§ 11.9 a.m.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)
I beg to move,That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the Sunday observance legislation; and to make recommendations as to any alterations that are necessary in present-day conditions.
§ Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek the guidance of the Chair on a matter arising out of the Motion in the name of the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell), to which the hon. Member is about to speak. The Motion refers to Sunday observance legislation. May we have your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to whether it would be in order, under the terms of the Motion, to discuss the liquor licensing laws of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and, in particular, the permitted hours and the position of clubs under the licensing laws? In my respectful submission, under the terms of the Motion it would not be in order to do so. The Motion refers exclusively to Sunday observance legislation.
§ Mr. Speaker
I prefer not to give a blanket ruling in advance on matters like that. It would seem to me at first blush that "Sunday observance legislation" covers any legislation which has as its object the observance of Sunday; but I think that the field is considerably wider than the matters of Sunday licensing to which the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) has referred, and I think that it would probably be the desire of the House to discuss the question generally.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like your Ruling as to how this Motion affects the Sunday laws in Scotland. Does it affect, for example, the law on holding victory meetings in Kelvingrove on a Sunday, or "inquests" there on a Sunday?
§ Mr. Speaker
The Motion seems to me to cover the United Kingdom, and if there is legislation in Scotland which is affected by the Motion I should think that it would be quite in order to refer to it.
§ Mr. Howell
I am very grateful, Mr. Speaker, to be able at last to speak to the Motion that I have just moved. I am grateful to some hon. Members for their support and especially to the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) who, if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, hopes to second the Motion.
I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) who hopes to wind up the debate for this side, and about whom I should like to say just a word. He does not know that I intend to say this, but I know that he is here today at some considerable inconvenience. Tonight, he is to have the great honour—on which I am sure that the House would like to congratulate him—of having conferred upon him the freedom of his borough, with which he has now had twenty-five years' association.
It is some years since the House last discussed this subject. It was in January, 1953, that it rejected overwhelmingly a Bill dealing with it, but by only eight votes rejected a Motion similar to this. The main burden of the case I make today in reintroducing this matter is that, during those eight years, there have been considerable changes in public opinion, and, far more important, perhaps, there have been changes in the methods by which public opinion can be measured. I will refer to that later. I think that it is proper, therefore, that the House should again debate a Motion in such terms.
As soon as I left the Chamber, after being fortunate enough to draw a place in the Ballot for today and giving notice that this was the subject that I would raise, hon. Members—and particularly hon. Friends—said to me, "Now you have started something". Some hon. Members even threatened to send me their postage bill, on the ground that the last time on which this subject was debated they were so inundated with letters that they feared that my Motion would prove a costly business for them. One hon. Member representing a West Country division said that on a previous occasion he had received about 270 letters.
It is, perhaps, indicative of the change in public opinion that in spite of considerable publicity and widespread 779 acknowledgement of the fact that I intended today to move this Motion, I have had only 12 letters about it, six in favour and six against. I make this point now, because hon. Members—and they will know that this is true—have had considerably less correspondence on this occasion than on any others, which is practical evidence of the fact that the public at large now feel that there is no need to get "hot under the collar" about this, and that it is time further inquiry was made.
The anomalies created in this country by the Sunday observance laws are astonishing. I do not want to give a long catalogue of them, although I will mention just one or two, but I am sure that no intelligent person could attempt to justify the present legislation. I shall, therefore, not waste too much time on that aspect. Although I do not think that anybody would seek to justify the existing state of affairs, no person—certainly not myself—has the authority or the wisdom to suggest how the law should be put right.
For that reason, I am not today propounding a solution for all the multifarious problems connected with this legislation, but proposing the establishment of a Select Committee that could take evidence from those who think that the present laws are wrong; those who think that they ought to be strengthened or put right—to take all evidence, and then, having considered present-day trends and public opinion, to propose to the House how best it thinks we can deal with this matter.
The Sunday observance laws, of course, go back to the early part of the seventeenth century. Here I am dealing with the state of the English law, for which this Parliament is responsible, and not with that of other countries. The Sunday Observance Acts of 1625, 1677 and 1780 are the three principal measures with which the Motion is concerned. They were enacted, of course, in times considerably different from the present, and I think that their greatest condemnation lies in the fact that, by and large, they go by default. Most of the important parts of those Measures are never implemented, and a sane person would not attempt to do so.
780 For example, the Sunday Observance Act of 1625 lays down that there must be no meetings or assemblies of people outside their own parish for any sport or pastime, and imposes a fine of 3s. 4d. on anyone guilty of breaking that law. Observance of that Act would mean that people would be prevented from playing cricket on the neighbouring village green—although they could play it on their own village green. They would be prevented from playing golf, from holding political meetings, or brains trusts—and even prevented from playing polo.
The Sunday Observance Act of 1677 makes it illegal to work on Sundays at all, except in emergencies. I know that many people think that the work involved is one of the great objections to the sort of Sunday that some of us would like to see, but we have only to think about this for a moment to realise what would happen if this provision was implemented. If it were insisted on that to work on Sunday, except in an emergency, was illegal, our civilisation would at once assume a chaotic state.
We should have no public utility companies operating at all—an hon. Member says "emergency," but it is not because of an emergency that our public transport system operates on Sunday. All sorts of people, quite properly, use public transport on that day, and it is not an emergency that makes them do so. In fact, if every bus conductor had to ask all his would-be passengers "Are you travelling in an emergency?" we would have a fantastic state of affairs. Again, I know that we would all pay high tribute to the great work of healing that is done in our hospitals, on Sunday as on every other day of the week. We cannot differentiate between the chronic sick, who have to be nursed every day of the week over long periods, and those who arrive in hospital for emergency treatment.
I pass to the Sunday Observance Act, 1780, which makes it illegal to row in a boat or to ride in a boat which is mechanically propelled. It makes it illegal to sell ice cream or any uncooked food; to dance, play billiards, or to go to the theatre. But it is legal to form a club for the purpose of playing billiards, for dancing or for going to the theatre. This is one of the great anomalies to which the House must address its mind. It is a sorry state of 781 affairs when all kinds of subterfuges have to be resorted to so that people can play billiards or go to the theatre on Sundays. We know the sort of subterfuges that are resorted to—reservation prices instead of tickets, for a concert, and car parking fees instead of admission charges for motorists going to certain sporting events.
I want to refer to one or two of the main headings of anomalies which should be considered by the kind of Select Committee that I suggest. I am not pronouncing judgment, although other Members may wish to do so. All I say is that there is a case for investigation, and I hope that we will press for this, as many organs of public opinion and responsible newspapers have suggested, especially this week.
There is the question of Sunday trading, in respect of which great differences exist between one part of the country and another. For instance, it is possible to buy a packet of razor blades in a shop at a seaside resort on a Sunday, but it is not in other parts of the country. Then there is the question of Sunday opening in Wales, in connection with which the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) raised a point of order. I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about Welsh affairs to deal with this matter at any great length, and I shall be very happy to leave it to the Welsh.
I would only say that the Welsh are doing their best to attract me to Cardiff to see the Empire Games this year and that there is nothing that I should like better than visiting the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) to see them, but if his hospitality runs short of offering my friends and me some traditional hospitality on a Sunday I must bear that in mind.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
Does my hon. Friend really think that to have the pleasure of his company at the Empire Games, Wales ought to alter the whole of her licensing laws? Is that his modest opinion?
§ Mr. Howell
My generous opinion of my hon. Friend is that he would like to be as hospitable to me as any other hon. Member would were I to visit him in his constituency.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
Would my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) like to take his hon. Friend to a Conservative Club in Cardiff so that he may have a drink on Sunday?
§ Mr. Howell
This delightful interchange between us speaks for itself. I do not wish to press the matter of Sunday opening in Wales any further. These last two minutes have fully illustrated the anomaly of the position. There is a case for an investigation.
I now pass hurriedly to the question of Sunday cinema performances. Here again, the position is absurd. I gave a considerable amount of time to examining the anomalies connected with the opening of cinemas on Sundays after I drew up the Motion, and of all the anomalies that exist in connection with Sunday observance, those relating to cinemas are the worst. There are some fantastic interpretations of the law and some fantastic differences of opinion as between one authority and another and one set of licensing justices and another.
Tipton does not allow cinemas to open on Sundays, but the whole population of Tipton can reach West Bromwich or Dudley in a few minutes and can go to the cinemas which open there. That absurdity should be examined. In the last few weeks one licensing authority has had the temerity to allow cinematographic exhibitors to show films on Sundays provided that half-way through the performances someone gave a sermon. I do not know whether any self-respecting clergyman could be found to give a sermon in those circumstances, but I very much doubt it. This is a chaotic situation, which requires examination.
Even worse than the question of the opening of cinemas is the question of the Sunday cinema levy. Cinemas are allowed to open only if a certain proportion of their income on that day goes to some charitable cause. I regard this as collective conscience money for the whole of society, and I do not think that society can extract this conscience money with a good heart. Here again, the anomalies are colossal. In Birmingham, in the last six months, £2,378 has been paid by means of the levy, and an additional £565 in respect of a special charitable contribution.
783 In different parts of the country licensing justices interpret this levy as a percentage of the take at the box office, or a fixed sum payable annually, and in one place in Gloucestershire I believe that a levy of ¾d. per seat is made whether the seat is sold or not. The anomalies are so outrageous that they can justifiably be described as a piece of humbug which the majority of citizens are not prepared to support much longer.
The same kind of anomalies exist in regard to theatres. It is legal to hold a Sunday concert, but it is not legal to make a charge. This difficulty is got round either by forming a club, as I mentioned earlier, or by reservation fees. Even inside the concert hall the most absurd anomalies occur. A watch committee or licensing authority in one town will allow a performer to do something which the licensing authorities in the next town forbid him to do.
I now turn to sport. Sunday sport has been going on for many years. I have had some experience of it, especially in Birmingham. I am happy to say that there does not seem to be any demand for professional sport on Sunday, so there is no need for the gathering together of very large groups of people. One matter which my suggested committee would need to examine would be the possibility of the disturbance of the neighbourhood by Sunday sports. I should not be prepared to sanction large-scale sports meetings, which would probably disturb a whole neighbourhood.
In this respect, I make a great distinction between the spectators and the participants. I find nothing wrong in young people playing sport on Sundays. I think it is extremely wholesome that they should be encouraged to play healthy games on Sundays, and I see no contradiction between their doing so and any religious belief. I think that it is for the good of society, and that it is a bad thing that young people should be stopped from participating in sport and left to their own devices on Sunday afternoons.
Many organisations complain about their inability to charge a fee. In the case of small sporting organisations the outgoings could be made up if they were allowed to charge entrance fees. They complain that they are prevented from 784 charging gate money at their small cup finals, and they have to resort to all sorts of subterfuges, such as selling programmes.
Then there is the motor-cycling fraternity. I have received 12 letters from people very interested in motorcycle racing, and I am sure that other hon. Members have received similar letters on this subject. Motor-cycle meetings on Sundays are rigorously determined by the Royal Automobile Club, which is a very responsible organisation. It only allows what it calls rallies and scrambles, about which I have very little personal knowledge. I recognise that many people find great pleasure in the sport, and, therefore, I have no wish to stop it, even though I am not a participant.
I understand that the Royal Automobile Club rigorously controls the issuing of licences for the holding of such Sunday meetings, and the Club regards as an affront the fact that if it is to hold a Sunday rally or scramble, it has, instead of being able to charge gate money in a straightforward way, to impose inflated car park fees and inflated prices for programmes. It would much prefer to do the thing in a straightforward manner, and I think that the House ought to try to help it in the matter.
There is an example of the absurdity of this state of affairs in Suffolk at present. Motor-cycling enthusiasts in Suffolk are in considerable difficulty. They wished to hold an international event which had been allowed in some other parts of the country. Arrangements to hold it in Suffolk were well under way when the authorities stepped in and prevented the event from being held. That is an anomaly.
Even agricultural shows are affected in this way. I received a memorandum from the Town Clerk of Sheffield stating that for many years a food produce show had been held in Sheffield during the week. The object of the show was to encourage people to cultivate allotments and to grow more food. In 1946, at the request of allotment holders, the Sheffield authorities decided to hold the show on Saturday and Sunday instead of in the week so that allotment holders who were working in the week could attend. They charged a small admission fee, and this charge had been in operation for some 785 years. Suddenly, however, an outside body intervened and the event was declared illegal, as a result of which, of course, the allotment holders of Sheffield suffered considerably.
Such anomalies—and there are many others—could be considered by such a committee as I have suggested. People who had a point of view to put could give evidence before the committee either on the things about which I have spoken or anything else.
I recognise that some hon. Members have sincere objections to these things. I certainly do not want to have a Continental Sunday, but I want a common sense approach to Sunday, which is an entirely different thing. I know that some of my hon. Friends have very sincere religious convictions on the matter. They are entitled to their convictions and I should be the last to ask them to stop expressing their views on the subject. However, I wish to put one proposition to them which I think it is important that they should consider. I want to ask them whether we in this House of Commons should really exercise our own individual consciences as legislators in such a manner as to prevent our constituents and the public outside from exercising their consciences as they think fit.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
Does not my hon. Friend appreciate that our constituents, if they do not like the way in which we exercise our consciences, have every opportunity to reject us at the General Election?
§ Mr. Howell
I do not think that this matter has anything at all to do with politics, and I should hate it to be brought into the political arena. All I am saying is that we as legislators ought not to exercise our consciences in this Chamber in such a way as to prevent any person outside from exercising his conscience. I believe that is a proposition worthy of some consideration. At any rate, it is my approach to the matter.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
Would the hon. Gentleman apply that dictum to the question of capital punishment?
§ Mr. Howell
This matter is not on all fours with capital punishment The law of capital punishment relates to the misdeeds of people who commit murder. I 786 do not believe that anyone would say that a person should be allowed to commit a murder in the exercise of his conscience. The question of what we do with murderers is entirely different from the question of what we do with people who want to play bowls on a Sunday afternoon.
As I have said, there are, of course, many people who are very devout Christians. All I wish to say on the religious issue is that in my considered view the only way to treat it is to evade it, because the religious proposition is so personal to each one of us that it is really an impertinence to try to tell anyone else how he should govern his religious life. Therefore, I do not propose to do that this morning, and I hope that no one will try to tell me how to govern my religious life.
The late Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. William Temple, said this far better than I can do. What he said on the subject was quoted during the last debate on this matter, and I think it well worth quoting on this occasion:It is worth while to notice how absolute was Christ's respect for the freedom of personal choice. He would neither bribe nor coerce men to become followers. Judas must be allowed to betray Him if he is so determined. Not even to save a man from that will the Lord override his freedom. For on freedom all spiritual life utterly depends. It is astonishing and terrifying that the Church has so often failed to understand this.That is very profound language indeed.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
Supposing there is a conflict between two sections of the hon. Gentleman's constituents on an issue of conscience, how is he to decide between them if he has to satisfy both of them?
§ Mr. Howell
The answer is simple. I have not to satisfy both of them. They have to satisfy themselves. If, for example, the question is whether a cinema in my constituency should be open on a Sunday and two constituents take differing views on the subject, then they determine the matter for themselves. One goes to the cinema on a Sunday and the other stays at home. The one who stays at home probably looks at television.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The hon. Gentle-man has got it wrong. The question is not one of two people deciding whether 787 or not to go to the cinema on a Sunday, but of the man who has to work in the cinema and whether he wishes to work there on a Sunday.
§ Mr. Howell
The hon. Gentleman is drawing a very fine distinction. I know of no one who works in a cinema on a Sunday who does so under compulsion. He has a free choice in the matter. What about busmen and doctors and nurses who work on Sunday? I am surprised that that argument has been introduced.
It is self-evident that there are large numbers of Anglicans, Roman Catholics and members of the Jewish community who have differing views on how Sunday should be observed. Members of some religions make their devotions very seriously indeed, and if, after making those devotions, they then feel free to engage in some of the healthy pursuits I have mentioned, who are we to prevent them from doing so? I am glad to see that even the Archbishop of Canterbury was reported in the Manchester Guardian of 26th September, 1957, as coming down in favour of an independent inquiry. I will not read his letter unless anyone asks me to do so, because I think it is well known.
A great many people in this country who do not support these laws are affected by them, and that is antidemocratic. I have obtained the radio figures for last Sunday evening which were the last available to me, and which, I am sure, will interest the House.
There was a programme on I.T.V. called "Free Speech"—which I do not see, nor have I been invited to take part in it—which was seen by 800,000 viewers on Sunday afternoon. That would appear to be evidence that people are getting tired of it. At eight o'clock in the evening, which is the peak viewing time, there is a programme called "Sunday Night at the London Palladium," which I have seen, and this was seen by 11 million people.
The figures I quote are those of the Nielsen audience research organisation and are accepted by both sides of the television industry as authentic and accurate. Between eight o'clock and nine o'clock on Sunday evening 11 million people watch I.T.V. That programme is variety pure and simple, which could not be put on outside a television theatre.
788 At the same time on Sunday evening, on the B.B.C. programme, a further 2¼ million people watched a programme called "What's my Line"; so that we have a situation in which at eight o'clock last Sunday evening 13¼ million people were breaking the law by watching television. That is a great many people, and I say to my hon. Friend that in trying to assess numbers of this sort we have to add the further millions who were listening to the radio, or watching cinema programmes in various parts of the country, or who were in clubs or "pubs" celebrating Sunday—if that is a word I may use in this context—in the way they think fit. In my view, these figures are an overwhelming indication of the desire of the people.
Though we may not have had many letters demanding that we repeal these laws, the figures of what the public are actually doing on Sunday are such overwhelming evidence as to leave us in no doubt about which way they want this Motion dealt with.
§ Mr. John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington) rose——
§ Mr. Howell
If I do not give way, it is not out of discourtesy to the hon. and learned Member, but because I do not wish to trespass upon the patience of the House.
I approach this matter on the basis of the right of a man to interpret his own conscience. My experience of the British people leads me to the passionate belief that they are really mature, responsible and adult enough to be allowed the luxury of self-discipline; that they really are fit to be left to interpret the observance of Sunday for themselves. I believe in the freedom of the individual to decide how he shall make his devotions on Sunday and spend that day, or even whether he does not make his devotions—that is a matter which should be left to him.
I consider it morally wrong that people who take a wider view of Sunday, either as a holy day or as a holiday—the two words have the same derivation—should be legislated against. I hold very strongly that it is impossible—it is certainly wrong—for us to attempt to legislate for a man's conscience.
I do not know what the Minister will say, but I hope that he does not rely 789 entirely on the proposition that the law is chaotic—because we all know that—and, therefore, there is no need to make any inquiry into it. The only problem before the House, in my submission, is, where do we draw the line? I wish to see a Select Committee take evidence and examine the law and I feel that, with the profound good sense for which the British people are known, an authoritative report would emerge on where the line should be drawn. No doubt many hon. Members would wish to go further than that, but we can hardly do less in this day and age than ask for an inquiry into these matters. In that spirit, I commend this Motion to the House.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)
I beg to second the Motion.
As has been said by the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell), it is five years since this matter was discussed in the House of Commons. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing the subject before us again today. It is one of those dreadful problems upon which it is almost impossible for the House to agree. It is not a party matter, and, therefore, eminently suitable for discussion on a private Member's Motion. I congratulate the hon. Member on raising it and on the manner in which he did so. He was restrained and capable and not at all provoking. I hope I shall be able to keep within the same bounds. The last thing I wish to do is to stir up any deep feeling about this matter.
As the hon. Member for All Saints has said, the law is chaotic on the subject. I think that that is the only word which may be used to describe it. I am, at heart, a fairly law-abiding man, and to think that I am breaking a law, even one which is not held in very high repute, concerns me. Yet, as a journalist, I suppose that for seven years before coming into this House I broke the law every Sunday by working to produce a newspaper which other people, who had Sunday as a day of rest, could read on Monday.
I could never understand the attitude of a great-aunt of mine who was strongly in favour of Sunday observance legislation. She never read a paper on Sunday which had been produced on Saturday, but she cheerfully read a newspaper on 790 Monday which was produced on Sunday. That argues a certain confusion of thought on the part of my relative and other people which is not confined to that particular subject.
There is also the question of engaging in sports on Sunday. I am not sure whether I have broken the law in this connection. Though I do not actually play cricket myself, I do act as a part-time umpire for the local cricket team, and in the type of cricket which we play in the Kent villages the umpire is the most important man in the side. I do not know whether I might be able to get away with it, if I were charged with playing sports on Sunday, by saying that as umpire I was a non-playing member.
These two laws are generally regarded as being in complete disrepute, but there are also issues where certain laws could be effective. In the unlikely event of the hon. Member for All Saints and myself going on a walking tour in Wales—I say the unlikely event, not because I would not wish to go on a walking tour with the hon. Member, but because I do not like going on walking tours—we might find ourselves, at the end of a long Sunday, badly in need of a drink. My position would be quite simple. The local Conservative club would be open and I should go in—leaving the hon. Member for All Saints wrestling with his conscience outside. The trouble is that I know perfectly well which would win.
§ Mr. D. Howell
I can assure the hon. Member that I have visited Wales, and that the last time I was on holiday in the Rhondda Valley with some of my Socialist friends there was no doubt among the local Conservatives about inviting me into the Conservative club. In fact, I was invited to make a speech, which I did—and found that the chairman was a Communist.
§ Mr. Kirk
I believe that if any section of the law is in disrepute, that casts a reflection on the law as a whole, which is something that should not happen. In such a situation, the duty of this House, as the legislative body, is to remedy the situation.
I think that the hon. Member for All Saints agrees with me, but in the last debate on this subject my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black), who takes a contrary view to mine, said that they were not trying to defend the law as it stood. I do not think that many people would try to defend it. In that case, why has nothing been done about it?
A very large number of people, whose views I sincerely respect, are very frightened of something rather mythical that they call the "Continental Sunday." I have been on the Continent on Sunday and the only thing I noticed was that many more people went to church on Sundays there than go to church here. I do not know whether that is an argument for or against our Sunday observance laws. I feel very strongly that nobody would want the Continental Sunday in the way it is generally understood, but there would be something in trying to get the type of Sunday which they have on the Continent. That is very different from the myth that is talked about.
I hope that I am a Christian. I am a member of the Church of England and try to go to church on Sunday. I think that the attitude of the Church of England on this subject is fairly clear. It is not prepared to defend the existing situation. Perhaps most hon. Members have seen the words of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Lang, quoted in The Times this morning. They are to the effect that it is no part of the duty of a Christian to force people to go to church by preventing them from going anywhere else. If we are trying to get people to church there are other ways of doing it.
That brings me to the Motion and to the need for inquiry. I would not support any general, outright repeal of the laws as they stand without the most careful consideration. The need for an inquiry 792 is twofold. There is, first, the need to find out exactly the state of the law. In this, I rather differ from the hon. Member for All Saints. I have been watching television on Sunday and I am not sure that he is right when he says it is illegal to do so. It increases the anomaly if we do watch television, because the actors and actresses can go before the television cameras while they cannot take part in a public entertainment on Sunday elsewhere.
An inquiry should cover not only television, but the theatre, the cinema, the stage and shopping. When the Shops Act was before the House, in 1950, astonishing anomalies were revealed. The inquiry should cover the licensing laws, including the extraordinary fact that one cannot go to public houses to drink at any time on Sunday, but if a man goes to the "jug and bottle" on Saturday and lays in enough drink he can make himself absolutely stinking drunk in his own house and nobody can object. All those things are well worth looking at. It is not only the main Sunday Observance Act which would come into the inquiry but other Acts on the same subject, including the Act of 1932.
The second reason why I should like to see an inquiry is quite different and arouses very strong feelings in people. No alteration in the law should be embarked upon until we have some idea of the general mind of the British public on the matter. It is very difficult to get a consensus of opinion. An inquiry should collect evidence from all sides; everyone would be free to come and say what he wanted to say on the subject. We should then gain some idea of the sort of thing we want to do in our reform legislation.
I would not welcome legislation which made Sunday just any old day of the week. That would be quite wrong. I do not want to see Sunday become just another day. People already go in cars to see football matches on Sunday afternoon. I also have my doubts about motor-cycle and motor car racing.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Does the hon. Gentleman also include revivalist meetings, which are apt to attract large concourses of people?
§ Mr. Kirk
There may be a case for that, too, but I do not want to venture 793 on dangerous ground. I remember that when I was at Oxford I was extremely annoyed because Oswald Mosley chose to hold a meeting on Sunday outside my "digs". I thought that the sound of them singing the Horst Wessell Song on Sunday evening was very unpleasant.
By holding the proposed inquiry we might get a solution to these troublesome matters, which would have the general agreement of British people. I would much rather have an inquiry than a continuation of the present ludicrous position or an attempt to bulldoze through the House of Commons a Bill which might outrage many feelings. For those reasons, I strongly support the Motion and hope that it will be carried by the House.
§ 11.55 a.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
The debate has followed the traditional line when the question of Sunday observance has been raised. The hon. Members for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) and Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) brought moderation into their arguments, while the Motion is hardly different from others which have appeared before the House at various times during the last few years.
We are not dealing with a subject of secondary importance, or with a little matter of anomalies in the British law. We are not only dealing with the fact that some Sunday observance laws have become archaic, but with the question whether the House of Commons believes that the time has come to alter the British Sunday as we have known it. That is the purpose of the Motion. The debate is of prime importance in the lives of our people.
§ Mr. Thomas
That is a very helpful interruption. My hon. and learned Friend does not appear to be as patient as he usually is. If he will allow me to advance my argument, I hope to persuade even him, as I know the open mind which he brings to this subject.
Anything which touches the religious life of our people is matter upon which the House should move slowly and give earnest consideration. This is the second 794 time in five years that an attempt has been made from these Labour benches, with support, by way of seconding, from Conservative benches.
I would remind my hon. Friends of the debt that the Labour Party owes to Nonconformity. We have a great heritage in the Labour Movement which we owe to the men and women who were inspired with Christian convictions. Mr. Morgan Phillips, Secretary of the Labour Party, said in Scandinavia, a few years ago, that the Labour Party owed more to Methodism than to Marxism. It is our responsibility to care for that heritage. Some of the best-loved names and most honoured people in the Labour movement are associated with the witness of the Christian faith.
§ Sir S. Summers
Surely the hon. Member would not claim for the Labour Party any monopoly in this matter?
§ Mr. Thomas
I am trying to make the point that we are discussing a proposal to end Sunday observance as we have known it, and that the lead has come from the Labour benches. We have great Christian traditions just as much as the Government side of the House, and also a great regard for the observance of the Sabbath day.
The founders of this movement were, in the main, people who sought to build a new society not by destroying the symbols and signposts of a Christian community, but by strengthening them. It is my belief that we are dealing with a subject today which is not remote from the very fashioning of the Christian character, for what a man believes decides his whole attitude to life.
I believe that Sunday is not "just another day," but the whole of the argument of both hon. Members who have spoken, despite their protestations, has been on the basis that Sunday is just another day. Apparently they do not want to have laws which make Sunday different from any other day. It is the day on which those who accept the Christian faith in these islands meet for common public worship. The church bells which break the quiet of our Sabbath day in these islands are in themselves a declaration that the day is different from any other day for the British people.
795 Of course, there are anomalies. My hon. Friend quoted a few. I could quote many more, but the entire field of British legislation is cluttered up with anomalies. Why pick on the Sunday anomalies alone? In 400 years of legislation it was inevitable that anomalies should have been created. The British Sunday is as old as the Protestant religion in these islands.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am willing to accept support from my hon. Friend. I hope he will reflect it in the Lobby later.
The particular form of Sunday which we respect in these islands is followed in many other parts of the world. We are no different in this respect from many other proud peoples. Many of the States in the U.S.A. have the same sort of Sunday as we have, with its restrictions and inhibitions. The same is true of Scandinavia and parts of Germany.
I happen to believe that Sunday is one of our remaining bulwarks for democracy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members may think that is overstating the case, but those who hold different opinions must bear in mind that the corner-stone of democracy is Christian teaching, the great value of the individual, and that Sunday is one of the few remaining opportunities for Christian people in this country to make a declaration of their faith. In my judgment, this Motion will open the floodgates. It is intended to have a wholesale repealing of Sunday legislation. What new arguments have been brought forward? There is the argument that 14 million of our people—probably including almost everyone who heard my hon. Friend the Member for All Saints this morning—watched a play on television last Sunday night.
§ Mr. D. Howell
Just for the record, I should point out that only 2¼ million watched the play. Unfortunately, the 14 million watched the variety show.
§ Mr. Thomas
My hon. Friend was not quite right, for there was a play which followed the variety show on I.T.V. It was a play which I watched. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I make no pretence that I do not watch T.V. on a Sunday. 796 There is no need for these loud cries. I do not think there is any validity in the argument my hon. Friend puts forward that because we watch T.V. on a Sunday night, after church, we should, therefore, hold an inquiry into the necessity for repealing all the legislation, or any part of it, dealing with the rest of the Sabbath day. That is as illogical as my hon. Friend trying to make out that the maintaining of Sabbath laws is——
§ Mr. R. W. Sorensen (Leyton)
May I ask my hon. Friend whether, according to his own Nonconformist principles, he should not set an example?
§ Mr. Thomas
My hon. Friend must speak for himself about setting an example. I am not pretending to be setting an example for anyone else. What I am doing is what every hon. Member has an obligation to do, trying to give honest and sincere convictions to the House. That is what I hope my hon Friend will do at the end of the day.
§ Mr. Sorensen
May I ask whether my hon. Friend realises that if he refused to look at television on a Sunday, whatever the performance, he would set an example to those who, like himself, apparently do not want other people to enjoy a play outside the home?
§ Mr. Thomas
If the debate follows its normal course, by hon. Friend will be able to explain all his reasoned criticisms when making a winding-up speech. It is a childish argument to suggest that because the nation watches television, therefore the time has come to change the character of the British Sunday. That would be entirely illogical.
§ Mr. Howell
If my hon. Friend wants the figures, I can tell him that he was among 8 million who watched "Armchair Theatre" on I.T.V. I am sorry that he should refer to my argument as childish. I was not attempting to be childlike in any way. I was trying to put forward a mature and adult argument, to which I should like my hon. Friend to address himself. How does he decide the difference between his having a perfect right to watch a television show on a Sunday and anyone else having a right, which at present is denied, to indulge in some sort of sport as recreation after going to church?
§ Mr. Thomas
My hon. Friend is pursuing that argument as though only one section of the community is able to watch television. It is not a privilege of the few; it is open to the nation. Apparently my hon. Friends feel far more keenly on this subject than they were prepared to reveal earlier. There is a depth of feeling on it. Restrictions are never popular; they are none the less, essential.
I want to consider the people who will suffer if Sunday is altered, if there is any weakening of our witness on the Sunday question. Who is happy today about the changing values there are in our society? Are my hon. Friends going to pretend that there are no changing values? Much that we have valued has disappeared. I believe that those who are concerned with the excesses of youth and juvenile delinquency, those who are concerned with the 75 per cent. increase in drinking among young people, people concerned with the nurturing of the right attitude to life by young people—all those stand for the protection of the Sunday at present. We ought to strengthen the hands of those people who seek to bring to youth a right standard of values.
I believe that this Motion will be likely to weaken, not to increase, their strength in the witness they are seeking to make. In some indefinable, and maybe illogical, way the British character and the British Sunday are linked together. I believe that it is a symbol of our faith which expresses the values which endure. Who wants this inquiry? In today's Daily Herald my hon. Friend is quoted as saying:I am supported by an organisation called The Sunday Freedom Association, which represents all sections of the sporting, catering and entertainment world.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am not deliberately trying to misquote my hon. Friend.
Many of these people will have an opportunity to make some finance for themselves if the Sunday legislation is altered. At present, the law is a bulwark against people exploiting the Sunday to suit their own purpose.
I want to look at the argument that somehow or another public opinion outside believes that we ought now to set up 798 a Select Committee. The Daily Herald this morning said:M.P.s voting an this non-political issue should face these facts. Only one out of ten people in this country go to church on Sunday.How does the Daily Herald know? This statement has been repeated often, but nobody has given any authority for the figure.
§ Mr. Parker
The Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Nonconformist Churches give their figures.
§ Mr. Thomas
They do not. My hon. Friend is a little out of touch with reality. What the Churches give are different statistics altogether. No Church publishes statistics of attendance on Sundays—at least, no Church of which I know. I shall be very pleased if any hon. Member is able to quote a responsible authority for this figure which is bandied about.
In any case, our job is not to try to play up to the majority on this issue. I do not know on which side the majority lies, but I believe that we shall find far more support outside the House than some of my hon. Friends seem to think for maintaining Sunday as it is, despite all these anomalies.
In a leading article today, The Times said:The Sunday observance laws seem to have the peculiar distinction of being at once indefensible and impregnable.Later in the same article, The Times maintained, as did my hon. Friend, thatSunday should be a day with a difference.If Sunday is to be different, that at once creates an anomaly.
My hon. Friend said that he would not sanction large-scale Sunday sport, but I presume that he would sanction small-scale sport. How large is it to be? He will create more anomalies. Indeed, we are weakening further and further the support for Sunday itself. Give an inch and they want a yard. My hon. Friend said that we do not want the Continental Sundays. How does he propose to stop that? There is only one way to stop the Continental Sunday and that is by the laws of this land and by people having the courage to protect them in the House.
The fact that 12 letters only have reached my hon. Friend on this matter is not indicative of a great demand by 799 the public for a change in the present state of our laws. It does not reveal some surging forward on the part of the British public to change the British Sunday. I think that it is a testimony to the fact that the British people would prefer us to give our attention to other issues.
Reference has been made to Sunday in Wales and, in particular, to our licensing laws, and my hon. Friend threw out the suggestion that the Welsh people ought to consider changing the licensing laws for the period of the British Empire Games.
§ Mr. Howell
I am happy to clear the point up. In this matter I believe in local option, but I am pointing out the anomalies under which people may be invited to go to Wales for the British Empire Games and then not be allowed to do anything on a Sunday when they are there.
§ Mr. Thomas
My hon. Friend's argument was against local option in the matter of cinemas, but apparently he is in favour of local option in the matter of drink. His argument was that there are anomalies because people can go to the cinema in one place and not in another. He will create the anomaly that, according to his latest argument, the Welsh people may decide that one must not have a drink on a Sunday whereas two yards over the border one can have a drink. My hon. Friend is not clearing up anomalies; he is creating them.
§ Mr. Thomas
I have answered the hon. Member to my satisfaction, if not to his.
The Welsh people are well able to look after their own affairs in this matter. When the brewers and licensed victuallers started a campaign in Wales to have Sunday opening they had to get one of my hon. Friends who represents an English seat to present the Petition in the House. There is not a Welsh Member of Parliament who is prepared to advocate Sunday opening in Wales. That is 800 the answer of the Welsh people. Not an hon. Member from the other side of the House, nor from this side of the House, gave a lead to suggest that the Welsh Sunday is not something to do with the Welsh way of life.
Above all, if we lightly cast aside these symbols of our faith we shall be unworthy of the heritage which we have received. We shall not alter our laws in Wales for the sake of a few thirsty people who are so interested in sport that they will not go to it if they cannot have a drink on a Sunday. What sportsmen are these of whom my hon. Friend speaks, and whose thirst for beer or liquor excels their love of the game?
§ Mr. Thomas
That is just what I think it is. My hon. Friend advanced the view that we ought to change our laws if we are to have the British Empire Games in Wales.
§ Mr. Thomas
My hon. and learned Friend is not at all in character this morning. I thought that his profession would have trained him to be sure of his brief before he spoke. It so happens that the figures for Wales are substantially lower than those for England. My hon. and learned Friend had better get evidence to contradict that.
The next argument was about tourism. It is little short of impertinence for people from any country in the world who propose to visit another country to expect that other country to change its laws and its traditions to suit their pleasures and convenience. There is no intention in Wales of doing this, and I am convinced that if the House does its duty today we shall preserve, as our fathers preserved, the British Sunday. Of course there are anomalies. There are anomalies on Monday, too, and on Tuesday and on Wednesday——
§ Mr. Thomas
I am not prepared to budge an inch in this matter. I know where I stand, and I stand opposed to my hon. Friend's proposal.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) has based his arguments on religious and, indeed, Christian grounds, and I must tell the House that I found his arguments entirely convincing. I agreed with everything he said, but I do not wish to speak from that angle myself. It seems to me that the subject matter of the Motion is one of great practical and social importance, apart from the moral aspect.
One seventh of all our lives consists of Sundays and I find it disturbing to think that I have lived through eight years of Sundays. What we do with Sundays is a matter of great importance, not only to ourselves but to our fellows and to the country in which we live. The problem which that raises involves a mass of most complex psychological, social and economic considerations.
I have been told that shortly after the Russian Revolution the Bolsheviks thought that they would try an experiment in this connection. They wished to get away from tradition and particularly, of course, from religion. They introduced the principle of having one holiday every five days. It was not making any substantial change in the amount of spare time, because one in five is not very different from the ratio which we observe of one and a half in seven.
On purely economic grounds, that proposal has a great deal to commend it.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The Bolsheviks were more religious if they were having Sunday every five days instead of every seven.
§ Sir H. Lucas -Tooth
I was not trying to attack the beliefs of the Bolsheviks which the hon. Member is so anxious to defend. I was looking at this from an economic point of view, and from that point of view there was obviously much to be said for the proposal.
It failed because it simply did not fit human needs and feelings. No doubt religious considerations were involved. No doubt there were many people in Russia who objected on religious grounds, and I entirely agree with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) if that is what he meant. However, there was also a practical explanation. People did not get away from work on the same 802 day as everyone else. It is of very great importance that Sunday is a universal rest day and not simply a rest day for the individual concerned.
Of course, we cannot all escape work on Sundays. That is impossible for obvious reasons, but the right principle is that as many as possible should escape work on Sundays. That is the principle which ought to guide us—as well as the more profound religious and moral principles which have been advanced by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West.
In the last debate on this subject, when I had the honour to speak for the Government, I quoted from "Blackstone's Commentaries" and I think that the quotation deserves repeating:The keeping one day in seven holy as a time of relaxation and refreshment as well as for public worship is of admirable service to a State considered merely as a civil institution.No one will disagree with that principle, but the problem which we have to face is what is the proper method of relaxation and refreshment and to what extent ought we to extend the law.
I do not believe that general agreement on these matters is possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) rather suggested that by means of some committee the matter could be discussed and some compromise reached. I do not agree.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I do not think that there is such a thing as public agreement in this connection. I believe that we shall always disagree. I agree that that does not mean that we must not take any action to see that the matter is dealt with properly, but I do not think that there can be agreement on a matter which fundamentally is a question of opinion and of taste.
Our task as legislators is to make an objective approach to the matter. I agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) that we must not look at this subjectively. We ought to make an objective approach. The first question which we should put to ourselves is what is the trend of public opinion in this connection. I agree that the trend has been in the direction of having fewer restrictions. The trend has not been rapid but it has been generally in that direction.
803 Those who have been in favour of what might be called "de-sabbatising" Sunday—making Sunday less of a Sabbath day—have had the initiative. Of course, it is the tactics of those who have the initiative to seek to confuse the issue and to suggest that there is more confusion than there is. That is a perfectly proper tactic to pursue. If one wishes to make a change, one suggests that the position is chaotic and must be remedied and that matters cannot be left as they are.
It is being said that the law is chaotic, uncertain and difficult to enforce. That is nothing but a gross exaggeration. There are difficulties, two of which have been mentioned today—the Shops Act and Sunday trading is one, and the liquor licensing law is the other. When I read the Motion, I was not sure whether the hon. Member intended to include those within its terms. I am not certain even now whether it is his intention, but I am certain that one could find no two subjects less appropriate for consideration by a Select Committee.
§ Sir S. Summers
My hon. Friend has raised a very important point about the intentions of those supporting the Motion. I wonder whether he could discover what is in the minds of the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) and the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) apropos the point he has just made.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
As I understand it, it is their opinion that the Committee should consider these matters. Whether that would bind the Committee is a matter of legal interpretation. The terms of reference of the Committee are those contained in the Motion and, if the Motion were passed, they would operate.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
It would be for the Committee to decide in the light of such advice as it could get, but the Motion is intended as an operative Motion and it would bind the House to inquire specifically into those two matters. I cannot imagine that the House would seriously think of referring questions of this kind to a Select Committee. No less appropriate machinery could be imagined.
804 I will not say anything more about this subject, because hon. Members have referred more specifically to the Sunday observance laws proper. It has been suggested that they are chaotic and difficult to enforce. That is not the case. They are clear and easily enforceable. It is quite true that there are a number of very old statutes, none of which has been operating for many years. Nobody has ever thought of operating them.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I intend to refer to the Act of 1780. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that Act is extremely important. Apart from that Act, none of the other statutes has created any difficulties whatsoever. If the hon. Member for All Saints will introduce a Bill for the repeal of all the other minor statutes, I would be happy to support him. I certainly would not vote against it.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I appreciate the force of the hon. Gentleman's observations about the difficulty of referring this matter to a Select Committee. Would he say whether he would personally feel the same objections if the matter were investigated by a Royal Commission?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I would not have the same objection to the investigation of the matter by a Royal Commission. For reasons which I have indicated to some extent, and on which I shall wish to say something further, I do not feel that on the whole the matter is suitable for inquiry at the present time, but certainly I would agree that a Royal Commission would be a far more appropriate method of investigating this matter than a Select Committee which seems to me to be quite hopeless.
The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) referred to the Sunday Observance Act, 1780. It is that Act that is important, and it is that Act that we are really discussing today. Under it all commercial entertainments on Sundays are forbidden. It is still fully effective. It is true that as a result of legislation passed at the instance of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), the remedy is now somewhat different, but it is nevertheless an enforceable Statute. The only 805 amendment and modification that has been made in that Statute is the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932, under which the opening of cinemas on Sundays was permitted.
The hon. Member for All Saints has described that modification, the Act of 1932, as the most anomalous of all our Sunday laws. I would draw his attention to the fact that the one modern Act, the one case when this House has considered this matter and has made a remedy, has given rise to what he has called the worst of all anomalies. I think myself that if we did attempt to legislate, all that we should do, as has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West would be to create a great many more anomalies than exist under the law as it now stands.
The question which is before the House is twofold: in the first place, do we wish to repeal the Act of 1780 altogether? In that way we should get rid of all the anomalies. Secondly, do we wish to make one or more further exceptions to it? Those exceptions could be made piecemeal quite easily. We could allow the Sunday opening of theatres; we could allow professional cricket, professional football, professional boxing, horse racing, motor racing and other events of that sort on Sundays. Each one of those could be dealt with separately. In each case they are at present forbidden under the Act of 1780, because they are commercial and not because they are sport. Anyone can indulge in any of these sports on an amateur basis at the present time without any fear whatsoever.
One can argue this as a question of principle. One can say, "All or nothing." I think it would be difficult to say that one should make large exceptions without having to go the whole hog and argue that the whole Act ought to be repealed. But how can a Select Committee of this House really consider those questions? No further information is needed on these matters. If any of us does not know the facts of each particular case in a great deal of detail, he has no right whatsoever to be a Member of this House. In these matters, everybody is well aware of the facts. We know the considerations involved perfectly well. All that the hon. Member is doing is trying to shelve on to somebody 806 else responsibility for making up his own mind or saying what is in his mind.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Speaking for myself, I find that there is a great deal of information in that connection of which I have no knowledge. Moreover, that was an entirely different case because there we had a Bill which had received a Second Reading in this House. The question was how we were to deal with that Bill within the four corners of what was already approved by the House.
§ Mr. Howell
What is the difference between the hon. Gentleman's accusation that I want to shelve my responsibility on to a Select Committee, and his apparent desire to shelve his responsibility onto a Royal Commission?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I said that I would not do so. All I said was that a Royal Commission would be a more appropriate method of considering this matter than a Select Committee. I am certainly against referring this matter to a Royal Commission, and I hope I never made any other suggestion.
In 1953, when we were discussing this question, the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) drew a very lively picture of what happened at the High-bury Stadium in his constituency on Saturdays, and he indicated that that was not the sort of thing that people would wish to happen on a Sunday. I quite agree with him. We know what the facts are in all these cases. We can make up our minds.
We cannot leave this matter to a Committee or a Commission. There are two good reasons and two bad reasons for proposing a committee of inquiry. The goods reasons are, first of all, clarification when the law and the facts need to be ascertained and the proper arguments marshalled; and secondly, compromise, that contending opinions may meet together and some solution be found. Neither of these seems to me to be in the least applicable in the present case.
There are two bad reasons for proposing a committee of inquiry. One is delay, to put off having to take a decision; that is certainly not applicable in 807 this case. But it is really the obverse of the other one, that one should use the committee as a stalking-horse, as the thin end of the wedge, as the means of opening up a question when, on the whole, one has not been able to do so in any other way.
I am not in any way blaming the hon. Member for All Saints for moving this Motion in this way. It is perfectly fair Parliamentary tactics; but I think the House should recognise it for what it is. This is an attempt to repeal the Act of 1780. It is an attempt to do it by machinery which is wholly inappropriate, and the House should reject the proposal.
§ 12.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
There is one thing that I must say at once. I have been bursting to say it for the last hour and a half, and if you had not called me, Mr. Speaker, I might have exploded. If anyone mentions again the words "British Sunday" and "Continental Sunday" I shall scream.
British Sunday and Continental Sunday indeed! What expressions of smugness and of quite obnoxious Chauvinism. It amounts to a manifestation of the disdain which so many people in this country feel for foreigners—the sort of people who think that "Frogs", "Wogs" and "Dagos" all begin after Dover.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, North)
Does not the hon. Gentleman mean the other side of the Channel?
§ Mr. Delargy
It is not only a contemptible expression; it is a particularly stupid one. The inference is that in some religious way the British Sunday is superior to the Continental Sunday. That is not true. I wish, for the sake of us all, that it were. The Sabbath is observed far more religiously in every Western European country than it is in England. There are figures to support this; independent surveys have been made. I myself lived in France for four years and in Italy for two years. Without making any further comparisons with this country, I can at least assure the House that Sunday in Italy and France is a religious and restful day. So let us not hear further this silly, smug and stupid expression "the Continental Sunday".
808 I confess that I am a little surprised at the way the debate has gone so far. When my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) told me that, having been successful in the Ballot, he proposed to offer this Motion for consideration and decision by the House, I felt sure it would be carried without a Division. I really thought that, apart from some expressions of apprehension or suspicion, his Motion would not meet with opposition in the Division Lobby. I felt certain of that because his Motion is so simple, so modest and so sane, and I find it difficult to understand how hon. Members can oppose it.
Reference has been made to the last occasion on which we debated the Sunday observance laws. I remember the occasion quite well, when my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) moved the Second Reading of his Bill. I happened to agree with him and, after listening to the entire debate—I had not the good fortune that time to be called—I voted for the Second Reading. But I could well appreciate, and I still appreciate, the deep sincerity of those hon. Members who strongly opposed my hon. Friend's Bill. I appreciated their sincerity, even though I did not agree with their arguments and although sometimes their lack of logic and knowledge irritated me immeasureably.
The case then was different. What we are debating today is not a Bill, but a very small Motion. No one is talking about introducing legislation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham frankly said in introducing his Bill, to open theatres, music halls and professional football grounds. Nobody is suggesting that. Even those hon. Members who, on that occasion, five years ago, strongly, and, in several cases, eloquently, opposed the Second Reading of my hon. Friend's Bill, did not attempt to defend the existing laws of Sunday observance.
I particularly remember that the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black), who was one of the Tellers against the Bill, made it quite clear at the beginning of his speech that he was not defending all the present Sunday observance laws. I remember, also, that on that occasion more than 100 Members who felt that they could not support the Bill nevertheless voted for the Amendment moved by 809 my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) to set up a Royal Commission which might inquire whether the law needed to be revised. It is for something similar we are asking that this morning. We are asking for no more than that.
Some people—they are probably the minority—would scrap every law about Sunday observance. Many of us—the majority. I believe—will agree that many of the Sunday observance laws are quite absurd. Everyone in Great Britain, I think, except, to my astonishment, the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), will agree that, at least, the laws are confused and obscure. Everyone would agree that the laws are capricious and haphazard, their enforcement differing between one place and another.
The Motion before us should satisfy everyone. It asks that there should be an inquiry as to which of the laws are out of date, which are absurd, which of them should be scrapped, which should be altered, and which should be retained. Let us have the inquiry and let us meet again for discussion and legislation. There are so many of our laws which are absurd, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) had already said. Our licensing laws are absurd. Our betting laws are absurd. Our Purchase Tax laws are absurd. But none is more absurd that our Sunday observance laws. Let us, therefore, examine them with a view to changing some of them.
§ 12.46 p.m.
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
This is one of those occasions when the apparent difference between the two sides on a technical point, namely, whether there shall or shall not be a Select Committee, obscures the fundamental difference between those who would wish drastically to change our habits on Sunday and those who do not. It will be unfortunate if those of us who have to take the decision on the technical point—I am less sure of myself now than when I came into the House—run the risk of being misinterpreted in the choice we make on that technical point.
I started with a feeling of bias in favour of some kind of inquiry, but I did not like the idea of a Select Committee for the purpose. I was biased in 810 favour of an inquiry, because I feel that we link our habits on Sunday, as it were, with a piece of elastic to the bygone legislation. As a result of the tendency to which reference has already been made, we are going farther from what was, at any rate, the intention of those who passed those Acts, and I fear that if we stretch the elastic too far it will snap and there will be no restraint left. I am biased, therefore, in favour of attaching, for purposes of restraint, a new basis to the British habits on Sunday.
In asking us to support his Motion, the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) says, in effect, that people should be free individually to exercise their conscience as they think fit on Sunday. This can be interpreted in only one way, that there shall be no restraint and those who choose to exploit the opportunity presented to them, to the detriment of their fellows, will have a perfect right to do so, in the hon. Gentleman's view, because they are merely exercising their own choice—a thing which he would regard as unwise or undesirable for Parliament to attempt to do.
It is traditional in the House to do what is called declare an interest in certain circumstances. I do not know whether that phrase is appropriate here, but I think I should make clear that I have been a member of a working party set up to examine this very topic. We have been working on the matter during the last two years. I am in a little difficulty, although it would, I think, be helpful to comment upon our experience, because the report of the working party set up by the British Council of Churches, on the executive committee of which I serve, has been submitted. We have concluded our labours and reported to the Council, but it has not, as yet, had time to study the report, still less to pronounce upon it.
It would, therefore, be wrong if I were to disclose the full nature of the conclusions that we reached, but I have taken advice on the point and I have been told that if I choose to express views which are obviously coloured by the experience of exchanging views with my colleagues and explain, as I have done, the position of that Council, I shall not be infringing in any way responsibilities thereby placed upon me.
811 I approach this matter as many people do. They do not feel happy at having their habits on Sunday restrained by laws passed long ago, when conditions were different, and which are riddled with anomalies. They would prefer to be restrained by more up-to-date sheet anchors, if I may put it in that way. But where do we draw the line? It is the fear engendered by the speech of the hon. Member for All Saints that makes me hesitate to record a vote in favour of setting up a Select Committee when it is seen to be merely a stepping stone to the removal of any line at all. But I think that most people would wish to see a line drawn.
The working party to which I have referred was really set up to see whether, from a Christian standpoint, it was possible to lay down certain principles which should find expression in revised legislation. It was to search for such principles that we have had these meetings. It is, I think, to the disappointment of all that we have not been able to find them.
What could those principles have been? Profit on Sunday might be one, and no doubt the inability to charge admission springs from ideas connected with the desirability or otherwise of making a profit on Sundays. But there are so many examples of profit made on Sundays which modern thinking accepts as perfectly reasonable—for example, the newspapers, and other ways—that it is obvious that that is no satisfactory criterion to bring to bear upon the revision of our laws as we know them.
It was suggested by the hon. Member for All Saints that perhaps the distinction between professional and amateur would lend itself to an improvement in our laws as we find them. He rather implied that great crowds, and perhaps noise, organisation before and tidying up afterwards, were likely to be more associated with professionalism in a variety of forms than with amateurism. The implication had behind it the idea, which was a very reasonable one, that it is one thing to permit individuals to organise their own local small efforts for good, sound, healthy exercise on Sundays and another to produce a spectacle to which large crowds will come.
812 But the distinction that professionalism attracts crowds which amateurism does not is not clear. I need not weary the House with examples. It is clear that there may well be well known and gifted exponents of an art whom vast crowds will go to see, even although they are not paid for taking part in the sport or whatever it may be.
There are, clearly, many theatres, for instance, which present themes that would be entirely acceptable to everybody judged from a Sunday standpoint and which certainly are made no less satisfactory because they make a profit for the shareholders of the theatre concerned. Whether it be professionalism or profit, neither of those would seem to be a suitable criterion to bring to bear in this matter.
Reference has been made to local option. It could be argued that to permit the principle of local option is merely to pass the responsibility to somebody else to settle a decision which one is not willing to settle oneself. It could be argued that it is wrong for any form of local option to be permitted because it is abrogating a responsibility which those at the centre ought to take on behalf of the nation. That argument seems to me to lose its validity once it is recognized, as I believe is the case, that conditions markedly differ in different parts of the country. I do not doubt that when the local option for cinemas was first introduced it was largely for the benefit of Service men, and areas that felt it desirable to provide a form of entertainment on Sundays for them were given the right to do so if they wished. But others might say, "There is no such need in this part, and so we shall not avail ourselves of the opportunity."
To me, it is much more valuable to give opportunity for different types of conditions to be dealt with by means of local option than to worry about the kind of anomalies referred to by the hon. Member for All Saints when the frontier between two different decisions on that matter will obviously produce a strange situation. I think that it would be much wiser to keep the principle of local option than to abandon it because of the anomalies that might be created.
There are other points which must be borne in mind. It is fair to say that there are many people who would regard it as 813 too great a sacrifice to be willing to take part in a sport or perhaps a theatrical performance on a Sunday because they wished to interpret their responsibilities in that sense in a particular way. I think that those who take a different view must not, even on majority grounds, seek to put such people in a thoroughly untenable position vis-à-vis their profession if sacrifice on a Sunday might seriously jeopardise their normal professional responsibilities. Therefore, we should bear that point in mind.
At the end of the debate we shall have to decide whether we shall vote for the setting up of a Select Committee or not. I have given reasons why it has appeared to me impossible to discover principles upon which revised legislation should be based. One is, therefore, driven to the empirical approach. I am not sure, if that is the way in which reform is likely to come about, that it is not better to do it piecemeal by dealing with one particular form of activity which is not now permitted, judge it on its merits within the narrow confines of that case, then attempt to take a broad brush and deal with it on what necessarily must be a basis of principle, because when one searches for them they are not present.
I defy anybody to distinguish on grounds of principle between what is harmless and what is harmful to do on Sundays. It is a question of degree and the amount of noise, the size of the crowd, or whatever it may be. One is driven to the conclusion, therefore, that this problem must be solved in a piecemeal fashion. If it is to be solved in that way, the idea of a Select Committee does not seem to me to be the right instrument for bringing about that solution.
I could almost guarantee to produce a predetermined conclusion from a Select Committee if I had the right to decide who should sit on it. In fact, it might not be very difficult to forecast the kind of Report which would emerge when the membership of the Committee is known, because I am very doubtful whether those who would hear the evidence would be likely to change the view they had previously supported. Information will be coming from all quarters, and I feel that people will tend to choose the piece of information which suits their predetermined view rather than adopt 814 any other method of assessing the evidence brought before them.
Because I do not wish to be misrepresented as allying myself with those who have virtually no frontier, because I think it is a topic which is better dealt with piecemeal, judging each case on its merits, and because I do not like the instrument suggested, if there is a Division, I shall vote against the Motion.
§ 1.1 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I should have thought that if one wanted a matter dealt with in a piecemeal way—I am inclined to think that is the best way to deal with this subject—a Select Committee would be the answer.
At present, there are certain anomalies, such as television, which did not exist in the eighteenth century. There, we have a completely open field, because the matter has not been dealt with. This is so in other cases. It is not so in the case of the theatre, which existed then. These are all matters on which evidence could be given and which could be argued out by a Select Committee.
I should have thought that if we wished to have a Select Committee some people supporting it would be against any changes in the present law, some would want some changes, and some would want a completely open field. All such sections should be equally entitled to support a Select Committee and to give evidence before it. Our hope is that from such a Select Committee would stem an attempt to bring the law up to date to suit the present wishes and feelings of the great majority of our people.
We had a limited revision of the law in 1932, and some of the changes then made are now out of date. At that time cinemas were open in only a few parts of the country, but as the result of local option votes they are now open over the greater part of the country. The question whether we should keep the principle of local option in respect of the opening of cinemas on Sundays is a matter which might be argued by the Select Committee. In those days the cinema industry was a prosperous one; now it is not. The Select Committee might discuss whether or not the compulsory charitable contributions from Sunday cinema takings should be retained.
815 My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) always speaks to us with great charm and sincerity, but not often with logic. I was interested in what he said about enjoying a television play last Sunday. So that he might enjoy that performance actors had to work in a theatre on Sunday. What is the difference between actors working in a theatre for the purposes of a television play which 8 million people can see and the same actors working in a theatre in the West End of London when only 2,000 or 3,000 people can see the performance? The same work is done; the only difference is that in one case there is a much larger audience.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
I do not want to be put into a wrong position. I did not endeavour to defend the anomalies. I acknowledged them. All I said was that no procedure has been devised which would protect Sunday at all. Surely we want some protection for Sunday.
§ Mr. Parker
I am not saying that there should not be some safeguards in the law to prevent people working seven days a week. I am pointing to the fact that my hon. Friend's case is not logical. People were working to provide entertainment on Sunday, and apparently my hon. Friend enjoyed it. Yet he would prevent an equal number of actors working voluntarily to provide enjoyment for a smaller number of people.
The House of Commons got itself into an extraordinary mess over the Battersea Fun Fair. It banned it when we had the Festival of Britain, but as soon as a commercial organisation went into association with the L.C.C. to run it, by not charging admission on Sunday it was possible for the Fun Fair to open, and now many people enjoy it on Sunday.
I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West attended a Labour Party League of Youth rally at Butlin's Camp, at Filey, two or three years ago. I understand that on the Sunday evening those who attended enjoyed themselves on the swings and roundabouts and that no one enjoyed it more than my hon. Friend did.
§ Mr. Thomas
Whoever has given that information to my hon. Friend has told him a fairy story. There is not a word of truth in it from the beginning to the end.
§ Mr. Parker
I do not think that I am wrong. I was credibly informed by a person who took part, and he definitely said that my hon. Friend showed great joy and exuberance in his activities that evening.
§ Mr. Thomas
Surely my hon. Friend will not persist in that when I have told him that he is not stating the truth. As far as I remember, I was at the Butlin's Camp for the whole week with the Labour Party, but I do not even remember there being swings and roundabouts there. There may have been, but certainly no one found me on them. Perhaps I should have enjoyed them if I had been on them, but I was not.
§ Mr. Parker
If I am wrong, I apologise. Perhaps my hon. Friend enjoyed watching others enjoying themselves at the Butlin's fun fair.
There is a very strong case for an inquiry to discover the balance of opinion in this country now and to try to reach a compromise between the different sections of opinion. That could be the purpose of the inquiry. I agree that there would be fanatics on either side who would want no compromise, but it is British tradition to seek a compromise in such matters. I should have thought that that was the best way to bring the law up to date.
My hon. Friend talked a great deal about the Nonconformist tradition. I have a long Nonconformist tradition. Some of my ancestors were Quakers. One was put out of church for throwing stones at the vicar on Sunday. His pacifism may not have been very strong but his Nonconformity must have been. The Nonconformist tradition in the Labour Party is very valuable, but it is not a tradition which merely stops other people from doing things. It is a positive tradition, a tradition of individual freedom and judgment, concerned with encouraging people to fight for the things they think worth while. This part of the Nonconformist tradition—the Methodist tradition, as Mr. Morgan Phillips has called it—is something which I value in the Labour Party and wish to keep.
I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) say that he had received very few letters on this subject. That 817 is in contrast with the correspondence which I received when I raised the subject five years ago. An interesting point this time is that the Lord's Day Observance Society has been singularly inactive compared with that previous occasion. I wonder why that is so. A recent book dealing with pressure groups in relation to the British Parliament stated that in 1951 that organisation had an income of £29,000.
I am credibly informed that quite a bit of that money comes from such organisations as the brewers, and others that already have commercial activities on Sundays. On this occasion, the Welsh brewers wish to do extra business on Sundays, so perhaps they have "tipped off" their English confreres not to do quite so much on this occasion.
I do not think that we should have any change in the Welsh drinking laws until the Welsh people themselves are in favour of a change. In general, I am against local option in parts of this country, but I believe that if the people in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland prefer a particular law, we should not change it even though it differs, perhaps, from that in other parts of the United Kingdom. The law in those countries should not be changed until the majority of their people wish to have a change, although it may produce anomalies along the borders.
As a young man, I spent many happy weekends walking in Wales, and I never found the slightest difficulty in getting a drink. What usually happens is that one goes to a country "pub" and is taken into the kitchen, the licensed part of the place being closed. That can happen at any time of day. One can often find even the local policeman himself "having one", though not in the bar. That general tradition of law breaking, and that very large number of clubs at which drink can be had legally when the "pubs" are closed, does not provide, I think, a good moral background—leaving aside altogether the desire to attract the tourists to Wales.
When in Wales, I have seen coaches coming from Birmingham on Sundays bringing with them enormous quantities of beer, in case it could not be obtained locally. I would not have thought it in the interest of Wales to maintain that kind of law but, rather, that some kind 818 of reasonable arrangements should be made for people, both residents and visitors, to get a drink. However, the people there have this particular law, and, until a majority of them want to change it we should not pass it through this House.
On the general issue, the important thing is that we should provide reasonable leisure activities on Sundays. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West about the need to give young people something to do, and to keep them occupied. I do not think that the Teddy boy type of person benefits from having nothing to do. It is important that various leisure activities should be available.
Travelling around the Greater London area on Sundays in summer one will find cricket matches being played everywhere, and that is a very good thing. In fact, I would see no particular objection in having a professional cricket match played in a district if the people there wanted it, but it is a matter for the suggested inquiry to see where the line should be drawn.
Professional football seems to be the main issue in dispute here. It is not practicable for a team to play on both Saturday and Sunday. It would not be an advantage to do so, and I should have thought that would be one of the things that would probably be ruled out in drawing the line. But, again, that is something to be argued before such a Select Committee, with evidence taken, and a decision reached.
I believe that we have a great deal of organised hypocrisy on this whole issue. Our country has a reputation, unfortunately, for being rather hypocritical at times—I have just referred to what happened over the Battersea Fun Fair. We have the stupid position where a theatre can be open on Sundays only if a theatre club is created. That means that the kind of play 'usually shown there is the kind of play that has not passed the censorship, so that the plays shown in those places on Sundays are probably the least desirable kind from the religious point of view. However, that is how the law at present stands.
If we are to ensure that our nation has the kind of reputation that it should have in the moral field, we should face up to the need for changing the law in this 819 wide sector, trying to get rid of organised hypocrisy, and generally bringing the law up to date. If we get some kind of compromise now, it does not mean that there will not be a case for further revision in thirty or forty years' time, but, in 1958, there is a strong case for an inquiry to try to reach a compromise, and, for the reasons I have given, I hope that the House will unanimously accept my hon. Friend's Motion.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril W. Black (Wimbledon)
Many of us who heard the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) speak in 1953 will, at any rate, take some satisfaction from the fact that he has been considerably more moderate in the extent and scope of his proposals today, as I understood them, than when he introduced his Bill on 30th January, 1953.
Some hon. Members who have spoken in support of the Motion have been rather less than frank with the House. They have suggested that all they are seeking is the setting up of a Select Committee to investigate the Sunday observance laws; leaving that Committee with an entirely free hand to consider whether any revisions of the law are necessary and, if they are, what form they ought to take, and whether there should be a further strengthening of the safeguards, or a weakening of them.
We cannot, however, overlook the fact, when deciding how to vote on the Motion, that its Preamble reads:To call attention to the need to revise and repeal the Sunday observance laws …Therefore, what the mover, the seconder and the supporters of the Motion are doing, in fact, is to prejudge the issue by placing on record, and by seeking to get the House to place on record, a conviction that the Sunday observance laws need to be revised and repealed while, at the same time, trying to allay the apprehensions and fears of those of us who wish to safeguard Sunday by suggesting that all they seek is an inquiry, without any prejudgment of the issue, and an inquiry that would be entirely unfettered as to its conclusions.
Two main arguments have been advanced in favour of the setting up of a Select Committee, and before coming to the main part of my speech, I want to examine them. The first, which was de 820 veloped, in particular, by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk), was that the Select Committee should examine the present state of the law. He went on to express his view that there is a great deal of uncertainty about the existing law on Sunday observance; that there are undesirable ambiguities and uncertainties, and that, therefore, a Select Committee should undertake what one might describe as a fact-finding task of reporting to the House on the precise effect of the present Sunday observance laws.
If the uncertainties and ambiguities did exist, there might be a very good reason for some kind of inquiry to clear them up, but, on the best evidence available, I do not believe that those ambiguities and uncertainties do exist. In support of that view, I would draw to the attention of the House what was said in the debate of 30th January, 1953, on the Sunday Observance Bill by the then Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), who has already spoken in this debate.
Speaking on behalf of the Government of the day, my hon. Friend said:The volume of the law in this connection is substantial, and it is also true, as has been said, that a good deal of it is obsolete, quite certainly unenforceable and certainly no longer in force. But it is not true to say, as some hon. Members have suggested, that it is very obscure. It is not obscure at all. For so large a body of law, on the whole, it is remarkably clear and remarkably easily ascertained. If one wishes to know whether it is legal to do something on Sunday, one can be told by most lawyers fairly quickly what the answer is."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1953; Vol. 51, c. 1370.]So it seems to me that the first ground upon which the House is asked to set up a Select Committee is not based upon any solid reason. There is no need for a Select Committee to make clear what is clear already.
The second argument advanced by various speakers in favour of the setting up of a Select Committee is to be found in the words of the Motion:to make recommendations as to any alterations that are necessary in present-day conditions.My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers) pointed out with complete correctness that the conclusions 821 of such a Select Committee would necessarily depend upon its composition. It is very easy to forecast that a Select Committee which comprised certain hon. Members of this House would come to a conclusion entirely different from that reached by one which consisted of other hon. Members. If the Select Committee were to embrace within its membership representatives of all those main sections of opinion on this matter, both in the House and in the country, it is clear that no agreement could be reached by all its members, and that deadlock would be certain.
§ Mr. Sorensen
Is the hon. Member arguing that hon. Members of this House, who are rational beings, even though they may have presuppositions, could not meet together, talk things over, and reach a reasonable compromise?
§ Mr. Black
I am coming in a moment to the question whether we might reach a reasonable compromise. What I am saying is that there would be no hope that a Select Committee embracing all representative opinions in this House could reach a unanimous conclusion on this matter—and a Select Committee is at a singular disadvantage for this purpose in comparison with a Royal Commission, which, if an inquiry is to be held, would be a much more suitable body. In the case of a Select Committee there is no provision for the publication of a minority report or minority reports on the part of any section of Members who did not agree with the majority opinion.
A Royal Commission, on the other hand, has the very great advantage that if its members fail to agree, as they probably would, the way would at least be open for the submission of minority opinions by groups which did not agree with the majority, and the House would then have the opportunity of considering the views of all Members. Whatever merits there may be in the proposal for an inquiry into this matter, I submit that a Select Committee is a singularly inappropriate body to undertake such a task.
The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) asked me whether I did not consider that sensible people, coming together with open minds and unbiased judgments, might not be able to reach 822 a compromise that would command a wide measure of support in the House and the country. I would point out that the present law on this matter represents just such a compromise. Reference has been made to the anomalies in the present law, but those anomalies arise very largely by reason of the fact that the existing law represents a long-worked-out compromise between the various shades of opinion existing in regard to Sunday observance.
The present law does not satisfy the most strict opinions regarding Sunday observance; it allows a great many things to be done on Sunday with which the most strict opinions disagree. On the other hand, the existing law does not go nearly so far as the hon. Member for Dagenham desires. He would like to see a much greater degree of what he calls freedom than at present exists on Sundays. I believe that the existing law represents the best compromise that can be achieved in the present state of public opinion, and that there is no widespread desire to see it disturbed.
Therefore, it seems to me that neither argument advanced in favour of setting up a Select Committee is a valid or convincing one. A Select Committee is not needed to clarify the law, because the law is clear already, and it would be a useless vehicle for securing a compromise—its members would be bound to disagree—whereas the existing compromise represents the largest measure of agreement which can be secured in the House and in the country.
I now want to examine some of the arguments which have been advanced today—and are generally advanced when this subject is discussed—in favour of a weakening or even a sweeping away of Sunday safeguards. The hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) said, in effect, "Let us give people their freedom to do what they like on Sundays." That is probably the most common argument advanced in favour of a relaxation or sweeping away of the Sunday observance laws, but I hope to convince hon. Members that it is a misconceived and spurious argument. The proposal to widen the choice of Sunday activities for some people involves the denial of an opportunity of choice to others.
823 Let us consider two of the principal relaxations of Sunday observance laws which are being sought, and see how they would operate in relation to the enlargement of the freedom of individuals. The hon. Member for All Saints did not go nearly so far in advocating sporting events on Sundays as did the Sunday Observance Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Dagenham in 1953. That Bill would have opened the door to every kind of commercial and professional sport on Sundays. It would have legalised the holding of a Sunday Cup Final at Wembley, a Test match at Lords, or a world heavyweight boxing championship at Earl's Court.
Let us see what would be involved, in terms of freedom, if we permitted the holding of these mass sporting activities on Sundays. There would be a vast increase in the number of transport workers employed on Sundays, to bring the large crowds to the scenes of the sporting events and take them home again afterwards; there would be a great increase in the number of people working on Sundays in the catering and hotel trades in order to provide meals and accommodation for these great crowds, and there would be an inevitable disturbance to people living in the neighbourhood of the places where these great events were held, with all the attendant noise and confusion of traffic involved when about 100,000 people congregate at one place.
§ Mr. Parker
Do not great numbers of people go to Brighton and to other seaside towns on Sundays in the summer, and does not an enormous number of other people have to work to transport them and cater for them when they get there?
§ Mr. Black
That is no reason why we should add to the numbers who would be compelled to work on Sunday and who are, therefore, to be denied the freedom to spend Sunday how they wish to spend it.
The holding of these great sporting events will inevitably involve a denial of freedom to large numbers of people who are now free to spend Sunday as they wish, but who would be compelled to work on Sunday if these sporting events were allowed to take place.
824 I understand that family life is regarded and esteemed by all hon. Members of the House as one of the buttresses of our civilisation. Sunday has been a potent factor in building up the quality of our family life. It is the only day in the week when a father can be assured of the company of his children, and the only day, too, when, in millions of working-class homes in the country, the children can be assured of being able to spend the time with their father and mother.
Let us examine for a moment what would be involved in terms of the denial of freedom to many people if the theatres were permitted to be open on Sundays. What about the actors and actresses and all the other people whose employment would be involved on Sundays if the theatres were permitted to be open? Hon. Members who were present in January, 1953, on the occasion of our last debate on the matter, will remember that we then had before us the strong representations made by one of the most influential groups that one can imagine of actors and actresses who made known their point of view to this House. The people concerned said that it would be disastrous to them and to their family life if the theatres were permitted to open on Sundays and if they, as a result, were compelled to work and denied the freedom to spend their Sundays as they wished.
I will, if I may, read a short quotation from the resolution which these people submitted to the House on that occasion. It said:That this day of rest is valueless to them if by the arbitrary will of local authorities and of managers it is varied in each contract, for Sunday is the day on which wives, husbands and children are released from labour. Actors and actresses who are denied this day will be debarred from the happiness of private life, and, though profit will be increased, humanity will suffer.I do not think that the case could be better stated. What we are, in effect, being asked to do today under the guise of enlarging freedom is to embark upon a denial of freedom to many people who are at present able to exercise it concerning how they spend their Sundays and who would be denied that freedom if the Sunday safeguards were removed.
The second argument advanced in favour of a relaxation or a removal of Sunday safeguards is that there are many 825 people who, owing to the nature of their employment, have only Sundays for entertainment and sport, and no other day. This is, of course, not a new argument, and it is one that had considerably more weight fifty years ago, because working hours were then much longer, working conditions were much less favourable and the opportunities for leisure were much more restricted than they are today. Whatever the strength of that contention may have been in the conditions of fifty years ago, it has very much less force today.
With the curtailment of working hours and multitudes of people working only a five-day week, the opportunities for entertainment and sport on weekdays have never been so great as they are at present. What we suffer from today is not lack of leisure, but the fact that multitudes of people have not learned to use aright the additional leisure that they possess.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
Does not the hon. Gentleman's argument lead to the conclusion that as, mercifully, people do not have to work such long hours or so hard as they did fifty years ago, therefore the requirements for Sunday being a day of complete rest have diminished and that it is natural that they should have greater opportunities for using their leisure in a more diversified form?
§ Mr. Black
I should not think so. Although it is true that working hours are shorter and working conditions better, I should have thought that the strain of modern life was very much greater than fifty years ago, even with the longer working hours and the less favourable working conditions.
If hon. Members accept my view that, owing to the advance of science and to the changes which have taken place in the conditions of life, the strain of life is greater today than fifty years ago, then how much greater is the need that one day in seven should be set aside as a day of rest and worship when people can seek those physical, moral and spiritual recreations which are so essential in the conditions of our modern existence?
§ Mr. Sorensen
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. May I ask him who is to decide how people should spend the day in rest and worship? Should not the individual decide?
§ Mr. Black
Certainly, it is for the individual to decide. It is because these proposals would involve taking away from large numbers of people the right to decide, because they would be compelled to work on Sundays to provide entertainment and amusement for other people whereas at present they have the right to decide how they will use the day, that I would oppose a relaxation of the existing Sunday safeguards. Indeed, that would be one of my main reasons for opposing it.
There is, of course, a third reason which has been advanced in favour of the relaxation of the Sunday observance laws. It is the plea made by quite a number of hon. Members today that there is a popular demand for the sweeping away of the Sunday observance laws. I know of no evidence at all in support of that contention.
I think that the hon. Member for All Saints and some of his supporters have been a little naive in suggesting that there has been less in the way of protest on this occasion than there was in 1953. Of course, in 1953, the House was dealing with a Bill which would have drastically and vitally changed the whole character of Sunday as we know it. That was bound to produce a much larger measure of popular concern than a Motion to set up a Select Committee.
But there is a further reason. When the hon. Member for All Saints first gave notice of the subject he intended to introduce for debate today, I made inquiry day after day, over a long period, to find out whether in fact, he had tabled the Motion setting out the exact subject matter which he wished the House to debate. I think I am correct in saying that it was only on Wednesday last, two days ago, that the exact terms of the Motion were, for the first time, made public. It is not very surprising that there has not been a great spate of correspondence on this matter, when we knew the terms of the Motion only on Wednesday last, and probably most members of the public did not know them before yesterday.
§ Mr. D. Howell
The hon. Member will find that there is not much in this point, if he thinks it out.
When I was successful in the Ballot, I at once rose and gave as my subject 827 the need to revise and repeal the Sunday observance laws. From that moment onwards everyone knew what I had in mind. The hon. Member, whose experience in this House is greater than mine, can imagine the negotiations which have been going on to try to get agreement about exactly what sort of inquiry to have. It was only when those negotiations had concluded that I put down my Motion on Sunday of this week. If the hon. Member will look at the Motion, he will see that there is no difference at all between it and the title I gave immediately I was successful in the Ballot.
§ Mr. Black
With respect, I can see the greatest difference. The hon. Member gave notice to call attention to the need to revise and repeal the Sunday observance laws. Nothing was said about setting up any kind of inquiry into the laws to report to this House. It seems to me that the effect of this Motion is substantially different from the subject matter about which he originally informed the House.
§ Mr. Howell
The hon. Member has told the House that the reason why there was a lot of publicity on the last occasion when this matter was debated was because then an attempt was made to revise and repeal the law. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He is now saying that there were a lot of letters of protest when an attempt was made to revise and repeal the law, but we are not doing that this time. I am not attempting to go so far.
§ Mr. Black
The House must judge. I merely remark that the hon. Member cannot have it both ways either, and that is what he appears to be seeking to do.
Where is this evidence, about which we have been told, of a great public clamour in favour of the alteration of the Sunday observance laws? On the last occasion when the House had an opportunity of expressing itself on this matter, on 30th January, 1953, in what must be an almost record attendance of hon. Members in this House on a Friday, the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Dagenham, and which would have removed most of the Sunday safeguards, was denied a Second Reading by 281 votes to 57.
828 Just before that Second Reading debate I had the honour of presenting to this House what was certainly one of the largest, if not the largest, Petition against a Bill which has ever been introduced in all the long history of this honourable House. It contained 500,000 signatures from people in all parts of the United Kingdom, expressing their earnest plea that the House would not weaken the Sunday observance laws.
The hon. Member for All Saints has said that he has had only a dozen letters, half supporting one point of view and half the other. That is the extent of the interest in weakening or removing Sunday observance laws which exists in the constituency of the hon. Member who has raised this matter. On his own submission, it is confined to half-a-dozen constituents who support one side and half-a-dozen who have written in support of the other. That is not much evidence of some great nation-wide demand which is sweeping the minds and consciences of the public in favour of a revision of these laws.
It is not a coincidence that this Motion has been moved at this time. It has been introduced at this time because it follows closely upon a circular to all hon. Members from the Sunday Freedom Association. That is the body from which the demand comes for the weakening and the sweeping away of Sunday observance laws. This Association is a perfectly legal, proper, and legitimate body. It is entitled to act as a pressure group on Parliament and in the country in the same way as any other group can so act.
Let us be clear about what it is, however. This is not an association representative of a spontaneous uprising of disinterested opinion in this matter. This is an alliance of people who earn their living and have a financial interest in enterprises which at present they can carry on on weekdays, and which they desire to carry on on a Sunday as well to increase the profits they can earn for themselves and their shareholders. It is legitimate for them to do as they are doing, but let us recognise the character of the association and not be misled by the suggestion that there is a great body of disinterested public opinion seeking this change in Sunday observance laws.
What is the supreme argument against sweeping away these Sunday safeguards? 829 Surely it is that if we allow a secular Sunday we shall be creating a situation in which the State is deliberately discouraging what the Church is endeavouring to promote. That is the great argument against this proposal. It was Voltaire who once said, with great truth, that if you wish to destroy Christianity you must first destroy the Christian Sunday. It is because I believe that to be true, and because multitudes of other people in the country believe it to be true, that we feel so strongly, so keenly and so sincerely about maintaining the legal safeguards which exist today.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has not overlooked the fact that Voltaire was a Frenchman, and was therefore referring to the Continental Sunday as the Christian Sunday.
§ Mr. Black
Whatever Voltaire was speaking in favour of, it was not the maintenance of the Christian religion and the Christian Church. But, at any rate, he was wise enough to understand that if you wished to destroy Christianity you must first destroy the Christian Sunday. Multitudes of people do not want to see Christianity destroyed and they do not want to see the Christian Sunday destroyed either.
The policy advocated by this Motion will do nothing to help this country in the critical times through which as a nation we are passing. The fundamental problem confronting this country and the world today is not an economic but a spiritual problem. As a nation we have already moved far away from the simple Christian faith of our fathers, and the great and eternal moral and spiritual values do not occupy with us the supreme place that they should. In an age when paganism has won so many victories all over the world I hold that the traditional Christian Sunday, properly observed as a God-appointed day for rest and worship, can immeasurably strengthen our moral and spiritual resources. Therefore, I conclude by saying let us not, by a careless and thoughtless vote today, take a step which may lead to a casting away of a priceless part of our Christian heritage.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) has regaled the House with a carefully prepared speech of the kind which most of us had expected to hear. 830 Until he spoke, I felt a certain amount of sympathy with nearly every hon. Member who had addressed us from either side of the House.
The error into which the hon. Member has fallen is to attempt to repeat much of the speech which he made on 30th January, 1953, and which was directed to a totally different proposition. On that occasion we were primarily considering a Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), which would have swept away nearly all, if not all, the laws relating to Sunday observance.
That Bill was defeated by an overwhelming majority. I moved an Amendment the effect of which would have been that the subject would have been sent to a Commission appointed to examine the nature of Sunday observance legislation. That Amendment was only narrowly defeated in a large House. The figures are relevant. My proposal was defeated by 172 votes to 164—a very large vote for a Friday.
§ Mr. Black
Would the hon. Member tell us why he suggests that a Motion which speaks of theneed to revise and repeal the Sunday observance lawsis wholly different to the matter that we were debating on 30th January, 1953, which was a Bill the express and only object of which was to revise and repeal Sunday observance law?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am coming to that point. If the hon. Member had listened to his hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) who seconded the Motion he would have realised the distinction.
In desiring a committee to overhaul the laws of Sunday observance different Members are inspired by different motives. I doubt whether any one of us is inspired by the unworthy commercial motives which the hon. Member suggested with regard to the Sunday Freedom Association. I am not in favour of the wholesale repeal of the Sunday observance laws. Nor do I know why the hon. Member assumes that if there were a Select Committee or a Departmental committee of inquiry or a Royal Commission their recommendations would be in favour of repeal. The whole of the speech of the hon. Member was devoted to supporting the argument that 831 there should be no change in the present law. That is a proposition with which few would agree. It is not the question before us today.
The motives which inspired me, like a great many other hon. Members, in asking for a review of the present situation are, as I said on 30th January, 1953, that existing legislation with regard to Sunday observance is archaic, anomalous and out of accord with modern conditions. It is frequently disregarded and its enforcement is often haphazard and capricious. Therefore, in the interests of national welfare, some revision of the existing law is required.
Let me make my own position clear. I am not in favour of professional football and cup ties on Sunday. I am not in favour of test matches or of professional cricket on Sunday. I am not in favour of horse racing on Sundays. I can see very considerable objections to these things. I do not take the same view of this matter as my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham; I did not do so in January, 1953; but I still think there is an overwhelming case for review.
One of the most remarkable facts about this debate is the difference in temper and atmosphere from that in which the debate on 30th January, 1953, took place. Then there was a crowded House and a very large vote. The Press had been full of the subject beforehand and all hon. Members had been bombarded with propaganda on one side and the other. That is not the case today. There is a very significant reason for it; the pattern of Sunday observance in this country has changed radically in the last five years. It is still changing rapidly. I will tell hon. Members why.
One may think it is good or bad, or may not have made up one's mind about it, but the pattern of Sunday observance is changing because we now have not only B.B.C. television programmes but Independent television as well. Some 13 million or 14 million people are Listening to entertainment, and to religious programmes as well, in their homes on Sundays. For that very reason a great many of the arguments advanced from both sides of the House even five years ago are completely irrelevant and outmoded.
832 There is no longer the same call for professional sport on Sunday or clamour for professional football or cricket. Other forms of Sunday recreation are available. The argument about Sunday theatres and actors no longer applies. As for actors being set free from having to work on Sunday or saying, "Please let us have work on Sunday", there has now been a change. There is now work for an increasing number of actors on television on Sunday, if they want it. Equally with the public; entertainment on Sunday is available in people's homes, which was never the case before. Therefore, the argument about the sanctity of the home is completely reversed.
The hon. Member for Wimbledon is not up to date. I was arguing five years ago that one of the priceless possessions of our national Sunday was that it was the day on which the family were united at home and therefore, in so far as there was secularisation or commercialisation of Sunday which took people away from home, it would be impinging upon a vital ingredient in our national life.
Television has changed all that. Television cements the unity of the family, and particularly so on Sunday. Sunday television provides a varied fare of entertainment, of cultural instruction, and of religious edification. Does the hon. Member for Wimbledon, or anybody else who speaks in favour of rigid Sunday observance in the pattern of our Puritan forebears, deny or challenge the validity or the desirability of television on a Sunday or think that it is morally wrong or degrading to enjoy television entertainment in the home on Sunday? This is the sort of question that hon. Members should consider.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Although I agree with the hon. Member so far, I am wondering how he relates his argument to the desire for amendment of the present law. It seems to be an argument the other way round.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The hon. Member may be quite right. I am not quite sure. I will try to relate it as I go on. First of all, I am stating the facts. This fact, of the change in the pattern of Sunday life, with all its implications, which has appeared in the last five years has profoundly transformed the situation. It has to some extent modified my attitude as compared with five years ago
833 From my point of view, because of the introduction of this widespread form of entertainment of different kinds in the home on Sunday, I think there is no longer the same urgency for the review of Sunday observance legislation as there was five years ago. That is evident. I am not saying there is not still a need; I think the need still exists, but it is not as urgent as it was. There still is a real need; if Sunday observance legislation was archaic and out of date five years ago, a fortiori it is more out of date today.
That is what those who support the Motion feel. It is not sensible for us as legislators in these new circumstances to acquiesce in Sunday observance being permanently regulated by a set of laws dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that have no relation to modern conditions. It is our legislative duty to bring them up to date. As the hon. Member for Gravesend said, a great many of these laws are no longer observed, and any attempt to enforce them would bring them into disrepute. That in itself is a reason why legislators should try to bring legislation of this kind up to date.
There is a second reason. The observance of Sunday certainly has a good deal to do with religion, but it also has wide social implications. It is obvious from this debate that Christians of every distinctive persuasion or confession are divided in their approach to this subject. There has never been any consistent Christian attitude with regard to the observance of Sunday. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) pointed out, Christian countries in Europe observe what is called "the Continental Sunday" quite differently, but I do not think that anyone challenges that their right to claim to be Christian countries is any less than ours.
Indeed if we want to see Sabbatarianism in its purest form we have to go to Israel. There we find the real quintessence of genuine Sabbatarianism. I was there last summer, and I admired it. I was amazed to see even in modern conditions the strictness with which the Jewish laws of the Sabbath are enforced by the State of Israel. No public transport is permitted on the Sabbath; one does not smoke in hotels, or places of public congregation. There is in Israel today a noticeably strong observance of 834 the old Sabbatarian laws. I admired it. I am an admirer of what is happening, in the State of Israel, and their Sabbatarian observance seems to correspond with the requirements and wishes of the people.
Whatever we may personally think is an ideal way of observing Sunday, our primary duty in this House is to act as legislators and to have regard to the social welfare and interests of the nation.
Reference has been made to professional football and the liberty and rights of the individual. One of our problems in this context is to balance the rights of the individual—about which the quotation from the speech by Archbishop Temple is so relevant—with the inevitable interference with other people's liberty if some people have all the liberty they call out for.
I have no violent objection per se to a professional football match taking place on Sunday, but what I am conscious of is that it cannot take place without a most serious interference with the liberties of other people. I do not want to see repeated in Highbury in Islington on a Sunday what takes place naturally and properly on a Saturday afternoon, because if it were it would create offence and would be repugnant to a great many of the inhabitants whose privacy, day of rest and, in some cases, religious feelings would be offended.
By parity of reasoning, I am conscious if I drive a motor car on the roads on Sunday through some quiet peaceful villages in Kent or Sussex that the stream of motor cars using those roads must be an intolerable annoyance to the inhabitants. The cars must completely disrupt the old-fashioned, quiet, peaceful Sunday which the inhabitants used to enjoy.
Consequently, I do not think that any of us ought to be dogmatic on this subject. On balance, however, I support the Motion because I think that the existing legislation is anomalous. It is ridiculed in the public Press. One has only to read what the Daily Mirror said yesterday or today or what other newspapers have said to realise that there is a widespread and very just consciousness among the people that these laws are out of date and obsolete, and cannot be enforced, and that some change is, therefore, required. That is why I urge the appointment of a Select Committee 835 —I should have preferred a Royal Commission—or some other body for the purpose of overhauling our Sunday observance legislation and making recommendations to bring it up to date.
§ 2.7 p.m.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
I shall not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), because, broadly speaking, he takes the same views as I do on this issue.
Of all the speeches of those who have opposed the Motion, the one with which I found myself in most sympathy was that of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas). I think that the sort of Sunday which he would like to see is very much the sort of Sunday that I should like to see. I do not extend that to the closing of all the "pubs", but, as I understand it, the hon. Member does not wish to extend that beyond the boundaries of Wales.
All who have spoken so far are agreed that Sunday should be a day set apart. It is, indeed, almost a platitude to use that phrase now. The question that we have to decide is for what it should be set apart. My belief is that an essential ingredient of everybody's Sunday should be worship, and by "worship" I mean the worship of some God higher than the god of pleasure or the god of amusement. Having said that, I recognise that people must have the right, if they so desire, to amusement and to recreation; but surely this amusement and this recreation must be of a kind which ordinary common people would regard as innocent, a kind of amusement and recreation which is unlikely to offend feelings and the enjoyment of Sunday by reasonable people who do not themselves take part in those amusements or recreations.
I think the introductory wording to the Motion on the Order Paper is a little tendentious. The hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) callsattention to the need to revise and repeal the Sunday observance lawsand then moves his Motion. I do not like the reference to revising and repealing. I am not sure why that form of words is chosen. I cannot see the point 836 of revising laws if one is then to repeal them. It is an unfortunate choice of words.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
Neither would I go all the way with the hon. Member for All Saints when he says that Parliament ought not to deprive the population of the right to use its conscience and to be guided by its conscience as it pleases. If that proposition were carried to its logical conclusion, we should be faced with the repeal of all our legislation. The hon. Member said that one would not commit a murder for conscience. He goes altogether too far when he says that. I can think of a number of people alive today whose continued existence lies heavily anyhow on my conscience. I do not think one can sustain that argument at all.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The hon. Member quotes, "Thou shalt not kill." As I understand his proposition, it must be left to individuals to decide whether their consciences call on them to obey that injunction or not. However, I do not wish to cavil at the opening words of the Motion, because I support the substantive part of it. I believe there is a case for a Select Committee to inquire into the legislation as it is today and to report, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) pointed out, exactly what it is that there is disagreement about and to recommend what changes might usefully be made.
I have two reasons for coming to that conclusion. First, there are special cases. A particular case to which I wish to refer as an example is that of the motor cyclist. I do not select that case like other hon. Members because I have had letters from organisations, but because I am a keen motor cyclist and was until recently a member of a motor cycling club. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) said that nowadays people work for five days a week.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I can assure my hon. Friend that is not so. People who belong to motor cycling clubs often work on Saturday afternoons and 837 indeed, that is their busiest day of the week. A proportion, however, work five days a week and if they are to arrange these events they have to hold them on a Sunday.
In the seventeenth century, although I speak under correction because I have not read the seventeenth century Acts, I have no doubt some people went riding on Sundays. I do not know, but I doubt whether they were prosecuted for so doing. Motor cycling is a parallel. The hon. Member for All Saints said that the events which took place on Sundays had to be licensed by the A.C.U. He actually said the R.A.C., but he meant the A.C.U. That is not the case, however, for the small type of events which should not be penalised—not the grand competitions but the little "scramble" organised by a club for its own amusement. It is when we consider the people who want to organise big grass track events on a Sunday afternoon and to charge for admission that we get on contentious ground. I should not support that, but in the small event there is no question of people attending except members of the club and no question of making a charge because the event is held in the country and not in an enclosed area.
§ Mr. Black
If I understand the legal position correctly, it is only the charging for admission that creates difficulty and illegality. There is no legal bar, I understand, to holding any events, big or small, if no charge is made; but when a charge is made for admission that offends against the law.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
On a purely legalistic point of view, my hon. Friend is quite correct, but if he joins a motor-cycle club he will find, nevertheless, that stemming from this mass of Sunday observance legislation there is a great deal of prejudice and difficulty placed in the way of those who wish to organise these events on Sunday.
I quote the motor-cyclist as a special example, but there is a very much more important general reason why the law should be looked at again. It is a reason which has been referred to by most hon. Members who have spoken in this debate. It is a fundamental principle that laws should either be enforced or repealed. I feel that this is the most important aspect of the case presented by the hon. Member for All Saints and my hon. Friend the 838 Member for Gravesend, who moved and seconded this Motion.
All my experience in a disciplined Service, where one not only had to make laws but to try to enforce them, and to judge the people who broke them, has taught me that it is fatal to allow regulations or laws to remain on the Statute Book or in an Order Book unless we intend to enforce them. We had a good example of that in the case of the speed restriction of 20 miles per hour for heavy lorries which was universally disregarded and brought to ridicule.
The mere fact that any attempt to enforce all the laws dealing with Sunday observance would produce a demand for their repeal is sufficient evidence that there is a case for the inquiry proposed by the sponsors of this Motion.
§ 2.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I have listened with very considerable interest to the speeches made on both sides in the advocacy of this Motion. I must say, as one of the few Scots present, that we in Scotland take a very different view. I am sure that, broadly, Scotland takes a different view from that expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) and some of the hon. Members who have supported, or even partly supported, my hon. Friend from both sides of the House.
I may be charged immediately with putting too local, too regional or too national a view, but I can equally say to my hon. Friend the Member for All Saints and to some of my hon. Friends that I doubt whether they know the point of view of a great part of Great Britain. They may know the point of view of their own locality, their constituency, or their country, but I doubt whether they can express the Welsh point of view as Welsh hon. Members have been doing and hope to do, or the Scottish point of view. Therefore, that argument cuts both ways; so I hope I may absolve my hon. Friend the Member for All Saints, in advance, from any intention of charging me with taking too local a point of view.
§ Mr. D. Howell
Precisely because I do not know the answers, I want a Select Committee to inquire into the question
§ Mr. MacMillan
Perhaps I can supply the answers now—instead of waiting for 839 a Committee—so far as feeling of Scotland is concerned.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I do not want to take too long a time because one of the most respected Welsh Nonconformist spokesmen wants to express the Welsh point of view. I refer to the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones). It must not go out from this House that the Motion has the support of all, or so far as I am aware, any Scottish hon. Members. I do not know how the Welsh Members feel about it; but this Motion comes forward essentially as a move from England. I think that it should accordingly be limited in its application.
My overall reaction, after listening to the speeches which have been made and studying the Motion, is the old suspicion of those who like to be a little cautious about this sweeping sort of thing; to beware of those who would destroy the sun to prevent the growth of weeds. That is the danger we may possibly be in here. It may be that as certain anomalies would be removed, other legislation would flow also from the results of the deliberations of a Select Committee of this kind, which would not only modify all sorts of petty absurdities and things which are not consistent with present-day living—to use the Motion's words—but might well alter the whole idea of Sunday observance to suit the point of view of my hon. Friend the Member for All Saints. That would not necessarily, in itself, meet with the support or commendation of the people of Britain as a whole.
I hope that today the purpose behind the Motion will not be served in the Division Lobby by a majority of the House, because the Motion's effect is not nearly so limited as some hon. Members have suggested. It is not just a matter of setting up a Committee, but of setting up a Committee with a clear, sweeping purpose. The purpose is to "revise and repeal" the Sunday observance laws. I noticed that when the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) was speaking, my hon. Friend the Member for All Saints interrupted him to say that the purpose was to "repeal some and revise 840 the lot." It would not leave very much in most behind when we had done all that.
The scope of the intention of the Motion seems to be much wider than the scope of the arguments which have been put in support of it. The arguments have had some—perhaps subconscious—regard to the caution which people, even in support of it, would like the promoters of the Motion to express. The issue is perhaps rather bigger than my hon. Friend the Member for All Saints appreciates, or would like to reveal or to expose to the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) charged those who opposed the Motion with being inconsistent. He said that the Sunday observance laws were inconsistent. The word "inconsistency" has been used in this context for many centuries, and all sorts of curious arguments have been adduced in connection with it. But over-consistency in legal matters is something at times to be deplored, and is something which has to be considered in the application of our laws. To talk about complete, rigid consistency and logic in their application is to risk making nonsense of all our laws and to make nonsense of all advocacy.
It was said, and it is true to this day, thata foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.That can equally be charged of those who over-emphasise observance under the sanction of statute of every detail of statutory additions to the old Sabbatarian law, and to those who advocate the broadening of those laws in such a way as to mean their being discarded.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East said that one had to go to Israel to see the observance of the Sabbath, what he called the old Jewish Sabbath, at work. Perhaps it is not necessary to go among the Hebrews. He might go among the Hebrideans—and I know that that becomes a pun which has been a very old Scottish joke for a long time. It is perfectly true that in many ways the old Jewish Sabbath is as strictly observed in parts of the Hebrides as in Israel today, but I never knew that it was observed to anybody's lasting detriment or anybody's real harm, though, conversely, its abandonment could certainly lead to profiteering at the 841 expense of the peace and rest and way of life of many a community.
I never saw anybody coming to harm by Sunday observance, but I can imagine many people coming to considerable harm by its disruption, by what may well flow from a greater disruption than that which, perhaps, is intended by the hon. Member for All Saints. We are not always in complete control of all the things which flow from a Motion or any apparently small piece of legislation passed here. One has to have regard to the greater implication behind the repeal and revision of all laws connected with Sunday observance, or with anything else.
At the same time, one should not make one's case on a local view whether one calls it the Israeli, the Hebridean, the Scottish, Welsh or English view. There are much broader considerations overall. From my own experience of a Hebridean childhood and youth, I have already applied the conclusion that no harm comes in itself from Sabbath observance. At one time, we all chafed under it and the whole censorious, restrictive, Presbyterian Sunday observance; and, as children, we wanted to escape from that, as all children want to escape from all discipline—and as many grown-ups, too, want to escape from all discipline.
However, I eventually preferred, quite rationally, to "put away childish things" which were not the Sunday observance, but the chafings against that institution and the discipline associated with it. Today, I do not regard the observance and conservance of the laws associated with this institution as a discipline which has been imposed from outside on me. I find that it is an extremely valuable self-discipline and, moreover, it is an extremely valuable and desirable escape from many things which some of my hon. Friends regard as freedom—perhaps I shall come to that later.
I have already said that I am still waiting to hear arguments to prove any damage to either our society or to the individuals in our society from Sunday observance. No one has adduced a single argument to show that it is detrimental to anybody's true interest. It may be argued, in purely material terms, that that is so; but that, perhaps, is not the best argument to put from this side of the House. There is no gross commercialism associated with Sunday observance; but there certainly could be if 842 any fundamental breach were made in Sunday observance. That is one of the things with which I am extremely concerned.
Indeed, while I do not intend at this time to underline the sanctions of the Ten Commandments, or any other religious sanctions of any kind, one has to remember that those were among the world's earliest social and industrial and pre-trade union legislation. They were something which in every way stressed the importance of safeguarding the rights of labour and the rights of the working people from exploitation on seven days of the week. If there had not been that sanction, certainly the Labour Party would have been the most active of any section of the community in advocating that there should be a six-day week—as we have been busy over the years advocating a five-day week, once the six-day week had been attained.
Regarding it from the point of view of every working man and trade unionist, it is conceivable that the very phraseology of, and sanction behind, the Ten Commandments is one of the finest buttresses of the working man's freedom and one of the greatest safeguards of his right to release from toil and complete exploitation.
One hon. Member opposite has said that he could not happily look forward to what amounted, in the allotted span of seventy years, to "ten years of Sundays." Taking the point of view of the working man, ten years of Sundays means, if there were no other legislation—and there was none—in the statutory sense—in the days about which we are now thinking, of 2,000 years ago—ten years of escape from exploitation of his toil and of his labour. That, surely, is something which we do not want to destroy or even damage in any way.
The argument about the streams of traffic and the streams of cars passing through villages on Sundays runs not in favour of the Motion, but very much the other way. From what are these streams of cars, these millions of people moving along the roads on Sundays running away? They are certainly not running away from peace and rest and the escape of a Scottish Sabbath. They are running away from one city, and the only place they can go is another bustling town. They are running away from one 843 crowd to another crowd, all trying to escape the same thing. What is it?
My hon. Friend the Member for All Saints' words relate the Motion to "present-day conditions." Present-day conditions are, in certain respects, exactly what these people are trying to escape. They are trying to escape overcrowding. They are trying to escape the industrial town's noise and drunken din of traffic. That is why they are making for the sea. But the sea they have in their minds is not what they really get, because when they get to Blackpool they find that crowds of other people, not sensible enough to observe a day of rest, have also gone there; so that their Sunday rest has become a day of general noisesome hilarity and of organised, highly commercialised exploitation of that desire for a change of peace which these people are certainly not getting all week and for which, subconsciously or consciously, they are looking.
These people, from factory, mine and field, from the shop and warehouse want to get away to the hills and to the sea; to seek, nearer to nature, rest and the tranquillity and escape.
§ Mr. MacMillan
My hon. Friend agrees. I suggest that for a start he puts Motions on the Order Paper to make it possible for people to travel over the prohibited tracks of the country under private ban before he puts down Motions which will allow them merely, under mass-organised sporting syndicates, to watch others play football, or to go to the racing, or anything else. I suggest that he studies the access and trespass laws, so that, for a start, people might be able to go for a walk before they start to go in masses and pay to watch others play and so that they can have access to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and the Welsh and English valleys and dales from which they are at present debarred. Legislation is necessary for many of these purposes and we should start with Motion——
§ Mr. MacMillan
My hon. Friend well knows that is subject to having luck in the Ballot for Motions.
844 There are many matters which, in my view, take a higher priority than this form of Motion and which would give greater freedom to our people. I therefore suggest that my hon. Friend should cast legislative bread over those other waters, including the presently prohibited salmon and trout fishery waters in Scotland, and allow the ordinary people to go out during their leisure on any of six days of the week and fish without the fear of the trespass law and all the other restrictions which are far more damaging to their interests than Sabbatarian law.
I know perfectly well that there are those who carry to extremes their views about Sunday observance and who make their censorious rigidity a source of discomfort for other people. We all know jokes about these people; though no doubt there are jokes the other way round. There is the old story of the tourist in the Highlands who asked the landlord of a hotel if he might go out and play golf, whereupon he was told, "No, not on Sunday" He then asked whether he might go swimming and was told that he could not do that on Sunday. When he sarcastically asked, "May I eat in your hotel?" he was told "Yes, as long as you do not enjoy it." This and similar jokes are always popular, though old; but let us not make the mistake of imagining that our people in the Highlands do not laugh at them themselves.
I would remind my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), who took us to task as Sabbatarians, of the Roman Catholic burglar who, in the middle of a burglary, sat down for a meal, but was obliged to set aside a tempting meat pie because it was Friday morning These little jokes cut both ways, and nobody is hurt by them, but they do not get to the fundamental point.
I would also remind my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock, with all the affection and regard that I have for him, that there is perhaps a better authority than himself on the question of the Continental Sunday and the British Sunday. I apologise for those adjectives "Continental" and "British" in view of my hon. Friend's dislike of them. But I would remind him of the late Pope, who, on one occasion, said that if England, as he called Britain, enjoyed a greater measure of prosperity than many 845 countries on the Continent, it was perhaps because of her observance of the Sunday. That is a considerable authority.
§ Mr. Delargy
I would remind my hon. Friend that the Pope is infallible only on very rare occasions.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I accept my hon. Friend as an authority on that; and on this subject, I also equate him with the Pope in that particular respect.
This was not an Englishman or a British citizen speaking. It was, as I have said, a Pope who knew something about the Continental Sunday. I am not criticising him. He was in a fairly good position on the Continent to make comparisons on what is, after all, a matter of considerable spiritual concern not only in the Vatican but from there all the way to the Presbyterian Western Isles.
I think also that my hon. Friend, if he went among the very large number of Roman Catholic citizens in Barra and South Uist, would find there a curious agreement and unanimity with the Presbyterian inhabitants on the desirability and value of Sunday observance in that very much maligned and little understood Hebridean or, if you like, Israelite form.
I doubt whether the hon. Member for All Saints has made a great case for revising and repealing the laws relating to Sunday observance, which is what he has now admitted he is really seeking to do. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made some of his usual gibes, and some very good points of argument as well; but I do not think that he established a case which would justify us in breaching an institution, which cannot be charged with being a cause of any harm or real injustice, a breach the main result of which would be to destroy the protection of what is, perhaps, the most desired commodity of the human heart, namely, peace and escape from the din and high tempo of living in city and industrial life.
I should think that the country would be glad to safeguard our workers and those values against exploitation, and to provide every guarantee that, for one day in the week, ordinary working people shall have as much right as the well-to-do to escape from industrial toil and din and surroundings and enjoy in Sunday rest with their families a little of the peace 846 which, too often, is restricted to those who can afford to escape to it.
§ 2.36 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)
I take the same view as the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan). I intend to follow him and to speak against the Motion. I suggest that the House should reject it.
The hon. Member for the Western Isles has spoken from the point of view of Scotland and of the Western Isles in particular—a glorious piece of country whose beauties and charms are, I should have thought, enhanced and not detracted from by the fact that Sunday observance in that part of the world is strict in the extreme, is known to be such and is part of the way of life of the inhabitants of that part of the world. We have also had from the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) the Welsh view.
I should like to speak on behalf of one English constituency, at any rate. May I remind the House that we speak about the things of Caesar in this debate, because as a legislative civilian assembly we are concerned with the things of Caesar and not with the things of the Church. Nevertheless, for many centuries the State in this country has been a Christian State. We should—and I hope we always will—regard these matters from the point of view of a Christian Caesar and not an atheistical Caesar or one of the pagan Caesars who existed in the days when the words were first used.
I certainly regard as of the greatest importance the desirability of maintaining Sunday in this country as a holy day in its proper significance. The hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell), who moved the Motion, was inclined to equate the words "holy day" and "holiday" as being the same. They were, of course, in their origin——
§ Mr. Delargy
What my hon. Friend said was that the two words had the same derivation. He did not equate the one with the other in their present meaning.
§ Mr. Hobson
I must have misunderstood him. I thought he said that in England in future our Sundays should be holidays, as that is what they have always been, because they were originally holy days. If that was not the trend 847 of his argument I do not join issue with him.
The issue on which every person has to make up his own mind and which every hon. Member has to decide in the long run, is whether Sunday in England should, by legislation be maintained on behalf of the civil State as a holy day. I should have thought that whatever may be said about the anomalies of the law, this Motion is intended to open up a route by which one could strike at the idea of Sunday being observed in England as a holy day.
The surprising thing is that the proposer of the Motion, and its seconder, my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk), do not advance any particular amendments, repeals or revisions which they think would be desirable. It is a very remarkable omission, that those who want to change the law or to have an investigation to inquire how the law should be changed should have no proposals or ideas as to what the result would be. I can readily appreciate the attitude of those who might say that it would be desirable to make this or that change but, because it is a highly controversial matter, a Select Committee or Royal Commission should consider it. The proposer and seconder of the Motion merely say that there seem to be some anomalies in the law; they do not know what the answer ought to be; they have no idea whether there ought to be a change or not; a Select Committee may very well report that there should be no change, but they want one all the same. That seems a very curious basis upon which to suggest that one should embark upon such an investigation.
I fully concede that there are many anomalies in the law. But one does not need a Select Committee in order to find or to change them. One anomaly referred to by the hon. Member for All Saints is the prohibition against indulging in sports in neighbouring parishes. If he were to introduce a Bill to abolish that provision of the law, it would, I imagine, go through on the nod, and there would not be the slightest difficulty about it. There is a number of other provisions surviving from the Statutes of 1625 and 1677 and the other early legislation which ought to be dealt with. One does not, however, need a 848 Select Committee to tell one that they are anachronistic, out-dated, and could well be abolished.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) said that he disliked the idea of having laws still in force which had fallen into disuse and were no longer observed. I quite agree, but we do not need a Select Committee to clear up those small anomalies in the law, every one of which is perfectly well known and each of which could, without the slightest difficulty, be dealt with by a simple Bill which abolished those provisions of the law which had obviously become outdated.
§ Mr. Hobson
In the end, the issue which every one has to face, but about which a Select Committee could bring us no nearer to a solution, is the question whether our Sunday in this country is to be maintained as a holy day or not, whether commercial activities, professional sport, widespread entertainments and all the other things referred to by the hon. Member for the Western Isles, should be permitted. Select Committees and Royal Commissions might come to a compromise agreement, but it is exceedingly unlikely. It is a question about which one really cannot compromise. The House as a whole surely must make up its own mind. All the facts are known. The main principles of the relevant Acts are perfectly well known, if hon. Gentlemen will trouble to read them or look at the books which deal with them.
One of the arguments advanced was that, of course, large numbers of people at present like looking at television on Sunday evenings. That is no argument in favour of having a Select Committee to investigate the law of the country. It is perfectly plain that it is legal for people to look at television or not look as it as they like and whether the hon. Member for Cardiff, West looks at it has nothing whatever to do with the question here.
§ Mr. Hobson
That then becomes a different question and a new principle is introduced. The vast television audience 849 of about 11 million employs only an infinitesimal number of people to provide that entertainment. Once one allows the theatre, one has to think of the actors, electricians, stage managers, not only the whole gamut of the theatre, but the people who have to work in order to transport the audience to the theatre, the people who sell the tickets, and do all the rest of the background work necessary to put on a performance in the theatre for, perhaps, 400 or 500 people. One creates a disturbance as a result of which a very substantial section of the community is deprived of leisure on Sunday.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
Has not the hon. and learned Gentleman heard of the existence of Sunday theatre clubs?
§ Mr. Hobson
Of course, that is a method by which one can evade a provision of the law under which people who put on such performances for commercial purposes in the ordinary way would not be allowed to do so. Wherever one draws the line, whether one extends or narrows the scope, one is bound to have these forms of evasion whereby, for instance, a club is able, by arranging its affairs in a particular way, to say that its proceedings are lawful, whereas, if they were conducted in another way, they would not be lawful. Because one can perform in a certain way in a club but not in a theatre on an ordinary commercial basis is not, in my submission, a ground for saying that we should revise all the laws and so extend the facilities for commercial performances throughout the country. The real issue is whether there should be such commercial performances at all or not.
§ Sir S. Summers
Would not my hon. and learned Friend agree also that the vast majority of exhibitions coming under the name of "theatre" are, in fact, music hall, where the club alternative is not appropriate?
§ Mr. Hobson
There are many clubs, working men's clubs and others, which put on performances which partake of the nature of music halls but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers) said in his own speech, the presence or absence of professionalism or the nature of the entertainment are never wholly satisfactory grounds for making a division as to what should or should not be done.
850 The next great problem is the fact that, although everyone may agree in general that it would be very nice to revise the law, once one begins discussing the details of what is to be done, it becomes absolutely impossible for any two people to agree upon it. I do not believe that there is any general agreement in the country that there should be a substantial revision of the law. The majority of people would like to see many small, obsolete provisions abolished, but the general opinion is that the substantial provisions of the law as they stand today, the compromise which exists now between commercial interests and the quiet of the individuals to enjoy Sunday without being disturbed, without having to turn out to earn their living and without having to give up their religious observance, should not be upset at the present stage.
I, like other hon. Members, have not had a single letter from any constituent, either for or against, about this particular matter. Last year, when the Shops Bill was being discussed in another place, I had a considerable number of letters from constituents who were exceedingly anxious that the provisions about Sunday trading should not in any way be extended. Therefore, the only indication which has come from any constituents of mine has been against any suggestion that there should be a revision or repeal of the existing provisions.
As I was saying, there are many people who feel that there would be quite reasonable advantages to be obtained from revising the law, but they do not realise what the law in fact is. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East, was extremely anxious about the activities of motorcycle scrambling clubs. They can now lawfully carry on exactly the sort of activity which he was concerned that they should be allowed to do. The law does not require any revision for the purposes he had in mind. Again, the fact that large numbers of people want to look at television on Sunday evenings is no ground for saying that it is necessary to revise the law. The law does not in any way make it illegal.
My conclusion is that, on this difficult subject of the compromise, on the extent to which the broad, general approach to Sunday observance in this country 851 should be interfered with, the state of public opinion at the present time is not such as to indicate that there is any great pressure for a substantial alteration in favour of relaxation. Indeed, there are very many people who would prefer things to be tightened up, and there is an even greater number of people who would prefer that the matter should stay where it is. As to small details or obscure provisions, if there are any provisions which are outdated or not enforced, they can very simply and easily be amended by a Bill, and it would be quite unnecessary to appoint a Select Committee to tell the House either what the law is or how it could be improved.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
I rise from my splendid isolation on the Opposition Front Bench to say that my views do not reflect the official views of the Opposition or the views of the Labour Party. As a party, we have no views on matters of this kind. What I propose to do is to express a purely personal point of view, because I think that the attitude of all of us on a matter of this kind must be purely personal.
I confess that it is not always easy to adopt a policy which is wholly consistent with what one has said or done in the past. A few years ago I was associated with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) when it was proposed to open the Battersea Fun Fair on Sundays. On that occasion he and I tabled an Amendment to the Bill. He moved it and I wound up the debate on it. We were the Tellers, and on that occasion the Government were defeated, much to the annoyance of some of my right hon. Friends. I have never regretted the part I played then or my association with my hon. Friend in a move which was so successful.
§ Mr. Greenwood
Unfortunately, there is nothing that we can do about that now. But if it were possible for my hon. Friend and myself to prevent that happening, we should gladly do it.
It is always a matter of regret to me to find myself disagreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West. 852 Two years after the Festival Fun Fair incident, my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) introduced a Bill on this subject which was of a very radical character. On that occasion a number of hon. Members wrote to The Times—my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), the hon. Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson), my hon. Friends the Members for Ogmore (Mr. Padley), Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), and Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood), my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), and, also Mr. James Hudson, former Member of this House.
I would like to quote the letter that we wrote on that occasion. It is significant that it was signed by seven hon. Members on this side of whom five were members of the Free Church and two Anglicans. We said:It is clear to us that it is impossible to defend archaic legislation under which it is illegal to sell ices to the children at the seaside on a Sunday or to go in a boat on a Sunday. At the same time, we should not wish to see Sunday become nothing more than a second Saturday. We are firmly of the opinion that matters of this kind should be resolved by reasonable discussion and enquiry, and we welcome the British Council of Churches' suggestion that a Commission should be appointed to investigate the whole problem.It is because we take the same view now that I would welcome an inquiry into the subject.
When the Bill of the hon. Member for Dagenham came before the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East and I tabled an Amendment calling for the appointment of a Royal Commission, and the Tellers on that occasion were the hon. Member for Farnham and myself, whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West and the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) were Tellers on the other side. The Amendment was defeated by a small majority.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West said that the English Sunday was as old as Protestantism. I am indebted to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) for informing me that in the seventh century Wihtred, King of Kent, was responsible for a law which provided that if any servant performed work from sunset on Saturday to sunset on Sunday he should pay a fine to his lord. Another 853 Saxon king, King Ina of Wessex, also in the seventh century, was responsible for a similar provision. As the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) pointed out, the English Sunday is a good deal older than Protestantism in this country. Nor should the hon. Member for Cardiff, West overlook the fact that two of the principal Acts on this subject were passed by King Charles I and King Charles II.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Has my hon. Friend also noted the very interesting fact that even in the seventh century informers received half the profit of the work of the man who was working?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I had noted that fact, and it is an interesting aspect of the legislation to which I was referring.
I have never held Sabbatarian views. My grandfather was a strict Sabbatarian who refused to read anything on Sunday except the bound volume of the sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He refused to have Sunday papers in the house. But even in those early stages of my career I was struck by the illogicality of the fact that he was prepared to read Monday papers which were prepared on Sunday. He was also prepared to run the tap, use the gas, and allow his housekeeper to cook him meals on Sundays. It is difficult for anybody to be wholly consistent on matters of this kind.
Only a few months ago I spent a very pleasant Sunday in the train with the hon. Member for Wimbledon, travelling to Birmingham to take part in a television programme.
§ Mr. Greenwood
It was, of course, a religious programme in which we were taking part, but, nevertheless, many technicians. who probably did not hold Christian views, were no doubt forced to work on that day to enable our views to go on the air.
Turning from work to sport, I have always been impressed by a view which I once heard Dr. Donald Soper express. He said that he could not himself see why, merely because Jews were not allowed to work on Saturdays, Christians 854 should not be allowed to play on Sundays. That seems to me to be a consideration which is relevant to the kind of small-scale sport, as it were, about which some of my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite have been speaking.
This is essentially a personal problem, but it is no good any of us thinking that we can live in a vacuum or in an ivory tower. The attitude which we adopt to it affects many other people. I believe that there are three principles which are relevant to our consideration. The first is that minority views are entitled to respect. I do not think that any of my hon. Friends want to scrap all the laws which at present make Sunday a rather special day in the week. And I do not believe that the community as a whole wishes to do anything which would interfere with the religious observance of the Sabbath.
My second view is one which, I understand from what one hon. Gentleman said, was held by a much more worthy authority, the late Archbishop Garbett, and that is that the minority is in no position to force its views on the majority. My views upon that aspect of the problem are represented in the Report of the British Council of Churches on Sunday observance and legislation, which was printed in May, 1955. I should like to read paragraph II of that Report. It refers to the obligations upon the Christian. It then says:These obligations cannot be laid upon those who make no Christian profession. Where the rights and liberties of Christian people and their opportunities for religious observance and activity are threatened by the practices of others, the Church's title and obligation to intervene are indisputable. Beyond that point, however, they are increasingly open to question, and the Church has not infrequently exposed itself to the charge of seeking to obtain by legal probition—sometimes by appeal to laws which have fallen into desuetude—what it has failed to secure by persuasion.' There is very general agreement that the preservation on the statute book of laws which are archaic and virtually unenforceable, and of penalties which are inadequate and never imposed, does not enhance the prestige of the law, and that such statutory provisions should be repealed.That is the considered judgment of the British Council of Churches.
I cannot help feeling that it is a great mistake for the Churches to seek to force people in one way or another into accepting the Christian code. It is to me 855 something which, if it is to be accepted, must be accepted voluntarily and gladly, and if people are not voluntarily accepting the most revolutionary creed the world has known, then those of us who call ourselves Christians are in some way failing in the duty which rests upon us.
My third principle is that we must have laws which are worthy of respect, which are easy to understand and which it is possible to administer. There has been a good deal of agreement in our discussion today that the present laws relating to Sunday observance do not fully satisfy those requirements. Whatever hon. Gentlemen may say, I think there is something a little absurd about the way in which now we are able to stay at home and watch "Sunday Night Theatre" in our own homes, but are not allowed to watch it under certain conditions outside. There is something completely anachronistic and illogical in the fact that it is possible to get a drink in a club in Wales on Sunday but impossible to get one in a "pub."
§ Mr. Greenwood
No, Sir. What I am advocating, as my hon. Friend knows perfectly well, is that we should review the whole situation and then, in the light of the facts which are revealed, try to get some logical, consistent basis for legislation which will tidy up the law, which at present is out-of-date and in many ways anomalous. I agree with the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) that when the law is in disrepute there is a responsibility upon this House to take the initiative in changing it.
The hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. John Hobson) referred to the Sunday opening of shops. This is one of the matters which ought to be reviewed by a Select Committee, Departmental Committee or Royal Commission. We have the views of Mr. Justice Humphreys in the case of the London County Council v. Linda Davies, in 1938. We have the views of the same judge in the case of Binns v. Wardale, in 1946. Then we have the views of the then Lord Chief Justice himself in 1939 in the case of the London County Council v. Lees, where he said, 856 speaking of the Acts relating to Sunday closing:It might be possible, but I doubt if it would be easy, to compress in the same number of lines more fertile opportunities for doubt and error.Mr. Justice Humphreys said:I have tried to see what Parliament really intended to do in the passing of this Act … I find that Parliament starts by declaring that 'every shop shall … be closed for the serving of customers on Sunday.' Then it was thought necessary to make exceptions to that. What are the exceptions and why are they made? I have found it quite impossible to arrive at any conclusion as to what was in the mind of those who put in this list of exceptions unless it amounts to this (I am not saying I think it does, but it possibly may), that wherever you can think of anything which people are likely to want on Sunday, then a shop may be left open for that purpose …If the Lord Chief Justice and other of Her Majesty's judges are able to speak about legislation relating to Sunday in that kind of way, there is surely some obligation upon us to conduct some form of inquiry into the present state of the law relating to Sunday observance.
I am not at all happy about the wording of my hon. Friend's Motion. I think it could have been worded a great deal more happily. I think that to some extent it prejudices the case by the preamble, and I am not certain whether a Select Committee is the right body to undertake work of this kind. But surely there is a case for some kind of inquiry to be held. I should like to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State whether the Government will agree to setting up some form of inquiry—whether a Royal Commission or a Departmental Committee would be for the Government to decide—which will clarify the position so that Parliament may then, on what, I hope, will be a free vote, be able to make up its mind when all the facts are fully known.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)
It may be helpful if I were to intervene at this stage. I should like, first, to congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) on his initiative in having raised this matter, and in having stimulated, as I think every hon. Member who has attended today will agree, a most agreeable and interesting debate. If I may presume to say so, every single speech 857 has been of a very high level. At times, the debate has been extremely sincere, and even passionate, and at others, entertaining and witty. But though we have all had a very agreeable day that does not mean that we agree. The cleavage that exists on this subject has been revealed by the almost equal balance of speeches for and against the Motion, made on both sides of the House.
This is a subject that has come before us at intervals over a very long period. It is one of the most difficult and controversial subjects that the House has to face. As the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) said, it involves personal opinions on which strong convictions are held. He pointed out that there is no party line on the other side of the House, and that goes for us as well. The subject involves deeply held religious convictions and, sometimes, just personal inclinations and instincts, which are no less strong in their influence upon the thought of people. The cleavage certainly follows no social, professional or educational distinctions. It is probably true to say that it would be difficult to find any hon. Member who has a really open mind on the subject—probably very difficult indeed.
The Motion calls for the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the matter, and, as it were, to adjudicate on those strongly held opinions. I understand that the hon. Gentleman for All Saints is the only hon. Member of this House who is qualified to referee first-class football matches. I greatly admire his courage in being prepared to stand between 22 men, in front of a crowd of, perhaps, 100,000 spectators divided in their support between the two sides, and to adjudicate fearlessly on the various problems arising on the football field. However, he himself clearly indicated that this is a task that he accepts with greater relish than he would that of adjudicating on the two sides of this present argument. He was very wise not to propound the solution to the problem he mentioned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk), who seconded the Motion, revealed himself as a cricket umpire, and confessed that he was, therefore, the strongest man on the side. I think that the House, in considering what the composition of a Select Committee on this matter would be, would 858 have to consider whether the members of the Committee would find themselves more in the position of cricket umpires, like my hon. Friend, or of referees, like the hon. Gentleman whose Motion we are now debating.
So far as I have been able to discover, this matter has traditionally always been left to a free vote of the House, whatever Government has been in power, and I hope that the House will think that the right attitude for the Government to take on this occasion. It is right that the Government should not seek to come down on either side of the controversy. The Government's advice to hon. Members, therefore—although hardly necessary—is that they should vote according to their consciences, having regard to the arguments put before them.
My duty, however, is to lay before the House the history and the facts of the matter, and that I shall try to do as impartially as I can. I want also to mention, impartially, certain considerations which hon. Members ought to have in mind in reaching a decision. The law on Sunday observance in England and Wales—I shall not trespass north of the Border—is divided roughly into two groups of Statutes: first, four early Statutes of the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, and, secondly, the Sunday Observance Act, 1780, and the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932.
As to the earlier group, the Acts are mainly dead letters. The first is the Sunday Fairs Act of 1448, which prohibits the holding of fairs and markets on Sundays, and is entirely obsolete. The Statute which has attracted most attention in that group is the Sunday Observance Act, 1625, although in view of its present ineffectiveness it does not deserve much attention. I mention it, however, because it prohibits meetings or concourses of people out of their parishes on the Lord's Day for any sport or pastime whatsoever. The maximum penalty is a fine of only 3s. 4d., as was mentioned by the hon. Member for All Saints.
That Act, in terms, prohibits private sporting events to which the public are not admitted, or are admitted without charge, but it is unenforced, unenforceable and obsolete. A common error is the idea that it is that Act which prevents the holding of commercial sports meetings 859 on Sunday. They, in fact, are prohibited by the Act of 1780.
The remaining two Acts in the first group are those of 1627 and 1677, which prohibit certain forms of travelling, working, and the sale of goods on Sundays. They, also, are dead letters. Sunday trading is now dealt with by the Shops Act, 1950, which was a consolidation Act, consolidating comparatively recent legislation.
§ Sir S. Summers
Can my hon. and learned Friend say why, if those Acts are dead, they were not repealed when the subsequent legislation was passed?
§ Mr. Renton
Why they were not repealed when the 1932 Act was passed I cannot say, without notice.
The one effective provision left in the old Acts is that which prevents the service of certain legal process on Sundays—I believe that it prevents the service of all legal process except those concerned with serious crimes.
Let us first consider whether any inquiry is needed into the old Acts. An inquiry is not a panacea for all ills, and an inquiry into a controversial social problem can be useful only if it elucidates a complex problem of law—which does not exist with regard to those old Acts—enables us to discover the practice in relation to the law; and, there again, we know that the law is not enforced except in the one case that I have mentioned—or enables us to investigate various solutions to the social problem, as proposed by various people, and work out a compromise. No solution needs to be proposed in regard to these old Acts. I think that we would all agree that the whole lot should be swept away. Therefore, no inquiry of any kind can be justified upon the first group of Acts alone. The facts are known, the law is clear, and it is not enforced.
It has been said, with full justification, that the existence on the Statute Book of out-of-date and obsolete laws is absurd, but no inquiry is needed to establish that fact. Although the continued existence on the Statute Book of unenforced laws is unjustifiable, their repeal in this case cannot be regarded as a matter of urgency. Therefore, in considering whether the Motion is justified or not, the House would be well advised to con 860 centrate on the second group of Statutes, the Acts of 1780 and 1932.
The Act of 1780 is, to a large extent, observed, and it is, therefore, effective. It prohibits the opening on Sunday of any house, room or other place for entertainment or amusement to which the public is admitted on payment. But some important exemptions were made to that general rule by the Act of 1932. Cinemas were allowed to open on Sundays in districts where local public opinion expressed itself in favour of opening in a manner which is so familiar to the House.
We had four such Orders only the other week, when I had only to nod to you, Mr. Speaker, and when there was no controversy about them.
§ Mr. Renton
They were not opposed, but, of course, they are carried out under certain limitations with which the hon. Gentleman is familiar.
The 1932 Act also allows musical entertainments—and that includes singing and recitations—lectures and debates, and the opening of museums, picture galleries, zoos and botanical gardens. I think one can summarise the effect of that provision of the Act and the way that the authorities have interpreted it by saying that it means that we can have Sunday entertainments under that provision, but that we cannot have anything too skittish.
The Act of 1780 continues to prohibit the admission of the public on payment to such things as theatres, music-halls, and sporting events, such as football and cricket matches, and, as has been mentioned today, motor and motor-cycle racing and boxing and wrestling contests.
In presenting to the House this statement, rather rapid though it is, of the law and the facts, I think that I should deal with the point raised about television, because in interchanges between hon. Gentlemen some doubt was expressed as to the effect of the law on television. In the first place, let me put it beyond doubt that it is not illegal to watch television on Sundays in one's own home. The question is: what law, if any, is broken by performing on television on Sundays? There are certain hon. Members who may be very interested in the answer to that.
861 So far as performing for reward is concerned, the Act of 1677 prohibits people from working on Sunday at their ordinary calling, so that if an hon. Member were performing for reward on television on a Sunday evening as a sort of exceptional operation he would not be breaking the law of 1677, which, however, is unenforced.
So far as performing gratis on television is concerned, there, again, strangely enough, I am advised that the question of whether it is one's ordinary calling or not would arise. If it were one's ordinary calling—I do not suppose that anyone has such a calling, but there might be people who through religious zeal would develop such a calling—and if one were to perform it on a Sunday evening, one might be in breach of the Act of 1677, which is unenforced.
§ Mr. Parker
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman say whether the I.T.V. programme "Free Speech" which takes place every Sunday is an illegal performance?
§ Mr. G. Jeger rose——
§ Mr. Renton
I know that there are several hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate, and I still have a certain amount to say. Therefore, if hon. Gentlemen will forgive me, I will not give way any further.
§ Mr. Renton
It is a technical breach of the Act of 1677, but that Act is one for which there has not been enforcement for many years. It is an obsolete law.
As I say, the Motion calls for the appointment of a Select Committee. Therefore, in view of what I have put to the House, in deciding whether to agree to or to reject the Motion hon. Members should have in mind whether they desire to see in principle the relaxation of the Act of 1780. That is the first and main consideration. As in the case of the earlier group of Acts, the law and the facts are well known and there is no need to have an inquiry to establish them. However, there is certainly—it has been expressed here today—a widely held view that the present law is unsatisfactory.
862 But there has not been even a broad consensus of opinion about what changes should be made. It is noteworthy as an historical fact that when in the past twenty years specific proposals have been put before the House for further modification of the 1780 Act, the House has shown itself to be chary of changes. That does not mean that it will always be so, but that has been so up to the moment. It may not be revealed to be the case this afternoon if this Motion is taken to a Division.
There was a proposal by the war-time Government to make Defence Regulations permitting the Sunday opening of theatres and music halls to provide entertainment for the troops, but that was defeated on a free vote. In 1951, a proposal to promote the opening of the amusement section of the Festival Pleasure Gardens was defeated on a free vote by 389 votes to 134. Then, in 1953, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) produced a Bill which sought to legalise, subject to safeguards, all forms of commercial entertainment on Sundays, and that was defeated by 281 votes to 57.
There is no specific proposal before the House today as to the change of the law, but the House should consider what likelihood there is of a Select Committee being able to find a course likely to command sufficient public support to be passed into legislation. Hon. Members will be aware of the letter sent by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the President of the Sunday Freedom Association and published with the Archbishop's permission. The letter said there was general agreement within the Church that the present legislation was not only completely out of date but in many respects ridiculous—I think that that remark may have referred more to the fifteenth and seventeenth century Acts than to the Act of 1780.
The letter went on to say that it was not possible to proceed merely by abolishing existing legislation and that it was on the question of what restrictions should take the place of the old that the real difficulties began. The letter concluded by saying that the Church of England desired a revision of the present legislation and not an abolition, and that a committee of inquiry ought to be established.
I am sure that the remark that it was on the question of what restrictions 863 should take the place of the old that the real difficulties began was not in any way an over-statement of the problem. It is the duty of the Government to warn the House that any Select Committee charged with the duty of recommending changes in the law would be faced with very grave difficulty. The essential question is one of personal conviction, and a Select Committee would find itself faced with deep cleavages of opinion. The Committee might well find it impossible to recommend any compromise, or to present a unanimous report.
On the other hand, a Select Committee would have the advantage that it would oblige those who seek a change in the law to think up and frame the specific proposals that they would like to see adopted, and to do so with some precision. The report of the Committee, even if it were not unanimous, would help to clarify what amendments were at least possible, so that the reaction of the various interests and of public opinion generally could be tested before legislation were introduced.
The hon. Member for Rossendale quite fairly asked, "Supposing the Government recommend against a Select Committee, what form of inquiry would the Government wish to see?" The answer is that the Government are not recommending against the Select Committee. The Government—and I have tried, on their behalf, fairly to present the advantages and disadvantages of a Select Committee—say that this is a matter for the House of Commons to decide. Rather than attempt to answer the question what other form of inquiry would be necessary, it is best to stick to the question before the House, which is the only one on which we can reach a decision this afternoon. There is no Amendment.
If I might summarise the position as I see it, it is this: the present law is clear, but some of it is obsolete and should be replaced. Opinion is deeply divided as to how it should be amended. A Select Committee would almost certainly do not much more than reflect the cleavage of public opinion. Therefore, if an inquiry is needed, a Select Committee might not be the best way of holding it, but it has certain advantages which I have mentioned. If the House passes the Motion, a Select Committee 864 will, of course, be appointed. It is not a party matter. It is for the conscience and judgment of individual Members. The Government are content to leave the matter to the decision of the House.
§ Mr. Paget
In view of the fact that, usually, this is not a question of the citizen knowing what the law is but how much of the law he can safely break, does not the hon. and learned Member feel that there is some responsibility upon the Government and particularly upon his right hon. and hon. Friends?
§ Mr. Renton
That is a very broad question but, as was pointed out by one of the hon. and learned Member's hon. Friends, it is not merely in this branch of the law that the Statute Book is cluttered up with obsolete laws which are unenforced or unenforceable, but in a number of other branches as well. There is the Statute Law Revision Committee, which was established since the war, and has been doing most valuable work. From time to time it comes before this House with proposals for consolidating the law, clearing away the dead wood as it does so. That is the best way to handle this matter.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
If the hon. and learned Gentleman could give the House an assurance that the Government will, through the normal procedure, send this Motion to the Statute Law Revision Committee, it might satisfy many hon. Members.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Jones (Merioneth)
I am grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary of State and to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) for allowing my speech to be sandwiched into the debate in this fashion. The best part of a sandwich, I would point out, is always in the middle.
I would be the last to deny that there are certain laws affecting Sunday which are archaic and obsolete, but so are many laws on the Statute Book. For instance, there is one which states that no more graveyards are to be opened in the town of Calais but that could have been put to rest with Mary Tudor. A joint Committee of the Lords and Commons could look at our ancient statutes and wipe out those which are obsolete and archaic. In this country and particularly in Wales—I am speaking this afternoon as a 865 Welsh representative—Sunday is regarded as a day set apart from the rest of the week. I wish to argue that, in the main, it should remain so.
In most parts of Wales, especially in rural areas such as the one I have the honour to represent in this House, Sunday still remains a day of quiet and tranquillity. For some it is a day of worship, for others it is a day of private devotion, but to all it is a day of rest. I do not think the vast majority of the people of Wales wish to change its character. I therefore appeal to hon. Members who represent other parts of the Kingdom to respect the attitude of the Welsh people in this connection. We are not asking that the people of England should change their way of life in order to suit us.
I was anxious to intervene in the debate because of what appeared in the Welsh Press only this week. The Western Mail said, on 11th March:The campaign for Sunday opening of public houses in Wales will be pursued with more determination than ever, Mr. T. S. Moreton, Secretary of the Wales and Monmouthshire Sunday Opening Council, said yesterday in London. The Council met to discuss a motion by Mr. Denis Howell, Socialist, All Saints, Birmingham, which the House of Commons will discuss on Friday calling for a committee of inquiry into the laws relating to Sunday observance. In our campaign …say these gentlemen—we shall continue to badger the 36 Welsh M.P.s, although only a small minority of them support us. The Welsh and Monmouthshire Sunday Opening Council has already asked licensed victuallers to obtain the support of their M.P.s for Mr. Howell's motion.We shall see at four o'clock how successful they have been in that respect. The Act governing licensed premises in the Principality forbids them to open on Sunday. During the last few months there has been a great deal of talk about this and about the necessity for repealing that provision. I ask the House to note that all this talk emanates from outside Wales, or else from brewery interests or the licensed victuallers' associations. I cannot believe that even the licensees themselves want this Act repealed. Like all other workers, they desire to have this day off.
Part of the argument used by the brewers—an argument I have had put to me in the Lobby by their representatives—is that this extra day is wanted in order that licensees can secure a living 866 wage. My answer is that the brewery trade should see to it that licensees are paid decently. They make enough profits, I am sure of that. The brewery trade, which is behind this Motion——
§ Mr. Howell
My hon. Friend must distinguish between the brewers. While what he is saying is probably true of Welsh brewers, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the English brewers do not want any competition with the English "pub" which is open on Sundays.
Major W. Hicks Beach (Cheltenham)
Although I have no connection with the brewery trade, I think it is grossly unfair to suggest that the Motion, even though I am opposed to it, is instigated by the brewing industry.
§ Mr. Jones
I apologise in case I have given that impression. What I have said is that in Wales they are interested in the Motion, as my quotation from the Welsh Press clearly confirms. The fact is that no public body or local authority in Wales has asked for the repeal of the Act, which is an integral part of our way of life. I repeat that there is no call for its repeal from Wales.
Let me remind the House, as was done by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), that when the Petition was drawn up by the brewers for the repeal of the Act, they failed to find a single Member of Parliament from Wales to present it. That 867 was not because the Welsh Members of Parliament lack the courage to do what they consider right. The House will, I think, agree that we do not lack the material for making agitators and rebels when we need them.
The licensed victuallers failed to find any Member of Parliament from Wales who was prepared to present the Petition. It was presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Sir T. O'Brien), whose name clearly indicates Welsh ancestry. He trod blindly where angels fear to tread.
I concede that there is an anomaly concerning the Welsh clubs, but the way to deal with that is not to repeal the legislation which prohibits Sunday opening in Wales, but rather to reform the law governing clubs. These clubs have sprung up like mushrooms during recent years, not for legitimate club purposes, but simply to provide drinking facilities. It is high time that the Government had the courage to deal with the law relating to these clubs.
I should not be wrong in describing the present age as the age of the psychiatrist and of the neurologist. Life seems to be one mad rush. It is a rush to work——
§ Mr. Jones
I am told, "Stop and have a drink"—a drink to make one unfit for the work to follow. It is a rush to work or a rush to pleasure or anything to escape from the insecurity which prevails today. That is the feeling in this age of nuclear power. Nowadays, the need for this day of rest is greater than ever.
When I make this plea on behalf of Wales, it is not because Wales is a backward country. As a matter of fact, the Welsh nation is in advance of every other country in the United Kingdom. A Tory M.P. in Wales is a novelty. When he comes to Wales to speak, people go to see him because they are anxious to see what a Tory M.P. looks like—and, as often as not, they are frightened of what they see. As for a Conservative working man, that creature is unknown in Wales and if we came across him, we would put him in the museum in Cardiff.
Out of 36 M.P.s representing Wales, 28 belong to the Socialist Party. We do 868 not want ginger groups in Wales. It is in England, from where we have had most of the speakers today, that ginger groups are needed.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
Will the hon. Member allow me to point out that most of the best people left Wales many years ago?
Order. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) is getting rather far from the Motion.
§ Mr. Jones
I did have much more to say and I should have been glad to speak in praise of my country, because we were here before the Saxons ever came. As a matter of fact, we allowed them to come only to civilise them. However, I will conclude, because it is only fair to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton time in which to conclude the debate.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Sorensen (Leyton)
I am much obliged to the House for the time which has been placed at my disposal which, if short, will be adequate to deal with one or two of the arguments adduced today. Although the opening words of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) were irrelevant to the main subject, I am grateful for his kind references to me. I wholeheartedly support the Motion and I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) and other hon. Members that I do so without any association whatever with brewers, but because I believe that embodied in the Motion there is a moral and ethical principle.
What the Motion asks is that an inquiry should be made—nothing more. A great deal has been said today by Welsh and other Celtic Members entirely irrelevant to the case. It may be that there is no desire in Wales to change the licensing laws and that there is a desire to preserve the Sabbath as it now is; but there is no reason why such an inquiry should not have that overwhelming fact made clear. All that is suggested is that there should be an inquiry into admitted anomalies, anachronisms and inconsistencies. That is eminently more suitable than to secure revisions and alterations by the process of some subterfuge or erosion.
Reference has been made to the fact that many alterations have been made 869 in Sabbath observance. We know full well that in the early days, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) mentioned, there were very severe penalties, certainly against vassals and menials, for performing servile work, as it was called, without the permission of their lord. In Elizabethan times, there were very severe penalties against those who did not attend church under compulsion of the law and in the Victorian period large numbers of devout, evangelical people thought it a grievous sin if on Sundays one went even to the British Museum to see the monuments of antiquity there arranged.
We have come a long way since that time and no doubt, technically speaking, there are laws in existence which are no longer observed. There has been a process of erosion and a process of subterfuge to get round the law. Surely it is much more consonant with the dignity of the House and of the country if we reason these things and scrutinise the inconsistencies and then make some recommendation by which a fair compromise can be reached. To my mind, that is eminently superior and a more worthy standpoint than merely relying on tricks of evasion to dodge the law.
I again ask the House to consider the very simple claim, that the best thing to do in respect of this admitted mass of anomalies and anachronisms is to inquire into the position to see how we can get over it, by not further continuing the process of demoralisation, as is the present case with Sunday observance.
As it is, hon. Members have revealed how they themselves are caught in the moral dilemma, not least among whom was my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) who described how he turned a knob on his television set and observed the performance of others on Sunday, who for his benefit and the benefit of some millions of others perform Sunday work, plus, of course, all the technicians. A great deal that the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) said could be applied in that respect. These are all engaged in work on Sundays.
My hon. Friend the Member for All Saints is prepared to encourage those people to work on Sundays, thus giving a very unfortunate example to the hon. Member for Wimbledon. I sympathise 870 with my hon. Friend and, indeed, with hon. Members opposite. They are caught in this moral dilemma. They know that one cannot possibly go back to the olden days in which there was a very severe interpretation of the sabbatarian principle. We may well ask whether it is not much more reasonable that we should all come together to look into this matter so that we might relieve our hon. Friends of the moral dilemma which contronts them and, indeed, obsesses them today.
Some of us are quite prepared to admit—in fact, we are certain—that there are certain values in the tradition of the Christian Sunday. We do not want to see all those values cast on one side. That too would emerge in the course of an inquiry.
On the other hand, we must admit that many of the institutions which are valuable to us today had often a very primitive origin with which we no longer identify those later values. Take, for instance, Christmas Day. We no longer celebrate Mass on Christmas Day if we are not Anglo-Catholic or Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, Christmas has come to be a holiday which I think has some significance, but originally, long before the institution of Christmas Day, there was Yuletide.
Major Hicks Beach
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that Christmas Day is not regarded as a religious day in this country? Is he suggesting that Christmas Day has not a religious significance?
§ Mr. Sorensen
I am suggesting nothing of the sort. I say that we celebrate Christmas Day differently from the way in which we celebrated Yuletide which preceded it and the other early forms of celebration which were prevalent in this and other countries in years gone by. Presbyterians do not celebrate Christmas Day as the Catholics did in bygone days. Yuletide was a ceremony out of which Christmas has evolved.
Major Hicks Beach
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that all denominations do not regard Christmas Day as a religious festival? That is what he said.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but may I ask if he has never been to church 871 on Christmas Eve'? My experience is that the churches are packed on Christmas Eve and are certainly far more crowded than at any other time of the year.
§ Mr. Sorensen
That is quite irrelevant. I am arguing that often there was originally a celebration which, in course of time, has been modified and altered. I do not deny the religious significance of Christmas Day. I myself conduct services on Christmas Day and frequently attend midnight services on Christmas Eve. I do not deny that. All I am arguing is that Christmas has evolved from early origins to something rather different in many respects.
Take the days of the week. We no longer celebrate the worship of the moon or the sun just because we have Sunday and Monday, or Thor on Thursday or Saturn on Saturday. Nevertheless these have a pagan origin. We have come to accept the days of the week because it is necessary to do so for our calendar, and it is an illustration of the fact that the original Sabbath as practised in Judaic times had a value in those days which we do not now accept.
No one would dream of suggesting that we should impose a sabbatical law in this country as was done in early days. We have changed from those times. The Christian Sunday is not strictly the Sabbath. It is the first day of the week. From the days when it was first instituted and during the years which have followed, there has been a gradual alteration in how we celebrate it. That is why I say it is possible for people like myself to see certain inherent values in the Christian Sunday without at the same time feeling that identified and associated with those values should be all the practices which might have had a value in bygone days. Everybody accepts that if they look only at their own experience today.
I remember that, in my boyhood days, a pious Salvationist would not dream of jumping on a bus on Sunday; he probably thought he might be visited by Divine displeasure. There has been a great change. Everyone admits it. Let us look at the situation today and see how, in the light of the altered circumstances, we can clear up these matters.
872 There is another moral aspect. I have certain ideas on the Sabbath. I frequently take service on the Sunday, and I have ideas about how Sunday can best be used; but I have no right to impose my ideas about what is best for me upon other people who do not think as I do. It is because I feel the moral passion of democracy that I submit that those who are trying their utmost, stage by stage, to prevent the honest and dignified recognition of the new meaning of the Sabbath are doing a disservice, not a service, to religion.
In my constituency, and elsewhere, no doubt, among those who no longer go to church, one of the things constantly held against religious people is precisely that, if they cannot get their own way openly, often they try to get it secretly. Directly religious people cannot preserve some of their old institutions or traditions, so it is said, they get up to all kinds of dodges. This may not always be fair, of course, but it often is.
Take the example of what happened about the cinemas in most areas of the country when there was the demand for Sunday opening. In every case, the churches, almost unanimously, tried to prevent it happening. They advanced all sorts of pleas and arguments, sometimes honest, and sometimes, I am afraid, dishonest. What happened? When the matter was put to the vote, by an overwhelming majority—almost, I think, without exception—the electors in each area registered their desire to have the cinemas opened on Sunday. The attempt on the part of the Churches to prevent people going to the cinemas because they did not come to the church services was a disservice to religion. That is a moral factor.
§ Sir S. Summers
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that, in asserting this, he is, in fact, saying that any form of restraint imposed by law will be regarded as an attempt to foist views upon other people?
§ Mr. Sorensen
If he likes, the hon. Gentleman can force it to an absurd conclusion. We all have to have some 873 balance. All I am pleading for is that we should have the right balance. In my constituency, not more than 7 or 8 per cent. of the people go to church, I imagine. I go to church, but what advantage is there to my faith if I say to the other 92 or 93 per cent. that, because they will not think as I think and will not come to listen to me, I shall try to stop them going to the cinema or theatre? This is a simple, moral factor. Respect for democracy and freedom, trying to respect the point of view of the other man even when his views are totally different from one's own, is of profound and religious significance. For this reason, I want the inquiry made.
I have never denied, nor has anyone, the value of the tradition of Sunday—Sunday school and so on. We recognise that. That is why these factors must be taken into consideration. We should recognise with dignity, sanity and charity that some of us want to spend Sunday in one way and some in another. Therefore, is it not better that we should come together to see how best we can balance the two? There will still be illogicalities, inconsistencies, anachronisms, but at least those factors can be minimised. In the interests of honesty, decency and charity, I certainly hope that the Motion will be carried.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
I was surprised to hear some of the views expressed by the hon. Member for Leyton
§ (Mr. Sorensen). No one would doubt for one moment, of course, the sincerity of his views and the fact that he is a strong supporter of his own Church, but I found it difficult to follow his argument that restraint of any section of our society was a bad thing and ought to be resisted. If that argument were carried to its logical conclusion, eventually it would produce a state bordering on anarchy.
First, I wish to draw attention to the Motion on the Order Paper:
To call attention to the need to revise and repeal the Sunday observance laws; and to move, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the Sunday observance legislation …
The proposed Committee cannot by any stretch of the imagination be said to be a purely exploratory Committee. The introductory words of the Motion say:
To call attention to the need to revise and repeal the Sunday observance laws …
§ Nobody can be in any doubt whatever as to what lies behind the Motion. It is an attempt to change established customs, an attempt which is extremely offensive to many people. It is an attempt to foist upon the people by a back-door method a standard for their Sundays which they are not prepared to accept——
§ Mr. D. Howell rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 54, Noes 31875
|Division No. 70.]||AYES||[3.57 p.m.|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.)||Hay, John||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Boyd, T. C.||Holman, P.||Redhead, E. C.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Houghton, Douglas||Reeves, J.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral, J.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury)||Jeger, George (Goole)||Russell, R. S.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.)||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Deer, G.||Lindgren, G. S.||Stress, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, G.)|
|Delargy, H. J.||Lipton, Marcus||Tomney, F.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Mitchison, G. R.||Wall, Patrick|
|Edwards, W.J. (Stepney)||Mulley, F. W.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Paget, R. T.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Fletcher, Eric||Parker, J.||Willey, Frederick|
|Foot, D. M.||Parkin, B. T.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Prentice, R. E.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Hastings, S.||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Mr. D. Howell and Mr. Kirk.|
|Bishop, F. P||Finlay, Graeme||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Body, R. F.||George, Lady Megan Lloyd(Car'then)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)|
|Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Linstead, Sir H. N.|
|Cooke, Robert||Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)|
|Davies, Rt. Hon. Clement (Montgomery)||Hunter, A. E.||Monslow, W.|
|Nabarro, G. D. N.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Peel, W. J.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Peyton, J. W. W.||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kes'gt'n, S.)||Woollam, John Victor|
|Powell, J. Enoch||Summers, Sir Spenser||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Reid, William||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)||Mr. G. Thomas and Mr. Black.|
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the Affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 30 (Majority for Closure).
§ It being after Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.