§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Mr. LOFTUS
I beg to move, in page 13, line 18, at the end, to insert:by any person who has entered into a contract with an insurance committee under the National Health Insurance Act, 1924, for the supply of drugs and appliances.This Amendment, which I move in the absence of those hon. Members whose names are attached to it on the Order Paper, is consequential on the Amendment which was passed this day week, and is, indeed, a restrictive Amendment.
§ Mr. DUNCAN
I beg to second the Amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
2086 Further Amendments made: In page 13, line 20, after "vegetables," insert "(including mushrooms)."—[Mr. Loftus.]
§ SECOND SCHEDULE.—(Trades and Businesses in respect of which a Partial Exemption Order may be made.)
§ Amendments made:
§ In page 14, line 4, after the first "bread," insert "and flour confectionery."—[Mr. Banfield.]
§ In line 5, at the end, insert "(including shell-fish)."—[Mr. Loftus.]
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. LOFTUS
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
In moving the Third Reading, may I first express my thanks and obligations to the Chairman of the Committee, to you, Sir, and, indeed, to all the Members of the Committee and of the House generally, who have shown such patience —such almost incredible patience—during the many weeks that the Bill has been under discussion. In particular, I would like to express my obligations to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, who has had, as we all know, a large volume of other work, and to whom the extra work entailed by this 2087 Bill must have meant an added strain. I should like also to express my obligations to the officials and to the Parliamentary draftsman. Members of all parties in the House have co-operated in and supported the Bill, and I would specially express my indebtedness to the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) and to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie). We have not on all occasions seen eye to eye, but they have been keen and enthusiastic supporters of the Bill, and their help has been invaluable.
The long journey is almost ended, and I confess that, had I known of the difficulties and dangers that it would involve, I might have hesitated before introducing the Bill. Looking back on the many difficulties that have had to be faced, I feel that possibly it was almost too big a task for a private Member to undertake, and I feel that I could only have carried it to this stage through the kindness and co-operation of the Members of the Committee. May I point out that the Second Reading of the Bill was agreed to in the House by 191 votes to 8, and on the Third Reading I suggest that the House should consider for a moment whether any alteration has been made in the principle or in the important details of the Bill which has so modified it as to justify a reversal of the very emphatic and overwhelming decision which was given on the Second Reading. I submit that, while there have been alterations, they have not been of great importance, and have not affected the principle of the Bill.
The only big important alteration which could be said to affect the principle is the addition of Clause 6. That Clause, which was added in Committee, gave power to the City of London and the London County Council to exempt within their boundaries any already established Sunday market. That exemption was given for one reason only. It was felt that if in these old markets, where you often have half Jewish and half non-Jewish traders, you suddenly allowed the Jewish traders to continue and stopped the non-Jewish traders, there would inevitably be racial feeling, and there might he real racial trouble. It was to obviate that, that the gap in the principle of the Bill was made, and that we give 2088 the County Council power to authorise, under safeguards, the continuance of those markets. An improvement was also made in Committee by giving the conscientious believers in the Sabbath being kept on Saturday, such as the Seventh Day Adventists, the same advantages as are given to the orthodox Jewish community. We have had to steer between two dangers. The first was making the restrictions so severe that the administration would have caused resentment, and the other was making the exemptions so wide as to destroy the utility of the Bill. I submit that, on the whole, we have steered a middle course between those two dangers.
On the Second Reading I said I would try to be guided by three principles. The first was to flame the exemptions in such a way as not unduly to interfere with the habits of our people, above all not unduly to interfere with the habit they have acquired in recent years of going out on summer afternoons, all classes and conditions of our people, and enjoying the amenities of the country. The second was that we must recognize that the poor, especially the very poor, have not the same facilities as the better off, and we must not do anything to interfere with those facilities. The third was to be careful about interfering with old-established habits and customs. I believe that those principles have been carried out, and that it is a much better and a much more practicable Bill than when it passed the Second Reading. It is supported by hundreds of thousands of people. There are shopkeepers' associations—one alone has over 40,000 members, and in all there are well over 100,000—urgently demanding that the House should pass the Bill. There are trade unions connected with the retail trade unanimously in support of the Bill. There are hundreds of thousands of voices asking the House to pass it because they realise that the increased opening of every kind of shop is an increasing evil which more and more prevents shopkeepers and assistants from enjoying the recreations which are so necessary for mental and bodily health. I feel that the Bill, while in many ways it does not go as far as some would wish, and goes too far in the opinion of others, is a fair and just medium, and that it will give real liberty to tens of thousands of people. If, by any chance, it were to 2089 fail, I cannot see anything being done in the future. I cannot see any Government finding the time or having the appetite to go through all the difficulties that we have had to face. I cannot see any private Member courageous enough again to undertake the task. I beg the House to give the Bill the Third Reading.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. LESLIE
I beg to second the Motion.
I have explained more than once that there is at present no legal limitation of the hours of shop assistants above 18 years of age and, so far as Sunday trading is concerned, the large majority of assistants are women, and this will certainly mean relief to thousands of women who at present have to work seven days a week. That is a reason why I have backed it. The only unfortunate thing is that in the Committee we had to find accommodation for so many that the Bill is not all what I should like, but nevertheless it will bring relief to thousands of assistants.
§ 2.53 p.m.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
I should like to congratulate the parent of the Bill on his skill, tact and good sense in guiding it through. If he had not shown some willingness to meet criticism and make concessions, I do not believe that it would have had a chance of getting on the Statute Book. I have largely been met. I do not say that the concessions made have been as generous or as full as I should have desired, but I recognise that on Clause 5, which is a comprehensive Clause, some of my difficulties have been met. It would be a mistake for the country and the House to think that this is a Sunday Closing Bill. Many people have that impression, not only inside but outside the House. It is very short of that. After it has passed into Law, trams and omnibuses will be running, tobacconists and refreshment shops and licensed premises will be open, and there are many exceptions to the ordinary trades and businesses. That is inevitable. The hon. Member was careful to exempt, for some months in the year at any rate, part of his own constituency. In the seaside towns during summer time shops will be open on Sunday morning if the shopkeepers want it. The interesting 2090 thing is that the parent of the Bill was rightly careful to safeguard the interests of his constituency.
§ Mr. LOFTUS
I want to make it clear that I did not need merely to introduce or to support that in consideration of my constituency, because as far as I am aware no shops in my constituency, except those mentioned in the First Schedule, are open on Sunday or wish to open.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
That may be so, and in making that reasonable concession the hon. Gentleman acted wisely, because there is such a variety of businesses and circumstances that we should have had hardship, friction and difficulty. The great case in favour of the Bill is that it is a logical Bill. It attempts in its final form, after we have spent many days on it, to adapt its provisions to the varieties of conditions throughout the country, and for that I am deeply grateful. In London, circumstances are very different from what they are in the country, and if the hon. Gentleman had not been prepared to support Clause 5 as it is now in the Bill, I should reluctantly have been compelled to do as I did on the Second Reading and vote against the Bill on the Third Reading. I believe that with the introduction of local option and the powers and provisions provided to consult the requirements of the district, much of that difficulty has been removed.
I have special care for the interests of the traders. If this Bill had gone through in its original form, it would have spelt ruin to a great number of small people struggling to make a living in difficult circumstances. Their very existence depends upon old-fashioned Sunday morning street markets. In its final form, the Bill largely protects their interests. The local authority concerned will have to consider all conditions, and although I should have liked the appropriate Clause to have been stronger, my criticism in that respect has been largely met.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman referred to the danger of causing trouble between Jewish traders and non-Jewish traders. Clause 5 rightly provided that Sunday trading should be allowed to Jewish street traders and business people, but if some concession had not 2091 been made to the non-Jewish trader, there would have been bitterness and bad blood, and for the first time in London something very near to racial riots. This shows the advantages of the careful consideration of a Bill of this kind in Committee, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill was able to meet that point of view. I would remind the critics of that part of the Bill which makes concessions to these interests, that we have now established for all concerned one day's rest in seven, and that is a great step forward. If this Bill did nothing else—it certainly did not do it in its original form—we should have done good service in establishing that principle in the interests of all the people who have to struggle and work hard for a living in the important industry of shop-keeping.
§ 2.59 p.m.
§ Mr. ORR-EWING
I must congratulate the hon. Member who has been responsible for the work on this Bill and for bringing it through its dangerous stages, but in doing that I should like to make my position clear to the House. I believe that this is the most obnoxious form of legislation we can possibly have. I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) seemed to deplore the fact that. more rigid regulations were not included in the Bill.
§ Mr. ORR-EWING
He threw a sop to the hon. Member because certain local conditions have been recognised, and he expressed some pleasure that the seaside resorts had been put, in certain circumstances, in a different category from those places which were not seaside resorts, but he deplored the fact that the Bill did riot compel trams to stop running.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
On the contrary, I reminded the House that it did nothing of the kind, and that for that reason it was a good Bill, and that there was elasticity.
§ Mr. ORR-EWING
I am very glad to have any misunderstanding as to what the hon. Member had said removed. I do not wish to misrepresent him. I 2092 thought that I detected a note of regret that further steps had riot been taken under the Bill to deal with all the difficulties that arise on a Sunday. I consider that the Bill in many ways is contrary to the very best and highest traditions of legislation in this country. It is true that Sunday trading has been expanding, and it might be argued that that expansion has been brought about by the growth of public demand. He would be a brave man who would be able to differentiate and to analyse the situation as we find it to-day, and be able to say whether that public demand has necessitated the opening of certain forms of trading establishments, or whether the fact that those trading establishments have been opened has created the public demand.
If we wish to stop Sunday trading and to maintain the British Sunday—and I believe that that is w oat we all in our heart of hearts want to do—we had best bring that desirable result about by concentrating upon educating public opinion. It is not entirely for us as politicians to take the necessary steps to educate that opinion. I submit that public opinion in that regard, and for the use to which the day of Sunday can be put, and the uses to which the day of Sunday cannot or should not be put, rests very largely upon the churches, the chapels and the pulpits which exist in this country. Very far from desiring to make Sunday the type of day in which I was brought up North of the Border—[An HON. MEMBER: "Shame !"] The hon. Member says "Shame." Let me depict to him the sort of atmosphere which existed when I was taken to visit my grandparents, when the local livestock which lived in the house was put under green baize covers, and no form of literature was allowed to be seen lying about the house if it had the least taint of being a novel or could be considered to be of an amusing character, and the only books which were allowed to appear had to be of a highly religious nature. I would not for one moment attempt to impose a Sunday of that sort upon the British people either North or South of the Border, yet I believe that it is to our interest as a people to maintain a Sunday which is not only a day of rest from organised labour within factories and in other centres of occupation, but a day 2093 essentially different from any other day in the week. But that difference must be introduced rather from the pulpit than from the Floor of this House.
§ Mr. R. C. MORRISON
On a point of Order. Can you inform us, Mr. Speaker, whether the speech which the hon. Member is delivering has anything to do with the Third Reading of this Bill?
§ Mr. ORR-EWING
I apologise for having wandered from the rigid path of order. I had no intention to embarrass the passage of the Bill in any way, and I am on my feet, not in an attempt to talk the Bill out, but because I felt it to be my duty to speak. I have attempted to keep within the bounds of Order, but I must admit that my knowledge on these questions is limited by the small amount of time that I have had the honour to be a member of the House.
In conclusion, may I say that I recognise that the Amendments that have been made, sometimes with the help of, and sometimes in despite of, the argument of the hon. Member who is responsible for the handling of the Bill—Amendments that meet the requirements of such a town as Weston-super-Mare and such a place as the Cheddar Gorge, both of which places are the centres, focal points and magnets of public attention in my constituency—have made the situation easier for me. The Amendments that have been made meet some of the difficulties that might have arisen in those places if the Bill had been passed in its original form. Therefore many of the objections, in a mechanical sense, which I had to the Bill, has been removed, and I feel it to be my duty to support the Third Reading. In doing so, however, I do not for one moment imagine that we are taking any steps to improve the actual British Sunday. I believe that that improvement cannot be brought about by such legislation as this, even amended as it is. I believe that that improvement can only be brought about by an intensive campaign to persuade the people of this country that a true Sunday is something which is very valuable and something worth preserving.
§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I am afraid that, with the best will in the world, I cannot share 2094 the enthusiasm which the promoter of the Bill feels for it. Whether I shall oppose: the Third Reading or not will depend upon the course of the Debate, but I must make one or two observations on the nature of the Bill. I did not get much opportunity in the Second Reading debate. Therefore, I hope that I may, without infringing the Rules of Order, comment briefly on one or two of its principles. I do not think that this House is ever at its best when it is dealing with the question of sabbatarian observance. There is such a conflict of interest in this matter that we reach what I may call the high-water mark of inconsistency and even hypocrisy. The Debates which have taken place on this Measure justify that remark. But whatever else we may differ about on the Bill we shall all agree that there ought to be one day's rest in the week for every worker, in addition to the usual half-day. The point at issue is which day that particular day ought to be. We must face the fact, as the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) has said, that we have moved a long way indeed from the old conception of a gloomy Sunday, when it was almost a crime to laugh, and a day when no kind of pleasure was looked upon as fit and proper.
That day has gone for good, and those who were brought up in that atmosphere, and I am one, rejoice that it has gone. It is a good thing that in this country games of all sorts can be played—golf, cricket and football—in our public parks on Sunday. There are swiming pools open and charabanc outings for the working classes. The roads are full of the motor cars of the rich and poor—at any rate of the rich. All these enjoyments are going on, and we must face the fact that they will continue to go on. The tendency of the times is for Sunday to be looked upon more and more as a day of pleasure and recreation. What does that logically involve? With all these pleasures going on, whether we like it or not, it means that a. large number of people are compelled to work on Sunday in order to provide for the amenities and pleasure of those who make Sunday a day of rest and enjoyment.
The logical way of facing the situation is not the way proposed in the Bill, by trying to restrict and curb the amenities now being enjoyed. If this House were 2095 a logical assembly—it is not—it would say that as these people must inevitably work on Sunday, they must have an alternative week-end, and it would decree that there should be an alternative day to Sunday recognised as the alternative day. For instance, Thursday might easily be the alternative to Sunday, and Wednesday afternoon the half-day closing. Then throughout the country you would have the week-end of Saturday afternoon and Sunday, and for those people who were bound to work on Sunday you would have a week-end of Wednesday afternoon and Thursday. If that were generally adopted, the objections now raised to giving an alternative day to Sunday would disappear. If a large number of people went away on a given day, the necessary recreations and amenities would develop in order to meet their needs. That, really, is the logical alternative to the position with which we are confronted to-day.
I do not know what is the Home Office view on this Measure. We have had some rather ambiguous statements from the Home Office, and. I do not know whether they are prepared to bless or damn the Bill. One of the conditions for approval which the Under-Secretary laid down when he was considering this Bill was that no vexatious restrictions were imposed on the legitimate demands of the public. He laid that down as an essential condition if the Home Office were to approve the Bill. I think hon. Members have only to consider the provisions of the Bill as it exists to-day, after having gone through Committee and Report, to realise that it does contain a very considerable number of vexatious restrictions. Therefore, I find some difficulty in conceiving that the Home Office is going to support the Measure.
I want now to draw the attention of the House to the strange combination of interests which is supporting this Measure. I might almost describe it as an unholy alliance. It is worth while considering who these interests are. This restriction of Sunday trading is supported by the brewers; it is supported by big business, by the multiple shop combines in particular; it is supported by the Co-operative Societies; it is supported by the trade unions; and last, but by no means least, it is supported by the Sabbatarians. For some of these 2096 interests and their motives I have a great deal of respect. I have a great deal of respect for the interests of the trade unions and their motives; but I have no respect for the motives of the brewers. This brings me to a point, which I think is pertinent. The promoter of the Bill said in his Second Reading speech that he wanted:to secure the family life and liberty of hundreds of thousands our people.That is a very fine sentiment. He went on to say:I feel for the liberty of these shopkeepers. They have the right to a holiday on Sunday, to be able to rest from work on that day and to go out into the parks or into the country on a summer day."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1936; col. 2157–8, Vol. 308.]I was very interested to hear a Conservative Member proclaim such admirable sentiments, and I felt I would like to know more about the Conservative Member who was expressing feelings which met with so much approval from myself. I turned up the very useful House of Commons Guide published by the "Times" newspaper and read some interesting details about the hon Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus). This guide tells me that he has taken a very commendable and active part in the public life of the district; but it goes on to sayHe is a chairman of brewery and hotel companies.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I would hasten to say that that is not any reflection at all upon the hon. Member. It is to his credit if he is a successful man of business, but I would point out to him and to the House that when he stirs our sympathies with pleas for the poor shop workers, we cannot help thinking in a usual way that the barmaids and barmen have to work on Sunday, and we wonder whether his sympathies, which art so keen for the shopkeepers, are equally keen for these workers in the hotels and other places which are connected with the brewery companies. Indeed, cynicism goes to great length in this House. I have heard cynical people suggesting that the more you close other trading establishments on Sundays the better it might be for those hotels and public houses which are open for business on that day! I do not propose to waste much time in dealing with the motives of 2097 big business—of the Woolworth's and Marks and Spencer organisations—but we know something about the way in which they treat their employes and the rate of wages they pay. It is notorious that they take the most scrupulous pains to see that none of their workers ever become liable to Surtax. I am not going to waste any time in discussing their motives, but I beg leave to doubt whether the motives of these big combines, in seeking to bring about this Sunday, closing are either humanitarian or ethical.
On the question of Sabbatarians, I am in some difficulty about the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies). He has spoken at great length in the Debates in this House, but he has a kind of dual capacity. He is, as we know, a well-known and honoured trade union leader, but we have every reason to suspect that he is also something in the nature of a narrow-minded Sabbatarian.
I would point out to all those people who take this narrow Sabbatarian point of view that in refusing to recognise the changed Sunday of which I spoke earlier, they are acting like mere ostriches. They are refusing to face the facts. They ought to recognise that between now and 50 years or even 30 years ago a vast change has taken place in public opinion in regard to Sunday observance. I spoke of those Sundays of dreadful memory just a few minutes ago—Sundays with the big Bibles under the arm, the long faces, and the Sundays when the parrot was put under a green baize cloth, as my hon. Friend said; the Sundays. of lugubrious voices—those dreary Sundays are finished with, and that fact must be accepted.
There are spots in the country—we have got backwoods in this country as everywhere—where the enlightenment has not got as far as it has elsewhere. In some of the provincial towns Sunday is a most dreary and desolate day. I see that the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) is present, and I am told that in some parts of Scotland it is a most depressing day. For the most part, however, throughout the country Sunday is to-day recognised as a day for pleasure and enjoyment. It is impossible to estimate the actual amount of human misery—I speak from experience—which has 2098 been inflicted by means of the gloomy Sunday of the past. I do not know whether hon. Members read newspapers. They must have seen recently a story about a song written called "Gloomy Sunday." I have never heard it sung [HON. MEMBERS: "Sing it"] and I do not want to hear it, but I understand it is rather a remark able song. It has expressed in such a graphic way the misery and weariness of Sunday, according to the newspaper reports, that people on hearing it are inclined to commit suicide on the spot. I do not know anything about the author of that song, but I think he must have heard something about the Sundays which are spent in some of our provincial towns and some of the places in Scotland.
I want now to refer to what I consider to be a serious constitutional aspect of this Bill. It is a remarkable fact that there are many points in connection with the Bill which we are leaving to be settled in another place. We refuse to take the decisions ourselves, but we put the responsibility for taking them on the Second Chamber. I cannot remember, in my experience of this House, a Measure in which so many points have been left open for decision by the Second Chamber, and I think this is a grave reflection on this House and a very undesirable development. I suggest that the explanation is either that the Bill has been badly drafted—I am not making any reflections on the hon. Member who introduced it; I know that his time was short—or that the subject itself is far too complicated and intricate to be the subject of a private Member's Bill. Therefore, if we were to have to deal at all with it, it ought to have been brought in by the Home Office. In either case the result with which we are confronted to-day is, in my opinion, deplorable, and reflects no credit on this House.
Finally, let me refer to a point which I made on the Second Reading, when I said—and I maintain it still—that the incidence of this Measure is almost wholly against the pleasures and the amenities of poor people. There is not a single pleasure or amenity of the well-to-do which is affected by this Measure, but there are pleasures and amenities of the poor which are affected by it. Every facility which wealthy people now enjoy they will enjoy after the Bill becomes law, but other pleasures and facilities 2099 which the poor people enjoy will be taken away from them when the Bill becomes law. Whether I vote for the Third Reading of the Bill depends on the course of the debate, and I have not yet made up my mind, but—
§ Mr. ORR-EWING
The hon. Member said that all the enjoyments of the poor would be removed if this Bill became law—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—Well, most or some of them. Will he tell the House exactly what enjoyments he referred to?
§ Mr. THURTLE
I think perhaps it would be unfair to the House if I were to go into great detail, but—
§ Mr. THURTLE
In fairness to the House, I think I ought not to go into the point raised by the hon. Member opposite, although I could give a number of instances. In conclusion, I have made out a case to show that this is a Bill which presses hardly upon poor people and that it does not deal in a rational and logical way with this problem of Sunday labour. But I am a reasonable man, I try to see things in their proper perspective, and I am not certain that these objections are sufficient to cause me to vote against the Third Reading of the Bill. It may be that the good it does, taking it by and large, will outweigh the evils and the difficulties which it creates; yet I cannot help saying, even if in the end I do not vote against the Bill, that it is a patchwork Measure. It is a miserable, illogical and hypocritical compromise and it does not reflect any credit on the House of Commons.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I have been through the whole of the proceedings on this Bill and have followed its progress closely. I am therefore very glad that the House of Commons is nearly ready to give it a Third Reading. Let me deal with the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle). I have not approached this subject as a Sabbatarian. When I was a youth I had to work every day throughout the year, including Sundays, for a. gentleman who was an ardent Sabbatarian. I have not 2100 forgotten that. I have approached this Bill in order to achieve the main object I have in view. It will give 2,500,000 shop assistants and about 750,000 shopkeepers one day's rest in seven, and it will give them that on the day on which they need it most. I cannot understand the arguments of my hon. Friend on that score. I suppose that he is so much opposed to Sunday that he would like us all to work on that day and have our Sabbath on Tuesday. Possibly that would meet his agnostic point of view. The hon. baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) said that the trams and omnibuses were running on Sunday. The factories, however, are not running on Sunday. [HON. MEMBERS: "Many are !"] Well, there are too many of them working if that is the case. The fact that omnibuses are running and some compositors are working on Sunday has nothing to do with the subject.
If all shop assistants were organised in a trade union, if any man living in this world could have organised them, they would have secured one day's rest without coming to Parliament. They come here because there is no means of getting one day's rest in seven for them except by Act of Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Shore-ditch said that Sunday would be a gloomy day. If he turns to the First Schedule of this Bill he will find that everything that trippers and hikers need can he obtained under this Bill. The Measure is less gloomy than he thinks, because he will find that in the Schedule the business of funeral undertaker can be carried on even on Sundays.
I appeal to the House to give the Bill the Third Reading. I thought that conditions in domestic employment were really bad before we started the proceedings on this Bill, but the letters I have since received have opened my eyes to the terrible conditions prevailing in the domestic trades, I have a letter from a man who says he is a watchman and who declares that be has worked every day for 22 years. That is a state of affairs which some of us will not tolerate. Although this Bill may not contain all that we want, yet it is in many respects the best Bill we can get at this juncture, and I trust that all my trade union friends will support it. Whenever a trade union official stands up in 2101 public to speak on behalf of his trade union in favour of any reform I take it for granted that he knows what his union wants better than, I do, and I always support him on that principle, and I trust that trade unionists will take the same line here to-day.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
I must point out at the beginning that this Bill is very different from the Bill which the hon. and gallant Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) described a short time ago as the right type of private Member's Bill. He was referring to the Meat Trades Bill which, he said, if I recollect aright, was a simple Bill dealing with a restricted subject. It is no good our pretending that the Bill before us is of that kind. It deals with a very difficult and thorny subject, and it affects directly not merely the great body of retail traders throughout the country, but also the general public. Therefore, the House will perhaps expect from me a statement as to the attitude of the Government towards it. The responsibility of the Government in regard to a private Member's Bill is much more limited in scope than its responsibility for one of its own Measures, and I think it is true to say if hon. Members accept that view, that the responsibility of individual Members of the House in regard to a private Members' Bill is correspondingly greater. The House, therefore, is entitled to guidance as to how far the Bill will achieve the object at which it is aimed, and how far it can be regarded as a workable and watertight Measure.
The general object of the Bill is one with which, as I stated on Second Reading, the Government are in general sympathy. It is to call a halt to the great expansion of Sunday trading which has gone on in most parts of the country and has involved the opening of many shops for the sale of commodities which could be bought equally well on any other day of the week. The present law, as most Members will agree, is antiquated and unenforceable, and the Bill seeks to replace this by a workable Measure more in keeping with modern ideas and requirements which will be enforceable as part of the general shops' legislation which is administered by the local authorities.
2102 The Bill seeks to effect its purpose by laying down a general prohibition of Sunday trading in shops and elsewhere, and then making exceptions to meet the reasonable needs of the public, some of which exceptions are permanent, and some of which are partial and dependent on the will of the local authority with the support of two-thirds of the shops concerned. As I said on Second Reading, I thought that was a principle which would command general agreement in the House and outside, but I did point out that there was likely to be very great disagreement over the details, and I warned the House that the real difficulties would have to be faced in Committee. After the Committee stage and the Report stage I think the House will agree that I did quite right in giving that warning. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) touched on his difficulties in regard to the Bill. Those difficulties have been very great, and I think every Member who is on the Standing Committee—and I am sure the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies)—will agree that the burdens which a Bill of this kind places upon a private Member are very great indeed, even only in respect of the physical work involved in collecting and co-ordinating the views of various interests in all parts of the country. For my part I would say, and with greater wholeheartedness than was shown by the hon. Member for Westhoughton, that I think the hon. Member for Lowestoft has shown great wisdom in the conciliatory manner in which he has met the various interests. I think he was fully seized of the fact that if he was to get this Bill it had to be a Bill on which there would be the largest possible measure of general agreement, and he sought all the time to avoid a situation in which the shoe might pinch any substantial body of people.
That was the hon. Member's object. He had those difficulties and they have been intensified by the short time available for consideration of the Bill. After the Second Reading the Bill went straight to a Standing Committee, and I think it is probably true to say that the interests affected had not become fully alive to all the issues that were raised. It is also true that the Report stage followed very soon after the conclusion 2103 of the Committee stage. Then we found that while the House was considering the Bill on Report the interests concerned were actually altering their views in the subject we were discussing. That sort of thing makes it extremely difficult for the House of Commons to give proper consideration to a Bill.
There are three main subjects around which our discussions have ranged. First of all, there was the problem of reconciling the desire of traders for the maximum of liberty with the requirements of the general public. Exemptions which are no doubt applicable when it is a question of what time a shop will shut in the evening or on a half-holiday are not strictly applicable to closing on Sundays; the two sets of exemptions are not the same. It does seem, however, after a close consideration of the Bill, that the exemptions go very far to meet in a satisfactory way the reasonable requirements of the public. But there has not been very much time to consider the matter and there are certain cases which call for further consideration. The needs of the seaside and other resorts must be further considered, and on closer examination there are other points on which it will be necessary to make further provision in order to prevent unreasonable interference with the convenience of the public. Then there was the question of assistants. The provisions for the protection of assistants were very rigid and of very wide scope. They have been restricted and several modifications introduced, but, generally speaking, we feel that they secure reasonable protection for the assistants without pressing too hardly on the trader.
Lastly, I come to the problem which took up the greater part of our time in Committee. That was the endeavour to work out a scheme by which the special position of orthodox Jews could be met. That is done in two ways first, by enabling an individual Jewish trader to open until 2 p.m. on Sunday, provided he is closed the whole of Saturday. It has been very much tightened up, and further safeguards have been introduced. I think it would be appreciated by the hon. and gallant Member for Hitchin that the limitation of trading of Jewish traders to 2 p.m. on Sunday is an im- 2104 portant safeguard for which there is no counterpart in the Hairdressers Act.
The second part of the problem is the special position of certain parts of London where there are areas of shops and street markets with a very high proportion of Jewish traders. On that point, the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), voicing those interests, which are largely represented in his constituency, put forward a demand for special consideration for those areas, whose position is unique so far as we know. As a result of a compromise, the proposal was made by which such an area should he a special area, in which the London County Council and the Common Council of the City of London had special powers to give exemptions, not only to Jewish but to Christian traders. The object of the proposal was to prevent feelings of bitterness among those who suddenly found an Act was passed which stopped Christian traders from trading, but allowed Jewish traders to go on.
That Clause was amended in several important respects, and the effect of the Amendment has not been fully realised, even by those upon whose suggestion they were introduced. The Bill, in its amended form, will require to he carefully studied. The Government are disposed to the view that the Bill, as it now stands, will give effect, in a reasonable and workable manner, to the principles approved by the House on Second Reading, and that the House would be justified in voting for the Motion for the Third Reading. At the same time, it is only fair to say that, within the time at our disposal, it has not been possible to give the proposals in the Bill as full an examination as one would like, or to make all the inquiries that ought to be made. There are various points of substance and of drafting which will have to receive further consideration in another place. On that understanding, the Motion for the Third Reading might properly receive the assent of the House.
§ Mr. R. C. MORRISON
Does the statement which the Under-Secretary has just made mean that when the Bill leaves us in a few moments and goes to the other place, the Government will be responsible for its passage through another place, or that the Government will simply leave the Bill to sink or swim?
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Sir A. WILSON
In the few moments which are left to the House, I wish to place before hon. Members the considerations which have led me and other Members consistently to oppose the Bill in accordance with principles which are well-founded, and well-grounded in experience. The Bill gives the right to Jewish traders to open on Sunday, provided that they close their shops on Saturday, and sign a statutory declaration, in a form of which we are not yet aware, that they are conscientious believers in the maintenance of certain religious customs. It introduces into our law what is virtually a new principle, which was unanimously rejected in 1905 by a Select Committee which, having considered whether individual religious scruples should be allowed to override the general custom and law of the land, decided in the negative. I received a few minutes ago a letter from a shopkeeper in a London district, which emphasizes that view.No, Sir. There is only one way of making a Sunday Closing Bill a success: all must close, irrespective of religion, if the framers don't want it to become a dead letter. I am dealing with our trade only, but other trades take the same view and I am in full sympathy with them. Take a place like Southend, for example. Such places depend entirely upon what they can bring in on Sunday, and in my view nothing should be done to hinder it; but, if you hinder one, you should hinder all.That is why we have taken the view that the exemption for Jews and other Sabbatarians is a mistake. In the second place, with all the efforts that have been made by the promoter to meet all and sundry, there are serious defects still in the Bill. For example, farmers will not be able to sell on Sunday, nor will others be able to sell on their behalf, the farm produce that they themselves grow with their own hands on their own land. The smallholder will not be able to sell to the passing motorist the honey, the butter, the eggs or the cheese which he himself has produced, though the grocer can do so. He will be forced to sell, if the Bill is not altered in another place, to 2106 the wholesaler, who will take the profits. That is utterly wrong. There is no common sense in a system which allows fresh vegetables, fresh milk, and fresh cream to be sold on a Sunday, but denies the right to the man who produces the milk to sell Devonshire cream, which in law is not fresh, to sell honey, which in law is not confectionery, or to sell cheese and butter which he has been making and for which there is a real and steady demand. I hope the promoters of the Bill will give a fair wind to any Amendments which may percolate from here to another place, in order that some of these defects may be put right.
But there is another and wider point of view. There is a very real desire in this country for a day of rest, and, were this a Bill better to ensure a day of rest, I should have been active in co-operating in every way with the promoters to get one day's rest in seven, and that day Sunday. But the Bill is primarily a Sunday Trading Bill. We are told that the Bill may be so amended in another place as to enable shops, subject to a ballot, to open in all the seaside resorts of England—an immense extension of Sunday trading. Who can doubt that, once all seaside resorts are included, subject to the decision of the local authorities, themselves under pressure, and the shopkeepers, themselves under duress, it will be extended to inland resorts, and that, instead of a restriction of Sunday trading, there will be an immense extension of it. That is what I am convinced will happen, and I am opposing the Bill, because I believe that in a year or two we shall be faced with a very difficult situation, and I at least should like to be able to face the chambers of trade in my own constituency, who have begged me to vote for this Bill, and tell them that I voted against it because I anticipated what chambers of trade were going to say in two years' time. That, I believe, is in substance the position with which we shall be faced.
There is a great deal to be said in favour of the elasticity which the promoters claim for the Bill. The hon. baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) spoke of the Bill being in its final form. Never was he under a more profound misapprehension. It will come back to this House still further changed and, whether the 2107 changes are to his liking or not, it will require a great deal more discussion before it reaches its final form. There is a lot of very foolish talk indulged in about the English Sunday and Sabbatarianism and the "gloomy Sunday" of our forefathers. These jaundiced reflections of a misspent youth have no historical justification. I have brought with me a few quotations from Calvin, Luther and Dr. Arnold to show what the real position was. I begin with Dr. Arnold:I quite allow of the suspension so far as it may be of the common business of life, but then I believe that we should have much greater indulgence, for recreation on a Sunday and, if the railways should enable the people in the great towns to get out into the country on a Sunday, I think it a very great good.That was Dr. Arnold about 1836—not much Sabbatarianism there. Jeremy Taylor saidWe Christians are free from the observation of the Sabbath. The Lord's Day did not succeed in the place of the Sabbath but the Sabbath was abrogated. The Lord's Day is merely of ecclesiastical institution.John Milton saidUnder the Gospel no one day is appointed for divine worship in preference to any other except such as the Church may set apart on its own authority.Tyndall saidWe be lords over the Sabbath, and may change it to Monday or any other day as we see need, neither need we any holy day if the people can be taught without it.Luther saidAs regards the Sabbath, or Sunday, there is no necessity for keeping it, but if we do, the reason ought to be, not because Moses commanded it, but because Nature teaches us from time to time to take a day of rest.2108 There is really no ecclesiastical or religious basis for the gloomy Sunday. It is intended to be a day of joy and a day of rest. I oppose the Bill because it will be a day neither of joy nor of rest for the still greater number of shop-keepers and others who will be compelled to open their shops for at least four months of the year and will be compelled by competition to continue to trade on Sundays. It will in fact increase—
§ Sir JOHN HASLAM
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Sir A. WILSON
It will, in fact, increase the opportunity for trading on the Sabbath. With these words I beg to express my hope that the House will vote against the Bill.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.