee in the last 30 years which has examined the subject faster than any other and this country is was the Select Committee of 1912, which reached the unanimous conclusion that no concession should be made or could be made to so-called religious scruples in dealing with a commercial matter such as the opening of a shop for trade and profit on Sunday. That was the unanimous report of a very strong Select Committee. No committee since has discussed the subject directly or indirectly. There has been one approach to it in the Hairdressers Act, 1930, which gave Jews the right to open on Sunday if they closed on Saturday. Before that Act was passed, the number of hairdressers' shops open for trade on Sunday in one part of London was 20. Within 12 months after the passing of the Act, the number was 130 or 140. All those other hairdressers had signed documents and declared that they had religious objections to opening on Saturday and wished to open on Sunday instead. They did so because it paid them and for no other reason.

The sort of difficulties into which we shall get under this Measure—and I support the New Clause, primarily, because it would involve the deletion of Clauses 5 and 6 of the Bill—were well exemplified in the language of the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the New Clause. He spoke of the difficulties of "Gentile" shopkeepers. Since when have British people been referred to in discussions in this House as "Gentiles"? At later stage the hon. Member used the expression "Jewish versus English." That is treading upon exceedingly dangerous ground. I regret that any Bill introduced into this House should have led us to discuss the relative merits of Jews versus English. According to the law of this country either we are British subjects or we are not. Any attempt to establish by Statute what constitutes a conscientious Jew and then to segregate conscientious Jews, by means of declara- tions or undertakings to local authorities, is bound to create dangerous feelings.

The Jewish community in this country is growing faster than any other. This country is one of the few remaining strongholds of liberty in Europe. But if Clause 5 of the Bill be passed it will, I fear, become once more like other countries in Europe, the battle-ground contending religious beliefs. As I say, the Jewish community here is increasing than any other and this country is their stronghold, and I welcome and am proud of the fact that we give that community the fullest possible liberty. But when we receive circulars from Jews in Manchester demanding the right, as a matter of conscience, to keep shops open until any time of the day, because they are Jews, we must reflect that those people cannot realise the damage they are doing to their own community.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) asked why this Clause to London only. The answer is because nine Jews out of 10 live in London, and the only serious competition likely to arise among retailers—and I believe 75 per cent. of the Jewish community live on retail business—will arise in London. It is in London that the difficulty and danger will occur. The passing of this New Clause would also involve the aboliton of Clause 6, which allows certain areas, subject to the concurrence of the London County Council, to contract out. I dislike that Clause very much. I believe it will have the very worst effects. We shall find extra traffic by omnibus and other means coming to these areas, which include areas scheduled for town planning and rebuilding. Those are slum areas and Clause 6 will create a fresh, permanent, vested interest in the retention of street markets and Sunday trading in particular areas which the London County Council propose, in the next 10 years, to re-design completely. We shall find that it will be far less easy for the London County Council to carry out that work if they have placed upon their shoulders the difficulties which Clause 6 will entail. They will find themselves unable, owing to popular opinion, to re-design that part of London as they would wish because it has become a great Sunday-trading centre.

I do not profess to be particularly enamoured of this proposed new Clause, but it has this great merit, that it does not raise the religious question in the form in which it is raised by the Bill. It is true that there is one precedent for a distinction by Statute between the rights of the Jews and those of the rest of the community in matters of commerce, and that is in the Factory Act of 1871, which authorises Jews to open their factories on Sundays in certain circumstances, but under the strict condition that they may be open for production and that they may not be open for sale or public business of any sort or kind. That Section is of so little value to the Jewish community that, according to figures which I quoted in the Committee, only one factory employing Jews only is working under it throughout the whole of England and Wales.

I am assured by many Jews that they do not like this Clause and that they would far prefer to do in England as the English do, to do in Rome as the Romans do. After all, the Fourth Commandment, on which this Bill is based, requires that we shall do no manner of work on the Sabbath, neither our manservant, nor our maidservant, nor our cattle, nor our stranger that is within our gates. If the Jews insist on regarding themselves—and I know they do not —as strangers within our gates, let them be bound by the same conventions as the rest of this country. We cannot possibly contemplate a breach of the weekly rest day. I admit, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, that this Bill is intended to stop Sunday trading and not to give us a weekly rest day, but our weekly rest day has been for many hundred years Sunday. This Bill does not purport to abrogate or to weaken the statutory force of the Sabbath Day Observance Act, 1677, but any Clause which enables a Jew in any part of London to open a shop for any purpose provided he closes on Saturday is bound to create a disequilibrium in any street or commercial centre where it operates.

Little as I dike this proposed new Clause from many points of view, I believe it to be a far better thing than Clauses 5 and 6 as they now stand, but particularly Clause 5. I may have more to say on that Clause when we come to it, but meanwhile I can only urge the House not to reject this Clause out of hand because the promoters and the Home Office dislike it, but to realise that we are at this moment dealing with a matter of principle which will, as I believe, have a profound effect upon politics in this country in future years. I dislike having to discuss this question in the House of Commons, and I wish it had never been raised, but it having been raised, I am bound to remind the House that there has been a growth of anti-Semitism very recently in most countries of Europe, and there are indications, though it has not taken root, that the evil seed has been sown in this country. There is only one trade in which the Jews are in serious competition with their comrades in this country, and that is retail trade. I should be very sorry indeed if any enactment passed by this House should have the effect of exacerbating a situation which is at present dormant, but which might at any time become acute.

11.50 a.m.


This proposed new Clause deals with London, and so far no London Member has spoken upon it. While as a London representative I am truly grateful to the hon. Members for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) and South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) and the hon. and gallant Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) for their desire for London interests, I am bound to point out that neither of those Members represents a London constituency. I rise, not to argue the merits or demerits of the proposed new Clause, but to advise my London friends that it is in London's interest that we should oppose this Clause and stand by Clause 6 as it appears in the Bill.

11.51 a.m.


I strongly endorse what has been said by the hon. Member for South-East Southwark (Mr. Naylor), and I oppose this proposed new Clause because it cuts at the very root of the Bill. In my speech on the Second Reading of the Bill, I pointed out that in my own constituency of North Islington I called on several hundreds of tradesmen who opened on Sundays, and the only reason that I got from any one of them was that somebody else did so also. May I point out to hon. Members that there are many areas in all the boroughs in London in which there are no Jews, and that this particular Clause would give others a chance of opening on Sunday outside of those who open on Sunday and close on Saturday for conscientious reasons?

Further than that, as I read the Clause, it is quite possible, as Sunday trading has some advantages, that tradesmen in the same line of business may get together and, in order to get some of the Sunday business, come to an arrangement whereby one would close on Saturday in order to get the Sunday business. In fact, I can see nothing in this Clause to restrict Sunday trading, but I think it would act rather as an encouragement of its extension. I therefore urge hon. Members to oppose the Clause, if indeed it goes to a Division, but I would rather ask the Mover and Seconder of it to withdraw the Clause than that it should be allowed to go to a Division. I believe that if it should become part of the Bill, it would encourage and extend Sunday trading rather than restrict it.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.