HC Deb 05 February 1974 vol 868 cc1047-54

3.55 p.m.

Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal the Sunday Observance Act 1780. Twenty-one years ago, on 30th January 1953, I first introduced a Bill to legalise Sunday entertainment. It was heavily defeated, by 281 votes to 57.

Much water has passed under the bridge since then. There has been a pronounced change in public feeling. At that date none of the main sports organisations favoured Sunday play. Nowadays, all the major sports organisations are in favour of the change in the law that I propose.

In the last Parliament three similar Bills were introduced. One passed through the other place, and two were introduced in this House. Both secured a Second Reading and went through Committee, but they were held up and killed by filibusters at various stages.

The 1969 Bill had a record filibuster. Sixty hours were spent on it in the Committee, which had 19 sittings. Yet, although the supporters of the Bill had a majority of only one, it passed through Committee with no substantial change. It was killed later, because it was unable to secure the necessary time to go further through the House.

In the present Parliament, I introduced a similar Bill in 1971. It was defeated by a majority of three.

Despite the lack of direct progress there have been important legislative changes in this field. First, the common informer has been abolished. He was one of the most useful weapons used by the Lord's Day Observance Society to try to enforce the obsolete laws on Sunday entertainment. Secondly, the Statute Law Repeals Act 1969 repealed three of the four Sunday Observance Acts—those of 1625, 1627 and 1677. I seek to repeal the remaining Act, the 1780 Sunday Observance Act.

The result of those changes in the law is that it is now perfectly legal to play games on a Sunday, but it is not legal to charge for entry to watch them, nor to advertise them.

There have been other changes. The Sunday Cinema Act 1972 removed all the obstructions in the way of cinemas opening on a Sunday—the need for a poll and the need to give part of the proceeds to a charity. The Sunday Theatre Act was also passed in 1972, and the opening of theatres on Sundays only awaits an agreement between the actors and management on how to split the proceeds of Sunday opening.

There have been changes other than legislative changes. The custom of Sunday motoring to go to the countryside or the seaside has grown enormously in the past 20 years. The most popular day for visiting National Trust houses or such places as Hampton Court is Sunday. People assume that Sunday exists for them to enjoy themselves.

There has been the development of motor racing at Brands Hatch and elsewhere. The Lord's Day Observance Society brought a test case against the opening of Brands Hatch on Sundays and won the case in the courts, but the organisers of that sport then decided to charge for parking instead of entry, and they have continued in that way ever since.

Polo, too, is financed by charges for parking for people who wish to watch it.

We have seen the introduction of the selling of programmes, first for cricket, then for rugby league, and now for football on a Sunday.

I would make this complaint. Organisations seek to get round the law rather than to change it. It is wrong that the law should be got round by the various subterfuges I have mentioned. The law should be changed and not got round in this way, because subterfuges of this kind only bring the law into disrepute.

Attendance figures in the past few weeks at football matches show that there is a widespread demand for Sunday play. Cricket has been saved only because it has been possible to arrange matches on Sundays.

In this matter Parliament has been lagging well behind public opinion. In many matters this House has led public opinion. I have in mind the abolition of capital punishment and so on. However, in regard to Sunday sport a Gallup poll revealed four years ago that, among people over the age of 16, 64 per cent. in England and 62 per cent. in Wales were in favour of Sunday games. There was a majority against only among those over 65. Among the younger age group between 16 and 25 years of age, 82 per cent. were in favour of a change of this kind.

I agree that there is an important point to be considered in relation to noise on Sundays. However, I take the view that it is most unlikely that any important football team will want to play matches on both Saturdays and Sundays. What is likely to happen is that some teams will play on Saturdays and others on Sundays. It will depend on local circumstances which day is chosen for matches in different areas. I am assured by football managers that among the factors they will take into account is the feeling of the public in particular areas.

Many of the newer football grounds are outside built-up areas and have more that adequate adjacent parking facilities. In those circumstances noise is not a serious inconvenience. In the middle of a built-up area the presence of a football ground can be a nuisance. However, I suggest that this problem will work itself out. Where games are not likely to cause inconvenience to the public they will be played on Sundays, otherwise they will be played on Saturdays. If it does not work out satisfactorily, further action will have to be taken.

This is a matter of principle. We are a people of all religions and of none. No group of people, however zealous they may be, have the right to force their religious views upon us and to tell us how we should behave on Sundays if we we do not share their views. It is a matter which should be left to the free judgment of the individual.

There is a need to bring the law into line with what the majority of people believe to be right and proper. It is bad from the point of view of the community to have laws which cannot be enforced and are got round by subterfuge. It is much better to change the law, and the best way is to repeal this obsolete Act of 1780.

Recently, in a debate on the Safety of Sports Grounds Bill, the Minister responsible said that this was a matter that the House of Commons would have to face up to sooner or later. I ask the House to face up to it today by voting for the repeal of the 1780 Act.

4.4 p.m.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)

No one doubts for a moment the sincerity and pertinacity of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), but I oppose the Bill because I think that the erosion of the British Sunday has already gone far enough. We have an almost universal five-day week, where possibly only Members of Parliament are the exception to the general rule. I suggest, therefore, that there is plenty of time to do what the repeal of the 1780 Act would otherwise make possible on Sundays. What is more, the abolition of the restraints in the Act would undoubtedly lead in the majority of cases to financial gain by individuals or bodies corporate.

I oppose the Bill on two main grounds, and the hon. Gentleman has himself referred to one of them.

My first objection is that most spectator sports would be legalised on Sundays if the Bills were passed. We have plenty of evidence that a good deal of nuisance and annoyance has been caused to people living in or near the vicinity of football grounds, and who can doubt that there would be legalised Saturday and Sunday football if the Bill were passed? There would be mass movements of fans by train, coach and car, to the general annoyance and discomfort of people living in the area of football grounds.

I suggest that "peace" is a much overworked word nowadays. But the peace of our Sundays could be wrecked when it is still much valued by all sorts of conditions of men up and down the length and breadth of the country.

No reasonable person will say that many of the activities which could be legalised for Sundays by the repeal of the 1780 Act are inherently wrong. What the Bill's opponents say is merely that they are better done on any other day of the week.

My second main reason for resisting the repeal of the 1780 Act is that we in this House are jealous of the rights and views of minorities. Regrettably, nowadays, only a minority of the people are churchgoers or practising Christians. But those of us who are part of that minority respect the command of God to keep

one day in seven set apart to sacred usage and for tranquility. Blatantly to disobey a direct command always leads to trouble.

If we allow further inroads into the comparative peace of our Sunday, I believe that we are in for a great deal more trouble than can easily be foreseen. Therefore, I hope that the House will not give the hon. Gentleman leave to introduce his Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):

The House divided: Ayes 87, Noes 103.

Division No. 45.] AYES [4.07 p.m.
Ashley, Jack Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Atkins, Humphrey Harper, Joseph Oakes, Gordon
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) O'Halloran, Michael
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hughes, Roy (Newport) Orme, Stanley
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hunt, John Paget, R. T.
Bossom, Sir Clive Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Carmichael, Neil John, Brynmor Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Prescott, John
Cohen, Stanley Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Radice, Giles
Concannon, J. D. Kelley, Richard Rees-Davies, W. R.
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Kerr, Russell Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Dalyell, Tam Kinnock, Neil Rose, Paul B.
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Kirk, Peter Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Knox, David Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lamborn, Harry Skinner, Dennis
Driberg, Tom Lamond, James Spriggs, Leslie
Duffy, A. E. P. Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Stallard, A. W.
Dykes, Hugh Lestor, Miss Joan Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Evans, Fred Lipton, Marcus Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood) McCartney, Hugh Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McElhone, Frank Tope, Graham
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Urwin, T. W.
Fraser, John (Norwood) McNamara, J, Kevin Weitzman, David
Freeson, Reginald Marks, Kenneth Whitehead, Phillip
Freud, Clement Mendelson, John Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Garrett, W. E. Mikardo, Ian
Gilbert, Dr. John Millan, Bruce TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gourlay, Harry Morrison, Charles Mr. George Cunningham and
Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Moyle, Roland Mr. Dick Leonard.
Hamling, William
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Dodds-Parker, Sir Douglas Jopling, Michael
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Dunn, James A. Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine
Austick, David Edelman, Maurice Kershaw, Anthony
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Knight, Mrs. Jill
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Farr, John Lane, David
Benyon, W. Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. Langford-Holt, Sir John
Biggs-Davison, John Fox, Marcus Longden, Sir Gilbert
Booth, Albert Goodhart, Philip Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Boscawen, Hn. Robert Goodhew, Victor McBride, Neil
Bowden, Andrew Gray, Hamish Mackenzie, Gregor
Brewis, John Gummer, J. Selwyn Maclennan, Robert
Brinton, Sir Tatton Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) McMaster, Stanley
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hall, Sir John (Wycombe) Marsden, F.
Channon, Paul Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Marten, Neil
Chapman, Sydney Hardy, Peter Mather, Carol
Churchill, W. S. Hawkins, Paul Montgomery, Fergus
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Higgins, Terence L. More, Jasper
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Coleman, Donald Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.
Cormack, Patrick Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Mudd, David
Costain, A. P. James, David Murray, Ronald King
Crawshaw, Richard Jessel, Toby Normanton, Tom
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Oswald, Thomas
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Jones, Dan (Burnley) Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)
Dixon, Piers Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Pardoe, John Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington) turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Perry, Ernest G. Soref, Harold Waddington, David
Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Spence, John Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Price, David (Eastleigh) Stanbrook, Ivor Wall, Patrick
Ronton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Steel, David Wallace, George
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Swain, Thomas Weatherill, Bernard
Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon) Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N) Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.) Mr. Ron Lewis and
Roderick, Caerwyn E. (Brc'n&R'dnor) Tinn, James Mr. Donald Stewart
Small, William Trew, Peter

Question accordingly negatived.

Back to