§ Order for Second Reading read.9.35 am
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is designed to remove some of the anomalies that at present surround Sunday trading and late night opening. It uses a dual approach. The first is to rationalise and very modestly to extend the list of things that may be bought and sold on a Sunday in those shops which under the present legislation—the Shops Act 1950—are allowed to open on Sundays. The other is to give local authorities the power to permit the opening of any shops in their area after consultation with those most closely concerned. The Bill also includes provisions to protect shop workers from exploitation as a consequence of these extensions of shop hours.
I make it quite plain that I am not trying to produce a free-for-all on Sundays, or to keep the cash tills ringing until midnight in every High Street. I value Sunday as a day of worship, and rest and refreshment—a day quite different in character from every other day of the week. I know that a number of Churches, and, in particular, the Lord's Day Observance Society, are opposed to my Bill, and I fully respect their point of view. Indeed, were it possible to revert, as they would have us do, to a Sunday without any commercial activity whatever, I do not think that I should want to resist them.
I do not believe, however, that it it is possible to turn back the clock to that extent. Power station workers, water workers, doctors, nurses, firemen, newspaper workers, broadcasters and many thousands of others who service the activities that open on Mondays have to work on Sundays. Moreover, our multi-racial society now includes hundreds of thousands of Jews, Asians, Arabs and others for whom the special day of the week is not Sunday, and who can work on that day without any hurt to their religious principles or their cultural traditions.
Indeed, the special position of the Jews in this matter is already recognised in the present legislation, namely, section 53 of the Shops Act 1950 which grants persons of Jewish faith a limited right to keep their shops open on Sundays.
Since it is not practicable to go back, the choice lies between staying as we are or amending the law so as to provide for less restriction on late-night opening and Sunday trading.
562 I believe that the time has come when it is undesirable to leave the law as it is. The law, in the shape of the 1950 Act, is in some areas widely ignored and thus brought into contempt, and in other places it is enforced in so arbitrary a manner as to cause injustice to individuals. It is true that the number of prosecutions for illegal Sunday trading has been falling since 1976. The evidence of one's own eyes, however, suggests that, despite the prohibitions, Sunday trading has grown substantially since then. It must follow, therefore, that the law is being flouted with increasing impunity. That is presumably one reason why the Institute of Trading Standards Administration, whose members are in some instances responsible for the enforcement of the shops legislation, is strongly in favour of my Bill.
The present state of affairs is also damaging to the tourist trade. I need hardly remind the House of the importance of that trade to the economy—employing, as it does, some 800,000 workers, and earning £3,000 million or more per year in foreign exchange. For that reason, I have the enthusiastic support of the British Tourist Authority. It is desperately keen that our tourist attractions, particularly the newest tourist attraction, such as the new Covent Garden market development—
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
Surely one of the attractions of a country for tourists is that it is different from their own countries. How does the British tourist industry gain from making the United Kingdom as nearly as possible the same as the countries from which the tourists come?
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
Later I shall cover precisely what happens in other countries. Suffice it to say at this stage that the British Tourist Authority, having considered the matter carefully, and having taken into account the considerations advanced by the right hon. Gentleman, strongly favours the proposals in the Bill.
In seaside resorts—defined in the Act as holiday areas—such as Rhyl and Prestatyn in my constituency the present legislation allows a certain amount of Sunday trading. But it is limited under section 51 of the Act to 18 Sundays in a year, and that is a handicap to resorts that are seeking to lengthen what are often pathetically short seasons.
I shall not rehearse here the by now familiar and ludicrous list of items which may or may not be bought on a Sunday—the raw kipper and the half-cooked tripe, the absolute prohibition on fish and chips unless bought in a Chinese take-away. These absurdities were beautifully set out by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) when he introduced his Ten-Minute Bill on Sunday trading on 25 June last year. If any hon. Member wants a good chuckle he should read columns 480–82 of Hansard for that day. Since the hon. Gentleman is in his place I have no doubt that we shall get an appropriate encore today.
There have been a number of attempts to reform the law since the 1950 Act, which was largely a consolidation measure. With a few minor and limited exceptions—some of which were Government Bills though introduced in another place—these have failed. I do not propose to weary the House with a recital of all those unsuccessful attempts, but I must say a few words about a document of more lasting importance, namely, the report—Cmnd. 2528—published in December 1964, of the Departmental Committee on the Law on Sunday Observance, under the chairmanship of that lovely man, Lord Crathorne. This 563 careful, thoughtful and balanced report made many suggestions for a relaxation of some of the restrictions on Sunday trading while insisting on the importance of preserving the special character of Sunday.
Had all, many, or even some of the Crathorne committee recommendations been applied I do not think that I would be standing here today introducing the Bill. However, more through mischance than misdeed or neglect, nothing has been done to translate any of the report's findings into law. Now that 17 years have elapsed since the report it no longer seems adequate simply to seek to apply its recommendations today.
I have attempted, with the invaluable help of the Consumers Association, which has provided me with the most magnificent information and research, to draft a Bill much in the spirit in which the Crathorne committee approached its task but taking account of changes in the pattern of British life and habits and the composition of the population since 1964.
My aim is modest. It is to make the law more coherent, more relevant, more respected and more just. I do not claim for one moment that my Bill represents anything like an ideal solution, or even that it will remove all anomalies or unfairnesses. Wherever a line is drawn something reasonable will be on the wrong side of it. However, the Bill provides the most practicable solution that can be applied in current circumstances.
The Bill has three clauses. Clause 1 confers on district councils the right to determine whether shops in their areas may open at times now prohibited by the 1950 Act. A council would be given complete discretion as to the areas, the types of shop, the times of opening and the types of merchandise that could be sold late at night or on Sundays. Before making an order under clause 1(1) the council would have to take such steps as were reasonably practicable to consult shopkeepers, unions representing shop workers, and consumers.
I have chosen to leave the question to the complete discretion of local authorities in order to accommodate the very different attitudes to Sunday trading and late-night opening that prevail in different parts of the country and to provide flexibility for different parts of the country and for relatively small areas within the areas of district councils. I am sure that it is preferable to do it in that way rather than to apply a blanket measure to the whole country. It may very well be, for example, that some districts, probably in Wales, will not want to travel far down this road.
Clause 2 marries the two lists of exemptions, one dealing with late-night opening, which is schedule 2 of the 1950 Act, the other being the list of items that may be sold on Sundays, which is contained in schedule 5 of that Act. It produces a new, rationalised and slightly extended schedule, including, for example, everything sold at a garden centre. As we all know, garden centres are in countless cases open on Sundays in breach of the present legislation. I hope that the proposed schedule will prove less open to ridicule than the present one. An example of the absurdity of the present position is that in many cases garages are permitted to remain open all day on Sundays, but if they are open after the permitted hours on weekdays they are supposed to close between each customer. That is the kind of nonsense that I hope to do away with. 564 Wherever a line is drawn some kind of anomaly is bound to be left, but perhaps in Committee we can refine the line further.
Clause 3 sets the normal working week for shop workers, for other than the owner and his family, as 40 hours. Any hours over that would be considered as overtime and would therefore command different and, presumably, better wages and conditions. There are provisions that limit the amount of overtime for people between the ages of 16 and 18, but for all other workers overtime is left as a matter for negotiation between the employer and the employee and/or his union.
The setting of a normal working week in this way provides a benchmark for employees. It means that staffing levels should be based on having enough employees to cover the shop opening hours with a standard working week of 40 hours. Additionally, it gives individual workers and the union a peg on which to hang their negotiations for overtime payments. It is possible that more flexible shop hours would open up the chance of more jobs in retailing and also the chance of negotiating better terms and conditions for those already in the industry.
§ Mr. Thomas Torney (Bradford, South)
Bearing in mind what the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) said about overtime and the 40-hour working week, is he aware that there have been various experiments with a six-day working week by which shops, instead of closing for a whole day or half a day in the middle of the week, remain open from Monday to Saturday inclusive? Is he aware that that has created the need for some kind of shift working?
Is the hon. Member further aware that the vast majority of employers in distribution—I have some knowledge of the subject—have tried to work the shift system over six days with the same staff? That has meant a greatly depleted staff, a low grade of service for customers in the early days of the week, although a full staff has been provided on Fridays and Saturdays. As a result, customers have had to suffer bad service. I know that that is happening. What does the hon. Gentleman have to say about that?
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
There can be no certitude about the consequences of the Bill. I adhere strongly to the view that if seven-day opening becomes possible it will become much more difficult for shops to operate with their present staffing levels and that, whereas they may just manage to get by, on a six-day working week, by squeezing their staff, for a seven-day working week they would find it essential to employ additional staff.
Furthermore, if shops have a reduced staffing level on Mondays and Tuesdays, may not that be a reflection of people's different shopping habits? Precisely because there is less pressure on shop assistants on Monday and Tuesday, may not those be the very days on which it is not necessary to employ so many staff?
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
Will my hon. Friend clearly point out that the Bill places no obligation upon anybody to open at any time? It is merely a piece of enabling legislation.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is very much the philosophy of the Bill, and it is on 565 that note that I propose to end my speech. I hope that the House will like the Bill and give it a Second Reading, but before I sit down I wish to make one further point.
In opposition to the Bill much will be made of the "thin edge of the wedge" argument. It will be said that once Sunday opening is more widely permitted the competitive pressure on shopkeepers to open on Sundays will be impossible to resist and we shall end up with a Sunday no different from any other day of the week. All I can say is that experience does not bear out that plausible theory. Under the 1950 Act any shop may remain open until 8 o'clock at night. How many in fact do? The Act does not apply to Scotland, but I do not believe that any visitor to that God-fearing country finds the atmosphere very different on a Sunday from what it is over the border.
§ Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)
I know that my hon. Friend would not wish to mislead the House, but surely he is aware of the widespread extension of night trading that has taken place during the past 10 years, in response partly to the very competitive pressures that he suggests would not apply to Sunday trading.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
I accept from my hon. Friend that there has been an extension of late-night opening. I said that earlier in my speech. The fact remains that the vast majority of shops do not feel obliged by this competitive pressure to open when they have no desire to do so.
Ten days ago I made a lightning visit by car to see for myself how things were on a Sunday in northern France, Holland, Belgium and West Germany. What is interesting is that the laws in those four countries are very different. In France, everything is permitted; there are no restrictions whatever on Sunday opening. In Belgium, Holland and, astonishingly, West Germany there is a total prohibition of Sunday trading. But the differences that I discovered were minimal. Admittedly, in France, unlike the other three countries, one could buy bread and food and—I have to concede this—one could in a very few places buy fresh meat. Moreover, one could buy newspapers. Incidentally, one could not buy newspapers in Holland; there are no Sunday newspapers in Holland.
Apart from that, the atmosphere in the four countries was astonishingly similar. The loudest noise was the ringing of church bells, and not of cash tills. The largest crowds seemed to consist of people dashing to Mass, clutching their missals. That is really how I should like it to be, and I do not believe that my Bill would alter it. I just think that it might help to make the law a little more sensible.
§ Mr. Thomas Torney (Bradford, South)
I do not for a moment doubt the honesty of the hon. Member for Hint, West (Sir A. Meyer). I believe that he has been mislead. It would be nice to believe that the outcome of the Bill would be just to abolish those difficulties which we heard enumerated recently by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) when he sought to introduce a Ten-Minute Bill—being able to sell a kipper and not being able to sell some other item, and so on.
I should be the first to concede that there are anomalies in the Shops Acts. Like Topsy, they have "growed" over the years, with amendments here and there, and they have become something of a dog's breakfast. But that is not the 566 real motive in the mind of some of those who are supporting the hon. Member in the promotion of his Bill.
I am not so foolish as not to recognise that we may at some time have to face up to changes in the Shops Act 1950. But this is not something to be done quickly, without due consideration and investigation, by a Private Member's Bill on a Friday when most right hon. and hon. Members have gone off to their constituencies. The implications are such that that should never be allowed.
§ Mr. Cormack
The hon. Gentleman ought to recognise that that is a disreputable argument. Many of the most far-reaching pieces of social legislation in our country have originated in Private Members' Bills passed through the House on a Friday. Every Member has the right to be here, and, indeed, if his constituency is affected, a duty to be here. One's parliamentary duty should exceed all other duties.
§ Mr. Torney
Technically, that is absolutely right, but I wonder what the hon. Gentleman's constituents, or those of any other hon. Member, would say if they had an important meeting—perhaps on a problem concerning industry—which they wanted him to come to and his response was "No, I cannot come because there is a Private Member's Bill coming up and I want to be present for the debate."
I am doing no more than drawing the contrast in relation to important legislation. Of course we have a prime duty to the House. I should never wish to deny that. Nevertheless, we have a prime duty to work in our constituencies as well, perhaps to explain the decisions of the House to our constituents, and to deal with the multifarious problems which so many people put to us.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), the Home Office Minister now on the Government Front Bench, will be well aware of the sort of problems which are put to us, because his main task, I believe, is to deal with immigration and the problems which arise in that connection.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) seems to be treating us to an argument about the parliamentary timetable. Is that in order on a Friday?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)
The hon. Gentleman has been in order up to now, but I hope: that he will not enumerate all the work of a Minister. I do not think that that is relevant today.
§ Mr. Torney
I was not enumerating the work of a Minister, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely pointing out that the Minister present this morning is a very busy Minister who deals with a problem which is invariably raised in my surgeries.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. All Ministers are busy. I do not think that that carries the argument any further.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
My hon. Friend is making special reference to business on a Friday. As I understand it, Friday is traditionally the day for Private Members' Bills, and the point which my hon. Friend makes is valid. Whether the hon. Member for Hint, West (Sir A. Meyer) likes it, knows it, appreciates it, or not, we are concerned here with the possibility of beginning literally a revolution in social patterns in this country. I 567 understand my hon. Friend to be saying—I shall certainly say it later —that a matter as broad as that ought not to rest upon a Private Member's Bill brought in on a Friday but should be the subject of major Government legislation.
§ Mr. Torney
I thank my hon. Friend for explaining the point rather more concisely than I was able to explain it. That is precisely what I was saying. I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I appeared to be out of order, but I was trying to explain the point to the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack). I am willing to give way to him again if he wishes.
§ Mr. Cormack
I am much obliged. Really, this is nonsense. Does the hon. Gentleman recall that last year on Friday after Friday we had to cancel our engagements because of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill? I regretted the fact that I had to cancel constituency engagements, but one's prime duty was to be here. The hon. Gentleman cannot suggest that this matter today is of more significance than the change in the abortion laws.
§ Mr. Torney
That is possibly true. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), I was trying to make clear that there is also a duty, which usually falls on a Friday, for hon. Members to go into their constituencies, to meet constituents, to listen to their problems and perhaps to listen to industry. In many respects that enables us to keep contact with those who put us here, and I believe that to be just as important as staying behind to participate in a Private Member's Bill debate.
§ Mr. John Heddle (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I should like him to elaborate on the two points that he has just made. He referred to the people who put us here. Is the hon. Gentleman speaking on behalf of his constituents in this instance or on behalf of the Union of Shop, Allied and Distributive Workers? Secondly, he said that the Shops Act 1950 would at some future stage require amendment. Again, is he speaking on behalf of his constituents when he expresses that view or on behalf of the union?
§ Mr. Torney
This would be a convenient moment to declare an interest.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Surprise".] I am sponsored to this House by the union to which the hon. Gentleman referred, the correct title of which is the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. Therefore, I have some responsibility to that union. Equally, I have a responsibility to my constituents.
My constituents are well aware of my sponsorship. At no time during the l0½ years that I have been a Member of this House have our paths crossed. In other words, at no time have my constituents told me "We want you to do what we want, not what USDAW wants you to do." We have a good relationship. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my constituents—certainly members of the local party in my constituency—would have no objection to what I am doing today.
It is my hope that after careful consideration of a Government measure, which can be properly debated and consulted upon beforehand, there will be amendments to the Shops Act in years to come. That is my idea. It is not the idea of USDAW, my constituents or anyone else. It is something that I have raised as a matter of honesty, 568 because I realise that a number of anomalies exist which perhaps need ironing out. However, the time to do so is not today.
I shall try to proceed with my argument as to why we should not proceed with the Second Reading of this Private Member's Bill. Before embarking upon what I regard as a pretty drastic step, we must prove that there is a need for it. We may talk glibly about whether we can buy a kipper or a box of matches on a Sunday or whether we can buy petrol all day on Sunday but not after a certain time at night, but the real effect of the Bill will be to open the high street shops on Sundays. It is from that angle that I shall deal with the problem.
Therefore, we must prove that there is a need. I do not think that the hon. Member for Flint, West has so far proved that need.
§ Mr. Freud
That is the third time on which the hon. Gentleman, who has declared an interest, has sought to make the House believe that this Bill will force people to open on a Sunday. It is no more than an enabling measure whereby if someone wishes to open on a Sunday he may do so. It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman could be persuaded to stick to what the Bill is about and not to argue against what it has no intention of doing.
§ Mr. Torney
I do not accept that statement. Although the hon. Gentleman may feel that that is all the Bill intends to do, I am quite sure that it will go much further than the intentions which the hon. Gentleman mentioned when he introduced his Ten-Minute Bill a few months ago.
I propose to deal later in my speech with the point that he raised. If I do not deal with it adequately, I shall give way to him again so that he can come back at me.
I seem to be doing extremely well for interruptions, but I do not mind. As I was saying, we should base our decision upon the question of need. We should ask whether the consumers really need this legislation. I am not talking about whether the Consumers Association thinks that consumers need it. From my past experience of dealing with that organisation, I do not believe that it is representative of the great mass of consumers, namely, the housewives who do the bulk of the shopping day in and day out. I do not believe that the Consumers Association is truly representative of our wives and others in the family who do the shopping.
Therefore, we must ask whether the bulk of consumers need this legislation so that they can adequately do the shopping which must be done. In other words, we must decide whether shops should be open not only late at night but on Sundays as well.
Apart from being sponsored by USDAW, I was a shop worker in my early life. I worked in that industry for a number of years. Therefore, I know of the problems. I was a trade union officer with USDAW for a number of years. When I argued for conditions and wages for my members, I always made it plain that I was aware of the job that they had to do. If the issue involved an aspect of distribution that I had not been in, I went into it to find out what made it tick.
I have personal experience of working in shops, albeit experience from years ago. I regret to say tha some of that experience was bitter because I am talking about the years between the wars when shop life was a real drudge. Shops would stay open very late at night. I can well remember my boss going out into the high street to see what his 569 competitors were doing. He wanted to know whether they were likely to close or whether they were putting up their shutters. If they were putting up shutters, he would do likewise.
I am sure that the House can see the inference in the point that I am making. Although shopkeepers today do not carry it to that nth degree, nevertheless the degree of competition in the high street is intense.
I claim to know something about distribution from the working angle and from having to represent workers in the distributive industry. Other hon. Members may know about it from the employer's angle and from running distributive establishments. They will know of the problems and of the intense competition between one trader and another.
A trader will be keen to secure most of the business and sell more of his wares than the chap round the corner who has similar goods. To a degree, one can understand that given the ever-rising costs not only of distribution but of everything else. Rates and the price of land affect a large store and that must be borne in mind. Hon. Members should think of the beautiful huge stores in Oxford Street and bear in mind the tremendous rates and overheads involved. Those stores need every pennyworth of trade.
In days of such intense competition shopkeepers may not want to open on Sundays, but when the law has been changed and when the fellow down the street or round the corner has opened his shop, other shopkeepers cannot afford to ignore him and must open if they are to retain their portion of trade. Shopkeepers cannot stand by and see customers flow past down the street to their competitors. They have to follow suit.
§ Mr. Graham
The House must be aware that the coming of six-day trading has meant a dramatic change in the opening hours of shops. For many years, it was the convention that shops opened for five and a half days a week. I am sure that my hon. Friend will remember that certain major multiples fought a battle to protect their narrowing profit margins. The change may have been made in response to the public. However, once six-day trading had been established no trader who wished to survive could remain in the market place or high street and open for only five and a half days. Therefore, my hon. Friend is correct. The Bill is permissive. If a trader wishes to trade for only six days when other traders wish to open for seven days, the first trader can remain closed if he wishes, but he will go out of business.
§ Mr. Torney
I thank my hon. Friend for that interesting point. It serves to emphasise the point that I was trying to make. If a trader wishes to remain in business but his competitors open seven days a week, he must open, too. We are beginning to see the problem involved. Is it fair to expect shops to open on Sundays just because someone has forgotten something or is too thoughtless or inconsiderate of his fellow human beings?
When I was a young man I worked in a shop. If we closed the shop at 9.0 pm someone would knock at the door at 9.5 pm because he had forgotten something. I always used to think that if shops were to remain open until midnight someone would knock at the door at 12.5 am because he had forgotten a loaf of bread, a pint of milk, or a box of matches. There are always those who have no consideration for others.
Perhaps we learnt to plan our shopping more carefully as a result of the last war, when shops began to shut at a 570 reasonable time for the first time and when shop workers began to enjoy similar hours of work to those enjoyed for years by factory workers. The need for extra opening hours has not been proven. If we were to accept it, we would be pandering to a small section of the public. If people investigated or understood distribution as I do, they would know that.
There is no need for shops to open on Sundays. The hon. Member for Flint, West spoke about late nights. My trade union has been very flexible about late nights. Before the war, every shop remained open until 8.0 pm or 9 pm. Some shops remained open until even later. With the inception of the war, shop workers gained the best conditions that they had ever known and shops began to close at about 6.0 pm. That was a great advance for us.
After the war there was a clamour for late opening. My union is a reasonable union and that can be evidenced by many employers in distribution and in other sections such as food manufacture where workers are organised. Employers realise that we look after the interests of our members and that we do so in full cognizance of the industry's needs. We do not want the industry to disappear as a result of our actions, because if it did, our jobs would disappear. Like the employers, we are concerned that the industry should run as efficiently as possible.
We have been flexible about late-night closing. If hon. Members do not know, they should consult their wives about the hours that shops are open. Almost all the shops in the high street—and certainly all the food shops—have two or three late nights each week and will stay open until 7 o'clock or 8 o'clock. The conditions vary from place to place and from district to district. Even the large non-food stores in London have one or two late nights in order to accommodate those who cannot do their shopping during the day. A fair bit of business is done. Therefore, the union has been accommodating. However, the law goes far enough. We do not need a change in the law, because an amicable understanding has already been reached. The shopping public are being catered for. People can secure their needs during the hours that shops are open. One can go round the shops and see how busy or slack they are.
I intervened during the speech of the hon. Member for Flint, West and pointed out that shops were not so busy on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays as they were on Fridays and Saturdays. It was suggested that not so many staff might be needed during the earlier part of the week. However, there is always work to be done. Perhaps hon. Members are not aware of what running a shop entails, particularly when that shop is one of the large supermarkets that are so prevalent today. Hon. Members should think about the large super or hyper markets and about how their shelves are laid out. Shoppers can just go round with a basket or trolley and pick goods off the shelf and pay at the end. That food has to be put on the shelves sometime, somehow. It has to be taken out of big cartons and placed on the shelves by manual labour. During slacker periods, when the staff are not so busy serving, looking after and advising customers, they mark, price and place items on the shelves. That is a long and tedious job. In the majority of cases, considerable staff would be needed during slack periods for the sole purpose of stacking the shelves.
Serious difficulties are already being experienced in areas where the six-day shopping week is in operation. It has been tried in a number of places. Certainly in the provinces, particularly in the town in which I live and in 571 the area that I represent, six-day shopping is spreading and becoming more prevalent. However, in almost every instance no extra staff are employed to do the work. It is stretching the existing staff almost to breaking point. Of course, I am not arguing that the staff are being slave driven. The point is that when the the consumer goes to shops on what I call thin staff days, he or she gets a raw deal. The consumer does not get proper service. He is paying for the advantage of six-day opening because employers are saving on wages.
As a trade union officer in distribution I remember that when wages went up staff numbers went down. In scores of instances in retail distribution, when a modest wage increase was secured, the bosses said "We shall have to lose one man or woman in this shop or, in big shops, two men or women to offset the wage increase." That happened particularly in the food trade, because of the extent of competition in the high street.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
The point made by my hon. Friend about the staffing of stores is important. I think that hon. Members should consider that point when looking at various aspects of the Bill. According to USDAW, if shop workers are to work more hours because of late-night shopping and if, in addition, they are expected to work on Sundays, it is clear that employers will wish, not to employ more staff, but to increase the hours of work of the existing staff and pay them overtime. That is because they have known their staff for years. They are trustworthy. They know the stores. They know most of the customers. Therefore, employers will expect them to undertake considerable overtime. Will my hon. Friend re-emphasise the extent to which Sunday opening would impose a further demand on the hours that staff would be expected to work?
§ Mr. Torney
I thank my hon. Friend for those helpful remarks. I shall continue to emphasise that the Bill can only worsen life for shop workers. They do not have an easy life. The Bill will also make the task of the mass of employers in the high street more difficlt than it is today.
That brings me to one of the most important aspects of the argument. It is an absolute fallacy to suggest that more trade can be done and that more money will go into the tills if shops are allowed to open for more hours or days. That is possible only if some stores are open and others are closed. If half the shops in the high street close and the other half remain open, there is a chance that those which remain open will increase trade and that the others will lose trade. But such an advantage will be short-lived.
As I said earlier, the high street battle is a hard-fought battle. Competition is keen. In these hard times, with the shortage of money due to unemployment or the economic situation generally, no one will wish to lose a penny of the money being spent in shops.
If the Bill goes through, all shops will be allowed to open on Sunday. I am not suggesting that if the Bill got through, they would all open the first Sunday afterwards. But within a comparatively short time I believe that we would see all the shops in the high streets open on Sundays. That would be bad not only for workers in the industry, but for the customers. The advantage which one trader may have over another is bound to be lost when all shops are open on a Sunday. Therefore, we shall be back to square one.
572 As I see it, the housewife has only so much money to spend. Whether all shops are open on a Sunday or late at night, there will be no extra money to spend. The public at large have perhaps £100,000 million to spend. I do not know whether that is the correct figure, but for the sake of argument let us assume that that is the amount. If some shops are open and others shut, those which are open will gain the advantage. But if they are all open, no one will have the advantage. Ultimately they will be—
§ Mr. Torney
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I am sure that it will mean a much thinner spread of the available money that the public have to spend. A much thinner spread of money to be spent will mean that the shops, although opening an extra day, will undertake no extra trade.
The point that I am trying to ram home is that, at the end of the day, no more trade will be done. It will mean that the existing trade is spread over seven days instead of six days or over five or six late nights instead of two or three late nights. What will that mean to the trader? It will also affect the consumer, but what will it mean to the trader? It will mean that overheads will increase.
It may not be generally known, but retail distribution shops are by and large among the biggest users of energy. One can witness this in the big stores Oxford Street and in supermarkets where lights can be seen burning continuously. They are among the greatest users of energy. If they open on a seventh day, they will obviously use more energy.
Energy is very expensive and it is continually increasing in price. From what I read in the press, it is likely to go up again in the near future. Shopkeepers will have to bear that extra cost. The trader has only one source from which he can get money to cover his expenses and to make a profit. He has to pay for the goods he sells. He has to pay wages. He has to pay for his energy and for his other overhead costs. There is only one way in which he can recoup those costs, and that is by putting them on the price of the goods.
All the glitter of the high street store that the consumer and the housewife see is paid for by the person making purchases. By the very nature of things, it must work its way down ultimately to the price of the items on the counter that the customer purchases.
What, in effect, does this mean? I have already established by my argument that when all shops open, there will be no advantage to be gained in trade, so increased costs cannot be offset by increased trade. It means that trade will be spread over seven days instead of six. It means one-sixth more of the overhead costs of running stores. One-sixth more of those overhead costs must be paid for.
In order for this to sink in, perhaps it must be said in a different way. It means that the customer in the shop will pay for this luxury, which I believe is not for the mass of the consuming public but for only a very small insignificant section of it who want to shop on Sundays.
Incidentally, distribution is the second largest industry in Britain. That is why this move must not be taken lightly. It must be considered in all its aspects. The hon. Member for Flint, West can argue that he has had a lot of help and support from the Consumers Association and, perhaps, 573 from others. I can say, conversely, that the Retail Consortium is against Sunday opening. I can also say that famous names—two that come to mind are Tesco and Sainsbury—are against Sunday opening. I believe that they are against it precisely for the reasons I have been putting forward, because they know that it will cost them—
§ Mr. Cormack
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps Sainsbury's can speak for itself at a later stage, and might have the chance to do so if the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Tornay) would curtail his remarks. In introducing the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) spoke for 18 minutes. When I checked two minutes ago, the hon. Member for Bradford, South had been speaking for 36 minutes. Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, invite him to terminate his interesting discourse?
Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) is entitled to make his case. The only thing is, of course, that he is repeating himself time and again. If I have to stand up on many more occasions it will be thought that I am making the speech.
§ Mr. Torney
It might be very interesting, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you made a speech on this subject.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West. There will be ample time for him to catch the eye of Chair. I look forward with considerable interest to hearing what the hon. Gentleman has to say when his time comes.
However, there is a very important aspect of this matter with which I have not yet dealt, and I must do so. It has already been elucidated by interventions from Conservative Members that I am sponsored by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. Therefore, I may be in considerable trouble from USDAW if I do not say something about the conditions of shopworkers—especially having been one myself and having experienced at first hand the type of conditions that shopworkers must put up with.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
The hon. Gentleman said earlier that he did not think that the Consumers Association represented the interests of consumers. That association has 660,000 members. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how many members USDAW has?
§ Mr. Torney
I think that the latest count was close on half a million members. But I would not for a moment try to give the impression that that represented all of the shopworkers in the country. Unfortunately, USDAW struggles and works in an industry in which it is difficult to organise people into trade unions. It is only with the greater growth of the multiples that we have been able, as a union, to make the great inroads into distribution that we have in recent years. We are by no means at that 100 per cent, organised situation.
That is why it is more than ever important to give protection to shopworkers through Acts of Parliament, which may be amended or improved, and even through something of which hon. Members may have heard—wages council orders.
§ Mr. Heddle
—and secondly, as he said earlier that the majority of the members of that union were employed in the multiples, does he agree that it would be true to say, therefore, that he is not really speaking for the employee in the retail business of the small business man?
§ Mr. Torney
I think that that is, by and large, correct. I am not speaking for the employee of the very small, corner-shop business, although USDAW would have membership in some of the larger private businesses outside the multiples. We would organise them, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to organise the odd worker employed in a corner shop.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
To put this matter in perspective, does the hon. Gentleman agree that USDAW represents about one-third, rather less than 30 per cent, and perhaps nearer one-quarter of those who work in shops?
§ Mr. Torney
The third estimate would probably be correct. I return to my very important point that this is why this matter is important. It could well be argued "All right. Let all these shops open on Sundays. Let the opening hours get completely out of hand, and leave the union to negotiate and argue with the employers—and perhaps put a number of employers out of business, although that would not matter, would it? Leave it to the union." But we are not in a position to do that, because, as the hon. Gentleman has just said, we do not represent anything like 100 per cent, of shopworkers. That is why it is very necessary that legislation be embarked upon to give some measure of protection for shopworkers, and that is why, as regards wages and conditions, there are things known as wages council orders.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. If the hon. Gentleman can relate this matter to the Bill, it is in order, but he seems to be wandering outside the Bill at present.
§ Mr. Torney
I think that it is related to the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, inasmuch as what I was about to try to show was that legislation is necessary to protect shopworkers. Wages council orders are a form of legislation. They are prevalent mainly in the distributive trades. They are not as good as a trade union agreement, but they lay down a basis of negotiation, a base under which no one can fall. With the type of workers we have in shops, many of them unorganised in their trade unions, we need this power in legislation, and, coming back to this Bill, that is why we must oppose it. It would worsen the conditions. It would certainly open the possibility of workers being exploited.
§ Mr. Harry Lamborn (Peckham)
Does my hon. Friend agree that USDAW is very strongly represented on wages councils in order to represent the interests of this very large section of unorganised workers who are not members of a bona fide trade union?
§ Mr. Torney
That is a valid point and gives support to my argument that to allow the Bill to go through would put at considerable risk the conditions of members of USDAW and hundreds of thousands who are not members of a trade union. Although I have no real urge to protect the interests of those who are not in the union, we must do so to protect the interests of union members. We cannot allow the position of non-unionists to worsen without conditions being worsened for union members.
I turn to the working conditions of shop workers. For a long time we have been regarded as the Cinderella 575 industry, with unsocial and long hours and low pay. It took the last war to improve matters slightly. The retail trade employs a high percentage of female and part-time labour. Over 70 per cent, of the labour force in the distributive trades are women. Many are married with families and have domestic responsibilities. In retail food distribution nearly half the women employed are married. There are social and domestic implications for family life in Sunday opening for married women working in retail distribution, especially in food shops. The conditions of those women with husbands and children would worsen if Sunday opening became a reality.
I realise that other hon. Members want to speak. I realise that I have spoken for a long time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am pleased that Conservative Members appreciate that. At least I am putting a little life into the debate. But I shall not sit down until I have made all the points that I set out to make.
§ Mr. Torney
I hope that hon. Members will bear with me a little longer.
Unscrupulous employers have for years been a bad feature of retail distribution. Unfortunately, some still exist. I do not think they are to be found among the larger multiple firms. USDAW has excellent relationships with the large multiples. But unscrupulous employers exist and shop workers need the protection that legislation gives. I believe that the Bill will produce a definite worsening of the conditions of members of USDAW and shop workers generally. For those reasons, and for all the others that I have given about the cost of goods to the consumer, the House should not give the Bill a Second reading.
§ Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)
I start by declaring an interest that has already been trailered. I am a non-executive director and shareholder of one of Britain's largest retailing organisations. Before coming to the House I spent my working life as an executive, and executive director, of that company.
My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) deserves the congratulations and thanks of the House for bringing the Bill before us, because it provides yet another occasion to discuss an area of law that almost everyone agrees is unsatisfactory and perhaps not even observed. Yet we also have a noted lack of action from successive Governments. I am not blaming the present Government. Their predecessors, going back to the time of the Crathorne report, have failed to do anything about a clearly unsatisfactory state of affairs. My hon. Friend deserves congratulation for giving us the opportunity to debate the issue. Other Members have tried to do so on other occasions, but so far without success in bringing reform.
My hon. Friend amply demonstrated the anomalies, absurdities and highly unsatisfactory nature of the existing law. He referred to the previous occasion when the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) gave us a witty, if fairly brief, description of the problems. My hon. Friend also referred to the Crathorne report in complimentary terms. He was right to do that.
What worries me about the Bill is that the potential consequences of the legislation could be very different 576 from what was proposed in the Crathorne report. My hon. Friend is right to say that the Bill is only an enabling measure. It enables local authorities to give exemption on Sundays to all or some of the shops in their trading areas. But we have to recognise the reality of the situation. I take the example of my own constituency. The conurbation of Brighton and Hove is effectively one large shopping area. Brighton is a major tourist town, which has a year-long season.
I agree with my hon. Friend about the unsatisfactory nature of Sunday exemptions. That is another unsatisfactory part of existing legislation. However, if there is to be widespread Sunday opening of all types of shops in Brighton, what will the trader in Hove say when his customers can cross the boundary—the line of which not many people are aware—and find all the shops open in Western Road, Brighton, and all the shops shut in Western Road, Hove? That position would not exist for long. The only indication that enables one to know whether one is in Western Road, Brighton or Western Road, Hove, is—to confuse the postman—that the numbers start again. The street name does not change, but the numbers are not continuous. The pressure would be on adjoining local authorities to give a similar waiver to their traders.
I have no doubt that the consequences of the Bill would lead to a widespread extension of Sunday trading. I think that that would be most undesirable.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
The case of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) is irrefutable in logic, but experience does not bear it out. As I said, the present law allows shops to remain open until 8 pm. There has been a modest growth in the number of shops remaining open, but the growth has been modest. In France where Sunday trading is unrestricted, few shops open on Sunday. I do not believe that things will happen as my hon. Friend says they will.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend. When I started my retailing career not one of the shops of the chain with which I am associated opened late on any day of the week. Now, every one does—and not just on one day of the week but on several days. It is almost universal for supermarkets and food shops to open late on at least one day a week. There is a widespread tendency for their late opening to be accompanied by the late opening of other shops trading in the same area.
My hon. Friend may be aware of the extension of what is known as district centre shopping. The natural place to locate the food shop is close to where people live. The other shops can be located in the district centres, where the supermarkets and large food stores are to be found, which open late as well.
I recognise that we are meeting a consumer need in that late-night trading takes place not just Thursday of Friday but on Tuesday, Wednesday and even Monday, in some places. That satisfactorily meets a consumer need and preference to be able to go family shopping. That becomes an expedition in the car, very often including the husband, wife and children. They do all their shopping at a time when the husband can assist in the choices and in the role—which I am sure many of us in the House take—of carrying the goods and being an unpaid trolley driver.
That consumer preference is being met through the widespread extension of late-night trading. That demonstrates that if one opens the door to Sunday trading, 577 as my hon. Friend's Bill would, the same competitive pressures would lead to the widespread extension of Sunday trading. I believe that to be undesirable, for three prime reasons.
The first reason is that we cannot concern ourselves only with those who use or work in a shop. Many shops are located in areas where there is much housing, as well as churches and other activities. In my constituency the car park for the main shopping centre is surrounded by houses. It is bad enough to be woken up five or six days a week by deliveries to the stores and the squeaky wheels of supermarket trolleys, but surely, at least on Sundays, residents should reasonably expect to be awoken by church bells rather than supermarket trolleys.
Wherever shops trade, the activities in them will create disturbance for the people living in the area. In many cases, churches and chapels are located in our High Streets, and provide an additional disturbance. There will also be traffic noise from staff and customers going to the shops.
Many shop employees are married women. How will they get to work on Sundays? In many areas there is an inadequate public transport service and there will be pressure on them to come by car, thereby creating more traffic and more noise. In addition, there is noise involved in the mere opening and closing of shops. The increase in noise is my first reason for opposing a widespread extension of Sunday trading.
My second reason concerns the staff and managers. We find throughout the country that shops and stores open on Good Friday. That is a development that many of us may regret. Most stores allow staff with a religious objection to working on Good Friday not to do so, and only a small percentage—perhaps 1 per cent, or 2 per cent.—avail themselves of that choice. However, church attendances on Good Friday are a small fraction of attendances on Sundays. Indeed, church attendance on Sunday is much larger than the attendance at football matches.
If a manager's store is to open on a Sunday the pressure on him to go to the shop and not to damage his promotion prospects by being known as one who does not wish to work on Sunday will be strong. Perhaps more than the staff for whom they are responsible, managers find that their hours are tending to be stretched, and that they have to work unsocial hours. It would be regrettable if there were a widespread extension of the pressure on staff, managers and supervisory staff to work on Sunday.
It is not satisfactory to try to protect shopworkers' conditions by a provision as inflexible as clause 3. I do not believe that we need statute law to provide that protection, but if we had a widespread extension of Sunday trading staff would be under increasing pressure to work on Sundays, when I like to think that they would have rest, relaxation and opportunities for worship.
§ Mr. Graham
If a shop is open longer, either the existing manager will be under stress to work overtime, which will increase the costs of the business, or the company will have to make arrangements for peripatetic managers. Someone must be in charge of a shop all the time. If, because of sheer exhaustion, a manager cannot be there all the time, the cost of providing management skills at other times will inevitably increase the cost of running the business.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
The hon. Gentleman is correct. There will be an additional economic pressure, because management costs will have to be spread over a longer working week.
Another aspect of the pressure on staff and management is the pressure on owner-proprietors. They are and will continue to be an important part of our retailing scene. Many observers of the retailing process believe that there has been a tendency to polarisation, with the larger multiple retailers, who have the benefits of scale of operation, benefiting at one end and the small stores of owner-proprietors, located close to where people live and providing a service suitable to local people, also doing well. Those in the middle are being squeezed.
Owner-proprietors will find pressure on them to open for longer hours, and that will be unsatisfactory to them and their families, who often provide the bulk of the work force. That is my second reason for opposing the Bill.
My third argument is an economic one. Here, at least, I agree with the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney). There is obviously only so much trade to be done. If someone spends £2, £20 or £100 on a Sunday he cannot spend that money on another day. There will not be more retail trade to be done because shops open longer hours.
After a period of adjustment, with the shops open for longer hours, as is happening with late-night trading, there will be the same amount of trade spread over a longer period of trading. Apart from the energy costs involved, which are important, there will be extra costs of supervision and many more hours being worked at overtime rates, which will be expensive.
Late-night trading has been compensated, to some extent, by shops opening later in the morning. Some time ago shops used to open at 7.30 am or 8 am. Many now open later, and the largest food outlets often open as late as 10 am to make up for the later hours that they are open in the evening. However, I do not see that there will be an opportunity to do that if the hours are spread over into Sundays. There will inevitably be an economic disadvantage from a widespread extension of Sunday trading.
I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak on this important matter, but for the three reasons that I have given—the disturbance to the rest of the community caused by shops opening on a Sunday, the pressure on staff and management and the economics—it would be undesirable to have a widespread extension of Sunday trading. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West on bringing the Bill forward. He will have done a useful job if he has concentrated the Government's mind on the inadequacies of the present law and stimulated them to embark on a process of consultation with all the interested parties, with a view to bringing forward legislation in due course to deal with the anomalies and absurdities of the present law. However, as my hon. Friend's Bill would inevitably lead to an undesirable extension of Sunday trading, the House should not support it.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
The hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) introduced his Bill in a reasonable and moderate way. On the face of it, the Bill does not appear to be a tremendous revolution, but I 579 believe that its effect would be subversive of some of the best traditions of the way that Sunday is observed in this country.
The hon. Member referred to what is done in France, but I think that it would be a good argument for us to do things as unlike those done by the French as possible. One thing that we need not envy is the Continental Sunday.
Part of the argument in favour of the Bill has been that there are certain anomalies in the existing legislation. That seems an argument against the Bill. The anomalies arose from what people thought were well meaning attempts to make adjustments for special occasions and special areas and for certain products. That is how this hotch-potch has grown up. The hon. Member for Flint, West says that he values Sunday and would like to revert to a Sunday without any commercial activity. He has put that further off by introducing the Bill.
The manner in which Sunday is observed in this country could not be changed overnight by a Government or a Private Member's Bill saying that it must end tomorrow and that everything will be free to go ahead in trade and sport. Such things do not suddenly disappear. They disappear by a kind of salami process, one slice at a time. Those proposing a change say that the difference will be slight. After a further short period, there comes another slice and that again is described as a small change. Eventually the whole of the loaf or sausage has gone.
There has been reference to people from abroad who now live in the United Kingdom and for whom Sunday has no significance. One respects that point of view. I suggest, however, that the standards of the United Kingdom should be set by the people who belong to this country. It is argued that tourists do not like the fact that there is little or no trade on Sundays. With respect, that is just too bad. The standards of this country should not be set by visitors, particularly those who might be making a once-in-a-lifetime visit. One of the attractions for us going abroad or for people from other countries coming here is the desire to see different countries and different ways of life. It is bad enough that architecture in all the main cities all over the world has been reduced to concrete boxes. The same type is seen wherever one goes.
It is argued that this country should become like other countries so that tourists will feel at home. I have never seen the point of going to the Costa Brava to eat fish and chips. One goes there to try something else. We should not bring this country into line with other countries for the benefit of tourists. We should at least decide in this country that what we do is in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants of this country.
It is argued that garden centres are open in breach of present legislation. That is an unfortunate argument. I have heard it on previous occasions. It is argued that the law is not observed and that it must therefore be trimmed so that people will not be in breach of it. That is subversive to the maintenance of law. We should bring these people into line with the law rather than trim the law to make it suit their wishes.
The Bill would erode the special character of Sunday which the hon. Gentleman said he was in favour of maintaining. If this process were continued, Sunday would become the same as any other day. The workers would, 580 on the Soviet model, be allotted one day off out of seven. I am surprised that Conservatives should not be doing some conserving now and then.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) spoke about the extra payment involved in Sunday trading that will fall on consumers. The hon. Gentleman made an excellent point about energy that had not occurred to me. We live at a time when the cost of energy is becoming astronomically high. Resources are becoming scarcer. Yet the Bill proposes a seventh day of commercial activity with a considerable impact on costs and energy use.
The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—I am not sponsored by that union—is opposed to any extension of Sunday trading beyond that currently provided. That is a good argument against the Bill. These people would be concerned in operating Sunday trading. The hon. Member for Bradford South says that the membership of his union numbers 500,000. That does not take account of many shopworkers who are not organised into a union. It represents a considerable section of the population who would be inconvenienced if they had to work on Sundays. The extra costs would be passed to the consumer. The cost of living would go up.
Where is the great demand for Sunday trading? Can any hon. Member say that his postbag is flooded with letters from people complaining of injustices, or even serious inconvenience, caused by the lack of extra Sunday trading? There is none so far as I can see. It hardly matters at all.
A great deal has been made of the fact that no one will be forced to open. We know that, in practice, if one starts, a situation will soon exist as if it was enforced. I recall that in my home town, before the war, shops were open until 9 pm, even shops selling furniture, in case, no doubt, a man might think of buying a three-piece suite as he went home from the pub. When they closed at 6 pm, no one thought any worse of it. Nothing was lost. All were acting in the same manner. So long as one stayed open until 9 pm, all stayed open, which meant an extra three hours' work for shopworkers on a Saturday night. We should be looking to reduce the hours of shopworkers and not increase them.
The debate has concentrated on the practical and secular nature of the Bill. I am sorry that it falls to me to put the real argument. There are more worthy people in the House who could make it. That argument is the Sabbath observance. If that argument falls on stony ground in this House, it only shows how far we have fallen from the great standards of the past. The Ten Commandments say:Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.This country is referred to, sometimes lightly, as a Christian country. We have fallen away a great deal from that. It would be an exaggeration to say that it has become a pagan country, as some would argue. Fortunately, standards are still maintained. The churches are still strong, although nothing compared with even half a century ago. There has been a great erosion of Christian standards. Some people argue that the reduction of these standards and the changes that have taken place have made for a more tolerant and civilised society. I do not agree. I see more brutish and intolerant society compared with days when former standards prevailed.
The hon. Member for Flint, West recognised the value of Sunday observance in earlier times. I do not doubt his sincerity. I believe, however, that his Bill would damage 581 our standards. No one suffers from the restraint that has operated against trading on the Sabbath. No one has suffered seriously, and no one can argue that. The Bill would be a retrograde step. I hope that it will not be supported by the House.
§ 11.9 am
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
One always listens with considerable respect to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), and never more so than just now, when he spoke with great sincerity and feeling on the position of the Sabbath. I hope that he will accept that I hold it in the same high regard as he does. We share Christion convictions and beliefs. I regard the Sabbath as very important. The right hon. Gentleman will then have every right to ask why I address the House not simply as a supporter of the Bill but as a sponsor. I shall answer that question as best I can.
Perhaps I may preface my remarks by saying that my most horrific experience when I first went to the Midlands about 14 years ago, before I was elected to my constituency in 1970, was to drive into Wolverhampton to church on Good Friday and to discover that all the shops were open. I was horrified. I had come from a part of the world where all the shops closed. To me it was natural, right and proper that that should be so. I learnt afterwards that the practice had begun in war time, when, for necessary reasons, the factories had been opened and Good Friday had become just like any other working day. For me, it never will be. I deplore the opening of shops on Good Friday.
If it were possible to introduce a Bill that would uniformly abolish Sunday trading I should support it, but one must accept the realities of life. One must appreciate the balance, and recognise, however difficult it may be for some of us, that we live in a society in which the Christian faith is not the only faith, in which those of other faiths have other holy days, and in which the Sabbath is no longer universally upheld and regarded as we would wish it to be. If the right hon. Gentleman were to produce a Bill to outlaw all Sunday trading, while he might have my support, he would not have the support of many people. It would not stand a chance.
We must look at the law as it is, not as we would wish it to be, and see how we can straighten it out, how we can remove anomalies and create a comprehensive and understandable pattern. That is what my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) is seeking to do, in what is essentially a modest measure.
At the beginning of his speech the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) talked with considerable eloquence and simulated anger about Fridays and the House passing measures of this sort as a result of Friday legislation. I simply remind him briefly that in 1962 the House gave a Second Reading to and went on to enact the Shops (Airports) Act, which enables trading to be conducted at international airports and other places on Sundays. That was a Private Members Bill, introduced on a Friday.
§ Mr. Torney
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order to ally the airports and other matters with a Bill about shops?
Mr. Deputy Speaker
I think that the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) is in order at present.
§ Mr. Cormack
Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the point is that it was a Bill about shops; it was a Bill to allow trading. If the hon. Gentleman parades his ignorance in that crass manner, he had better stay on his backside.
I turn to a subject that was more seriously and properly raised by the right hon. Member for Western Isles. One cannot impose sanctity by preventing the sale of Bibles. Our law is in a mess. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I go to church on Sunday mornings. I can stop and buy my newspapers. The shop where I normally buy them sells a whole range of extraordinarily lurid magazines, any one of which I can legitimately purchase if I wish. It also, I believe, sells Bibles and Prayer Books. Yet if I wanted to buy a Bible to follow the lesson in church, or a Prayer Book because I had forgotten my own, the shopkeeper would be in breach of the law if he sold me one. That cannot be right. It is nonsense.
§ Mr. Cormack
That is another of the anomalies. I could go to Victoria station and there buy a Bible, a Prayer book and a "girlie" magazine if I chose.
§ Mr. Torney rose—
§ Mr. Cormack
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman again, in case his next point is like the last. On second thoughts, I give way.
§ Mr. Torney
The hon. Gentleman has been very magnanimous, and I thank him for giving way.
The hon. Gentleman talks about buying a Bible, a Prayer Book or other items. Did he not listen to my speech? I made it clear that that was not the real issue. The real point is that the whole of the High Street would open on a Sunday. It is not a question whether one can buy a Bible, a pair of kippers or a Prayer Book.
§ Mr. Cormack
I must confess that while the hon. Gentleman went on at inordinate length I could not help thinking of dear Lord North, who was once slumbering on the Government Front Bench. When someone accused him of sleeping, he replied "I wish to God I were!" When the hon. Gentleman went on repeating himself time after time, I thought of Lord North.
We are dealing with serious matters. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will stop interrupting from a sedentary position and contain his blood pressure and emotion, perhaps we can deal with some of them.
It is nonsense that one can buy "mother's ruin" in a bottle, but not baby's milk. The whole law of the land is riddled with anomalies. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) is present. He has a deep knowledge of, and interest in, these matters. I suspect that he will oppose the Bill, but he will nevertheless accept that that sort of anomaly is nonsensical and should be removed from the law.
I support the Bill, for a constituency reason. I should like to explain it to the hon. Member for Bradford, South, because he made much of hon. Members and their constituency duties. It so happens that in my constituency, for all sorts of odd reasons to do with the opening of a Sunday market at a local airport, a group of people have been going round the villages trying to buy items—the sale of which is illegal. They have been going into newsagent's shops, trying to buy birthday cards, Christmas cards and many other items on the prohibited list. When they have 583 list. When they have succeeded, they have reported the matter to the local council, which, as the law stands, then has a duty to prosecute. All sorts of small shopkeepers throughout the constituency have been facing prosecution.
Yet in neighbouring authority areas, such as that admirably represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn), where there have been no organised narking expeditions, people have been able to buy what they wanted. To sum it up in a sentence, it is because the present law is more honoured in the breach than in the observance by those whose duty it is to enforce it that it needs to be sorted out and tidied up.
It is nonsense that at present one can live in an area in which the local authority can properly and reasonably say "We cannot afford to employ a great army of snooping inspectors to see whether Christmas cards and birthday cards are on sale on Sunday", and where there is no prosecution, where people trade with impunity but illegally according to the present law, while the next authority may take a much more rigorous view. What my hon. Friend seeks to do is to put some sense into the matter so that each authority will make its own determination and will then be responsible for ensuring that what it has determined is carried out. That seems to me a very reasonable approach.
§ Mr. Lamborn
Surely the point is that the Bill leaves the onus entirely on the local authorities. Yet the hon. Gentleman is complaining about the different standards that apply now because different local authorities interpret the law differently of have a greater or lesser amount of enforcement in their areas. The Bill leaves the onus exactly where it is now and will create the problems of which the hon. Gentleman complains.
The hon. Gentleman complains about the extension of trading in his area becoming almost commonplace on Good Friday. As he said, that was because it started in war time, and other traders could not afford not to follow the pattern and open. The result was that for food retailers and many large stores Good Friday became a universal opening day. Does not the hon. Gentleman think that that is exactly what will happen on Sunday if the Bill is passed?
§ Mr. Cormack
I shall deal quickly with the points that the hon. Gentleman made in what was a speech rather than an intervention. We must accept, with regard to Good Friday, that Friday is a weekday, and therefore its relationship with the rest of the week is different from that of Sunday, which has always been special. I do not want to labour the point that was made eloquently and properly by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West. In France and Scotland there is no widespread holding of great high street jamborees. I go to France often. If on a Sunday one wanders into a town wanting to buy something, one is very lucky to find a shop open. Yet all those shops could be opened if their proprietors so chose.
As for the first comment of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Lamborn), the answer is that he missed the point. In the Bill we are saying that there will not be this blanket national provision—a law that can be honoured more in the breach than in the observance by the caprice of any individual authority and where distortions can be created by the kind of prosecution mania to which I have referred. We are saying that the onus will rest strictly with a specific local authority, so it will be proper for the hon. 584 Gentleman's local authority to decide that in its area there shall be no Sunday opening, and for my own to make a different decision. That is a fundamental change in the law, and I shall not labour the point any further.
I want to deal with one or two other matters that have been raised in earlier speeches. I do so only briefly because I appreciate that other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. Mention has been made of the trade union concerned. The hon. Member for Bradford, South very properly made mention of his union affiliation and sponsorship, and he acknowledged that only about one-third of shopworkers belonged to that union. I do not know the figures, and I do not suppose that the hon. Gentleman does, either, but there are many shopworkers who work part time and have flexible hours. This measure would not necessarily impose a great burden on them.
It also bears repetition that the Consumers Association has nearly 700,000 members—almost 200,000 more than the union which the hon. Member for Bradford, South represents so honourably in this House. Therefore, consumers are important. They have a voice, and the association is very much an organisation in which members participate in decisions. The Consumers Association is very firmly of the opinion that a change in the law of this sort would be to the advantage of consumers We have also heard references to garden centres. The right hon. Member for Western Isles, who is normally a most charitable, reasonable and just man, was a little less than fair. When the current legislation, which is the background to the Bill, was passed, garden centres were unheard of. The garden centre is a new phenomenon that has grown up in the last two decades.
It has been said that one is never closer to God than when in a garden. Gardening is perhaps the most peaceful, least damaging, most pleasant and most widely enjoyed of all recreations. The garden centre plays a very big part in the life of the average gardener. The average gardener, who works five days, five and a half days or perhaps six days a week, possibly can go to a garden centre only on a Sunday. It would be very much in the interests of these admirable institutions if this proposed legislation were passed. I cannot conceive of any damage that it could do.
I must declare a slight interest, in that frequently, after I have been to church on a Sunday, my wife has persuaded me to drive her to a garden centre in order to purchase the odd plant or two. I have not felt that I have breached the faith that I have been seeking to uphold only a short time earlier in doing that.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) is not in the Chamber. We understand the reason. He has had to go upstairs to read the report of his speech. It would be wrong to suggest that he is guilty of any discourtesy in not being here. However, he made a strong point about High Street trading, and he talked about large shops. He spoke with a legitimate vested interest which he declared at the beginning of his remarks.
Many of the anomalies that we have been discussing could be ironed out satisfactorily, and, equally, the objective of my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West could be met if, in Committee—because this is a Committee point—an amendment were accepted restricting Sunday opening to shops of a certain size. At the root of people's objections to the present law is this extraordinary list of permitted and restricted items. There is great merit in giving local authorities the power to decide locally. It is entirely in accordance with the wishes 585 of the House in many other matters. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West will listen sympathetically if an amendment is moved in Committee dealing with the size of shops that can be open on a Sunday, and perhaps even dealing with the hours of opening, or both, and therefore perhaps slightly restricting the freedom of the local authority. I think that such an amendment would meet virtually all the matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), I was impressed by what my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) said in this context. I should not like to have my hands tied too closely to the exact form of an amendment that I should be prepared to accept. However, I am sympathetic: to my hon. Friend's point of view, and I should want to examine the possibility of defining the size of shop, preferably in terms of the number of employees rather than turnover, they would be subject to more rigorous provisions in respect of Sunday opening.
§ Mr. Cormack
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that constructive and sympathetic response to my suggestion. I hope that the Bill will have a Committee stage.
In commending the Bill to the House and suggesting that it should go into Committee—it is not perfect and can be improved—I pray in aid the remarks of a delegate from USDAW at an international conference some years ago, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Bradford, South will agree that those remarks still represent the policy of his union. He said:We say, and always have said, that the times at which shops close must be decided in the light of the local need. What we do ask is that in deciding what should be the time, the shop workers' representatives should be brought into consultation. So we do not come here"—to the conference—or go anywhere trying to propagate a particular line. All we want is that in discussing trading hours we should be taken properly into consultation and that the special problems of the workers should be taken into account.That seems to be an entirely reasonable statement for any union spokesman to make. Certainly it does not run counter to the spirit or intent of the Bill.
It is nonsense that anyone should be able to buy a razor to cut his corns but not to shave with on a Sunday. A provision of that sort brings the law into ridicule and disrepute. My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West has performed a signal service in introducing the Bill. I look to a constructive and sympathetic response from the Minister of State. I hope that we shall be able to tidy up this archaic mess.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
As other hon. Members have said when beginning their speeches, it is a convention of this House for an hon. Member to declare his interest in any topic being debated. My interests in this matter are included in the Register of Members' Interests. However, I am pleased to be able to declare for the purpose of this debate that I am here sponsored by the cooperative movement, which has an affinity with the Labour Party.
A number of references have been made in this debate to the authority with which hon. Members have spoken. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) said at one stage in his remarks that he was 586 making a constituency point. Although he would not profess to have taken the votes of all his constituents, he felt entitled to say that he was acting here on their behalf.
The constituency which I represent in this context is that of the co-operative movement, which has a real interest in this matter. It has 10 million members, who have joined voluntarily. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West mentioned the Consumers Association. If we wish to talk about a consumer movement or about an expression of view of consumers—
§ Mr. Torney
My hon. Friend has just referred to the Consumers Association. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West said that it represented 700,000 people—a greater number of people than that represented by USDAW. However, as a proportion of the total number of consumers, 700,000 is far less than one-third, bearing in mind the hon. Gentleman's assertion that USDAW represented only one-third of the total number of shopworkers.
§ Mr. Graham
My hon. Friend may be falling into the trap of laying too much emphasis on mere statistics to illustrate an argument. I am not saying that I speak on behalf of 10 million people. Nor would the Consumers Association dream of saying that it speaks on behalf of 700,000 members, of whom I am one, although I am opposing its view. Similarly it would be difficult for a representative of USDAW to say that every one of its representatives shares the collective view of those who have the responsibility of speaking on its behalf.
But when we try to inject the debate with experience, a dimension over time of an interest in the matter, we should remember that a co-operative society has 10 million members. The annual turnover of the co-operative movement is £4,000 million. So in mentioning the effect, deleterious or otherwise, on trade, the co-operative movement has a big stake. Not only does it have a trade of £4 billion, but last year it distributed £32 million in dividends to its members. It has more than 100,000 employees, of whom the vast majority are members of USDAW, though of course, some of them are members of other unions.
In discussing the size of the co-operative movement it is perhaps advisable to give one or two comparisons. Last year it did 10.7 per cent. of the total food trade. It could be argued that 90 per cent. of that trade was done by other organisations. But surely an organisation which can claim to have sold 10 per cent. of the food sold in the country over the counters is entitled to some respect.
The co-operative movement has 1,700 supermarkets, 3,500 grocery outlets, 1,000 butchery outlets, 200 wines and spirits outlets, making a total of 6,500 departmental stores, general stores, specialist shops, pharmacies, opticians, and so on. We have 50 superstores—now moving towards the size of hypermarkets—with more than 50,000 sq. ft. of selling space, and we have over 100 garages.
The wholesale society of the co-operative movement has a trade of £2 billion and employs 23,000 members. The Co-operative Insurance Society Ltd. had an annual turnover last year of £300 million, and the Co-operative Bank Ltd. has more than 600,000 individual accounts. That is the size of the interest that I modestly represent today.
587 I declare another interest. I am a director of a cooperative retail society, the Enfield Highway Co-operative Retail Society. Earlier this week, I discussed the issue in the board room of that society. The Enfield society has more than 50,000 members, has an annual trade in excess of £25 million, employs more than 1,200 individuals, both full time and part time, and last year distributed more than £250,000 in dividends on purchases. The sum of £2 million was subscribed by its members in capital. The capital of a local co-operative society is not subscribed by a big institute in the City or by some retired general in Harrogate. It is subscribed by the individuals who live, in the case of my area, in Ponders End, Bush Hill Park, Freezy Water and Waltham Cross. It deals in the whole range of food and, more important in this context, it is democratically owned and controlled. The people who helped me to find out the views of those members—
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman has established his credentials, but we are dealing with a Bill. I hope that he will turn his mind to it.
§ Mr. Graham
I take the point. I am glad to have your assurance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have established by credentials.
The hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) presented the Bill in a reasonable and moderate way. He is well known for his courtesy and fairness. I was impressed by the moderate language that he used and by the moderate terms of the Bill. In a letter that he sent me—perhaps by mistake—urging me to support him, he said:Can I emphasise that the Bill is permissive only—there is no question of any shop being compelled to open on a Sunday, or at any other time.The hon. Gentleman's letter was almost apologetic. He was saying that it was only a little Bill, a tidying-up measure, and that I should not be too alarmed about it.
I believe that, although the Bill purports to be a modest measure, its purpose is to destroy the Shops Act 1950. I shall substantiate that remark in a moment. The greatest weight of argument upon which the hon. Member rests his case has been supplied to him by the Consumers Association. In essence, the Bill seeks to transfer decisions about shopping hours on weekdays and Sundays to the local authorities. The Bill has the merit of a certain subtlety, but it is a bad measure for consumers, shopworkers, retailers and local authorities.
Another matter that is germane to the debate concerns the credentials of the Consumers Association. The hon. Member fairly and generously acknowledged, both in his letter and in his speech, that much of the Bill and its underlying philosophy owes a great deal to the promptings and guidance that he has received from the Consumers Association.
I say at once that I have been a member of the Consumers Associaion for nearly 30 years. I became a member in the early 1950s. I am proud to be a member, because it does a first-class job on behalf of consumers. On most occasions, I should be happy to pick up a brief from the Consumers Association and argue its case on a wide range of issues, but in this case its arguments are not well founded.
There is a Latin tag that the Consumers Association and all those who are interested in consumer matters should 588 bear in mind—caveat emptor. In the case of the Bill, let the reader beware. One should not only look at the small print of the Bill but read it in conjunction with other documentation. I am indebted, as are many others, to the Consumer Association for the documentation that it has provided.
It is right to pay tribute to the work that has been done in connection with those documents by Mr. David Tench. He has been frank and he has displayed a great deal of candour. He has helped hon. Members to bring out the true purpose of the Bill. He says, in a press release, that it is a proposal to remove a measure from the heavily burdened statute book, and that the Shops Act 1950 is an almost totally unnecessary piece of legislation, so why not scrap it? We should listen closely to the voice of the Consumers Association as expressed in the words of its legal adviser. In effect, he is saying "Why not scrap the Shops Act?".
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
What the hon. Gentleman says is quite right. The Consumers Association would like to sweep away all legislation governing Sunday trading. I have consulted the association. It drafted the Bill in the first instance, but I took the view that it was going much too far. This Bill falls far short of what the Consumers Association wishes to achieve.
As a Member of Parliament with responsibilites to my constituents, it was my judgment that the Bill represented a fair balance between what the association would like to achieve in the interests of the consumer and what is acceptable to society. I am not accusing the hon. Gentleman for one minute of trying to mislead the House. I just want to make it quite plain that the Bill is certainly not what the Consumers Association would like to achieve.
§ Mr. Graham
The last charge that I would make against the hon. Gentleman is of trying to deceive the House. In presenting the Bill he paid generous tribute to the fact that he had been working in association with and acting on behalf of the Consumers Association. It is therefore perfectly proper to consider the credentials of the Consumers Association and to see what its aims are. It is said that the Bill is to tidy up anomalies, and I acknowledge that there are anomalies that need to be tidied up. However, we must look beyond the passing of legislation, particularly piecemeal legislation.
What does the Consumers Association feel about Sunday trading? It stated in the press release:What business of government is it when shopkeepers—
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order, the hon. Gentleman must attend to what is in the Bill. He is in order in making passing reference to various organisations, but we cannot go into the detail of their ideas. We have enough to discuss on the Bill.
§ Mr. Graham
The debate has concerned not only what is in the Bill but the impact of the Bill if it is passed. The hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) mentioned the significance of the Bill for multiple shops. Let the House listen to the views of the British Multiple Retailers Association, which speaks on behalf of 300 multiple retail companies, with 41,500 shops. It stated:This Association … is opposed to any extension of Sunday trading … we are completely opposed to piecemeal tampering with the Act and believe that, if the subject is to be tackled, it must be by means of a comprehensive review, taking account of the many changes in shopping patterns and habits since 1950 …589We are aware of the inquiry being conducted by the Home Office and believe that no precipitate action should be taken to amend the legislation until the results of that inquiry are known; and consequent consultation with the retail trade and other interests have taken place.
§ Mr. Freud
The hon. Gentleman has made clear the position of the British Multiple Retailers Association. However, despite giving the most extraordinarily detailed minutiae of the co-operative movement, he has not told the House whether it is partially or unanimously in favour of Sunday trading, which is germane to the argument.
§ Mr. Graham
The matter was resolved at national level, and the co-operative movement is on record as being opposed to Sunday trading.
§ Mr. Graham
No. It is a federal organisation, representing 10 million individuals, with 250 separate cooperative societies I should be happy to elaborate on the other ramifications of the movement. In a democratic assembly, the decision cannot be totally unanimous. It is difficult for anyone to speak with absolute authority on the issue. I was giving the view of the British Multiple Retailers Association. The view would have been reached by the executive or in some other way.
§ Mr. Graham
I am not in a position to indicate the figures. I sought to illustrate the view of one co-operative society and one trading association. Last week the London Retail Meat Traders Association wrote to several hon. Members stating that its members were unanimous in demanding that the Bill be opposed. I can find out and advise the hon. Gentleman. The House is entitled to know that the association expressed that view to me.
The North East London Butchers Association wrote to me stating:As staff will not work a Sunday for the same wage as a weekday, prices will inevitably have to rise.The wages council orders cover all workers in food and non-food shops. Whatever the working hours and whatever other arrangements are made, time worked on a Sunday is paid at double time. Any worker who works on a Sunday in a shop covered by the orders will be paid double time for the hours worked.
The association went on to make another good point:Whenever food in particular is sold, it is necessary for Weights and Measures Inspectors, Trading Standards Officers, Environmental Health Officers and a whole host of other official bodies to be available for consumer protection—they would therefore also have to work a seven day week, thus increasing the burden on Local Government funds, and ultimately the ratepayer and the Central Government Rates Support Grant.The utility companies would also become heavily burdened—with the increased demand for gas, water and electricity over Sundays, they would no longer be able to run on the reduced weekend cover, and therefore their expenses and ultimately their prices would rise.The hon. Member also pointed out the economic consequences of the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the sole trader. There are perhaps more one-man butcher shops than there are one-man shops in many other trades. The London Retail Meat Traders Association also states:the sole trader will have to open to stay alive. It has been said that no one in our free country need open his shop on a Sunday if he does not wish to do so. With great respect, in these desperate times, if the supermarket down the road opens on a Sunday 590 (perhaps, with its large staff capacity working for example a shift system) the small trader has absolutely no alternative but to follow suit. His profit margins have already been pared to the bone. To keep his livelihood if this Bill becomes law in its entirety the small butcher will be forced to work a seven-day week. His staff is too small for him even to consider any kind of 'shift system'. If his shop is open for business he and sometimes his family have to be in it.Those are the views of practical people, who will have to pick up the pieces if the Bill is passed.
Let me give the House the benefit of the views of a national organisation of a single trade. Colin Cullimore of Dewhurst states:success for Sir Anthony Meyer's Bill will only confuse and worsen the situation for some sectors of the community and merely delay the achievement of the real need of consumers and retailers alike—a thorough investigation of what is required and the promulgation of up to date legislation.I do not suggest that the sponsor of the Bill sought to mislead the House, but I think that he is out of touch with that reality. The letter continues:The statement that the Bill is permissive only and there is no question of any shop being compelled to open on Sunday or at any time and that there is a limitation of 40 hours in the maximum working week for all shopworkers, merely indicates the lack of complete understanding by the critics of the current Shops Act and how retailing activity works.That is the view of someone who is in business not only to serve the consumer but to make a profit.
A number of trade people have written to me asking me to tell the House that they oppose the Bill. We must take account not only of what we think but of what others think.
§ Mr. Cormack
Nobody can accuse the hon. Member of seeking to mislead the House, but many retailers have written to the supporters of the Bill saying how glad they are that something is being done and urging wide support for it. It is not right to suggest—and I am sure that the hon. Member does not seek to suggest—that there is a mass movement against the Bill.
§ Mr. Graham
All that I want to do is to name names. I want to prove to the House, in case a vote is taken and minds are still open, that a large section of the retail trade is opposed to the Bill. About 42 per cent. of food trade is with multiple organisations. They and the co-op deal with 50 per cent. of all food trade. I accept that some individuals inside the co-operative and multiple movements are in favour of the Bill.
Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Fine Fare and Safeway have given me their authority to say that they are opposed to the Bill. Although they have not taken a survey of their customers they have used their judgment, experience and sense and taken into account economic and social factors.
§ Mr. Cormack
Those organisations are entitled to do that. However, it could be suggested that the big boys are ganging up against the small boys. I shall not name names because it would take too long, but almost all my correspondence is from small shopkeepers. They see the Bill as an extremely helpful adjunct to their businesses. It might be in the interests of big business to take the line adopted by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham).
§ Mr. Graham
The hon. Gentleman appears to ignore completely the letter from the meat traders. Many meat traders operate one-man or family shops. If he cares to make such remarks after hearing their view, there is little that I can say. I do not speak on behalf of either the big boys or the little boys. I do not even say that I speak on behalf of the co-operative movement.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
I recognise that meat traders are a special case. I had a telephone conversation the day before yesterday with the secretary of the National Federation of Meat Traders in which I gave him an undertaking that in Committee I would be favourably disposed to an amendment which would expressly exclude trade in fresh meat from Sunday trading.
§ Mr. Graham
I am grateful and interested. The more one begins to try to tidy up anomalies in a piecemeal way, the more one will have to take account of special pleadings. My argument is not that there are no anomalies and injustices but that the matter must have Government resources and wide consultation.
§ Mr. Torney
The Bill is supposed to be aimed at abolishing all or most of the anomalies. To exclude the meat trade would create more anomalies. The suggestion by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) to exclude the large firms would create a further anomaly. How does my hon. Friend regard that suggestion? How does he think that the co-operative movement and other multiple traders would respond to their being prevented from opening on Sunday if general Sunday trading is operating?
§ Mr. Graham
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The purpose and value of the debate is to point out the urgency of having a thorough investigation followed by a report so that everybody can express a view.
The Consumers Association wants all the anomalies to be swept away with one grand gesture. It states that it wants to substitute for all the exceptions, and exceptions to exceptions, a plain, clear statement.
The Enfield chamber of trade agrees that the law is nonsense, not least because it is virtually impossible to police and enforce. The Enfield chamber of trade has authorised me to say that it can see a case for clearing up anomalies, but it does not want an extension of Sunday trading. The environmental health officer for Enfield has told me that because of staff shortages he is driven merely to responding to instances of the law being broken that are brought to his notice.
The Bill's sponsor referred to general discretion and the Consumers Association referred to absolute discretion. Is it right that two contiguous local authorities should be able to take different views? Is it right that a local authority should be able to declare that one area within its boundaries is free from the Bill's provisions but that another is not? For instance, in Enfield a massive, longawaited and costly town centre improvement has been built. It is in the middle of a thriving town centre. Under pressure the local council could agree to allow shops in the new shopping centre to remain open on a Sunday but not shops outside.
If the council then says that dispensation will be given both for inside and outside the shopping centre, people who do not want to open on a Sunday will be forced to consider having to open on a Sunday. They will be faced 50 yards away with brand new shops which will be open on a Sunday. That is contrary to the argument that the Bill is permissive.
Political interference may come into this matter. Who is to say that in future any party or any group within a party will not be susceptible to an argument from a group of people who have a private interest in trading, saying that it wants the party to consider making an extension in hours 592 and opening on a Sunday? Those people might want that to be one of the points in the party programme—perhaps not even in the published programme, on the understanding that that extension would take place when the party came into power.
Clause 1(2) mentions in a facile way that consultation will take placeas may be reasonably practicableWhat does consultationas may be reasonably practicablemean? The local authorities are to decide whether it is reasonably practicable. They will decide in consultation with such organisations or person as appear to them to be representative. They will decide who they will consult and, at the end of the consultation period, who is to say that they need to take any notice of the views which have been expressed?
All the Bill lays down is that those consultations shall take place. The rateable value of premises is at the moment considered from the point of view of their working on a basis of six days of trading. Subsequently, if seven-day trading comes in, will anyone argue that a rate income hungry local authority will leave an increasing benefit—if it is an increasing—benefit to have a depressed rate base—
§ Mr. Heddle indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Graham
The hon. Member shakes his head. No doubt he has some experience of what local authorities will do in future when faced with the continuing pressure upon them.
§ Mr. Heddle
The hon. Member is speaking on a constituency basis, but he is Shadow spokesman on environmental matters, so I imagine that he has considerable knowledge of rating and the laws governing rating. Is he suggesting to the House that the rateable value of a commercial property is based on the number of hours that that property can trade, and not on its rentable value?
§ Mr. Graham
If the hon. Member believes that the rateable value is not related to the amount of trade, he is revealing—I do not think that he is generally ignorant—his ignorance of this matter. I am saying that hon. Members who support the Bill cannot have it both ways. Either they are arguing that the Bill will result in an increase in trade, in which case my point is valid, or that if it does not lead to an increase in trade—we do not believe it will—the cost of paying for the shop to remain open later will increase prices. The family which buys 2 lb. of butter will not buy more because they will be able to buy some on Sunday. They will not spend £5 on meat instead of £6, because the shop will be open on a Sunday.
Reference is made in clause 3 to the protection of the worker. The basic pay for shopworkers is now about £60 a week. That is not a big wage. In my view, shopworkers are entitled to more. Many workers receive more money. If £60 is paid for five days' work, that is £12 a day. If one of the days on which the shopworker will work is a Sunday, he will be paid double time. If he works no more hours but receives £72 instead of £60, the wages bill of that worker will be increased by 20 per cent., with no more trade. If there is more trade, the worker is pinching it from someone else.
If the wages of the shopworker are increased by 20 per cent., the 15 per cent. element of wages in the costs today 593 for every pound taken over the counter will rise to 18 per cent. That 18 per cent. will either depress the rest of the costs or increase prices.
The Bill is genuine and seeks to make amends for the sheer waste of time over the past 20 years, which is the responsibility of Labour as well as Conservative Governments. I hope that the Minister of State will not adopt too bland an attitude to it. I understand that he may tell us that the House and his Department are engaged in departmental discussions, after which may come a report which will be laid before the House. The Minister has a responsibility to tell us that the Bill should not receive approval, because if he adopts a neutral attitude he will be inviting the possibility, while he and his colleagues are considering the major implications, of another pin prick and more irritation being added to the present position. The Minister of State should tell us that the Bill should not make progress, because it would merely add to the problems.
We are indebted to the hon. Member for Flint, West for giving us an opportunity to consider the matter, which is not black and white and is by no means clear-cut. It will inevitably be the subject of great debate, but at least we have had the opportunity of saying that many people have reservations about it—and that is an understatement. It is the job of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South, with his experience and interest, to speak on behalf of USDAW, and we sympathise with him when he does so.
Members of the co-operative movement are traders, and they will survive. We shall have to live within the law as it now operates and as it may be amended in the future. The co-operative movement is saying that now is not the time for amendment. The Bill is not in the interests of consumers. It is not in the interests of retailers or of employees. For those reasons, it should be thrown out.
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
I add my congratulations to those of other hon. Members to my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) on his good fortune in the ballot and on his choice of Bill, which deals with a subject on which I once felt very strongly. For 10 years I worked in my family business in the motor trade and in petrol retailing. Our proud motto was that we never closed. We opened every day and remained open until 10 o'clock at night. We opened on Sundays and Bank Holidays, including Christmas Day, to serve the customer.
On researching into the background of the Bill, I find that under the existing legislation my family business should have kept its premises locked on Sundays and Bank Holidays, and presumably displayed a closed sign. Presumably we should have opened to operate a petrol pump only when a customer came on to the forecourt, and then locked the place again after he left. I wonder how many filling stations that open after hours and on Sundays comply with the law in that way. The answer is, of course, "None". They would have no customers if they complied with that law.
In welcoming the Bill, I feel sure that I am speaking on behalf of many shopkeepers and traders in my constituency. I suspect that that applies to all tourist areas and holiday resorts where local authorities can allow some shops to open for a maximum of 18 consecutive Sundays a year. That is a totally restrictive and unnecessary curb 594 on small businesses in resorts such as Bournemouth, which successfully attracts and caters for holidaymakers and conference attenders throughout the year.
In saying that, I try to respect and to sympathise with the religious argument against Sunday trading. It was said in times past that Sunday trading could well have prevented or discouraged people from choosing to go to church. That argument remains today, but it is now less persuasive when so many churches of so many denominations hold services on Saturday evenings and throughout Sundays. In any event, this is a matter of personal choice and not one to be imposed by law.
One of the principal merits of the Bill is that it seems to have the balance right in satisfying the needs and demands of the consumer, the customer, in offering greater opportunities for the enterprising trader and in safeguarding the rights and conditions of work for the staff.
I question whether clause 3, which seeks to amend section 24 of the principal Act, is unnecessarily restrictive in saying who may work for more than the normal maximum working hours. It exempts only the occupier of the shop and members of his family. It is my experience that many of the businesses that remain open out of hours and at weekends to serve the customer are operated by partnerships or by an arrangement, such as a rota system, that utilises Sundays. Members of the managerial staff who are willing to share the burden of the longer hours for the good of the business should be exempt from the safeguards that the amendment would provide. The Bill does not provide only for the small shop with a small staff. It is clear that it includes any retail business or trade.
The Bill is right to allow local authorities to decide which shops should be allowed to open following consultation, thus reflecting local opinion and local conditions far more accurately than Whitehall ever can. If the authorities are allowed to have them, I hope that they will use these new powers generously in favour of enterprise. It will not be easy for a trader with a good case for being allowed to stay open to prove that case in the face of opposition from businesses that prefer a quieter life which they feel he threatens because he is prepared to work harder and longer than they are.
Presumably, the Bill will help local authorities to come to terms with the vexed question that is posed by Sunday open-air markets and by the Sunday sales of antiques and paintings that take place in hotel conference rooms, apparently illegally.
We must not ignore the fact that this will be another piece of legislation that we shall require local authorities to implement and administer without any extra resources. It will represent further financial burdens on them and thus on the ratepayers. That deserves to be said.
I deal next with the proposed new schedule. Any such list will be arbitrary. It will contain anomalies and present difficulties of enforcement, however much we scrutinise the Bill, and however much we try to reflect current needs and demands. However, there are some glaring omissions from the list. Much more thought will be required in Committee before the House can be satisfied with it. Moreover, it can never hope to take on board all the demands that exist and every good case that is made for opening after hours and on Sundays.
Should the schedule not include as an extra item—(n)—some wording that would have the effect of giving local authorities a discretion to add to the list? It 595 has been suggested to me that the sale of food and drink may prove to be the Bill's Achilles' heel. It is said that it is too widely described and would apply to many different sorts of shops—for example, greengrocers, butchers, supermarkets and fishmongers. It is argued that some local authorities might be tempted to allow shopping centres and high streets to be no different on Sunday from any other day of the week.
My initial thought was in favour of restricting such sales to the sale of newly cooked food. I know that that would maintain the anomaly in the existing legislation which is often cited and which prevents the purchase of a tin of baked beans on a Sunday. I am in two minds about this issue, because I have been glad to find the corner shop open on a Sunday morning or to find the food and drink shop open late at night along Victoria Street.
If, under the new schedule, pet shops will be able to open for the sale of food, drink and supplies for animals, surely they should also be allowed to sell pets. I assume that the sale of furniture for domestic use includes carpets, although there is no mention of that in the schedule. If it does not include the sale of carpets, that will be an anomaly. It might be expedient to include in the schedule blanket cover for out-of-town hypermarkets. Sunday would be an extremely useful day for families to make what could amount to a round trip of some distance.
I am disappointed that the Bill does nothing to enable enterprising clothing shops to stay open longer in the interests of serving the customer. I have in mind a firm called Dickie Dirts. I think that all hon. Members will have received some representation on behalf of that firm. It operates two cut-price retail clothing outlets in London, which stay open from 9 o'clock in the morning until 11 o'clock at night every day of the week, including Sundays, in breach of the law. It operates a rotating shift system so that the staff do not have to work more than 37 hours a week. It has often been prosecuted and fined by the local authority during the three years of its existence. When I have been to the shop during the evening to buy my jeans I have been impressed by the business that is done at a time that is obviously most convenient to shoppers.
Some hon. Members may know that Dickie Dirts has been carrying out a poll of public opinion on the present legislation on shop opening hours. Of the 25,183 replies so far received, 24,101, which must be close to the 99 per cent. support that Mr. Brezhnev is accustomed to receiving in his elections, said "Yes" to late night and Sunday openings. Only 1,082 said "No" to Sunday openng. Many commented that Sunday was the only time that they had to shop. I am sorry that such clothing shops are not including in the new schedule.
The Bill aims to put some sense into 30-year old legislation, which is itself a consolidation of statutes dating back to before the First World War. The existing law has for far too long been too complex, too illogical, too absurd, too unwieldy, too full of loopholes, too often ignored and almost impossible to enforce effectively. It is proposed that the Bill should satisfy shoppers, traders and public opinion. It is bound to encourage more trade and new jobs. I wish ny hon. Friend's Bil every success.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
Whatever happens to the Bill at the end of 596 today, the House will owe a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) for bringing the subject before the House. I suspect that when something is finally done to change the Shops Act 1950—as must be done—today's debate will have played a significant part in achieving that end.
I have no intention of endeavouring to imitate the party piece that I was looking forward to hearing today, again, from the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) on the many and manifest idiocies of the present law, and the absurdities between those things that may and those things that may not be bought on a Sunday—for example, tripe, kippers, fish and chips from Chinese take-aways, and so on. Without illustrating the point too much again, we need to know that the idiocies are there, and that they are insufferable. Something must be done about that. No one in his right mind should stand pat on the position that the Shops Act 1950, even with defects, is tolerable. It is not tolerable, and it must be changed. It must be changed not only because of the unacceptability of those idiocies but because the situation in which we are living brings total disrespect to the law.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) quite rightly indicated, as we all would, that he knows and uses a firm that is operating in complete breach of the law. I doubt whether there is any hon. Member in the House who does not breach the law—or, rather, buy something from a shop which is in breach of the law—under present conditions. It is not good for a position to exist in our society whereby a person doing something that he feels is perfectly right, and which is perfectly normal, is breaching the law. That needs to be put right as quickly as possible.
Another unacceptable feature of the Shops Act 1950 in modern, present-day conditions is the enormous detail into which that Act enters as to what can or cannot be allowed—for example, the precise number of times upon which a seaside resort may open on a Sunday. That sort of detailed provision at national level—it would be even more unacceptable at local level—is not acceptable today. It is not the sort of legislation that we would initiate today if we were starting from scratch.
Working patterns have changed considerably since the provisions in the Shops Act 1950 were first put upon the statute book which, in the case of most of them, was considerably before 1950. Now, nearly half of the number of married women are actually at work. In many areas, and in many families, a wife feels obliged to work to meet the high rent and rates that a family must pay. In many areas resentment is felt at the inconvenience put upon married women when trying to shop at a time that suits them.
I give a friendly word of advice to some of those who have written to Members of Parliament on that subject, and have adopted a tone that is not appropriate to the position. I instance a letter mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) in his excellent speech. I suppose that that letter was received by all hon. Members. It came from the London Retail Meat Traders' Association. I agree with much of what was said in that letter, but that body was very unwise to say:With at least one late night opening per week and all day Saturday trading there are ample shopping hours each week for the efficient housewife. The good housewife and mother, whether she has a job or not organises her life so that she too can enjoy Sunday with her family. Sunday trading would merely pander to the lazy and inefficient.597 That is not good enough. It is not good enough for the originators of the letter to say to others who organise their lives in a way that does not suit them that they must organise their lives in a way that does suit them. That sort of argument will not do, and should not be part of the consideration when people decide on what to do about the Bill.
Five or six months ago in my constituency, there was a cause célèbre. A small supermarket opened regularly on a Sunday. It provided a very much used service, which turned out to be a much wanted service. When the local authority was moved by others to invoke the law against that supermarket, a petition was signed by 6,000 people in support of the supermarket's operation. But the local authority had no alternative, when the matter was reported to it—at least, that is its view—than to invoke the law. Most local authorities would operate in that way. They might feel inclined not to move unless they were pushed, but once pushed, they feel obliged to apply the law.
That means that there could be not only one area operating on a different basis from another area but that there may be one enterprise which happens to be the victim of a notification and complaint to a local authority, when other enterprises in the same area are not the subject of notification and where, therefore, no legal action is taken. Those who complain about the move to change the present law, including the co-operative movement and USDAW, must accept that those anomalies are unacceptable, and that something will have to happen to the Shops Act 1950 since it is not now a suitable piece of legislation to stand on the statute book.
On the other hand, there is no denying the difficulties that arise. I invoke three sorts of difficulty that would arise from the Bill as it stands, if it were passed. First, there is no doubt that in many areas there would be a considerable addition to the nuisance suffered by residents. I am thinking not of the small shop where one or two people drifting in on a Sunday morning do not harm the residents living next door, but rather of the high street where there is a problem of delivery, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney). There is the problem of delivering the goods that will be sold on Sunday. There are areas where that would occur on a large scale, and where the high street would suffer some of the clogging-up of traffic and the busyness of traffic that now applies to high streets during the week. Many people who live near garden centres operating illegally at present find that Sunday is the worst day of the week as people bowl in in their cars to pick up a bag of peat or something of that nature. That nuisance would be more widespread if the Bill were passed.
Secondly, and this is the most important point, there are the working conditions of workers. It has been suggested that some factories operate on more or less a 24-hour basis on a shift system and that that is capable of being applied to shops. It is not. Nobody is suggesting that a shop would operate for 24 hours. Therefore, a normal shift system could not be worked. An extension of the normal working week would have to be operated. That is very much more difficult to accommodate according to normal working hours.
There is one light on the horizon. More and more married women—indeed, more and more people—do not want to work a full working week, and also want flexible hours. As that becomes more common—and it is spreading—it will help to supply the extra hours that 598 people in shops will have to work. We have not gone very far down that road at present, and it is certainly not a solution to the problem at this time. One of the unfortunate features of working patterns other than in shops is that people work excess overtime. If the Bill is passed, there will be no escape from more overtime being worked in shops than is worked now. At the same time, people are complaining that workers are doing 40, 50, 60 hours a week—10, 20, hours of overtime per week—and that that is a disadvantage.
Thirdly, the small shopkeeper—how many small shopkeepers urge a change of this nature?—would almost certainly find that the big boys, if they did open, were able to put the small shopkeepers at a disadvantage. It might happen that the big boys would not open and that the small shopkeepers would thereby be able to establish an edge over the big multiples. But I believe that in the end the big shops would open, and that that would be an additional means by which the small shopkeeper would stand at a disadvantage to the large store.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
The hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his speech that the debate would be useful in deciding subsequent courses of action, whether or not we get the Bill through today. In the light of that, and in view of the suggestion that was made earlier that we might incorporate in the Bill, if it ever got into Committee, a provision drawing the line between the shops which were allowed to open and those which were not, on the ground of their size—and in the light also of what the hon. Gentleman said about the competition that the multiples would pose to the smaller shopkeepers—it would be of enormous value for our subsequent deliberations if he would comment on what might happen if we were to amend the Bill to exclude from Sunday opening the larger shops.
§ Mr. Cunningham
I intended to do so at this moment, because I heard the earlier exchange. I urge hon. Members to be cautious. When do we find the greatest difficulty in drafting legislation? It is when we are drawing lines. If we were to have a provision that a shop over a certain square footage could not open and that a smaller one could—or a provision that a shop could open if it employed fewer than so many shop assistants but not more—we all know what would hapen. We would find a shop that wanted to go over the line in its size because its normal trading operations required it to do so, but it would find that if it did so it would put itself into a different branch of the law in this respect.
In the long run, that would be as insupportable as the kinds of anomalies which exist in the law at the moment. I do not think that there is any solution to be found in that direction. The law would have to apply generally to all sizes of establishments, however they chose to use it. I concede that the issue whether a line could or could not be drawn is one that could be examined in Committee, but it is not one to which I believe that we could find a solution in Committee along the lines suggested at the moment.
Although the present law cannot be tolerated for very much longer, there are problems—mostly on the question of the conditions of work of people in shops, but others as well—which cannot be brushed aside. If we are not careful we may be bringing upon ourselves more problems than we are removing.
Against that background, I come to the Bill, which in essence does two things. First, it rationalises, or seeks to 599 rationalise, the general provisions which apply throughout the country—what might be called the normal régime. Secondly, and most importantly, it gives to local authorities total discretion as to whether that régime or an infinitely more relaxed régime should apply. I do not believe that that decision is one which is appropriate for local authorities to take.
The hon. Member for Flint, West has indicated that he believes that his Bill is based upon present legislation and the habits which have arisen from the Shops Act 1950, because that Act already gives to local authorities considerable discretion on a number of points. But there is a very great difference between what he is proposing to do with regard to local expression and the local discretion which local authorities have under the 1950 Act.
The discretion which local authorities have under the 1950 Act is of two kinds. First, they have some choices between Tuesdays and Wednesdays for early closing days, and that sort of thing. Secondly, they have marginal discretions as to the severity or otherwise of the régime. But it is marginal.
The hon. Gentleman is suggesting in his Bill that a local authority should have total discretion between roughly the regime in the Shops Act, subject to his rationalisations, and total opening of all shops in all parts of its area at all times. His only qualification to that is the provision about the working hours of employees, which does not affect at all the opening times of the shops. So there could be one authority deciding to stick to the national regime and there could be another authority, just next door, going to the opposite extreme and having all shops open at all hours and on all days of the week. I do not think that it is appropriate to have that degree of variety decided upon a local basis.
It is not just that there would be a difference between localities. I presume that the hon. Gentleman's intention—although it is not made ultra-clear in the Bill—is that there could be variations in time, in that if a local authority can make an order, presumably it is intended that the local authority can unmake it and make another one. It does not say that, by the way, but I presume that that is the intention.
So a local authority—say after a local election— could change the regime. A local authority, when there were one or two by-elections, could change the balance of its opinion on this matter—which is not, on the whole, a party division of opinion—and the regime applying to local shops would have to change. That is only one reason why I do not regard it as a proper matter for local control.
§ Mr. Heddle
If the hon. Gentleman is against local autonomy in regard to the local authority's powers contained in my hon. Friend's Bill, why is he in favour of local autonomy in respect of housing and education?
§ Mr. Cunningham
If the hon. Gentleman is opening up the question of education, we are going into a much wider area. The issue of whether a matter should be decided locally or not, if one is looking for general principles, should be decided according to whether there are conditions, which vary from one locality to another, which are relevant to the decision as to what law should apply. In housing—an obvious case where local autonomy ought to apply, but where the Government are doing their best to take it away—there are different conditions in 600 different areas. Therefore, there should be a high degree of local discretion. I do not think that education is as subject to that consideration, because it is not the conditions but the wishes of people that determine the kind of education system that there should be.
In this subject matter, too, it is mainly the wishes of people on the policy of the matter that should determine whether there is Sunday opening or not, not so much different conditions. There are some relevant conditions—obviously, Blackpool has different interests from Islington—but mainly it is a difference of policy, not of local conditions.
That is why I say that it is not an appropriate matter with which to deal by way of the total degree of local discretion that the hon. Member for Flint, West is suggesting. It is an appropriate matter to deal with as national legislation, subject, as the 1950 Act provided, to some marginal local discretion to take account of differing conditions in different areas but not different wishes in different areas.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
The hon. Gentleman said that clause 1 did not give local authorities the express power to permit opening at regulated hours. It does so in line 11, which says:subject to such conditions and during such hours as may be so specified".So it would be open to the local authority to limit the number of hours.
§ Mr. Cunningham
If I suggested to the contrary, I did not mean that. I was saying that a local authority, if it wished, could have a totally relaxed arrangement.
§ Mr. Cunningham
I agree, or partially. But it could, if it wished, at one extreme, have shops open on all days and, if it wished, to all hours. I am not saying that it cannot have a half-way house. I recognise that it can have a half-way house if it wishes. But if the Bill were passed as it stands, it would mean that the local authority, without let or hindrance, subject only to the consultation procedure set down—which is consultation and not agreement—could make a choice between one end of the spectrum with the national regime, and a regime right at other end of the spectrum with virtually open house 24 hours a day for seven days a week. I say "virtually", but one could take out the word "virtually" because the Bill does not contain any qualification to that at all.
Finally, on the business whether this is an appropriate matter to be dealt with by local decision, I beg hon. Members to give a thought to this. I do not know how many district and London borough authorities there are in this country, but they run to hundreds. Are we really suggesting that in every one of those local authorities a big report is to be produced, no doubt by a new officer on a high salary, dealing with what local opinion is, that meetings are to be held to determine what should happen, and that in every district council—not county, but district—and every borough council in London this whole new enterprise will get going to decide how the authority is to operate the new Act? I suggest that the amount of work that that would involve in local authorities would be enormous compared with the arrangement whereby, to the greatest possible extent, we lay down the provisions at a national level.
§ Mr. Graham
Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that, although the Bill rightly lays down a process of 601 consultation with the major groups of people involved, it is left entirely to the discretion of the local council to decide which groups represent consumers? In my area of Enfield, for instance, one of the bodies that would need to be consulted as representing consumers might be the co-operative society, which is a trade as well as a consumer body. Is it not a fact that when all of the views have been collected, the local council will have complete discretion as to the weight that it gives to those opinions? Even if somebody evaluates that 65 per cent. of the people at a meeting represent only 20 per cent. of the populace, and so forth, surely it still means that the prejudice—that is not a dirty word—and the make-up of the council will ultimately decide. Is not the term "consultation" in this case a sham?
§ Mr. Cunningham
I am not sure that I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be a sham, but I certainly agree with him that, whatever views were expressed to the local authority in that consultation, the local authority would in the end, be entirely free to make up its mind. It could be faulted in law only if it had actually failed to do the necessary consultation. Whatever degree of local authority discretion is provided, whether it is of Shops Act 1950 type or the Flint, West type, there is no escape from that. There is no way of so defining consultation that one can require certain types of body to be consulted because the type of body that exists varies enormously from one area to another.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
Section 52 of the Act provides some such machinery. While it may be virtually impossible to define, it is nevertheless useful as a guideline.
§ Mr. Cunningham
Yes, but I think that there is no way in which one can be very much more precise as to the kind of body to be consulted. What is more serious about what is in the Bill compared with the 1950 Act is that the action to be taken by the local authority, after it has carried out this consultation, may be of such a wide variety, from a regime at one end of the spectrum to a regime absolutely and totally at the other end of the spectrum. One has only to look at London and imagine what will happen. Islington will have one regime and Camden another. Camden will have one regime this year and a different regime perhaps in a year or two. It is a dotty way of doing things on an issue in which local circumstances are not relevant. Local wishes may be different. But local circumstances are not relevant. Therefore, it is a suitable matter to be laid down at national level, subject to marginal local discretion.
This is not a Committee point. This is not something which can be removed in Committee. It is because I disagree strongly with that basis of the Bill that I believe that this is not an occasion on which one should say "Let us give the Bill a Second Reading and see if we can remove that oddity in Committee". It cannot be removed in Committee without totally re-writing the Bill. On that basis, my view is that I would not encourage my hon. Friends to give a Second Reading to the Bill and I shall not be supporting it.
The right course, I think, is for the Home Office to proceed with all due speed—by Home Office standards, that is—to consider this matter. I hope that it will regard the debate today as making it necessary for it to proceed at a fast speed now. Not all the issues have been clarified today and this is not the only debate on the matter. But the 602 debate today should be regarded as having taken the matter a step further—and a good step further—than it was before. The Home Office should now consult the appropriate interests. It is obvious to all what they are. It should then bring to the House a report which accepts that the 1950 provisions have to go and something has to replace them. We should then have a debate on that report—I think that it should be on a report, rather than a Bill. When the House has taken a decision of principle as to roughly what kind of changes it wishes to achieve, a Bill should then be brought in—whether by the Government or a private Member—I do not think matters very much—and the House would then be able to move away from legislation which everyone agrees is not suitable to modern conditions.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Timothy Raison)
I think that it might help the House if I intervene at this stage, following the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), and make a few comments on the problems associated with the shops legislation generally and, of course, the Bill. Like other hon. Members on both sides, however, I start by congratulating and thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer). I thought that he gave a very clear explanation of his Bill's intentions in an unusually attractively presented speech.
We have had a useful, spirited and rather well-informed debate. Perhaps occasionally it was rather too autobiographical for some people's tastes, but I think that it has covered the ground. Certainly the views of a variety of interests have been quite forcefully expressed, by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), by the hon. Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney), and for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), and by the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and other hon. Members. I believe that that was of real value to the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West, in introducing the debate, and a number of other hon. Members, have drawn attention to the many anomalies contained in the existing legislation and to the ways in which it does not seem to correspond to modern patterns of living. My hon. Friend also touched upon the situation arising from the difficulties that many local authorities have in enforcing the 1950 Act, to such an extent that in many areas it has become unenforceable. As the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said, that is an unsatisfactory position.
Before coming to the substance of the Bill I should like to say a few words about the background and origins of the present legislation and about the attempts that Governments have made to bring it up to date. As perhaps we all know, it is a tangled story, and that tangled story tells us a good deal about the present problem. I believe that there was legislation to restrict trading on Sundays as far back as the fifteenth century, but the first Act in modern times to regulate employment in shops was the Shop Hours Regulation Act 1886. That Act laid down that persons under the age of 18 should not work more than 74 hours a week. By the Shop Hours Act 1904, as a result of vigorous lobbying by the Early Closing Association, local authorities were given the power to make orders enforcing the closing of shops at specified hours. It is interesting to 603 note that the local authorities, about which the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury has just spoken, have been in the picture for quite a while.
In 1928 the Shops (Hours of Closing) Act provided that, with certain exceptions, all shops should close by 8 pm, and 9 pm on one late day each week. In 1936 the Early Closing Association also successfully promoted a Bill—the Shops (Sunday Trading Restrictions) Act 1936. The promoter's aim was to set limits to the considerable increase in Sunday trading and, within these limits, to make due allowance for custom, to avoid hardship to the poor, and to provide exemptions required for health or necessity.
During the last war, under the defence regulations the general closing hours were further restricted. However, by the end of the war the legislation, most particularly in relation to Sunday trading, had already become anomalous and difficult to enforce. In 1941 the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland appointed a committee of inquiry, under the chairmanship of Sir Ernest Gowers, to inquire inter alia into the working of the Shops Act relating to closing hours. In 1947 the committee published an interim report. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury had a crack at the speed of the Home Office, but to achieve an interim report after six years shows that other people can move fairly slowly too.
The most important conclusions of the report were as follows. First, while the restrictions that had operated in relation to compulsory evening and half-day closing had been of great benefit in protecting the shop assistant from exploitation, the point was approaching where they would have done all they could for him and it was now the public's turn for consideration. Secondly, there were too many exceptions in the law—again, a point the hon. Gentleman spoke of as causing difficulties—which had caused confusion in the running of mixed shops and which had been the subject of a considerable amount of judicial criticism. Finally, because it was contained in so many statutes, the legislation was obscure, and the committee recommended that the law should therefore be consolidated.
As a first step towards reforming the law the Government of the day introduced a Bill to consolidate the eight pre-war Shops Acts. Thus was born the Shops Act 1950.
The next step towards the implementation of the recommendations of the Gowers committee took place in 1953, when the Home Office and the Scottish Home Department published a joint memorandum which put forward detailed suggestions for amending the shops legislation. In 1956 the Government of the day introduced a 76-clause Bill, the principal proposals of which were to tighten the restrictions by making the general closing hours on weekdays 7 pm instead of 8 pm and to remove some of the anomalies arising from the descriptions of articles that might be sold outside the authorised trading hours. Basically the Bill was an attempt to enact the Gowers report. The Bill was introduced in the House of Lords but excited a great deal of controversy and opposition in its passage through the House. On 30 May 1957 the then Home Secretary, now my right hon. Friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, announced in the House of Commons that, because the Bill would require prolonged discussion, it would not be possible to proceed with it in that Session.
604 As my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West mentioned, the Crathorne committee considered the law on Sunday trading in its review of the law generally in relation to Sunday observance. While, as he said, concluding that the special character of Sunday ought to be preserved as far as practicable as a day of leisure, the committee recognised that some goods and services were required on Sunday. Within this general framework it recommended that the variety of goods which might be freely sold should be widened and, to overcome the problems encountered by shops with a mixed trade, it proposed to allow the sale of any article at a shop which was registered with a local authority as a food shop.
Shortly after the publication of the Crathorne report, in 1965, the Home Office and the Scottish Home and Health Department published a discussion paper entitled "Retail Trading Hours" which put forward firm proposals for comprehensive legislation to replace the 1950 Act. Important among the proposals was a provision whereby local authorities would have been able to issue to individual shopkeepers certificates reducing the number of hours during which they might not trade. Over 100 organisations were invited to comment on these proposals. Although the local authorities and certain trade organisations were able to give qualified approval to the proposals, the bulk of the retail trade and the shop workers' union were resolutely opposed to any extension of Sunday trading, particularly if it were to be introduced piecemeal by local authorities.
I have given that history because it shows something of the tangled nature of the whole of this problem and the way in which it has, at least until now, been difficult to achieve the degree of consensus that most people would look for in considering legislating in an area such as this. However interesting our debate has been today, it has not been marked by much sense of consensus. It has been evident that there are two strongly contrasting points of view on this subject. We must recognise that fact. This area has little to do with the normal party battle, and it must therefore be an area where it would be a great help if we could find ways of agreeing among ourselves what has to be done.
In the light of that experience and the reaction, both in this House and in another place, to attempts made by Private Members, no recent Government have felt that there has been a sufficient consensus to justify the introduction of Government legislation to amend this admittedly unsatisfactory area of the law. However, times change and the voice of the consumer is certainly louder in the land than it used to be. This debate has given a chance for it to be heard—and for anomalies and nonsenses to be exposed.
I think that I have detected a note of regret that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) has not given us another of his expositions of these nonsenses; expositions which I suspect even the hon. Member for Bradford, South would be prepared to admit to enjoying. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury spoke about the need for Government action on this subject. He was not referring to immediate action, I think, but at least to a Government inquiry and investigation.
During the past year officials of my Department have been carrying out some examination of the operations of the restrictions which the 1950 Act imposes upon trading hours. This work is nearly complete and the Government hope before long to announce their conclusions. It is 605 fortuitous as well as fortunate that my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West has chosen this subject for his Bill, and we are grateful to him for giving us an opportunity to debate the subject at some length. I assure him that whatever happens to his Bill today we shall consider very carefully the views that have been expressed in the debate and we shall take them into account in our further examination of this subject.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
Will the Minister say whether, in the course of the consideration that is being given in the Home Office, there either has been or will be consultation with the obvious interested outside bodies before the Government reach their decisions?
§ Mr. Raison
I do not want to overstate what has been happening. We have been conducting an internal review in our Department. Obviously there have been some discussions with people. However, I do not want to give the impression that there has been a range of formal consultation. I cannot at this stage make the commitment for which the hon. Gentleman asks about how we see this matter proceeding. It is, however, a subject to which we are giving careful attention.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
My hon. Friend is right in saying that there has not been a consensus in the debate today, but it emerged clearly from the distinguished speech of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) that the present situation is unacceptable. Will my hon. Friend give more than an indication that the Government will give serious study to the matter and that they will not wash their hands of it because there cannot be a consensus? It is the job of Governments, on issues that cut across party lines, to give a firm lead.
§ Mr. Raison
I think that there is a difference between general agreement that the present position is unsatisfactory or even unacceptable, and getting to the stage where one can decide what would be acceptable to replace it. That is the problem with which we have had to contend. I recognise that the Government have a role here, and I do not think that my hon. Friend would cavil at the fact that what the Government are doing is trying to think most carefully about an extremely complicated matter.
I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury was helpful in this respect. In its early part he outlined in a way that was valuable some of the problems that we have to face, showing that there are many problems. I say with respect to my hon. Friend that I do not think that his Bill—understandably, perhaps—has faced all the problems that exist.
§ Mr. Graham
Does the Minister feel that the passage of the Bill would be helpful to him, to his Department or to a consideration of the issue in future?
§ Mr. Raison
Frankly, in spite of what the hon. Gentleman has said, my view today is essentially neutral. I shall have a little more to say about the content of the Bill, if hon. Members will allow me. At the moment I am commenting on aspects of the general problem as well as trying to put it in its setting. If the matter goes to a Division, I shall not vote on either side, which I suppose is the best way of indicating my neutrality. But what I think important about the whole debate is that we should be giving to what we know to be an important issue the sort of airing that it thoroughly deserves. I feel that one can say that in all fairness.
606 I come now to specific provisions within my hon. Friend's Bill, since, after all, that is what we are here to discuss. The Bill is certainly a brave attempt—I do not think that anyone would deny that—and it is one into which a lot of careful work has gone. I was interested to hear my hon. Friend say that he had not just taken over a Bill from the Consumers Association; the association had helped him, it had provided a framework, as I understand it, but he has imposed his personal stamp upon the Bill—and quite right, too. However, brave attempt though it is, I think that it may be an over-simple one to deal with what is inevitably a rather complex subject, and one with a very long history.
I take, first, the proposal to empower a local authority, after consultation with the interested parties, to make an order exempting shops in general or shops of any particular class from the restrictions on weekday trading hours and on Sunday trading. I am certain that this provision could be attractive to many local authorities which, I know, find it tedious and costly to carry out their statutory duty to enforce the shops legislation. Nevertheless, I fully appreciate that some people, including the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, would prefer the precise extent of what is to be allowed to be set out clearly in national legislation rather than be left to local government.
I think that the arguments about what is a proper job for local government and what is a proper job for the central Government are always liable to end up in complications. I suspect that, if I had entered the argument at the point when the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury was asked about the difference between education and housing and the operation of our shops legislation, I might well have thought rather more in terms of one lot quite clearly being direct public services, namely, education and housing, whereas in respect of shops a local authority is put in a regulatory position. That seems to me to be the fundamental distinction between the two.
However, whatever view one takes on that, I accept that one would have to think very hard, if introducing legislation to which one was committed, about whether it was right to see this as a local authority matter or whether it would be possible to make some kind of national decision about how these things should be done.
Although local authorities might well welcome the Bill, I am certain that it will be welcomed by many small traders who feel that they are providing a valuable service to their customers, by opening on Sunday and in the late evening. During the past year I have received many letters from hon. Members on both sides making representations on behalf of small trader constituents who feel that their livelihood is being threatened by not being able to trade at these times.
In addition, the Bill would enable local authorities in areas that attract tourists to permit shops to open to sell souvenirs and other articles that visitors like to buy. Under the present legislation, the district council of an area that is frequented as a holiday resort during certain seasons of the year may make a special order under the Act. This may provide that on up to 18 Sundays of the year shops may open to sell a restricted range of goods, such as articles required for bathing, fishing and photography, souvenirs, fancy goods, books, photographs and foodstuffs.
That provision is a relic of the 1936 Act when people had, perhaps, fewer holidays and Britain was not a major tourist centre. But now the scene is quite different. People have more leisure time and they are more mobile. This 607 provision of the present law would not, for example, as my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West said, permit the shops in the splendidly restored old Covent Garden market to open, and I know that it is galling for visitors who go there on Sundays not to be able to buy from the attractive shops that have opened there. It is equally frustrating for shopkeepers, faced with high running costs, to be unable to take advantage of this potential for trade.
The truth is, as my hon. Friend pointed out, that across the country many shopkeepers do open and, from the many letters which I have received, I know that they resent the fact that, in so doing, they break the law and run the risk of prosecution.
However, if my hon. Friend's proposal were introduced in its present form it would upset the balance of trade between areas where one district council had permitted trading and the neighbouring council had not. Again, this point was developed by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. It is arguable whether it would in fact create a serious problem, but it is one that needs to be taken into account.
Moreover, because of the financial implications of opening in so-called unsocial hours, it may be that many shopkeepers would not wish to take advantage of the opportunity. I think it relevant that, although theatres have been able to open on Sundays since 1972, very few of them do so.
With regard to the provision for widening the range of goods that may be sold on Sundays and after the general weekday closing hours, our principal reservation is that the Bill does not adequately take into account the problem of mixed trading. There are more and more shops that sell a variety of goods, some of which may be included in the schedule to the Bill, and others not. Since the advent of self-service stores that has created considerable problems in the enforcement of the 1950 Act, and has led to a situation in which the Act is often unenforced or practically unenforceable. By any standards, that must be undesirable.
A further criticism of the list of exempted articles that may be sold on Sunday is that the schedule includes items in respect of which there is no obviously good reason for them to be available for sale on that day, such as domestic furniture, gramophone records and tapes—and, indeed, aircraft. I am a little puzzled. Does my hon. Friend buy his aeroplanes on weekdays, or on Sundays?
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
I cannot honestly say that the inclusion of aircraft was my own idea, but there is the problem of the flyer who suddenly finds himself grounded because he cannot buy an aircraft, or is in grave difficulties or is stuck in a given spot because he cannot purchase an essential part.
§ Mr. Raison
I can see the point about parts, and that would apply to motor cars as well, but it would have to be a very opulent flyer whose aircraft was grounded because of a faulty part and who said "All right, I shall have a new aeroplane". No doubt, there may be some such, and I would not wish to discriminate against them, but I doubt that that need is really serious.
I think that the inclusion of some items of that character, which do not seem to have an obvious rationale to justify Sunday purchase, is bound to lead to pressure for other goods to be added to the schedule, and it is difficult 608 to see where the line could be sensibly drawn. As the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said, the drawing of lines has a lot to do with this whole problem, but it is also one of the things which constantly bedevil Governments. At the very least, it is a question which must be thought through carefully.
My final point is with reference to the provisions relating to shop assistants. The full implications of these need to be considered and the effects on existing arrangements looked into. For example, I understand that many of the multiple retail chains already have collective agreements covering hours of work, and I am sure that the House will agree that it would be desirable, if the Bill went ahead, for this provision to be discussed fully with the shopworkers' union and with others with an interest in this important matter.
The one issue on which I shall not comment is the deep question about the nature of the traditional English Sunday. Clearly, this underlies the whole subject. It has been interesting to see how hon. Members on both sides who very much want to preserve the English Sunday, and who regard it with respect, nevertheless see that there is a practical problem and that it does not necessarily follow that respect for the English Sunday leads one to the conclusion that there should be no trading at all on Sunday. Nor, indeed—we have to face the realities of the day—would that really seem to be a possible answer. But, of course, this has a lot to do with the whole problem.
I hope that I have covered the ground. I sincerely mean it when I say that this has been a valuable debate. No doubt it will continue to be so if it goes on. Nevertheless, I feel that the House must be aware that this is a complex as well as a contentious issue. I again warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West on having brought the Bill forward and on the way in which he presented it. I have no doubt that the opinions expressed today as a result of his initiative will be considered most carefully on our side. We shall in due course do our best to make a statement about our own conclusions regarding the operation of the 1950 Act.
§ Mr. A.E.P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) drew on his family's commercial involvement in deciding to support the Bill. I intend to start from a similar premise, although my own commercial involvement is a good deal more modest than his. I intend to arrive at an opposite conclusion.
My interest is through my sister, who has a news agency, and, beyond her, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents. In addition, I feel a deep sense of commitment to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) and his union, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, otherwise known as USDAW. Throughout my remarks, I hope that I shall reflect an awareness of the retail sector. That awareness enabled me to listen to the Minister with the utmost sympathy. I am sure that he is right when he pleads that this is a complex and contentious matter. There is certainly no consensus in the House, as we have seen both this morning and on previous occasions.
Of course there are anomalies, In the first instance, the Minister preferred to describe them as "unsatisfactory". It was only when he noticed the frown on the face of his hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) that he 609 substituted the word "unacceptable". I think that he was right the first time. Such anomalies are unsatisfactory, but they exist in many other areas of society. We do not regard it as intolerable whenever we see them in those other areas.
It is my awareness of the retail sector that leaves me in no doubt as to the present burden which it faces as a result of interest rates, energy charges and rates. A small shopkeeper whose turnover scarcely brings him within the catchment of VAT showed me only last weekend how during the last five years alone his rates have increased five-fold. He is a small shopkeeper-there is no one smaller. He scarcely comes within VAT, yet his rates have increased five-fold from just below £200 a year to more than £1,000 a year. He is not untypical.
I know how tight margins are in the retail sector. I know how intense competition is. I know that many small shopkeepers are only just retaining a foothold in business. They survive only as convenience outlets. Therefore, they must accept long hours because many are self-employed. Contrary to the view expressed by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack)—who is no longer in his place—who said that he has received much correspondence in support of his claim, I take an opposite view and believe that the extended hours and overheads that will undoubtedly be required as a result of the Bill, as my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, South and Edmonton (Mr. Graham) argued, will push many of those small shopkeepers over the brink.
I have no intention of speaking for as long as some other hon. Members. I merely make that assertion now, but I can certainly say more about it on another occasion. I wholly believe that the main beneficiaries would be the multiple and retail entrepreneurs, especially supermarkets and hypermarkets. The sufferers would include not only small shopkeepers but the consumers, through increased prices. Incidentally, they would also include local authorities which may now be attracted to the thought of being given discretion.
I wonder whether they have looked at experience in countries such as the United States, where supermarkets and hypermarkets first took root. Are they familiar with the situation in the New York metropolitan area, especially northern New Jersey? Are they aware of the extent to which downtown shopping areas are being ravaged by hypermarket development on green field sites in the countryside?
Some local authorities—I know of one in particular to which I shall refer in a moment—are flattered at the thought that they might have discretion if the Bill were to succeed. I do not suppose that they have yet considered the risks that they may be running.
I move on from the question of costs and the way in which they are already burdening many small shopkeepers to such an extent that any such development as the Bill might accelerate would bring about their demise. I now want to speak about employment implications. Like some of my hon. Friends, I acknowledge that the retail trade employs a high percentage of female part-time labour. That fact needs to be repeated, because it did not seem to be fully taken on board by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West. I disagree with part of his argument, in that I believe that one of the consequences of the Bill would be a reinforcement of the trend towards the employment of part-time labour. That will not be in the interests of organised labour, USDAW or, indeed, the retail sector as a whole.
610 Here again I draw on my knowledge of the experience of other countries which have moved in this regard sooner than we have. We must not be as complacent as some hon. Members have been and take the view that an inevitable consequence of the Bill would be an increase in overtime. That does not necessarily follow. Given what I have said, many shopkeepers in an effort to stay afloat would look for part-time labour on a fragmented basis. That would strike directly at organised labour, trade unionism and USDAW. It is the only way in which they could stay in business.. They are already doing it.
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
Does not my hon. Friend also agree that many part-time workers would be women who would be forced to leave their homes to carry out those duties, either on Sundays or late in the evening, when they would much rather stay at home to be with their families? In that respect, would not the Bill help to undermine the family?
§ Mr. Duffy
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for advancing that important social consideration. My belief is that the people whom my hon. Friend has in mind—young girls, mothers and heads of one-parent families—would not necessarily get overtime rates. If American experience is any guide, they might be on the legal minimum, because we could well be dealing with workers who are not covered by wages council agreements.
Again, if American experience is any guide, we could see the recruitment of people who would be prepared to work for legal minimum rates while moonlighting at the same time. In other words, in some cases this might be their third or fourth job.
I turn to the question of choice. As I have already acknowledged, I am fully aware of the anomalies for which present legislation is responsible. However, we carry those anomalies without our institutions coming under noticeable strain. I therefore hope that we shall not make too much of that argument.
I am also concerned about consumer freedom and choice. The introduction of legislation permitting the opening of shops on the weekly half day has seen a rapid extension to full six-day trading which, coupled with late night closing facilities on two or even three nights a week, has provided the public with additional weekday shopping facilities. Therefore, the position is not static.
Judging from my postbag, there is no demand for the type of extension sought by the Bill. Is there any suggestion that other essential facilities such as those offered by post offices and banks—both of which have been subject to restrictions in their hours in recent years—should also be open on Sundays? Banking facilities are such that it is impossible for an industrial worker to use them. We seem to have accepted those two trends quite calmly. Why are we getting so steamed up about opening shops on Sundays? The number of hours and essential services offered by post offices are gradually shrinking. At one time banks were open on Saturday mornings, yet now they are open only during certain hours in the week and blue-collar workers who work normal daytime shifts cannot get to them. Is there any suggestion that banks should open on Sundays? I am not calling for that. Why are people getting so agitated about opening shops on Sundays?
What about those who live near, or on the main approaches to, football grounds? Have they been 611 consulted recently about the opening of grounds on Sundays? Those of us with any experience of their lot will know that it is hell on Saturdays, let alone Sundays. Television programmes have shown that major police operations have to be mounted round almost all football grounds. The Minister knows what I am talking about, and he knows that it constitutes a serious social problem. Why should such measures be imposed on innocent people when they are not necessary?
What about those who live alongside supermarkets in urban areas? I am sure that those hon. Members who have witnessed the recent development of supermarkets in their constituences are beset by urgent deputations and letters from those unfortunate people. Inevitably, there is traffic congestion, and parking diffiulties arise. Are their Sunday afternoons of tranquillity to be disturbed by Sunday opening?
There have been several kindly references today to the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud). When I recall what he said on 25 June 1980, I find it impossible to make a kind reference to him. He was complacent about his Bill on Sunday trading. He said:I wish to make clear that I am in no way interfering with people's rights to have a quiet, contemplative Sunday at home."—[Official Report, 25 June 1980; Vol. 987, c. 482.]I wonder where the hon. Gentleman lives and what his life style is. I wonder which people he is in touch with and who writes to him.
What about the social implications? I do not object uncompromisingly to the idea of commercial activity of any kind being permitted on Sundays. I listened with the greatest interest and sympathy to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). While modern conditions make some modifications inevitable, these should be confined to the demands of necessity. The State should take appropriate measures that are directed to ensuring that Sunday does not, in effect, become just another trading day.
There is a danger that in the minds of some—including those who, under the Bill, will have responsibilities, such as local authorities—"Sunday will become the main day." I have the advantage, which may be shared by other hon. Members, of having received an early response to the hon. Gentleman's Bill on Sunday trading from the leader of a council. In the press it was stated:With professional football already on Sundays, the question of horse racing might arise too.Interestingly enough, the hon. Gentleman is in a position to be party to a decision about Sunday horse racing. The article continued:I feel sure people's habits will change.Hon. Members should note that "habits" are referred to, and not values or their reflection in expressed beliefs. We all know how habits are conditioned rather than motivated. Again, the press report continued:I feel sure people's habits will change and Sunday will become the main day for them.I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) suggested that local authorities would not want this responsibility. Perhaps they are not as well qualified to shoulder this responsibility as they are to shoulder others, such as housing and education. I join the right hon. Member for Western Isles in opposing the growing secularisation of the Sabbath. I am opposed, as the right hon. Gentleman said, 612 to the erosion of Christian standards. It is not in the public interest. There is much that I should like to say about that, but I recognise that this is not the occasion.
I am glad that the Minister took up that point. I recognise that there are hon. Members on both sides of the House and on both sides of the argument who would subscribe to that view. However, I am not prepared to take the risks that other hon. Members might take. That does not mean that we should not be mindful of change. Like any other country, Britain is always changing. As Churchill said:The English never draw a line without blurring it.It is necessary to strike a balance between the justified and proven needs of the consumer, the efficient, economic operation of retailing, the shopworker's need for reasonable and equitable working schedules and the public's need for costs and prices to be kept to a minimum. We all subscribe to those objectives in our own pragmatic, rather tentative and perhaps hesitant and fumbling rule-of-thumb manner. That manner is, by Continental standards, quite illogical. Nevertheless, we move towards those objectives.
The retail trade is our most competitive sector. Experience proves conclusively that increased shopping hours—particularly with the extension from six to seven-day trading—will not increase turnover. Like other hon. Members, I am prepared to be dogmatic about that. It will result in higher operating costs and additional unsocial hours of work for shopworkers.
I shall give the last word to my constituents and to USDAW. The co-operative element within USDAW in Sheffield has written to me as follows:Shop workers already work long and unsocial hours, for very low rates of pay and any relaxation in Sunday trading legislation could undermine their positon even more. Alongside this, the Sheffield membership believe it to be nonsense to try to extend shop opening on to a seventh day of the week at the very time when most stores they work in are having difficulty in maintaining sales over six days because of the state of the economy and lack of consumer spending power.I endorse that view. The Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Flint, West represents a simple approach to a complex matter, and I shall certainly vote against it.
§ Mr. John Heddle (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I am grateful for the opportunity of catching your eye at this hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but one of the disadvantages of speaking at this stage of a debate such as this is that most of one's foxes have been shot by hon. Members who have already spoken.
I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in giving warm congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) on his initial success in the ballot and on selecting such a controversial but important measure, which clearly, as we have heard in speeches by hon. Members on both sides, particularly by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, requires detailed and definite consideration in the near future and on the moderate manner in which he presented his argument.
I shall not endeavour to follow the remarks made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), interesting though they were. The House always listens to the hon. Gentleman with great respect, but when he dwelt on the role of the banks and the building societies and reminded the House that they opened on Saturday mornings for the convenience of their customers he was 613 arguing against the case that he was putting forward: that it is the duty of the retail trade and institutions connected with it to make their hours of opening as flexible as possible for consumers.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) has now left the Chamber. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, he has not."] I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. He moved from one part of the Chamber, where he was speaking with a constituency interest, to the Front Bench and now he has moved to the Back Benches.
§ Mr. Heddle
The hon. Gentleman referred to the minimum recommended wages set down for the retail trade by the wages councils. I think that he referred to the minimum wage being £45.
§ Mr. Graham
I said that the present pay in retail distribution for a shopworker for the basic hours was £60 a week. I then said that under the wages councils' orders for both food and non-food shops there is a condition that if any of the hours worked in the normal week include a Sunday the Sunday hours shall be paid at double time. I said that if that meant that for five working days a man got £12 a day and one of those days was a Sunday, in effect he would get £12 overtime, making the weekly wage not £60, but £72.
§ Mr. Heddle
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying the point.
I was persuaded to act as a supporter of my hon. Friend's Bill because it seemed to attempt to iron out the absurdities and anomalies of the 1950 Act. The anomalies and absurdities were brought to my attention by a constituent—a small trader who was reluctantly prosecuted by the Lichfield district council—because he could not trade in fair competition with a multiple which was allowed to remain open on the opposite side of the road and which was bending the rules.
Ideally, theoretically and theologically I suppose that I would be on the side of the angels in that it is sad that Sunday is no longer the day that it was It is no longer held with respect and regard as a family day of rest as it was when the Shops Act 1950 was enacted.
§ Mr. Newens
If the large supermarkets and hypermarkets were open on Sundays, the small trader, who normally manages to provide a convenience service, would have more competition and would therefore suffer. I recognise that some small traders take the view put forward by the hon. Gentleman. But will he take into account the fact that many small traders would certainly oppose any change which would add to competition on a Sunday in the way that I have indicated?
§ Mr. Heddle
I note what the hon. Member has said. I shall be coming to the role of the small trader, to whom the Minister gave support, and, indeed, quote from a letter that I have received from a small trader in my constituency.
Having been brought up within sight and sound of the bells of Canterbury Cathedral, I regret the passing of the British Sunday. But, sadly, the sight and sound of the bells of Canterbury Cathedral—during the summer months at least—have now made way for the shouting, cheering, jeering and cacophony of beer cans at the St. Lawrence cricket ground.
614 Unlike the halcyon days of 1950, no longer is the British Sunday fed upon a diet of the Church Times and the Methodist Recorder. I wish perhaps that it were so. Possibly because of John Player and Benson and Hedges, Sunday has been commercialised during the cricket season and, with regret, it would seem that the footballers are following suit.
For many years people have been able to bargain, barter and buy in Petticoat Lane. In the last 30 years we have seen the mushrooming of Sunday mobile markets, making no contribution to the local rate revenue whatsoever.
Politicians—probably some Members of the House—treat Sunday like other days by addressing rank and file meetings, accompanied by the apparatus and paraphernalia of the media. Society generally is guilty of ceasing to treat Sunday with the respect that we perhaps were brought up to believe that it should enjoy.
For those reasons, I believe that the Government should be flexible in their attitude to the Sunday trading laws. I regret what the Minister said in this respect. He said that he did not feel that it was the Government's duty to take the lead in this matter. Because anomalies patently exist and have been acknowledged by hon. Members on both sides of the House today, I feel that the Government should take a lead in this regard.
I welcome the Bill for three specific reasons. First it will rationalise existing legislation, which has been acknowledged to be outdated, inconsistent and full of nonsenses. For example, clause 2(1) is much clearer than the schedule to the 1950 Act.
Secondly, the Bill vests discretionary powers in the local authorities, allowing them to decide what can be sold and when. I believe that local authorities are in the best position to assess local needs and feelings.
Thirdly, the Bill contains a clause to limit the number of hours that a person may be required to work in a week. Clause 3 deals with young persons between the ages of 16 and 18. I should have thought that those clauses would meet any objections there may be—objections eloquently expressed by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney)—by USDAW.
The Bill will not force any trader to do anything that he cannot now do under existing legislation. Under existing laws, all shops can stay open until 8 pm. In fact, few of them choose to do so. The Bill will give traders the freedom to choose to be open on Sundays and after 8 pm in the evening should they so wish.
The Bill—I believe this to be the central point—will help the small trader. My hon. Friend the Minister of State gave weight to that view. It will permit small businesses to be more flexible and help them in their ability to compete with larger stores. I submit that the small trader is more dedicated to serving the needs of the local community, upon whose good will he relies, than the larger stores. It is absurd that, in their wish to provide a service, small businesses should run the risk of being fined or made to close down by a local authority. The Bill will allow the small trader to compete fairly and freely with the Sunday markets.
There is no reason why a change in the law should in any way interfere with the wishes of those who want to observe the traditional Sunday. In the last 30 years society has changed. Many women are at work all the week and they want to be able to do the family shopping with their husbands on Sunday. That also applies to goods such as 615 furniture provided by the out-of-town shopping centres to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) rightly referred.
Finally, I should like to pose several questions and give brief answers to them.
Does the Bill recommend a complete free-for-all? No. It is designed to eliminate some of the worst nonsenses.
What will be left to local authority discretion? First, the hours that shops in any particular area can open and, secondly, the range of goods that can be sold at those times.
Will the change make shopkeepers stay open when they do not want to do so? No, because under present legislation all shops are allowed to remain open until 8 pm on weekdays, and very few do so. The change will permit shopkeepers who want to stay open to do so without breaking the law, and that must surely be right.
What kind of guarantees does the Bill plan to give to shopworkers on hours that they would have to work? There is a clause in the Bill to limit the number of hours that a person may be required to work during the week, unless he or she is a member of the shopkeeper's family, and, of course, they are exempt.
There is a particularly strong clause dealing with young people aged from 16 to 18. I should have thought that this would have met the objections that have been put forward by USDAW.
I have said that I would refer briefly to one of the many letters that I have received from small traders in my constituency—in this case it is a letter from the firm of Robert Blake, of Greenhough Road, Lichfield. It is dated 18 September 1980, and it says:We are heartened that you feel the current legislation regarding Sunday trading should be amended. The law, as it stands, is totally outdated for today's modern society, and, while we appreciate councils must uphold this law, we feel it must continue to be open to abuse, involving council officials in a lot of unnecessary time and expense. If people want to buy on Sundays—as indeed they do from this factory—then those certain categories of traders who are not allowed to open for business on that day, should be allowed to trade.Mr. Kirtland, the sales director of the company, goes on to say:We are now in a position (because we are unable to sell on a Sunday) where we are turning out a product faster than we can sell it. Hence our men are currently on a three day week when we should be able to offer them full time work.That letter tells quite a lot.
My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West has drawn his Bill in a conciliatory and reasonable manner. If the House were to pass it into law, I think that it would give the consumer the opportunity to decide what he wants to buy and when he wants to buy it. Surely that is not asking too much.
§ Mr. Harry Lamborn (Peckham)
I, too, should declare an interest, having been a member of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers for 47 years, and I am a sponsored Member of Parliament. However, I also have a knowledge of the other side of the fence, having been a director of a large co-operative society for many years and vice-chairman of the national wages board of the co-operative movement.
616 I rise to oppose the Bill. Although the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) spoke of the Bill as being permissive, I am certain that in the long-term it will not be.
I start by dealing with the question of any benefits that the small trader may derive from this sort of legislation, as propounded by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle). I contend that a general extension of shopping hours—to which the Bill would lead—would lead to a far more disadvantageous position for the small shopkeeper. When this question of Sunday opening was last debated in the other place, Lord Sainsbury, who has a fairly wide experience of retail distribution, said that he did not believe, as had been argued, that a Bill for Sunday trading would have only a limited effect. From his knowledge of retail trading, he thought that it would lead to a steady increase in Sunday opening by food shops and supermarkets because of fear that competitors would take their trade. That is the whole basis of an extension. Far from assisting the small shopkeeper, a general invitation for retailing to operate over seven days would squeeze the small retailer and make his position even more difficult.
I wish to speak particularly about shopworkers. There can be no doubt that Saturdays and Sundays have developed, for most of the community, as an essential part of the fabric of family life. The shopworker, working on Saturday whilst most of the nation is at leisure, is already working hours that are unsocial enough, without the impetus of the Bill to encourage the opening of shops on Sundays in addition.
In recent years we have seen a demand by large groups of workers for an extension of the principle of the long weekend. We have seen banks cease their Saturday opening. We have seen local authorities virtually shut up shop over Saturday and Sunday, yet the Bill is aimed not at improving on the fact that the shopworker is already working on Saturday but at making provision for him to work on Sunday as well.
The impact on family life that would occur with the movement in the Bill towards seven-day shopping would be considerable. The retail trade employs a high percentage of female labour. Over 70 per cent. of the personnel engaged in retail distribution are women. A large percentage of them are married women with family responsibilities. At present, economic circumstances make it necessary for such women to be away from their families on Saturday. In the long term, the Bill would extend that to Sunday as well.
We are told that there are plenty of safeguards in the Bill, that extended hours would be granted by local authorities only to meet local needs, but the facts are that the demands for the Bill are fostered by the operation of different standards by local authorities in adjacent areas. There is nothing that is engendering the demand by some organisations for the Bill more than this wide disparity in the manner in which local authorities operate the existing legislation.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Does my hon. Friend accept that because of the disparities between local authorities this sort of legislation should be subject to a consultative document, so that a wide cross-section of views on this issue—from trade unions, for example, on the one hand, and from other organisations promoting retail distribution, on the other—could be presented and 617 so that proper, balanced legislation could be drawn up, as is usual with public legislation? We should not embark on this procedure, which does not give that opportunity to private Members to have adequate consultation on this sort of subject.
§ Mr. Lamborn
I agree with my hon. Friend. The Minister has made it clear that his Department is looking at the anomalies. We should not proceed towards any legislation on shop hours without full and detailed consultation with the retail trade, the shopworkers' union and consumer interests. All have an interest, and the voices of all of them should be heard if any change in the legislation is suggested.
As I say, some retail organisations see competitors in neighbouring boroughs getting away with opening at hours during which they are not allowed to open, and thus creaming off a certain amount of trade. The Bill would not stop that. In as much as it passes the prerogative to determine an extension of opening hours to the local authority, it will widen rather than reduce the present anomalies. I am certain that the Bill will increase unfairness, yet it is the sense of unfairness that engenders the demand for legislation.
§ Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)
I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Lamborn) says. The Bill is trying to do too much all at once in what is essentially a complex area. I am sorry that I was not here when my hon. Friend the Minister spoke, but does the hon Member for Peckham agree that one important area that must, and can, be investigated by the Government is early closing, which has now reached a ludicrous state? Each local authority allows different hours in different areas of the country, and that may create problems, especially for multiple retailers, in organising their work programmes sensibly in the interests of those who work for them and in their commercal interests. I hope that the hon. Member will agree that the Bill is not the right way or the right place to resolve the matter.
§ Mr. Lamborn
I agree with the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) that both of us feel that there is a need for a comprehensive survey of the Shop Acts after those with vital interests in retailing and shopping hours have been consulted.
The Bill is not the answer, because, if it were passed, local authorities would still perpetuate existing anomalies and create new anomalies, leading to the unfairness that exists now. As I say, I have for 47 years been a member of USDAW. During that time I have been in the fight to achieve reasonable hours and sufficient leisure time for shopworkers. That is an important element that must be considered. The shopworker already makes considerable sacrifices. He is unable to take part in the social pattern of life enjoyed by the majority of the country, and the attempt to extend Sunday shopping can only make life for him and his family more difficult.
I am sure that everyone who has worked in the distributive trade will agree that on whatever days a shop is open, and to whatever hour, there will be always the customer who comes five minutes after closing time. One thing is certain, and that is that in the present economic climate there is only a certain amount of consumer spending available. Whether that money is spent in seven days or six days, there is only the same amount of money available. There is only one person who will pay for that 618 additional day's operation—the consumer. Sunday opening would have to be paid for by premium payments, such as the cost of heating and lighting shops and so on.
§ Mr. Newens
Is it not true that additional costs would add to the overheads and difficulties faced by retailers? That might cause those shops that perhaps are no longer viable to be closed. Would not the consumer's freedom of choice ultimately be restricted?
§ Mr. Lamborn
I am not sure that I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), because if the Bill leads to a general extension of hours, additional on-costs for all traders will be passed to the consumer. In the final analysis the consumer will foot the bill. Some shops might operate more efficiently than others, but that will apply whatever the hours. With seven-day working, local authority enforcement officers, in addition to shop workers, will have their hours extended accordingly.
§ Mr. Cryer
My hon. Friend mentioned local authority enforcement. Will he accept that one area in which enforcement is almost completely lacking is in the observation of existing working hours? Both local authorities and the Health and Safety Executive find it difficult to maintain their existing obligations on health and safety, dangerous machinery, and so on, without running any sort of a blitz or maintaining the law on the length of working hours. If a further obligation were imposed it would be virtually impossible to enforce.
§ Mr. Lamborn
I agree with my hon. Friend. There would be additional work for all those people, but an additional burden would be placed on environmental health officers, meat inspectors, and so on, in supervising seven-day instead of six-day trading.
The debate has shown that the majority of traders do not want the Bill. A number of large organisations, including the Retail Consortium, are opposed to the Bill. The only argument in reply seems to be that the consortium speaks for big business and it is the small shopkeeper who needs the extension. If there were a general movement to seven-day trading, as would occur as a result of the Bill, as Lord Sainsbury said in the other place, there would be the extension to supermarkets and hypermarkets generally over seven days. Those whom the sponsors of the Bill wish to support, the small traders, would be pinched badly because they do not have the staff or the flexibility to open for seven days as do the big multiples.
In conclusion, I maintain that the Bill would create far more problems than it would solve. There is a need for an investigation of the Shops Acts, but that examination should take place only after the fullest consultation with all the organisations involved and after detailed consideration by the House.
§ Mr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)
I join the ever-growing chorus of congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) on his success in the ballot. Only one hon. Member who has taken part in the debate would not subscribe to those congratulations, namely, the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), because he was ahead of my hon. Friend.
We have had a useful debate and the presence of so many hon. Members and our lengthy debate reflects the greatest credit on my hon. Friend. I hope that he will 619 accept my warm congratulations, but he will not be surprised to know that I oppose the Bill with all the power at my command.
It was remarkable that the debate started with two miracles. My hon. Friend referred to crossing the Channel in his car and the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) spoke at great length without referring to any part of the Bill. Those were no mean achievements.
I shall seek to present a reasoned, responsible and wellargued case in support of the viewpoint that I take on the issue. I take the view that it is the solemn responsibility of hon. Members to reflect the views of all his electors on such matters. For each letter that I have received in support of the Bill, I have received five letters in opposition. I do not believe that we should make our judgements on the issue merely on the basis of the volume of correspondence, but the letters that we receive are good guidelines, and it is in that spirit that I have reflected on the matter. I hope that hon. Members will find that my judgment is a balanced judgment.
We were asked earlier who wanted the Bill. Do police authorities want the Bill because they feel that it may involve breaches of parking regulations? No. Do local authorities say that they want the Bill because they want to employ more inspectors who want to work seven days a week? Of course not. Do we want health inspectors to take on more staff to conduct inspections of meat and fish markets? I do not find a cry for that.
§ Mr. Garel-Jones
There are areas about which local authorities, including the Watford authority which is firmly under the control of the Labour Party, are concerned. We have heard from Labour Members that there are matters that need to be considered. We in Watford are concerned about the anomalies in respect of take-away food shops. Local authorities have no control over the opening hours of such establishments.
However, my hon. Friend the Minister of State has shown himself willing to consider representations made by the Watford local authority and he is meeting a delegation from the council that wishes to highlight the need for action on that anomaly. I have found that the Government are willing to look at matters that need tidying up. I call into question whether the Bill is the appropriate vehicle for dealing with the wide range of existing complexities and anomalies.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I warmly and generously thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, for he is correct. The House is indebted to him for those pearls of wisdom. I accept the points that he made.
Local authorities do not want the Bill or its by-products, which are related to the inspectorate that will have to be set up in order to implement the legislation. The House would say with one voice that it does not want laws that are not enforced. If the Bill became an Act it would be critical that we should provide the facilities to enable local authorities to implement it to the full.
I have not discovered that magistrates are saying that they want more cases brought before them for offences against the Shops Act 1950. There is no demand there, and magistrates are not saying that they are concerned about the epidemic of crime because of the contravention of the 1950 Act.
620 I have found little support for the measure from consumers. The view of the trade unions has been mentioned many times. I have been a trade unionist for many years and I hold high office in the trade union movement. My branch has not said to me that I must make sure that the Bill gets through because people are longing to go to the shops on Sundays.
The staff of retail outlets in my constituency do not come to my surgeries and say that they are desperately anxious to work on Sundays. I am unable to discover at constituency level that families are getting together and saying "It is Sunday. Let us go shopping, because we love to go shopping on Sunday. It is the aim and ambition of our family life".
Families are not anxious to make Sunday a shopping day. In my considered judgment Sunday is a family day.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe)
I saw my hon. Friend's name on the annunciator and I was obviously intrigued about what arguments he would be deploying. In my constituency in Hibaldstow, a small village about 10 miles out of Scunthorpe, spontaneously, but with the general approval of the local planning authorities, a thriving Sunday market has started. That is not in a large urban area but in a rural community.
Many people go there on a Sunday and enjoy their shopping expeditions, not just because they are involved in a commercial activity, as they are when they shop during the week, but because they can take the children for a morning in the country. Does my hon. Friend think that that sort of thing should not go on?
§ Mr. Blackburn
I am saying firmly that, in my judgment, this Bill would not cover that, in any case.
Another danger is the attempt to introduce legislation with a universal application through the medium of a Private Member's Bill, because the odds are so heavily against us getting it right. I believe that the Minister, in his reply, has taken on board the concept that this issue must be examined as a matter of urgency. I have also discovered, in a spirit of honesty that I hope will always be one of my characteristics in the House, that a number of motor traders are anxious to continue their trade on a Sunday. I have looked through the schedule to the Bill. I find that, in many respects, these traders are well catered for.
A number of farmers on the north Worcestershire border, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), who open parts of their farms on Sundays would, in my judgment, fall under the provisions of the Bill. They sell their produce to passers-by. It is remarkable to see the wonderful displays of locally grown produce from north Worcestershire and south Staffordshire. It is a confession of my ignorance of horticultural and agricultural matters that I never knew that bananas, oranges and lemons were grown in north Worcestershire. There must be a thriving industry somewhere, because I also saw many locally grown coconuts on display.
I have received deputations and petitions from my constituents complaining of the annoyance coused by trade on Sundays at certain premises of large companies. If a company is to trade from a shop within the orbit of a factory on a Sunday, it should be subject to planning permission to make sure that there are sufficient car parking facilities on a Sunday, which is a quite different 621 day from the working days of the week. That would go a long way to alleviate the problems local residents who find difficulty on Sundays getting their cars in and out of their premises due to the number of visitors to the area.
Certain aspects of the Bill may commend themselves to hon. Members. We have already heard wonderful expressions such as "This is a tidying-up operation" and "This makes a complex matter more simple". I would like to take a stand similar to that adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) on the list of runners in the schedule to the Bill. My hon. Friend drew attention to paragraph (i). It is remarkable that one can buy food, provisions and supplies for the care and welfare of animals but one cannot buy the animal.
If this Bill, as it stands, was before the House on Third Reading I would be very strong in my objections to it. I have within my consitituency the crystal glass industry of this country—names such as Royal Brierley, Tudor, Stuart and Webb Corbett. They are not included in the Bill. This House, corporately, would again be facing the issue of where to draw the line? I give a solemn pledge. The line would not be drawn if it meant excluding the crystal glass industry from the provisions.
§ Mr. Blackburn
It is absolutely crystal clear. That is the message that I deliver.
As recently as five days ago there was the reintroduction of Sunday professional football. The interesting thing about that is that it was not illegal. That football match created many problems for the people of Darlington. Catering facilities had to be supplied, and there was a tremendous volume of traffic. The attendance was about 6,500, double the average gate, but if the professional football world thinks that its answer is Sunday football, it should think of the hard and bitter lesson of the advent of television. Television has crippled the live theatre, strangled the cinema industry and brutally wounded the arts. If people think that it will not have an adverse effect on football, they are living in a different world.
§ Mr. Blackburn
An awful lot.
With due modesty, which is one of my characteristics, I should like to pay a warm and generous tribute to the two or three Chesterfield players who recently said that they are not prepared to take part in a Sunday football match at Walsall.
§ Mr. Atkins
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does that matter come within the terms of this debate, which is about a Bill concerning shops?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
This is a Second Reading debate, and traditionally Second Reading debates are very wide. I do not think that what the hon. Gentleman is saying has direct relevance to the Bill, but I imagine that he is developing an argument.
§ Mr. Blackburn
The last thing I would ever wish to do is to find myself in conflict with the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I should like to conclude—
§ Mr. Les Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I hate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman just before he sits down. Many of us on 622 the Opposition Benches are very much enjoying his man-of-the-people tour of Dudley on a Sunday. The hon. Gentleman referred to residents who might suffer from wrongly parked cars and to the products that might be sold in some of the shops that opened on Sunday. Will he make no reference at all to those who might work in those shops?
§ Mr. Blackburn
No, but the hon. Gentleman is right in drawing this matter to my attention. I have been able to secure rate relief on the properties of those who have been affected by the problem. I stressed earlier that if there is to be Sunday trading within the orbit of certain factories, it should be subject to planning permission, so that all the visitors would have the opportunity to park their vehicles and cause no problems anywhere else.
I hope that my remarks have been of value. I am frank and scrupulously honest when I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West that I shall not be joining him in the Lobby.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
Having listened to nearly five hours of debate, I can say that it has been a genuine debate. I am sure that the Minister will have welcomed some of the remarks made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, as they will have helped him in his future study. I was very interested in the Minister's summary of the legislation since the early part of the sixteenth century, and the argument for the reform of the Shops Act.
I want to declare, first, my opposition to the Bill and, secondly, as I have done already, my interest, since I am a sponsored Member of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, which has a membership of close on 500,000 who share my view that the Bill should be opposed vigorously. That is the view held by all members of USDAW, most Opposition Members and, as we were told by the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn), quite a number of Government supporters.
We have discussed the anomalies that could result from employing labour on a Sunday. I have in my possession a document compiled by USDAW giving details of redundancies and short-time working. It was published on 13 January 1981 and contains the relevant figures up till November of last year of redundancies and short-time working on a six-day week.
Because of the Government's economic policies a number of shops are closing. Many shopworkers have been made redundant, including a number of short-time and part-time workers.
I refer especially to the number of full-time jobs lost by the trade up till November 1980. They are as follows: in food and manufacturing, 546; in food retailing, 112; in departmental stores, 67; in other retail stores, 107; and among those employed by other listed companies, 132. The grand total comes to 964 full-time jobs lost up to November of last year when trading on a six-day week.
§ Mr. Freud
Does not the hon. Gentleman believe that if there were further opportunities for trading, people who are forced at the moment to select goods from catalogues supplied by companies, which probably do not do a great deal for his union, would be persuaded to go into shops? In these days of massive unemployment, surely the hon. Gentleman is pursuing a very unwise path.
§ Mr. Powell
I do not entirely share the hon. Gentleman's opinions about trading catalogues. He must 623 remember that a number of people select goods from catalogues because they are disabled and cannot get out. I do not think that what the hon. Gentleman suggests would have such a dramatic effect on the membership of USDAW, for a number of reasons. However, Sunday trading would have a dramatic effect on USDAW's membership. I do not believe that the catalogue-type of trade makes a great deal of difference, because a great many of the workers in the trade are members of USDAW in any event. Certainly almost all those employed in the distributive side of the catalogue trade are members of the union that I represent.
I remember some years ago a debate in this House on Sunday licensing hours in Wales. On that occasion Wales was afforded the opportunity of a plebiscite, county by county. A number of counties voted for, and a number against. Today, in Wales, one can be on one side of a road having a pint in a public house on a Sunday when the pubs on the other side of the road are closed.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Gentleman says "Quite right". The arguments put forward at that time for Sunday licensing hours in Wales came primarily from the Consumers Association and particularly from brewers. Having experienced Sunday licensing in Wales for some years, we find that the brewers would be only too glad to close some of their pubs on Sundays Indeed, some of them are closing them for the whole week, including Sunday. They realise that the cost of trading on Sundays has reinforced the argument against Sunday opening. The Minister should consider what has happened in Wales with Sunday opening, because I am sure that if he does he will come down against an extension of Sunday licensing.
§ Mr. Newens
What my hon. Friend says about Wales illustrates the fact that if the Bill is enacted it will perpetuate and increase anomalies throughout the country. Is not that a powerful argument for not passing the Bill?
§ Mr. Powell
My hon. Friend is correct. Wales is renowned for religion and rugby. We have to take account of religion on Sunday, because there are Nonconformists, Methodists and others in Wales who feel that Sunday would be demeaned if the Bill became law, and that the happiness tranquillity and pleasure at present enjoyed by the public on Sundays would be taken away.
Let me give one or two ways in which family life on a Sunday would be disrupted. If 10 per cent. of the public decided to shop on Sunday, all shops would open to protect their business interests. That aspect has been repeated during the five hours of our debate over and over—
§ Sir Anthony Meyer 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 48, Noes 29.
|Division No. 80]||[2.27 pm|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Lewis, Kenneth(Rutland)|
|Atkins, Robert(PrestonN)||Major, John|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th.E)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Boscawen, HonRobert||Miller, Hal(B'grove)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Newton, Tony|
|Clarke, Kenneth(Rushcliffe)||Oppenheim, RtHon MrsS.|
|Cope, John||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Dunnett, Jack||Rossi, Hugh|
|Eggar, Tim||Sandelson, Neville|
|English, Michael||Scott, Nicholas|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Shepherd, Colin(Hereford)|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Shepherd, Richard|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Silvester, Fred|
|Fraser, J. (Lamb'th.N'w'd)||Sims, Roger|
|Gow, Ian||Taylor, Robert(CroydonNW)|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Townsend.CyrilD.(B' heath)|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Walker, B. (Perth)|
|Heddle, John||Walters, Dennis|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Wheeler, John|
|Jessel, Toby||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Lang, Ian||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Langford-Holt, SirJohn||Mr. Patrick Cormack and|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Mr. David Mellor.|
|Lawson, RtHon Nigel|
|Atkinson, N.(H'gey, )||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Blackburn, John||Powell, Raymond(Ogmore)|
|Booth, RtHon Albert||Prescott.John|
|Crowther, J.S.||Race, Reg|
|Cryer, Bob||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Roper.John|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Silkin, Rt Hon J.(Deptford)|
|Field, Frank||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Graham, Ted||Straw, Jack|
|Hamilton, W.W.(C'tralFife)||Tilley, John|
|Homewood, William||Torney, Tom|
|Huckfield, Les||Whitlock, William|
|Kilfedder, James A.|
|Kinnock, Neil||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Moate, Roger||Mr. Stanley Newens and|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Mr. Harry Lamborn.|
|Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
§ Whereupon MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 31 (Majority for Closure).
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday 27 February.