§ Order for Second Reading read.9.38 am
§ Mr. Raymond Whitney (Wycombe)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have support for the Bill from distinguished colleagues in all the main parties in the House. The principal objective of the Bill is simple. It is no more radical or revolutionary than to bring trading practices in England and Wales into line with those which obtain in Scotland—to allow shops to open when they choose. No longer would it be possible for shopkeepers in England and Wales to be prosecuted as criminals under the Shops Act 1950 when they open their doors in response to demand by their customers. There can be few people in this country—certainly no Member of Parliament—who can deny that reform of the Shops Act 1950 is long overdue.
The 1950 Act was a consolidation of several older Acts, many dating from between 1912 and 1936, and some from long before that. When it reached the statute book it was perceived from the beginning as outdated. As the years have passed, that perception has deepened and widened, and it is clear that more than 70 per cent. of the people of this country are convinced that the proposed reforms are needed.
We all have favourite examples of the absurdities of the present law. The regulations governing weekday opening hours are complicated enough, but in the provisions for Sunday trading we, as legislators, have allowed farce to be introduced into the law. We may try to explain to our constituents why they can buy a kipper on Sunday but not a Sunday joint unless they go to a butcher who has declared Saturday to be the Sabbath and is therefore allowed to open on Sunday. We may be able to explain to them why they can buy corn plasters but not razor blades unless they can persuade the shopkeeper that they need the razor blades to cut their corns, or why they can buy raw carrots but not tinned ones. We may even try to explain why illegal shopping actions can be perpetrated in one town when they are impossible in another five miles away simply because district councils take different views on the application of this law.
It is not in the least surprising that the Association of District Councils wholeheartedly supports the Bill. Nor is it surprising that there have been so many previous attempts at reform. As far back as 1956, the Conservative Government introduced a Bill based on the recommendations of one of the first official post-war inquiries—the Gowers committee. As all hon. Members here today have good reason to know, however, the issue arouses considerable passion, to put it mildly. In the face of the controversy that it aroused in 1956 and 1957, the Government of the day withdrew their Bill.
Successive Governments have taken the view that, due to its controversial nature, this matter is too difficult for them and should be left to private Members' legislation. It is ironic and paradoxical that that argument has now come full circle. The same minority interests that blocked reform when it was attempted by Government now say that the subject is far too important for private Members' 537 legislation and must be dealt with by Government legislation. The present Government, however, take the view that it should be dealt with by private Members' legislation and I appreciate their point of view. Nevertheless, as a pre-eminent part of their philosophy is to understand not only the working of the market but the importance of freedom of the individual, and of dedication to the rule of law, which is what is at stake here, I look very much for support from my right hon. and hon. Friends because they know that the demand and understanding of the people of this country is that the law should be restored to a sensible basis.
I take comfort from the important statement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development when he was Minister of State, Home Office. He said at a conference organised by the Retail Consortium:The criminal law is a major cement of our social order. If any part of it fails to command general respect, its effectiveness is by so much undermined. I venture to suggest that this is a test the Shops Acts barely satisfy at all".How right he was.
Since the failure of the Government attempt in 1956, 16 attempts have been made by right hon. and hon. Members to introduce legislation to change our trading hours, culminating in the measure introduced by Baroness Trumpington in another place, which passed all its stages there last Session but failed here for lack of time.
The object of the present Bill is extremely simple, and it is drafted to provide scope for the widest consideration in Committee of all the important issues involved.
Clause 1 seeks to remove the variety of restrictions on weekday shopping hours established by part I of the Shops Act 1950.
Clause 2(1) seeks to remove the restrictions on Sunday trading in England and Wales established by part IV of the Shops Act. It also seeks to remove the one prohibition that has lingered in Scotland, where only hairdressers and barbers have been kept in check while the rest of commerce has run riot.
Clause 2(2) is also radical and revolutionary by some standards: it seeks to repeal the Acts of 1579 and 1661 relating to the holding of markets and fairs in Scotland.
The case for reform can scarcely be challenged and all the evidence suggests that there is overwhelming public support for the general principle of the Bill. Nevertheless, a small minority of people are genuinely anxious about this reform. We have considered their views extremely carefully. To me, by far the most serious anxiety centres on whether the proposed reform would damage the quality of Sunday. I am sure that none of the sponsors of the Bill would wish Sunday to become just like every other day. I would certainly object to that on both Christian and social grounds.
Fortunately, however, there is no need to speculate or to guess about this. We can examine a great deal of experience elsewhere.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
I have received representations from constituents about a very worrying aspect of the Bill. Bearing in mind that Sunday is the only day set aside for corporate worship, what provision is there in the wide-ranging proposals of the Bill 538 to safeguard shop workers who are practising Christians against career discrimination or even loss of jobs in businesses whose proprietors choose to open on Sundays?
§ Mr. Whitney
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to deal with that. In practice, there has been no such discrimination in Scotland. Nevertheless, if Parliament, in its wisdom, decides that safeguards should be incorporated in the Bill, I am sure that all the sponsors would be happy to consider that. On the whole, I believe that such a provision would be unnecessary and supererogatory as there are other provisions in our corpus of laws to prevent such discrimination. Nevertheless, I recognise that there is anxiety and we would certainly wish to meet it.
As I have said, there is no need to make guesses or to frighten ourselves with shadows. We have only to examine experience in real life—in France, in those states of the United States of America that have this freedom and in Scotland. I appreciate the genuine fears expressed by my hon. Friend, which I know are deeply held by a minority, that the removal of the sanctions of the criminal law will inevitably lead to a free-for-all with shops open every day of the week, but I can certainly testify from my own experience that in the countries that I have mentioned Sunday remains unquestionably Sunday and church attendance is significantly higher than it is in England. If the experience of the past 30 years in England has proved anything, it has surely proved that the traditional values that we all treasure cannot be defended or people driven into the churches by the mechanisms of the Shops Act 1950.
Therefore, I seriously urge those Christian people in England and Wales who are deeply worried about the possible effects of the Bill to have far more confidence in the good sense of the English and the Welsh, to take careful note of the experience in other countries, and not to believe the extraordinary propaganda put out by vested interests to resist reform for reasons quite unconnected with the maintenance of Chrisitan values.
That brings me to the curious alliance between the Retail Consortium and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, which reminds one of the joint operation of the temperance movement and the publicans that I witnessed in Australia 20 years ago.
§ Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)
Surely my hon. Friend would not think that an alliance of management and workers was curious or undesirable.
§ Mr. Whitney
I realise that my hon. Friend is sensitive on this issue. I suggest that if he allows me to develop my argument he will recognise the quaintness of the relationship, not least in respect of wages and prices. I share my hon. Friend's view that in an efficient and well-operated retail sector there can be nothing better than a happy alliance. However, if there is an alliance that is directed against the mainspring of that sector, which is the consumer, I call it a curious and worrying alliance.
About 20 years ago there was a similar phenomenon in Australia. There was what was known as the "6 o'clock swill". Licensing hours in certain states in Australia meant that the pubs shut at 6 o'clock. Year by year there were referenda, or referendums—depending on which school one attended—to ascertain whether the law should be changed. Year by year the proposal to change the law was defeated by a grouping of the publicans and the 539 temperance lobby. The publicans were happy to take the money quickly as the poor Australian worker became heavily drunk in the precious minutes between the end of his work and 6 o'clock, and drunkenness was to be found everywhere. At that stage they put up the shutters.
The temperance lobby was seriously concerned that an extension of hours would mean an extension of drunkenness. However, no one was really surprised, when good sense finally prevailed, when the will of the Australian people finally won through and when the restrictions were removed, that the fears of the temperance lobby were shown to be totally ill founded. So I am sure will it be with the Bill.
§ Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)
As my hon. Friend is talking about his experience in Australia, will he care to extend the parallel to the law which I remember applying in the early 1960s in the state of Queensland, when women were not allowed to drink in bars? My hon. Friend will surely remember the extraordinary phenomenon when women chained themselves to bar rails to ensure that their plight was attended to. When the restriction was subsequently removed, the increase in drunkenness among women was extremely small. I believe that the new figures were almost indistinguishable from the statistics which were available for our guidance before the restriction was lifted.
§ Mr. Whitney
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that interesting revelation. We have probably had sufficient insight into the ways of Australia. I suggest that we return to the ways of England, Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
Surely as a result of a change in the law the bars remained open for longer hours. That is exactly what my hon. Friend is saying will not happen if we change the laws that apply to shops.
§ Mr. Whitney
I anticipated a certain amount of difficulty in convincing my hon. Friend of the sense of the case. I hope that he will follow me as closely as possible and understand that I am saying that freedom is not a dangerous drug. It is good enough for the Australians and the Scots and I hope that he will accept that it will be good enough for the constituents of Hove or those of Wycombe. We are talking about freedom and individual responsibility.
No one can take the quality of Sunday more seriously than those of us who sponsor the Bill. We have referred to a somewhat flippant aspect of life in Australia but we consider it vital that the quality of Sunday should not be damaged in the way that the public are being led to believe.
A much more specious argument has been peddled by the Bill's opponents.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the quality of Sunday will not be affected, does he think that shops will open widely as a consequence of the Bill?
§ Mr. Whitney
Much the most likely consequence of the Bill is that the many shops now trading illegally will be made legal. It is important that they should be brought back within the scope of the law and that the law should not be traduced as at present.
§ Mr. Whitney
I have answered it clearly.
540 I shall take up the specious arguments of which we have heard so much, especially those that have been advanced by the Retail Consortium. I am prepared to believe that in many of its other activities the consortium is an admirable body, but I must say that over this issue it has acted like a pressure group, and in a manner so irresponsible as to blacken the name of pressure groups. It is unfair to pressure groups for it to operate in such a way.
For example, we have heard ludicrous stories about prices. Scare stories have circulated as a result of a document which the consortium calls a study. It professes to show that one of the effects of the implementation of the Bill's provisions would be to increase prices by a figure which varies but which has reached 16 per cent. I challenged the Director General of the Retail Consortium to produce the study so that we might all understand how he had arrived at a figure which seems to fly in the face of all experience and all logic. In his reply to me he declined, not surprisingly, to produce the study, claiming that he could not "disclose highly confidential information"—a reaction which calls to mind a certain famous remark of Miss Mandy Rice-Davies.
In his letter the Director General has lowered his estimate of the effect of the Bill. He puts it between 1 per cent. and 14 per cent. and seeks to justify this assertion by referring to higher wage costs for Sunday working and increased energy costs. Just why there should be any significant difference between energy costs on Sunday and, for example, on Monday defeats me, but let us examine rather more carefully the wages question. As the Retail Consortium, presumably above all people, should know, wages represent only one relatively small element in total retailing costs.
§ Mr. Whitney
Indeed, perhaps too small. I am sorry to see the liaison between USDAW and the consortium breaking down on that score. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) will forgive me for referring to Sainburys. In the year ending February 1982 Sainsbury had the good fortune to have takings across the counter, exclusive of VAT, of £1.87 billion. Payroll costs amounted to only £154 million, about 8.2 per cent. Another company which is making much noise about the dangers of freedom is Tesco. In 1982 Tesco's turnover was slightly up on that of Sainsburys. It rose to £1.99 billion, exclusive of VAT. Its payroll costs amounted to £191 million. The proportion of wage costs was slightly higher at 9.6 per cent.
Think of those percentages: 8 or 9 per cent. of across the-counter takings go in wage costs. It is not necessary to be a professor of higher mathematics to understand that, with those ratios, to produce an increase of 14 or 16 per cent. in the prices paid across the counter would require a phenomenal increase in the wages bill for those shops that might decide to open for a few extra hours on Sunday.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Will the hon. Gentleman please stop talking about Sainsburys and relate his Bill to that group upon whom, workers apart, the Bill will undoubtedly have the greatest impact—small shopkeepers?
§ Mr. Whitney
I am coming to that point.
The reality is that price rises such as those suggested do not occur. We can see that from a number of retail 541 chains that operate both north and south of the Scottish border. Shops such as Habitat, Asda and Comet all have the same price lists, even in those shops in Scotland where customer demand makes them open on Sundays. This is not because, as is sometimes suggested, policy decisions are taken by management in England in ignorance of the Scottish laws and trading conditions. Not a bit of it. Each shop operates as an independent profit centre seeking to optimise its performance. Standing charges such as capital costs, rates, insurance and advertising weigh much more heavily than overtime bills for extra opening hours. Where turnover could be increased, it would be normal for such costs to be held and for prices to be kept at the same level or even reduced. It is on increased turnover that this decision will turn.
If a shop found that the longer opening hours increased prices by 14 per cent., its competitors would be delighted because they could open for shorter hours, have lower prices, and sit back and take the custom.
That leads us to another part of the mythology that has been propogated by the opponents of the Bill—that there is a fixed amount of money that people will spend in retail shops. This proposition has no basis in fact.
The way in which we dispose of our income changes all the time. Retail spending fluctuates constantly, rising last year, for example, by 6 per cent. in real terms. The chairman of the Retail Consortium, who is a director of British Home Stores, when resisting the reform of the Shops Act 1950, professes to believe that the amount available for retail spending is fixed. Therefore, it was interesting to hear him on the radio on 27 December gleefully reviewing the terrific spending spree that there had been in the pre-Christmas shopping rush, and looking forward with pleasurable anticipation to the January sales. He urged the listeners of Radio 4 toGet out there and spend. My pension depends on it".I wonder why he bothered if he really believes that spending is fixed. If British Home Stores believes that, I wonder whether it considers that it is worth spending any money on advertising to bring customers into its shops.
The proportion of our national income devoted to spending in shops has declined in the past 40 years from 46 per cent. to 36 per cent. In recent months I have spoken to a number of leading retailers and learnt their attitudes towards change and opportunity. Sadly, I have to say that I am not surprised at that decline, although last year's figures have shown that there is demand in the economy.
Let us consider our savings ratio. Last year we saved about 12 per cent. of our national income, which in historical and international terms is a high ratio. It would require the retailers to be aggressive and attractive enough to lure just 1 per cent. of that saving into our shops to put another £2 billion into the economy, with all that that would mean for jobs.
§ Mr. Michael Neubert (Romford)
What inhibition is there on this extra cash being spent in the present six days that would be removed by the Bill so that it would be spent on the seventh day?
§ Mr. Whitney
If my hon. Friend would go to some of the shops that are trading illegally on Sundays, shopkeepers would tell him that the great significance of the shops being open on Sunday is that they attract the family. Different purchases are made. The family makes 542 a decision not to have an extra week in the Algarve, but to buy a suite of furniture made in High Wycombe. Honourable Members may laugh, but if they talk to people in retailing they will learn that that is the position. If they talk to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove outside the Chamber, he may explain to them that the opportunity of Sunday trading gives market possibilities.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
It also means more trade from tourists and overseas visitors who would like to shop on Sundays.
§ Mr. Whitney
My hon. and learned Friend is correct.
I return to the important point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) and to which the sponsors of the Bill attach the greatest importance—the widespread anxiety among small retailers and corner shop traders that the effects of the Bill will threaten them. Again, this comes from the fear that in England and Wales there would be a free-for-all, which has not occurred in other countries that have the blessing of freedom.
I have challenged the Retail Consortium, which has been pushing this line, to give me evidence that the smaller shopkeeper has, in the past 30 years, been under any greater threat in Scotland than he has in England and Wales. The consortium was unable to produce any such evidence. The small shopkeeper will survive because he has something distinctive to contribute to the community, not because he can shelter behind the absurd legislation on shopping hours.
We are worried about the pressures on small shopkeepers in England and Wales, but that pressure has not been relieved, and they have not been saved, by the Shops Act 1950. It is important to stress that the Bill makes no proposal to deal with part II of the Shops Act, that section relating to conditions of work for retail employees. The days are long past when the exploitation of shop workers that the old 1912 legislation was designed to tackle was necessary. However, we make no move to change part II of the Act.
The Bill would regularise the position of those who work in shops in England and Wales that are at present trading illegally, and, to the extent that there would be an increase in trade it would offer further opportunities for employment. USDAW, which can claim to speak only for a minority of shop workers—perhaps 400,000 out of 2½ million involved in the retail trade—has declared its opposition to the Bill. It has worked hard in its efforts to defeat the Bill—we have all had the glossy brochures that must have cost it a lot of money.
The indications are that we have here another case of union leaders being out of touch with the membership, and even USDAW has been forced to recognise that change is necessary. USDAW members who work in Scotland on Sundays and who were balloted revealed that they were happy to do so. I spoke to USDAW workers in co-op and House of Fraser shops in the centre of Glasgow who said that they were happy to work on Sundays.
It is not without significance that USDAW has, I understand, started to organise a ballot. But the findings will take several weeks to produce, long past the time when they could prove of benefit to hon. Members.
The anxiety about shop workers is, I believe, totally unjustified, as it is about managers. Anyone who has worries in that respect should talk to Habitat managers in 543 Scotland. I spoke to several of them—Englishmen appointed there who were not looking forward to being posted back to the routine that exists in England.
Another sign of the extent to which the USDAW leadership seems to be out of touch with reality was contained in a letter from the deputy general secretary of the union, Mr. John Flood, dated 21 January when he alleged thatthis Bill is another attempt by the present Government to reduce the earnings of working people in this country.Surely even Mr. Flood must be aware that the Bill has all-party support, that it is not sponsored by the Government and that, far from reducing the earnings of working people, it would give them new opportunities to increase their earnings.
The last defence of the reactionaries is to resort to the familiar political device of all those who have lost the argument: they are now calling for an inquiry. Perhaps the most extraordinary statement of this position came from Mr. Kenneth Edwards, the deputy director general of the CBI, in a press statement released on 31 January. I hope sincerely that Mr. Edwards was not truly speaking for the confederation. If he was the implications for British industry would be very serious.
I understand that wiser voices have now been heard at Centre Point coming from, among others, the smaller firms council of the CBI. If Mr. Edwards really believes what he says about the Bill leading to increased costs and prices, the logic of his position is that he should be demanding that Parliament bring in restrictions on trading hours and practices in Scotland so that Scottish business should be spared what he seems to regard as the terrifying impact of freedom. It is also difficult to square Mr. Edwards' views with the CBI's well justified calls for the removal of non-tariff barriers to trade and for more investment in tourism. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) has pointed out, all the tourist authorities in Britain strongly support the Bill.
We constantly hear from industry and retailing that they are burdened with too much restrictive legislation. Yet they oppose attempts to get rid of it. What does the CBI want? As the editor of the Sunday Express might say, "I think we should be told". Mr. Edwards suggests that we are calling for what he describes as "a hasty change". He also says:it would be wrong to take such a radical step before more facts are known.I shall offer Mr. Edwards a few facts. I spoke to him yesterday afternoon. I was not very impressed with his grasp of the facts. He seemed to be unaware of them. He talks about hasty change.
This problem has existed for 30 years. Since the war, there have been two full-scale commissions, perhaps two dozen debates in Parliament and a variety of seminars and investigations. I have to say to Mr. Edwards, "The facts are known. The will of the people is known." What is needed now is courage and resolution to grasp the facts which are widely available to those who have studied this difficult problem and to produce legislation that will allow trading in England and Wales to be conducted with the same freedom that Scotland has successfully enjoyed for many years.
If the House today reflects the strong feeling in the country at large on this matter and gives the Bill a Second Reading, I look forward to considering and debating in 544 Committee any proposals that might set at rest the anxieties which have been expressed in the wide, national debate which I am glad to say has been taking place in the past two months. I shall seek to take proper account of them in our deliberations.
This is a difficult issue. If it were not, the problem would have been dealt with years ago, no doubt by a Government measure. It is because it is difficult that it is left to us, as private Members, to exercise our privilege of giving our verdict. I hope that we shall not be deflected by the pressures put upon us by minority groups from reaching a decision on the basis of all the genuine and verifiable evidence available and in the interests of the people as a whole. This is a Bill which concerns freedom, not licence, which seeks to restore validity and respect to a law that has fallen into disrepute, and which has the modest aim of giving to the English and the Welsh rights long enjoyed by the Scots. I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
As is customary in the House, I declare my interest. I am sponsored by the co-operative movement. I am a director of the Enfield Highway co-operative society, a multi-purpose consumer organisation trading in outer London, Hertfordshire and Essex with an annual turnover of about £30 million. Like all hon. Members, I am a shopper and a consumer. The Bill is undoubtedly a great issue, worthy of five hours debate and, at the end, a vote. Alas, there will be a vote, but perhaps there will not be a decision, in spite of the result.
I join the convention of congratulating the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), who has introduced the Bill, on his good fortune. I cannot, however, congratulate him on his choice. I wish to mention first some of the issues about which there can be little dispute. There is no argument that shop hours and Sunday trading affect many groups and cause feelings to run high. The issue affects consumers, workers, retailers and councils. It is not possible for anyone to talk in terms of unanimity in any one of the groups. I find it exceedingly difficult to be able to say that one can speak with certainty of substantial majorities within the groups. Both sides of the argument can claim powerful allies. However, the issue is far too important to be won or lost according to the weight, the length or the voice on one side or the other. Nor should cleverness of presentation win or lose the day.
Our case is that the evidence to support the social revolution—that is what the Bill will lead to—is not available despite the persuasive case put by the hon. Member for Wycombe. The case that I present will be based on deeply, but not dogmatically, held beliefs. We are satisfied that the Shops Act 1950, after more than 30 years, is in need of review and reform but not in the drastic manner contained in the Bill. There is no argument but that there are anomalies. Why should there be any surprise that anomalies have emerged in legislation that has been on the statute book for so long? The past 30 years have seen revolution, not just in the realm covered by the 1950 Act but in many other respects.
The face of retailing has been altered out of all proportion. The age of the motor car, with increased mobility, has changed shopping habits out of all recognition. Taste and traditional shopping needs are now influenced increasingly by international mobility. It is right that anomalies should be dealt with. Our case is that 545 to do so does not require seven-day-a week shopping. We reject this approach. There needs to be far more evidence than that produced by the hon. Member for Wycombe.
Before examining the facts as we know them, I urge the House to beware of extravagant claims. As a result of a poll based on interviewing fewer than 2,000 people, Mr. Jeremy Mitchell, director of the National Consumer Council, felt qualified to say:The poll shows that the very full debate that this issue has had has confirmed people's belief that shops in England and Wales should be free to choose for themselves when to open. By a ratio of almost 3:1 the electorate"—I stress the claim of the "electorate"—would prefer their MP to vote in favour of Mr. Ray Whitney's Bill".It shows nothing of the kind. To call the skirmishing of partisans on both sides of the argument in the recent past a full debate is a clear case of a contravention of the Trade Descriptions Act. It is false labelling of a most dubious kind and worthy of a reference to the Director General of Fair Trading.
I have referred to the changing face of retailing during the past 30 years. Retailing and distribution have been a battlefield. There has been fierce, uncompromising, unrelenting, no-quarter-given competition. Let us consider some of the effects of that battlefield during the 30 years. Retail outlets declined from 542,000 in 1961, to 472,000 in 1971, to 348,000 in 1981. Independent grocers during the period 1971–81 fell from 86,000 to 47,000–45 per cent. down. There is continual pressure to concentrate so as to maximise size and minimise costs. The name of the game is to retain one's sector of the trade.
In our view, that concentration will accelerate under even fiercer competition, and that competition will be stimulated by longer shopping hours and Sunday trading. In the long run, it will damage a whole range of interests. The steady change in the pattern of retailing and the growth of hypermarkets and superstores, have already had serious consequences for the village and the small town, as the car-borne shopper becomes a common feature and as public transport becomes more costly and less frequent. The small shop is under threat. The range of retail outlets in rural and scattered areas declines, and sometimes disappears altogether.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I must declare an interest in a small retail outlet in a small town. The only reason this small retail outlet flourishes is that car-borne shoppers can come at weekends and give us their custom. A large concentrated retail outlet would be impossible in the place where I live. The small shop gives employment to people who have been deprived of employment by those people who have to go into large towns to do their shopping mid-week.
§ Mr. Graham
The hon. Gentleman describes his experience in the small town that he knows best. However, statistics are against his experience. Whether his shop can flourish is part of the argument. In fact, many small shops have gone under, and we all know villages which at one time boasted six or eight small shops of varying trades, which over the years, as a result of the car-borne shopper, have disappeared until finally only one or two remain.
§ Mr. Graham
I shall give way in a moment. Do we blame the small shopkeeper who has had to go out of business? Do we condemn distant ownership for pulling out? Do we subsidise those who are willing to remain, and if so how? The eclipse of small shopkeepers in the Scottish Highlands is very worrying, not only for those who live there but for those of us who are concerned about the general pattern. The Welsh Consumer Council recently drew our attention to its concern for the disabled and elderly when small shops close. Fierce competition will not assist people in that category.
§ Mr. Waller
The hon. Gentleman suggested that the example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) was in some way remarkable. Does he not know of the many thousands of small corner shops all over the country, many of them run by enterprising Asians—and no doubt in his own constituency—which exist because on a Sunday there is no other retail establishment available to ordinary people, and which no doubt would go out of business if they could not open during these unsocial hours?
§ Mr. Graham
What does the hon. Gentleman think will happen to those shops when the big boys decide that they are legally obliged to do it? It is all very well to say that the shops which at present open can survive. Many small shops survive, first, because they are family businesses, second, because they are willing to work all hours, and third, because there is no control of the wages of their employees. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that the interests of the small shopkeeper need to be borne in mind.
I know that the question of employment and the shopkeepers will be dealt with fairly, fully and adequately by hon. Members who are sponsored by the shop workers, but we need to remember that we are talking about a large number of people. The hon. Member for Wycombe rightly said that 2.5 million people work in the retail and distributive trade.
§ Sir David Price (Eastleigh)
While the hon. Gentleman is on the subject of conditions in shops, will he give the House his view of what happens in these Asian shops about the payment of wages to members of the families who work there? Would I be right in suggesting that most of them get only pocket money? Does he think that the second generation in this country will be prepared to work under the same conditions?
§ Mr. Graham
I cannot say, because statistics are not collected, and the inspectorate of wages councils' provisions seem unable to provide such statistics. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Many young people who came to this country with their parents have worked in the shops, and thus helped to keep down the costs. Now those young people will have a better education and better horizons, thanks to our system, and I shall make a shrewd guess that the second and third generations of those who are willing to work all hours will not be prepared to do so.
I was about to say that two thirds of the work force in shops are women, and two thirds of the women are married. We should bear in mind the social consequences not only for the workers but for their families, and ultimately for society.
The pursuit of market share in retailing and the retention of the market share is an overriding imperative. 547 The hon. Member for Wycombe spoke of this subject and of his doubts, not about the authenticity, but about the validity, of the figures that he and I received from the Retail Consortium. We should remember that the protection for shopworkers' wages is enshrined not only in the 1950 Act but in wages councils orders. Invariably, that means not only double time, but premium payments. The Retail Consortium provided the hon. Member and myself with a range of statistics. Let there be no mistake: once this Bill becomes law there will be no choice for many shops. If there is a choice, it will be not to open and watch the trade go to the competitors—or, of course, one can take the other option of trading on Sundays, if one's survival depends on trade retention.
The hon. Member for Wycombe quoted the statistics from the Retail Consortium. Retailers were invited to say what they estimated would be the consequences and have given figures. I think the hon. Gentleman made a slight mistake in confusing wage costs with prices. Of course wage costs will rise. The hon. Gentleman does not need to take the figures of the Retail Consortium, because he introduced the debate that took place at Leicester. I shall quote what one prominent retailer said at the conference he believed would be the effect on prices. Mr. Colin Cullimore, the managing director of Dewhurst said:If the volume of trade remains exactly the same but we opened for longer hours during the week and for part of Sunday the effect on retail prices would be an increase of just over 4 per cent.".Of course, he could be wrong, and the hon. Gentleman may be right. I am sorry to be offensive, but when someone tells me what he thinks will happen in his shop, I would rather take his word than that of the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Whitney
That reminds me of one of the views of my deceased constituent, Mr. Disraeli—who is buried in Hughendon churchyard—about statistics. However, will the hon. Gentleman note the qualification that the volume of trade remains the same. If the volume of trade remained the same, what possible incentive could there be to open on the seventh day when prices would have to increase? If a shop's more sensible competitors understood that, they would not open on the seventh day because their prices would be 4 per cent. or more lower than those of the Sunday opener.
§ Mr. Graham
The hon. Gentleman once again returns to the choice that a shop has about opening. A shop will open only to try to get more trade. The market is not wholly static, but a consumer will have the same amount of money to spend whether shops are open for six or seven days a week. If he decides to spend some of his money on the seventh day, he will spend less money on the other six days. It is all very well to say that if a shop opens on a Sunday, it can close on another weekday, such as Monday. However, many large stores stock their shelves and do a lot of other work on a Monday after the busy Friday and Saturday.
It is often said that more workers might be needed if shops opened on Sundays. I should be surprised if that were so. Retailing has not escaped what has been happening throughout industry. There is a constant search to trim wage costs, no matter whether a shop is big or small. I suggest that there will be bigger shops and fewer employees because of the introduction of technology. Just because there are anomalies, it does not mean that we 548 should reject all forms of protection. The Association of District Councils apparently thinks that the solution to the problem of enforcement is to remove the law and thus remove the duty to enforce. If shops increasingly open on a Sunday, responsibility for enforcing a whole range of Acts—although not for that part of the Act. that is excluded—will still remain. I refer, for example, to the weights and measures legislation, health and hygiene measures, the Sale of Goods Act, the Fair Trading Act, the Trade Descriptions Act, the Prices Act, provisions on bargain offers, wages council orders and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act.
§ Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)
The hon. Gentleman is building up a fine theoretical case. Leeds council picked several times on my biggest garden centre, which does about 50 per cent. of its business on a Sunday. After several attempts to deal with that store, it has been obliged to issue injunctions against 400 premises trading in the Leeds area. Surely the law is an ass, and it knows it is.
§ Mr. Graham
The present law is difficult to enforce and needs radical review. We have no argument with the hon. Gentleman if he is saying that the law is sometimes brought into disrepute. However, we say that consumers, retailers, and local authorities should get round the table to decide how the law can be brought into respect. That can be done by changing the schedules so that it can be enforced. I should like to pose a question to enforcement officers and local authorities. I assume that they enforce every other law, if they say that this law is unenforceable. Those other laws will now have to be enforced not six days a week, but seven. The cost of enforcement will mean price and rate increases.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
I listened with interest when the hon. Gentleman said that he would be prepared to consider a solution in which the schedules were amended. Perhaps he recalls that I introduced such a measure two years ago. I did not go as far as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), but merely proposed to amend the schedules. Was the hon. Gentleman prepared to support that measure?
§ Mr. Graham
I was not prepared to support that measure, because the hon. Gentleman was making a piecemeal attempt to deal with the situation. There should be a complete and thorough review not only of part of the Act—the schedules—but of all the legislation and any other aspect that affects shop workers, retailers, consumers or local authorities. We cannot ignore the consequences of approving this legislation or the recommendations of the Erroll committee. As the House knows, the committee dealt with proposed changes in the liquor licensing laws in England and Wales. I shall remind the House briefly of its two main recommendations. First, it was suggested that intoxicating liquor could be retailed at any time between 10 am and midnight. Secondly, it was suggested that off-sales should be allowed between 8.30 am and midnight.
I have three questions for the Minister. Is not the argument that market forces should dictate the hours equally relevant to the sale of liquor? If shops can open at all hours, will there not be pressure to allow pubs and off-licences to do the same, and will it not be irresistible? If a private Member's Bill promoted the Erroll recommendations, would the Home Office adopt the neutral stance that it is adopting now?
§ Sir Bernard Braine
As the hon. Gentleman knows, alcohol is in a separate category because it is a drug and has been controlled throughout the century. The answer to his question is that no Government have been prepared to introduce any of the Erroll recommendations for the good reason that the advice given by the medical profession and by those concerned with the growing level of alcohol abuse has been that we should not tamper with the existing licensing laws.
§ Mr. Graham
That is very good advice. However, if all restrictions on Sunday trading or on trading at any hour of the day are swept away, how can we say, without being hyprocritical, that an individual should be free to buy what he likes while laying down restrictions on alcohol?
Fair points have been made about the way in which the present pattern of retailing in Scotland is apparently working to the satisfaction of those involved. However, the Scottish experience cannot be compared with that in England and Wales. There are factors in Scotland that are unique. For example, 83 per cent. of chain stores in Scotland are owned by English or London-based companies. They will decide, and have decided, how to guide and control the Scottish experience. They have told the Retail Consortium that if competition forces them to protect their empire and to open shops in England, they will be forced to extend their empire and will thus transform the present pattern of trade in Scotland.
§ Mr. Whitney
If the hon. Gentleman is so worried about this phenomenon, will he explain why Habitat in Union street, Aberdeen, is the only furniture shop open on a Sunday? None of the other shops seems to feel under any pressure to open. What is the difference, for example, between Aberdeen and Leicester? What is the significant difference between those areas? I do not understand, but I know that all retail chains take decisions as separate profit centres. They do not have one global policy.
§ Mr. Graham
The hon. Gentleman surprises me with his knowledge of how large national organisations consider their economics. My experience is that national organisations deal with such matters nationally. The hon. Gentleman asks why only one shop being open in a town on a Sunday has not led other shops to open to get back their share of the trade. Those decisions are taken in the light of the likely trade. There is also the pre-eminence of the one shop that is opening in Aberdeen. We are told by people whose views we should respect that if there were no Sunday trading by a large store in a large town in England, but it decided to open, the other traders would watch carefully. If, as a result of that one shop opening, their sales were affected, for the protection of their empire they would be duty bound to open as well. One shop would open on a Sunday, then a second, a third and so on.
§ Mr. Graham
Indeed. There is also the late night phenomenon. At one time there were regular, fixed hours. Then, as an experiment, one or two shops decided to chance their arm and opened until 7 or 8 o'clock, so other shopkeepers decided to do the same.
In my postbag, which is typical, I have received advice from many quarters from those who support and oppose 550 the Bill. Let me tell the House what I have been told in recent weeks, first by an organisation that employs 25,000 people:Sunday trading is potentially disadvantageous to customers, traders and the economy, not only in terms of costs but also in the way it may disrupt the lives of those who work in retailing. This would make it difficult to attract and retain recruits of the high standard we require.Another organisation that employs 25,000 individuals wrote:Unless competion compelled us to do so, we would not wish to start Sunday trading.A do-it-yourself store wrote:Faced by the decision of several DIY retailers to trade on a Sunday, we decided that we should follow.I draw the attention of the House to an extract from a speech that was made at one of the political conferences last year:The public has not yet made up its mind. Very many people think, as indeed I do, that Sunday should be different. It should be kept aside for rest, for worship, and the family.When Lord Elton made that comment at the Tory party conference he received loud applause. We should applaud him too.
Hon. Members are clearly influenced by views from within their constituencies. The Enfield, Edmonton and Southgate chamber of commerce told me:Most of our members feel that there should be some end to the anomalies of Sunday trading. On the other hand, our members feel opposed to Sunday trading as a rule because they think it would change their own lifestyle to their detriment—and it would alter the fabric of society in this country.That letter was signed by Mr. W. Mowbray, the secretary. The Tanners End free church wrote:We the undersigned wish to make a strong protest against the Sunday opening of shops.Enfield Baptist church wrote:Whilst it is appreciated that there are certain anomalies in what can and what cannot be sold on Sundays—and these should be ironed out sensibly—we—as a Church—protest in the strongest possible terms against the intention in the Bill to allow seven day trading.The letter to which I paid particular attention came from a constituent called Mr. K. F. Driver of 53 Granville avenue, Edmonton. He said:On Tuesday last I had an advertising booklet pushed through my letter box promoting the DIY company Wickes Building Supplies. On page 82 I am urged to write to you if I agree to a change in the Sunday trading laws. Page 82 of the booklet contains five plausible reasons but I fear No. 6 has been omitted, i.e. the greed of Messrs. Wickes to increase their profits at the expense of the 'English Sunday'. I like Sunday as it is. I do not want my Sunday put at risk or turned into just another day. I draw the line at the thought of Tescos, Sainsburys"—with due deference—Marks and Sparks, Woolies, the Edmonton market opening on Sundays, because sooner or later that is what Mr. Whitney's proposition will mean.My constituent speaks for thousands, if not millions, of ordinary people whose lives, instead of being made a misery for six days a week, will now be made a misery for seven days a week because of traffic, dirt, noise and nuisance.
I cannot speak for all those who oppose the Bill, but there are those, like myself, who have urged the Government to set up an inquiry into shopping hours, which need be neither expensive nor time-consuming. We are disappointed that the Home Secretary has declined to do so. We believe that consumers, retailers, shop workers and local authorities should be brought face to face round 551 the table to examine the arguments constructively, to see whether there is a consensus and to come to the best agreement.
Anomalies are recognised. Agreed changes are possible. It would be infinitely preferable to proceed by agreement than to sweep away present laws. If the Bill falls, pressure for that inquiry will remain strong from the Retail Consortium, the co-operative movement and the shop workers. They will all co-operate fully in such an inquiry.
The case for such fundamental reform—the virtual abolition of the 1950 Act—has not been made out. I do not wish to be offensive to the proponents of the Bill, but it is naive for those people to believe that the Bill in this form will bring the benefit that they want or will not result in many other problems. Bluntly, I believe that they have failed to think through the enormous social and economic implications of total abolition of control over trading potentially for 168 hours a week. To deal with a law that is in disrepute and not enforced—not unenforceable but not enforced—by sweeping it away is akin to throwing out the baby with the bath water. There will be much common ground if we can devise a means of considering all points of view in depth and with understanding. The House is entitled to ask what would happen if such an inquiry failed to provide recommendations that were fair and reasonable to all interests in this most important matter. Then, and only then, could there be a case for an attempt to change the law by a private Member's Bill. Today's proposal is not justified in timing or content. I urge that the Bill be rejected.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
I remind the House that we have already taken up one quarter of the time that is allowed for the debate. Unless every hon. Member who catches my eye shows restraint many hon. Members will be disappointed.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) has made an eloquent defence of the status quo. My conservative prejudices incline me to sympathise with him, yet wider considerations lead me to support my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney).
The Bill is not just a new, permissive measure. It reflects fundamental changes in our society arising from major changes in methods of production, which always have a formative effect on any society. Let me explain what I mean.
Three great religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have proclaimed the concept of a day of rest, but they all evolved in an agricultural environment. In agriculture one can work only in daylight. One can till the fields and tend the cattle only in the light of day. Apart from a few scholars, revellers and Members of Parliament, the great mass of our countrymen worked from the onset of dawn to the onset of darkness. Even some Members of Parliament were quite reluctant to work after dark in the old days. King George III once sent for the Duke of Newcastle to see him at 6 o'clock in the winter. The Duke replied, "With his humble duty to your Majesty, the Duke begs to represent that it will be dark at 6 o'clock and he himself would quite like to be drunk. In the circumstances 552 he doubts if it would be in the interests of public business to wait on your Majesty this evening. He will accordingly wait on your Majesty tomorrow morning."
Even with the onset of the industrial revolution 99 per cent. of the people worked in the hours of daylight. It was not until the advent of the electric light—not so very long ago—that it was possible even to equalise winter and summer working hours and to work beyond the onset of darkness. Of course there were exceptions. The great blast furnaces in the steel industry have always operated 24 hours a day. So, to some extent, have the railways, and, in modern times, the airlines.
However, as the speech of the hon. Member for Edmonton showed, we are a conservative people and have been reluctant to depart from the agricultural way of life that has prevailed for centuries. But we have now moved into a new era—an era that is symbolised by the computer and the robot. We enter that new era with some apprehension, but we should welcome it. Every civilisation has depended, if not on slavery, on drudgery. We are coming to an age when the machine will be able to do almost everything that we need, when human labour will be restricted to managing, minding and designing the machines. That should produce a completely new civilisation and, I hope, in many ways a much happier one.
Yet it is only worth introducing the machine, and we shall only be successful in marketing its product, if the machine is made to work 24 hours a day. As machines cannot strike and do not vote, that should present no particular problem. However, if those minding the machines have to work a 24-hour day—three eight-hour shifts, four six-hour shifts or six four-hour shifts—many of them will have to work what we call unsocial hours. There is a choice. Either we contract out of this new industrial revolution or we make unsocial hours social.
How can we do that? It would mean television round the clock; sports grounds open at night lit by floodlight; restaurants, cafes, pubs, a great many offices and perhaps the churches as well open for 24 hours a day—and, of course, shops. That is the subject we are discussing.
To meet the demands of those who create wealth—a fairly small proportion of the country on whom the old and the young depend, as do the service industries—we must create for the people who mind the machines a social environment in what are today unsocial hours. That will not be done quickly. Our traditions are strong and we are not there yet.
Incidentally, it is only by going over to the 24-hour day and putting our agricultural past behind us that we shall cure unemployment in the long run. If the service industries work round the clock unemployment will be absorbed fairly quickly in the manufacturing industries. Without it, I am not so sure.
How can the Government and we in Parliament help in this matter? The Government can try to encourage what are called growth points in the economy — computers, robots and so on. It is not easy for us to pick and choose between them or even for Ministers to do so. What we can do, and what the Bill seeks to do, is to abolish restrictions that may have been desirable in their day but which today are a barrier to the revolutionary changes that are going on in industry and are not yet fully reflected in our society. That is what the Bill does. I am sure that it will be good for consumers. It will offend some vested interests. It will cause some anxiety among the more traditional followers of established religions.
553 Representations and arguments can be made both ways but on balance, if we look ahead at the kind of society into which we are bound to move, given the changes in the means of production on which the wealth and welfare of our country depend, we should give the Bill our support as an important step in sweeping away restrictions that could imperil and impede progress.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I do not believe that technological changes in our society require us to abandon the advantages that we have gained hitherto from having Sunday as a day of rest for the vast majority of the population. Many hon. Members today will deal in more detail, as did the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), with the Bill's effect on retail trade and those who work in it. However, I want to make particular reference to some of the social and religious factors.
I start by quoting a typical expression of the reservations which many people feel in some words penned by the bishop of Newcastle in his diocesan newsletter. He said:My hesitations on this subject are caused by a fear that, without having fully considered the implications, we shall find ourselves having consented to a reform which will have far-reaching implications for the rhythm and flavour of life in this country, with regard to the pattern both of employment and of family life and recreation. It is surely possible that the drive of competition will force most shops and stores to open on Sundays. Once Sunday is an ordinary shopping day, Sunday may well become an ordinary working day for many more people besides the employees in shops.The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) did not deny that. He set out a scenario for the brave new world in which we have to accept that. I do not believe that we have to accept it and nor do I believe that the House wishes to.
There is widespread anxiety about the effect of Sunday opening on those who work in the retail trade. There are two particular religious and social implications of that. One is the direct effect on the prospects of people who are effectively obliged to work and who wish to attend Sunday worship—the normal privilege of Christians. To quote again from the diocesan newsletter, the bishop said:As far back as we can go in Christian history, the first day of the week, the day of the Lord's resurrection, has been the day on which Christians come together to break bread … and during the early persecutions the necessity for Christians to meet for worship on Sunday was a matter on which they would not and could not compromise.Some people must make that compromise because of the necessity of providing medical services and many other basic human needs on Sundays. However, we need not force a large number of people into that position.
§ Mr. Whitney
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point and the anxieties of the bishop of Newcastle and other hon. Members, can he explain why what he fears, and what I would strongly abhor and deplore, has not happened in Scotland but would, for example, happen in Wales?
§ Mr. Beith
The hon. Gentleman must realise that there are other relevant factors in Scotland. One is that there are a great many people in prominent positions in the retail trade in Scotland who do not want to see Sunday go that way and who are doing their best to ensure that it does not.
554 Secondly, real problems are arising in some parts of Scotland. If the hon. Gentleman lived on the west side of Edinburgh he would know that the enormous traffic and disturbance generated by the Sunday market near Turnhouse airport is a real threat to the way of life of people in that area. There are many other parts of Scotland where such pressures have arisen. I shall come to those wider aspects in a moment.
Shop owners may find themselves obliged to open on Sundays by the pressures of competition and the people working in those shops will have very limited opportunities for attending public worship. At a time when 3 million people are unemployed it is unreasonable to suggest that there will not be considerable pressure on people in the retail trade to work on Sundays if that is what their employer wants them to do. People would feel that they dare not risk their job by appearing unwilling to accept that obligation. Moreover, it is an uncomfortable position for an employee to be in, to have to say that he feels strongly as a Christian and wants to attend worship on Sunday but that his fellow workers will have to work on Sundays as a consequence. That is not a happy position and I do not want to see more people placed in it.
As well as the difficulties for such people of simply taking part in Sunday worship, the prevailing pattern in churches nowadays is for family worship to be a Sunday morning affair. I wonder at times whether the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) wants to go back to the times when the gentry attended church in the morning on Sundays and the servants cooked the meal; the servants were then allowed to lay on a cold supper so that they could go separately to evening worship when their work was done. There are shades in the Bill of a return to those days.
The pressure to work on Sundays will have a wider effect on family life, and particularly on the many married women who work in the retail trade and will be susceptible to such pressure. The money that they bring in during a recession is probably essential to many households, and jobs for them are not easy to come by. If they feel that by determining to stay at home with their family on Sundays they are imperilling their job they will be under considerable pressure. The consequences on family life of many mothers having to be away from their families on Sundays should not be imposed on them.
There are still wider effects. Our heritage is one of relatively quiet Sundays that many people feel entitled to enjoy. If that disappears because of Sunday trading enormous changes will occur. If the shops open, there are more cars and delivery vehicles on the road and rubbish mounts up. Either the rubbish remains, because council employees do not work on Sundays, or the dust carts operate on Sundays as well, adding to the disturbance.
We can see from the places where pressures have arisen close to town centres how difficult life becomes for people who live there. It will become immensely more difficult if the Bill goes through. There are, of course, differences between the problems presented by a garden centre in an isolated place and those presented by a series of shops in an area where people live.
In the years after the war there was a trend towards zoning in planning—shops, housing and industry were kept apart. We began to realise that this policy was ripping the hearts out of our towns and cities and we now accept that people and shops belong together. Indeed, in some of our country towns that has always been the case. Sunday 555 is the one day of the week when they can have some peace and quiet and we should not permit a scale of Sunday opening that would remove that essential element of peace from the lives of those who live near shops.
The peaceful Sunday is part of our heritage in the wider community sense, as well as in the religious sense. The issue was well put in an article in the Chicago Tribune by a columnist who was not writing as a Christian. He said:One weekend recently I looked out the window and discovered that Sunday had disappeared. Nobody had swiped it exactly, but something had gone out of the noble day. Suddenly, I realised what it was: Sunday had turned into Tuesday. Out on the street, people no longer were strolling about. They had direction, a midweek glint in their eyes that meant business. They were walking briskly in and out of stores instead of browsing quietly past the windows. The scene was as busy as your average workaday Tuesday … Sunday was the only day you could be legitimately lazy, since nobody else was getting a whole lot accomplished either. But just try lying around the house on Sunday now—knowing that half the world is out there doing things.That may have been expressed slightly flippantly, but it gives the favour of what can happen when we lose the character of Sunday.
The character of Sunday is not uniquely British. Many other countries in northern Europe and elsewhere preserve the freedom from the range of commercial activities on Sundays. As a tourist in the Scandinavian countries, for example, I have never heard British people complain that they cannot shop on Sundays. They are happy to enjoy the countryside and peace that those countries afford. I do not see why we should give up the character of our Sundays either.
Anomalies in the law have built up over the years. Some point to them and almost suggest that legislators have gone half crazy and invented perversities for the fun of doing so. That is not the case. Starting from the basic position that Sundays should be kept as a peaceful day, a number of concessions have properly been made to meet certain needs, so that perishable goods, medical supplies and various other goods could be obtained on Sundays by those who needed them.
However, for those who want unrestricted Sunday trading to turn the argument on its head and say that because concessions have been made the law has become an absurdity smacks of special pleading.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Hemel Hempstead)
Does the hon. Gentleman think that the position of garden centres is an anomaly? There are about 2,000 such centres in England and Wales, nearly all of them are open on Sundays and millions of people visit them. Does the hon. Gentleman regard that as an anomaly, or does he think that the centres should be closed?
§ Mr. Beith
I would not call garden centres an anomaly in the same sense as those that hon. Members have quoted in connection with goods that can and cannot be bought on Sundays. Those anomalies have resulted from genuine attempts to make the law reasonable. Garden centres are rather a different question, and in some cases present less of a problem.
The phenomenon of garden centres has grown up since the Shops Act 1950. Many garden centres are well away from places where people live. One on the outskirts of my constituency is a long way from any habitation. However, others are in towns and present problems for those who live near them, as well as involving Sunday work for many people. Garden centres are different in that they often have 556 a special family character, and their opening does not have the same effect as that of a row of High Street shops in a town. However, their position should be looked at in a proper review of the 1950 Act.
It is difficult for those of us who feel that there should be restraint on Sunday trading, but have conceded that there must be exceptions, to accept the argument that because exceptions have been made, the law has become an absurdity.
The hon. Member for Wycombe raised a different political flag from the traditional Conservative party banner. The traditional flag of his party has been that of conserving what is best in society, allowing things to evolve and not bringing about change for the sake of change. The hon. Member for Wycombe chose instead the flag of freedom, which my party has raised for many years. In changing his standard from the traditional Conservative flag to the important flag of freedom, the hon. Gentleman overlooked some of the things that Liberals have had to think about over the years. I speak only for myself, because this is not a party issue.
One of the things that Liberals have learnt about freedom over the years—the argument was well developed by John Stuart Mill—is that one has to recognise the role of the state in controlling freedom when it affects the freedom of others. There is a distinction between what Mill calls self-regarding actions and other-regarding actions. It is a matter of argument and interpretation how far the exercise of freedom affects the freedom of others. However, there is no doubt that a change towards extensive Sunday trading would clearly affect the freedom of many people to worship and enjoy peace and quiet on Sundays.
§ Mr. Whitney
The hon. Gentleman is talking about Liberal antecedents, which I believe are important—I wish that today's Liberal party echoed the true Liberalism of the 18th and 19th centuries. Does he agree that one of the foundations of real Liberalism is a respect for the rule of law, and that the law on Sunday trading is being brought into disrespect?
§ Mr. Beith
I do not disagree that the law should be enforced. It is a pity that a number of traders, especially those running garden centres, depend on the law not being enforced. That is not satisfactory for them or for the community.
However, I counsel the House to recognise that throughout history those who have been most concerned about freedom have had to recognise that it must be restrained when it affects the rest of the community. For example, the Ten Commandments do not merely enjoin the individual to respect the Sabbath day; they also require him to ensure that those who work for him have the freedom to respect it. The implications of an individual's action for others go right through the Old Testament and the New Testament and the political philosophy of Liberalism, whoever espouses it.
In the traditional, peaceful, Sunday we have something that we should not discard lightly. It would have been possible for the hon. Member for Wycombe to bring forward proposals that would have made the law easier to enforce and would have carried wider support. I do not pretend for one moment that it would be easy to do so. The balance is difficult to strike and many conflicting interests are involved. But I believe that what the hon. Gentleman 557 has brought before us will seriously threaten the freedom of many—directly for those employed in the retail trade and indirectly for others with its effect on the character of Sunday.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Mellor)
I hope that it may be for the convenience of the House if I intervene at this stage to make some remarks on behalf of the Government. I shall respect the injunction that you properly laid upon us, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to be as brief as possible so that the maximum number of hon. Members—who are here in force today—should have the opportunity to participate in this most absorbing debate.
This is a difficult issue that arouses strong feelings. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) eloquently set out what he and others regard as the irresistible logic for change. I congratulate him on his speech and on his efforts in the preceding weeks to draw public attention to the important issue. But others in the House, equally strongly and eloquently, voiced the contrary position.
There are important considerations and fears about the character of Sunday, some of which the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) mentioned. These fears are held in many parts of the House and I agree that they are an important factor. That is why the Government adhere to the view, which successive Governments have adhered to, that the decision must be for the individual conscience of hon. Members. It will be my duty to make observations that indicate a position on the Bill, but no attempt will be made to invoke the machinery of party discipline to impose one view or the other on the House. It is for hon. Members to make up their own minds.
§ Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)
Will the Minister give an undertaking that the Government will not be like Pilate and wash their hands?
§ Mr. Mellor
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means by that, but if he is asking whether the Government have a view on the matter the answer is "Yes, indeed." I shall express that view, even though I fear that it will arouse controversy among those who do not necessarily agree with it. It is essentially a matter for hon. Members' consciences.
§ Mr. Mellor
Yes, but although I am anxious to give way and to be of assistance, it will prevent me from finishing as quickly as I would like if I give way too frequently.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I appreciate what my hon. Friend says but I wish to make an important point arising from what he said about the Government having a view.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Home Secretary received a delegation from the all-party group for the retail trade and he confirmed that the Government's attitude to the Bill was strict neutrality?
§ Mr. Mellor
If my hon. Friend will allow me to proceed, I shall make the Government's attitude clear. I am not sure that it accords exactly with what my hon. Friend suggests.
558 We have also heard important arguments about family life. That factor, too, must make it a matter for individual conscience. We have heard arguments about what it is suggested are a vulnerable group of workers who might be compelled against their will to work on a day when they should be relaxing with their families. These are important arguments. Nothing that I say is intended to gainsay the essential right of hon. Members to vote against the measure if that be their will.
We have heard equally important arguments, which are none the worse for being arguments of cold practicality rather than of principle, from those involved in the retail trade. We recognise that the retail trade is sharply divided on the issue. Great names in British retailing can be found on either side of the argument. We should deal with the hard practicalities as perceived by those whose interests are intimately bound up with the future of the retail trade, whether as proprietors, small or large, or those whose employment is in the retail trade, of whom there are over 2 million.
At the heart of the debate lies the 1950 Act, which is a singular Act. As a consolidation measure, criticism of it came about even before its passage from the very committee that advocated that it was necessary. Indeed, the Gowers committee in 1947 made a number of points about the law subsequently codified in the 1950 Act. It said, among other things, that, although legislation had been a great benefit in the past in protecting shop assistants from exploitation, the time was approaching when it would have done all that it could for the shop assistant and that it was now the public's time for consideration.
We must recognise that even 35 years ago there was recognition of one vital aspect of the matter which, however hard I try, I cannot put out of my mind, and nor, I think, can the House. The public, whatever the state of the law, takes every opportunity in substantial numbers to show that they are ready to buy at whatever time the trader is ready to sell. That fact is at the root of the debate and cannot be overlooked even by those who, for perfectly honourable reasons with which I have every sympathy, believe that the Sabbatarian arguments are paramount. I suspect that it is because of the public's willing involvement in Sunday or late night trading, with which the Bill also deals, that there have been so many attempts since 1965 to introduce amending legislation.
To keep my contribution within reasonable bounds, I hope that I shall be forgiven for concentrating on one aspect of the matter, which may not have been at the forefront of the previous contributions—the vexed question of the involvement of the criminal law in weekday, evening and Sunday trading. I do so, not because the other arguments are not important or even vital, but because my Department is bound to have at the forefront of its mind questions about the state of the criminal law, its enforcement, the respect in which the criminal law is held in society at large and the continuing justification for a criminal sanction.
The Bill proposes to leave decisions about when to shop to the individual and whether to open to the shopkeeper. I say particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) that the Government can find no objection to the proposal, although I stress that whether the Bill makes progress must depend on the will of individual hon. Members.
§ Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)
Why did the Secretary of State turn down the eminently reasonable suggestion that there should be a proper inquiry so that all views could be put and we should have before the House something that, collectively, we could accept?
§ Mr. Mellor
The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that even I could not make a speech without at some point adverting to that. May I deal with the matter in the context in which it would properly be raised? I am aware of the feeling among many hon. Members that there is a case for an inquiry.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
This is the most important part of my hon. Friend's speech. Is he telling the House that there is a Cabinet decision in favour of wholesale relaxation of the Sunday trading laws?
§ Mr. Mellor
The Government's position is exactly as I have said. The Government can raise no objection to the proposal, but I have made it clear that it is not a Government proposal. Individuals are free to vote in the Lobby as they choose and the Government will abide by the decision of the House. My task today is to state the Government's position on the issues. The Government can find no objection to raise against the proposal, which has been considered outside my Department.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
The Minister, whom I regard greatly, will know that the whole history of the Tory party is bound up with the defence of the Church of England. Is the Minister aware that in taking this step the Government appear to be betraying their history?
§ Mr. Mellor
I feel the cool blow that my hon. Friend strikes. Surely the Government's position is exactly in accordance with what the Church of England stands for, that the issue should be regarded as an issue of conscience upon which individual hon. Members must make up their minds. It would be pointless for a Government representative to make a contribution without expressing a view.
I am surprised that the Government's view has caused so much astonishment in some parts of the House because it is exactly in accordance with the speech made by Lord Belstead in another place when the Bill advanced by Baroness Trumpington was before the House.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because I know that he wishes to help the House. Is it not a fact that not only Anglicans, but members of all religious communities in Britain are concerned about the preservation of the one day of the week when it is possible to organise corporate worship? Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that, although there is no universality of view on the issue, large numbers of Conservatives in constituencies such as mine would object strongly to any encroachment on Sunday as a special day of rest?
§ Mr. Mellor
In the past 30 years the Sunday trading laws have allowed a degree of trading. Today we are talking about the extent of that trading and whether a division of principle can be drawn between those activities that are allowed and those that are not. Individual Members must reflect their views in the Lobby. The 560 Government have nothing to say against that. I am merely expressing the view that the principles in the Bill seem to be consistent with the preservation of Sunday.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe is an active churchgoer, as, to a degree, am I. A proposal that liberalisation of the Sunday trading laws should be allowed is due to be put before the General Synod of the Church of England at its meeting this month. It has attracted the support of 24 members already. The argument does not flow one way.
Issues of major principle call into question the retention of criminal sanctions in this area. There is no reason why Sunday should be destroyed in the way that some people fear. I confess to being attracted by what has been said in the House about the impact on Scotland because Scotland has never had the rules incorporated in the 1950 Act.
In arriving at their position, the Government have examined the social and economic arguments both in favour of and against the repeal of the restrictions. It has been helpful to Ministers to hear at first hand the views of representatives of shop workers, retailers and consumers and of those who wish the special character of Sunday to be preserved. I hope that no one who has made a view known to us will feel that we have ridden roughshod over their opinions, deeply held beliefs or interests in arriving at our conclusions.
The criminal offence that we are considering is simply to sell during prohibited hours, unless the place, or the article qualifies under one of the exemption provisions. Nothing in the sale itself, or the places at which the sale takes place, is regarded as reprehensible by the law. The time at which the sale occurs is the mischief at which the law aims. Various exceptions are provided. At the heart of the issue for those who are concerned with upholding the criminal law is whether the exceptions constitute a workable framework for the sound and proper administration of justice.
We have heard about garden centres. Under the present law it is questionable whether a garden centre that sells a bag of compost with a pot plant on Sunday is committing a criminal offence. We must ask whether it is right for that to be perpetuated. If I were putting forward proposals on the lines of the 1950 Act, rather than making a contribution about the continuation of the legislation, I would be aware that some of the distinctions made and some of the actions rendered unlawful would be deplored as repressive and an intolerable infringement on individual liberty. Criminal sanctions exist and we must ask how well they fit in with the general considerations that apply when asking whether an activity should continue to be classified as a crime. There must be some principle that underlies the criminal law; otherwise an essential pillar of society loses credibility in the eyes of those for whose protection it is erected.
First, we must ask whether an unlawful activity is so clearly defined that the citizen can be reasonably certain whether he risks engaging in a criminal activity when he embarks on a certain course of action. Some of the definitions in the 1950 Act about time are clear, but other definitions make it uncertain whether some sales are unlawful. An example is the garden centre, which relies upon the exemption that applies to the sale of flowers. How far that goes needs to be tested in the courts. An absorbing case involving the humble kipper was heard 25 years ago.
561 Secondly, not only should the unlawful activity be definable, but it should be reasonably clearly distinguishable from other forms of activity which are not criminal offences. How is one able to explain the principles under which purchasing Playboy from newsagents on a Sunday is lawful but purchasing a Bible is not, except at a bus or motorway terminal? How can one explain why one can enjoy a meal at a curry restaurant on Sunday but not fish and chips in a fish and chip shop, although fish and chips may lawfully be purchased from a Chinese takeaway?
A more general principle is that the law should be credible and command the respect of the public as a whole not just a particular section of the community. That is a test which I fear existing legislation barely satisfies. It is notorious that the Shops Acts are widely disregarded in many parts of the country. That is because shops that break the law are responding to what is seen to be a market. It cannot be denied on the evidence that the majority of the public, given the opportunity, will patronise a shop even at times when the law requires it to be closed.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
The Minister is dealing with anomalies. There is general agreement that anomalies exist, but the Bill proposes to allow shops to open for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Allowing shops to open all hours, especially on a Sunday, will have serious social and economic consequences. The Government should address themselves to that. The Minister seems to be neutral in one sense but not in another. Are Ministers allowed to exercise their conscience when voting on this measure?
§ Mr. Mellor
I thought I had made that point absolutely clear. Hon. Members, whether Ministers or not, are free to vote in any way they choose. I hope that commands the respect of the House.
The hon. Gentleman said that shops could open all hours. This Bill offers a choice. The House recognises that existing hours are not taken up. For instance, the law permits opening on weekday evenings. There is no reason to think that freedom to choose would mean that shops would open all hours.
The idea is emerging that there is a new line at which the criminal law could be drawn into this matter and would be widely accepted and capable of enforcement. We have a long time remaining in this debate and it may be that the question will be answered to our satisfaction. However, no one has yet suggested what kind of retailing should or should not be permitted on a Sunday in a way that would be enforceable by those whose job it is to uphold the criminal law and its administration. If someone could do that, and there was a middle way, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I would grasp that middle way with great warmth and enthusiasm.
Linked with the problem of credibility is the question of enforcement. Although offences under the Shops Acts are readily detectable, it is clear from the criminal statistics—I want to give them to the House as I think they are important—that the number of people proceeded against for infringing the Shops Acts bears no relation at all to the number of shopkeepers who trade unlawfully.
The number of defendants proceeded against in England and Wales for offences under the Sunday trading laws in 1979 was 294; in 1980, 323 and in 1981, 440. The extent of under-enforcement is clear when the figures are 562 analysed by area. In England in 1981 there were no proceedings at all in Cheshire, Hereford and Worcester, Humberside, Kent, Norfolk, Northumberland and Surrey. In Cornwall, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon, Essex, Hampshire, Somerset, South Yorkshire, Warwickshire, West Sussex and Wiltshire respectively, there was only one prosecution.
§ Mr. Mellor
In Wales there was a total of three prosecutions in all Gwynedd, Mid-Glamorgan, South Glamorgan and West Glamorgan. In 1980, out of 670 petty sessional divisions in England and Wales prosecutions were initiated in only 113. In 1981, of the 440 prosecutions that took place, over 40 per cent. were in the city of Bristol. Those prosecutions were concerned not with shops but with the problems posed by one Sunday market. I heard the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) ask "So what?" It is not possible to retain respect for the criminal law if one says "So what?" about its enforcement. Either we have a criminal law that is to be respected and regarded by citizens or we do not.
§ Mr. Neubert
Does not my hon. Friend feel, with his background as a barrister, and his zeal to uphold the purity of the law, that he is rather overdoing it? Does he know any person who has observed at all times the 30 mph speed limit? Does he propose that that rule should be relaxed?
§ Mr. Mellor
It is my information that anyone caught by the police exceeding the 30 mph limit is prosecuted. That is not the case where transgressions of the Shops Acts occur. I insist to the House that while it is a matter for individual members whether they perpetuate this part of the criminal law, let no one be under any illusions; the law is not being enforced in the greater part of England and Wales. Let us not blind ourselves to that essential truth. I shall listen with interest to what hon. Members say.
§ Mr. Mellor
I shall give way in a moment. I am trying to help the House, but I do not wish to go on at great length. In discussing this legislation the House should feel concerned about the district councils. It is upon them that the duty to prosecute rests. They are in a very difficult position. Do they ignore the law or do they prosecute and risk the opprobrium of many traders and a large section of the public? As to the three options that apply, if the law is enforced throughout the country the consequences for court time and the manpower and law enforcement agencies would be dire. It could be achieved only at the expense of other parts of the criminal justice system. If the law were partially enforced that would create resentment among other traders who see others not far away trading freely at prohibited times. It is hard not to arrive at the conclusion that when the law is partially enforced further anomalies are heaped on an already deeply anomalous situation by the confused and confusing list of exemptions.
If the law is not enforced at all—I do think this is a lawyer getting too obsessed with the criminal law—it is brought into contempt and disrepute. The criminal law is, and must be, regarded as one and indivisible.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I remind the House that persistent intervention makes long speeches even longer and will prevent a great number of Members from taking part in the debate.
§ Mr. Torney
Would not the Minister agree that he is treading on very dangerous ground. As I understand what he has been saying, it is that if the law cannot be enforced the law should be changed. If that is applied to law other than to shops law it is clear that the police will have an impossible job trying to enforce the seat belts law. They already have a terrible job enforcing the Road Traffic Act.
Is the hon. Member ready to abolish those laws because they cannot be effectively enforced?
§ Mr. Mellor
The seat belts law was a controversial subject, which was fully aired in the House. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the way I voted, he may see that I shared some of his concern on the issue.
§ Mr. Mellor
I do want to be brief. It is important that I continue talking about the district councils.
In April 1982 the council of the Association of District Councils adopted a resolution to the effect that Baroness Trumpington's Bill should be supported. The council agreed in principle that restrictions on Sunday trading should be lifted. It is important that the reasoning should be especially considered by those who are in favour of, or believe that there is, a middle way.
In communicating this decision to the Home Office, the council said that it represented a major shift in its policy, which had been hitherto that there should be a rationalisation of the Sunday trading law by the elimination of anomalies. Subject to that, shops should close. The council concluded, however, that because the elimination of one anomaly could easily lead to the creation of another, and as the alternative of imposing a total ban on Sunday trading would clearly not find favour, the only satisfactory solution would be to remove all the restrictions on the Sunday opening of shops. That the view of those who enforce the law by long and bitter experience of trying to do so is that there is no other line to which the law could make a tactical retreat is food for thought for those who think that there is a middle way.
For those who believe that the moral, ethical and religious argument justifies special treatment of Sunday, it is eminently right that they should vote against liberalisation, notwithstanding the points that I have made. It is the view of colleagues within the Scottish Office that the Scottish experience does justify the conclusion that Sunday can be respected within the framework of law. There is very little pressure in Scotland to adopt the English restrictions. Indeed, the pressure is the other way—to remove the weekday evening trading restrictions that still exist in Scotland.
I turn to the important question of employee protection. Certainly the protection of employees can properly be subject to penal legislation. The Shops Acts are concerned with hours and conditions of service that are normally considered appropriate to the procedures of collective bargaining. Along with other measures introduced, originally prior to the first world war to protect conditions of employment in various activities, the restriction on shop opening in the absence of anything else contributed to the welfare of shop assistants. The Bill does not seek to repeal the protections afforded to the shop workers by part II of the 1950 Act, especially section 22. I direct the attention of those who are legitimately concerned about the rights of shop workers to this fact. Although the restrictions on shop opening provide indirect protection, it is not easy to 564 defend the retention of penal legislation on that ground. Many people, perhaps more than 2 million of them, already have to work, or often do work, on Sundays and are able to negotiate appropriate terms, conditions and restrictions in that regard. Therefore, although we appreciate the genuineness of the anxiety, we do not believe that simply by approving the Bill the House will take shop workers back to the world of Mr. Polly.
The economic arguments have been forcefully put by the retail trade. it has been argued that, because demand for goods is finite, the increased costs of opening will have to be passed on to the consumer through higher prices. It is further argued that Sunday opening would impose additional financial burdens on local authorities and other public services. That might be so if Sunday opening became the norm, but the Scottish experience has shown that shop keepers will open their shops only if it is profitable to do so. I make no apology for returning to the question that must be answered by those who advance that argument: is it justifiable to apply penal sanctions to avoid such economic consequences?
It is equally clear, as Lord Belstead said when these arguments were advanced last year in the other place, that dire predictions about the economic consequences of Sunday opening for some retailers are themselves extremely controversial and even some who support those views believe that those consequences will be only temporary.
I have been asked to comment on the proposal for an inquiry. We have considered representations from hon. Members on both sides, from USDAW, the retail trade and others to the effect that reform of the law is inappropriate to private Members' legislation and should more properly be initiated by the Government after a formal inquiry. For reasons already stated, the Government hold to the view that the repeal of restrictions on opening hours is properly a matter for private Members' legislation and that the issues are already sufficiently well known for Parliament to be able to determine the matter. An inquiry is unlikely to contribute to any greater understanding of the issues. We are concerned here with strongly held beliefs, views and opinions and not with matters of discernible fact on which an inquiry might shed light.
To sum up the Government's view—I apologise if I have taken too much time—the Bill gives freedom to choose on grounds from which we cannot dissent. On present evidence, it is difficult to envisage revised restrictions, shored up by the criminal law, being any more widely respected than the present restrictions. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that this is a matter of conscience on which individual views will properly differ. I hope that my remarks will have assisted the House as we each give our personal answer to the fundamental question. Can the loss of freedom resulting from shop hours restrictions backed up by criminal sanctions any longer be justified?
Mr. Roy Hatter-sley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
The Minister said that the Government were neutral on this Bill, but it seemed to be the kind of neutrality that resulted in Admiral Nelson sinking the combined fleet at Copenhagen, although the British fleet got through the Cronenburg deep rather more quickly than the Minister proceeded this morning. Notwithstanding that, I congratulate the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. 565 Whitney) on his good fortune in the ballot. I add to that my acceptance, which he will probably regard as more valuable than congratulations, of three of the central contentions on which his Bill and his speech were based.
There is no doubt that the 1950 Act is riddled with anomalies and is in many ways unenforceable. The easiest but perhaps the least profitable exercise on which the House can spend its time today is citing the more bizarre examples of the anomalies that we all know.
Secondly, I accept that public opinion, in so far as it has been accurately tested, favours a substantial relaxation and perhaps total abolition of the powers in the 1950 Act. I therefore share the view expressed by every hon. Member who has spoken that sooner or later that Act must be repealed or radically changed.
The question before us today, however, is whether the 1950 Act should go now—whether it should be changed out of all recognition or, in the real sense of the term, repealed—as a result of the Bill before us. When we reach our decision today, we shall be voting not on whether there are anomalies or inadequacies in the 1950 Act but on whether the Bill should become law. On that basis, I believe that hon. Members would be wisest, and acting in the best interests of their constituents, if they were to vote against the Bill.
Inevitably, the hon. Member for Wycombe couched his speech in terms of freedom, but it is not and never has been the view of the Opposition that freedom is simply the absence of restraint. R. H. Tawney said 50 years ago:It is generally held by the privileged classes that freedom is to be found where the state holds its hand. In truth, where the state holds its hand there is often tyranny—private tyranny, but tyranny nevertheless.I do not pretend that the Bill deserves the description of "tyranny" or will result in the extreme outcome suggested by that quotation. Nevertheless, I believe that if the state held its hand with regard to shopping hours, especially on Sundays, a number of undesirable consequences would flow which would limit the freedom of a substantial number of people.
The Bill would have a detrimental effect on small shopkeepers and their families. It would also exert great pressure on shop workers who would be obliged to work on Sundays whether or not they wished to do so. The economic pressures exerted by the Bill would certainly have that outcome. With or without the intention of management—in my view, more often without—it would result in a real reduction in the quality of life of the men and women who work in the retail trade, not least because we all know and should acknowledge in the debate that shop workers are an especially vulnerable group who have always needed and received some protection in relation to their daily employment.
Labour Members argue that the best protection that shop workers can obtain is that provided by membership of the appropriate trade union and it may be that pressures of the kind that we are discussing today will encourage those who have not so far chosen that course to seek the protection afforded by such membership, not least because of what the appropriate union has said about the Bill. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has joined the Retail Consortium in drawing attention to the problems of the Bill, pointing out the social as well as the economic disadvantages that would ensue if the Bill became law.
566 I was astonished to hear the hon. Member for Wycombe express regret on discovering that management and workers in the industry had come together, considered a mutual problem and arrived at a mutual conclusion to offer to the House. I should have thought that we would want more rather than less of that. Certainly it is not something to be deplored.
§ Mr. Whitney
Of course I welcome unity between workers and management, but not at the expense of the consumers who give workers and management their employment in the first place.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of tyranny. He should be careful about quoting Mr. Tawney as he will recall that the Social Democratic party has made a takeover bid for Mr. Tawney. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that the Bill might result in tyranny for workers in England and Wales. In Scotland and in other countries where this so-called tyranny of freedom to work applies, the people concerned actually enjoy it, as successive ballots and inquiries have shown.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Gentleman raises three issues. The first concerns my use of the word "tyranny". I said that I thought that that word was inappropriate.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I did so because I wanted to pay special and proper respect to the quotation from Tawney on the relationship of the state to freedom. I wanted to read it in its exact context. The relationship between the Social Democrats and Tawney is one that really never existed. I hope that after they vote in favour of the Bill there will be the same breach between them as that which exists between them and Sainsburys.
I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's description of the situation in Scotland is accurate. Were there to be the widespread relaxation of the 1950 Act which he proposes, inevitable consequences would flow. One of them would be that throughout the United Kingdom, and more in Scotland than is the case today, the pressure on shop workers to work on Sunday, whether they chose to do so or not and whether they wished to do so or not would be economically irresistible.
§ Mr. Hattersley
No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I am one of the most reckless and self-damaging way-givers, but today I propose not to give way—out of courtesy to the House rather than from any other intention. I believe that most right hon. and hon. Members want me to conclude my remarks in the shortest possible time so that they may make their contributions.
The regret that the hon. Member for Wycombe expressed about the partnership between the Retail Consortium and USDAW was not the most bizarre of his propositions. At one stage he made an eloquent plea for a reduction in the savings ratio. So much for interest policy, so much for the public sector borrowing requirement, and so much for mortgage rates. If the savings ratio is reduced in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggested, interest policy, the PSBR and mortgage rates will operate in an opposite way to the way in which the Government intend. I wish that the hon. Gentleman had considered the consequences of what I consider to be an 567 unlikely economic outcome. The idea that we might all troop into the Lobby in favour of reducing the savings ratio is surely an extraordinary proposition.
§ Mr. Whitney
The right hon. Gentleman is sailing into dangerous waters. He is the representative of an Opposition who, if elected to office, would wish to print money. They have said that if they were called upon to form the Government they would print £20 billion. In other words, they would print money that we would not have and it would be injected into the economy. When I suggest that private individuals might take the decision to put 1 per cent. of their savings into our own shops, the right hon. Gentleman regards that as dangerous.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I can only ask the hon. Gentleman to try to come to grips with the entire thrust of his Government's economic policy. However, putting that argument aside, the hon. Gentleman is palpably wrong, as demonstrated by the bluster of his intervention. But it is not the central argument that most hon. Members have against the hon. Gentleman's proposal. We fear that there are social as well as economic dangers in proceeding at the unconsidered pace which he recommends. I shall try briefly to explain why I take this view.
The universal application of Sunday opening will incalculably depress the conditions of many of those who work in shops. The hon. Gentleman said blandly, "Concern about shop workers is unjustified." However, he said nothing to substantiate his view that such fears are unjustified. Were we to vote for the Bill, we would be voting on his judgment that that is not a proper area for concern. The CBI and the Retail Consortium seem to think that concern is justified. They seem to think, too, unlike the hon. Gentleman, that there is no assurance that Sunday opening will not in the end result in increased prices. They do not contend, as he does, whether he knows it or not, that the marginal cost of selling on Sunday would be less than the average cost of selling on a weekday. It is a bold economist who supports the hon. Gentleman's assertion without any evidence and without any surveys.
I shall explain the fear of those who suspect that the ultimate outcome of universal Sunday opening will be increased prices. Initially there may be some price reductions as the large stores open on Sundays and keep their prices artificially low to attract new custom. However, when the corner shops have gone out of business, when companies on marginal profitability have gone out of business and when there is a reduction in competition, the price of Sunday opening will increase. That will be the inevitable consequence of what the hon. Gentleman proposes. Similarly, there will be an increase in costs of a sort that he has never mentioned. I refer to social costs. If shops are to be opened on Sunday, local authorities will have to face certain costs. These will include transport, police and street cleaning costs. We cannot pass the Bill without giving some consideration to these subsidiary, secondary, but, in my view, extremely important considerations.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I cannot refuse to give way to the hon. Gentleman but he is prolonging the debate in a way that will not please his hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Whitney
I asked the Glasgow city authority for its views on costs. In the centre of Glasgow opening costs amount to about £29,000 a year. The budget of the Glasgow city council is £20 million a year. I offer that fact to the right hon. Gentleman in an effort to help him.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am sceptical about that figure. The idea that we can have widespread retail opening and minimise costs to the level that the hon. Gentleman suggests seems wholly implausible. [Interruption.] Judging from the reaction of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends, that seems to be the general view of the House.
Surveys have been produced and their results claim to demonstrate that the British people are in favour of Sunday trading. However, to ask them that question alone is only to ask them a partial question. Do the British people want the small shop on the corner to be driven out of business? I suspect that they do not. Do they want those who work in larger shops to be allowed to work in them only if it is assumed that part of their employment is each year to spend a percentage of their weekends entirely at work and to have their Sundays totally destroyed? I suspect not.
It is not my wish, intention or right to hide behind the Church in general or sabbatarians in particular, but were the Bill to pass through the House in its present form it would destroy the Sunday, with all its social and religious implications. It would not destroy it for me and I suspect that it would not destroy it for the hon. Gentleman, but it would destroy it for those who are obliged to work in shops, for the people who live around them and for those who are required to provide the necessary services.
I shall quote a paragraph from a letter written by an executive employed by Peter Jones. I think, to my regret, that he is not a member of USDAW. He lists his personal and anonymous objections to the Bill under four headings. The most overwhelmingly important objection is headed "social". He states:Without engaging in an exaggerated defence of the Sunday roast, I believe that our family and community life benefits from having one day in the week which is different. Opening up commerce would affect not just whose who had to work but those who would make Sunday like any other day.I share that view exactly. I believe that it would be disastrous were we to vote for this precipitate and badly-thought-out measure.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You must be encouraged that so many hon. Members on both sides of the House have been in their places since half-past nine with a view to contributing to the debate. Are you able to tell us, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how many we might be and to divide our number into two and a half hours so that we might practise some personal self-denial?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman will have seen how many hon. Members rose in their places when the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) resumed his seat. He knows that we conclude our proceedings at half-past two and he must de the arithmetic.
§ Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)
First, I declare an interest which I think is fairly well known. I am a director of and 569 a substantial shareholder in J. Sainsbury PLC, the country's largest food retailer. Before anyone else raises the matter, it is the 75 per cent. owner of a company called Homebase Ltd, which operates garden centres and do-it-yourself centres, some of which trade on Sunday. I also declare that I am chairman of the all-party retail trade group, but I am speaking personally in the debate, although both the all-party group and Sainsbury's are opposed to Sunday trading.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) for at least focusing the attention of the House on a subject that is clearly of great concern. The good attendance today highlights that. However, I congratulate him most, and agree with him, on what he said about not wanting Sunday to be like every other day. My difficulty, like that of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, is to try to reconcile what he says with his Bill.
During the debate I have received a letter from the general secretary of the United Reformed church, whose executive committee considered the Bill only yesterday. As a result of its deliberations, it resolved to approach the Home Secretary urging him to oppose the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary observes that. The summary of the committee in "Towards a Christian Position" said:Unlimited shop opening would make profound changes in patterns of life for individuals, families, whole communities and the nation itself, therefore the full implications of such change should be carefully weighed and widely discussed before legislation.That brings before the House the issue we have to decide, and which I hope we shall decide today, as to whether it is right to tackle the anomalies in the existing legislation.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that we waste our time if we start highlighting the anomalies today. However, is it right to tackle those anomalies by giving a Second Reading to a Bill whose main stated intention is to sweep away all restrictions on Sunday trading? We would be wrong to do so.
My hon. friend the Under-Secretary referred to the criminal law, but his argument was fundamentally misconceived. To say that the present law is unsatisfactory because of the rapid changes that have taken place in consumer habits, ownership of durables such as cars and retailing practice, and that therefore we should scrap it all together, is a doctrine of defeatism. If the Home Department has that attitude, we are in difficulty. Furthermore, I saw the Home Secretary and received an assurance of the Government's strict neutrality on 7 December, but, from what my hon. Friend has said, there seems to have been a change in the Government's attitude that I find hard to believe. I am not convinced by the points that my hon. Friend made.
We must all try to be brief today, but there is one fundamental point that undermines the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe. He asked us to accept that having swept away all restrictions on Sunday opening there would be little change in what happens on a Sunday, and very little extension of Sunday trading. At the same time, and somewhat in contradiction, he referred to the great public pressure for Sunday trading.
My opinion—and I have over 25 years' experience in retailing—is that of the vast majority of retailers of all 570 sizes, the large multiples, the department stores and small traders. It is the almost universal opinion of the retail trade that the competitive nature of the business would mean that if all regulations were swept away there would be a widespread extension of Sunday trading.
I can illustrate what might happen by looking back a year or two to the position of one of the foremost names in retailing, Woolworths. It was doing badly by its historical record and the position of its shares was unsatisfactory, as was profit, and trade was stagnating or declining. What was it to do? Had the Bill been law at that time, it is likely that the management would have seen only one initiative that it could have taken that might have stood a chance of revitalising its image and preventing the takeover that has now taken place. It would have gone to Sunday trading throughout the country—1,000 branches, 1,000 shopping centres with a major store open on Sunday.
On the Sunday after that had happened, the head office of every multiple retail chain in the country would have been inundated with calls from its managers saying that they had been to Woolworths to see how it had done and had seen that it had done very well. They would have said, "I went in and the shops were full and doing good business." They would have pointed out that they were losing business and would have to do something about it as it is a very competitive business and they could not afford to lose all that trade to Woolworths. The pressures would increase and before long the high streets and shopping centres would be open on Sunday much as they are on every other day.
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) put the point very eloquently. We were elected on the same day, and I am glad that we share this view. It is also the view of the retail trade that competitive pressures would bring about widespread Sunday opening. Those who say that one does not have to open show a profound misunderstanding and lack of appreciation of the nature of retailing. Those who say that there would be no trading on Sundays if it were not profitable also show a lack of understanding of the economics of retailing.
Let us suppose that Sunday trading produces 10 per cent. of the week's trade—it might be more or less according to the quality of the shop. Even with the premiums payable to the staff on that day, taking Sunday in isolation, it is probable that the traders would find that they traded at a profit on Sunday. However, they would be doing so at the expense of the smaller profit or the loss that they were making on other days. It stands to reason, certainly in the food trade, which is the largest single employer in retailing, that there is no more trade to be done because shops are open on Sundays.
Whatever views we may have about the rather bizarre opinion of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe on the savings ratio and the extra money that will be spent if the shops are open for longer hours, he could not claim that we would all increase our calorie input because we can buy food on Sundays. Therefore, in the food trade, which is the largest single sector of the retail industry, there would be no more trade because trade would be spread over longer periods.
Inevitably, the costs would go up, not only because of the extra wage costs but because the longer one is open the more energy costs one has. Opening another hour or two on a day when one is already open does not put up energy costs anything like as much as opening on a day when one 571 would otherwise be shut. The implications on cost are undoubted, and the implications for the consumer are very likely to be that the cost of distribution would go up and the price of food would increase.
As to the Scottish argument, I am convinced that there are so many differences between the Scottish and the English position that we cannot regard it as an indicator of what is likely to happen, quite apart from the contradiction that my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe seems to be suggesting—that there would not be an extension of Sunday opening because there is not much in Scotland anyhow. On that premise, one might ask why we have the Bill at all.
The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) pointed out that a high proportion of the multiples in Scotland are owned by English outlets. I remind the House that the total Scottish market in retailing is relatively small. It is much smaller than the market in London alone. Therefore, the opportunity to be gained by any multinational multiple in opening in Scotland is small. It will not add much to its trade, however successful it is. It will not make much difference to its image, however many stores it opens in Scotland—there is just not the trade to be done. The strict sabbatarian position held by Presbyterianism probably acts as a check on any tendency to abuse the existing Scottish law.
I must reiterate that it is my opinion and that of the vast majority of the retail trade that if this Bill became law there would be a widespread extension of Sunday trading. The implications seem to be clear. The most obvious, and by far the most damaging, is that there would inevitably be a substantial increase in employment on Sundays. I recognise that there are many people who, for a variety of reasons, have to work on Sundays. Just because that is so, we surely do not have to encourage a widespread extension of employment with all the implications for the work of the Church and the pressure on people who wish to participate in corporate worship on Sundays.
There are also the social pressures. However small the effect, there will be some extension of employment on Sunday. It is the opinion of those in retailing that the extension would be considerable. That is highly undesirable. In addition to the effect on employment, there would be a substantial increase in commercial activity in and around residential areas. That would be most undesirable. The more one thinks about the demand for public services, the more one appreciates that those involved will include people such as traffic wardens and car park attendants whose services will be required.
Many hon. Members hold the view that widespread opening of large multiple stores would adversely affect small shops. That, too, would be undesirable. There would be a tendency for the car-borne shopper to move to the car-oriented shopping centre around the edge of cities, often in the countryside. These centres would perhaps gain trade at the expense of inner city shops. This would damage employment prospects and commercial vitality in many inner city areas.
Whichever aspect of the Bill I examine, the implications seem to be damaging. I believe that there are alternative ways forward. A number have already been suggested. One could limit the total number of hours in which a shop trades during the week. One could limit opening to stores that were below a certain size or perhaps only employed a small number of people. This would have 572 the advantage of not putting pressure on managers and employees to work against their will. One could tackle the difficult list of what may or may not be sold.
All those are matters that would repay detailed inquiry. The alternative options could be set out, the pros and cons examined and evaluated. In the light of the inquiry, there would be found far better ways than those contained in the Bill to reform the existing unsatisfactory law. I find the implications of the Bill socially, morally and economically undesirable. I urge the House to reject the Bill.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
We should take account of our experience in a closely related field, that of Sunday games and Sunday entertainment. I am among those who fought a long battle in favour of allowing freedom for people to enjoy games and entertainments on Sunday. I have introduced two private Member's Bills on the matter, the first in 1953 and the second in 1969. The first was thrown out by an enormous majority, thanks to the strong opposition of the Lord's Day Observance Society and other sabbatarian supporters in the House.
There was a great battle over the second Bill, which received a narrow majority after a closure. The majority was only 104 to 95, which meant that the Committee set up to consider the Bill consisted of a majority of only one for the supporters of the Bill—a member of the Government who rarely attended. The result was an enormous filibuster by sabbatarians on the Committee. It took 60 hours and 19 sittings for the Bill to get through Committee.
The measure emerged from Committee with substantially no alteration made to it but too late for further progress that Session. What has happened since? Despite the fact that the Bill failed to pass, piecemeal changes have taken place in the law. The Bill strongly reflected public opinion at the time. According to two or three polls taken at the time, 64 per cent. in England and 62 per cent. in Wales supported the Bill. This was a far higher percentage than those supporting other controversial private Members' Bills at that time that were passed on capital punishment, abortion law reform, divorce law reform and homosexual law reform. All these measures attracted far less support in various polls than that given to the Sunday Entertainments Bill of 1969.
A recent poll has shown 62 per cent. in favour of the Bill now before the House, and 73 per cent. excluding the "Don't knows". A majority exists in all political parties—63 per cent. in the Labour party and 62 per cent. in the Tory party. A majority among trade unionists is in favour of the Bill.
A great deal of nonsense was talked about Sunday games and entertainments. The main objection to Sunday entertainment stemmed from the Act of 1780, which still prohibits a charge for entry on Sunday. That has not been repealed. It has been got round. One recalls the attempt by the Lord's Day Observance Society to stop motor car racing at Brands Hatch. This led to a charge for parking instead of a charge for entry. There have also been cricket and other games on Sunday, where the law is got round by charging for programmes or for parking, or both. That is what happens when Parliament refuses to change the law where public opinion has been in favour of change.
I am assured by supporters of Sunday entertainments that there has been no increase in overtime but an increase in staff. That is almost certainly what will happen if the 573 Bill now under discussion goes through. As the Minister says, it is now difficult to enforce the law. Many local councils do not enforce it. Others do enforce it, some of them irregularly. Are we to be left with a position where the law is not enforced with people defying the law or getting round it?
In a recent important judgment on 19 January, it was ruled by Mr. Justice Nourse that Wolverhampton council was acting illegally in trying to enforce the law. It was not the council's job. The job of enforcing Sunday trading laws was the job of the Attorney-General. This means that fewer local councils in future will try to enforce the law. Do hon. Members think that the Attorney-General will try to enforce the law, given the wide opposition to it? The law will be increasingly disregarded. It will be brought increasingly into disrepute because it is not enforced. That is undesirable.
We should learn the lesson of what happened over Sunday games and Sunday entertainment. We should change the law, not try to get round it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) spoke about having a consensus, but I can tell him that he will never have a consensus with the fanatical sabbatarians. I have talked to them, and got nowhere. They should not be brought into any discussions. The law should be revised, and in my opinion the simplest thing to do would be to pass this Bill. If we do not we will have another piece of British hypocrisy, and there has been enough British hypocrisy already about Sunday games and Sunday entertainments. We do not want to continue that hypocrisy on Sunday trading.
In many parts of the country there is a long tradition of Sunday trading. In London we have had markets open for years on Sunday, even during the strongest periods of sabbatarian domination of this House. Most people appreciate Petticoat lane and other markets that they use on Sundays. They are not illegal; they are legal.
I support the Bill and hope that it will reach the statute book. Otherwise, I am quite certain that there will be perpetuation of the British hypocrisy of not changing the law in response to what the public really wants.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) is the Father of the House; he has been a Member longer than any of us. One might imagine, therefore, that he might by now have become an ancient diehard. Not so. Yet again, the hon. Gentleman has spoken with great good sense, fighting again for the removal of an anachronistic hypocrisy.
It was encouraging, and a great relief, to learn from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, that the Government are not against the Bill, even although they are not quite for it. Of course, everything that my hon. Friend said virtually gave cause to make one believe that in reality the Government support the Bill.
I admit that I was tantalised for a fraction of a second by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who started to make me think that he was about to say "Yes" and then said "No". I want to put one question to him: does he honestly think that the district councils and the Association of District Councils, which recently changed its policy from wanting amendment of 574 the law to the abolition of control and support for this Bill, is in favour of trying to make small shops go out of business? I doubt very much whether that is so.
This is rather a splendid House of Commons occasion, just the sort of occasion to muddle the media. If they shut their eyes, they would not know who was Conservative, who was Labour and who was Liberal. They would not know who was Right-wing or Left-wing or middle of the road—even though the latter category, as always, will find themselves in the position of perhaps being knocked down by a vehicle coming the other way, on this occasion, apparently a large Sainsbury's lorry, from which that small three-wheel delivery van, stemming from a small local retail outlet, and driven by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) will be no defence.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) on bringing the Bill before us. He has been very brave to take it on because, as we all know and as has already been proved again, the subject creates strong reactions both for and against. If it is given a Second Reading, its legislative path will continue to be strewn with pitfalls and controversy.
Like the hon. Member for Dagenham, I recall the Sunday Entertainments Bill, which was introduced by the late lamented and much respected Bill Hamling, who was the Member for Woolwich, West. One of the troubles with that Bill was that it was badly named. The thought that anyone should actually entertain themselves on a Sunday was far too much for many people to stomach. In the face of changing religious attitudes—it is no use pretending that they are not changing—changing social habits and changing public demands and requirements, it is time that the subject of this Bill was considered by the House. That is why I am glad that, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe, it now has the chance to do that.
In reality, the House is faced with three choices on Sunday trading: it can leave things as they are; it can tighten up the law and apply it stringently nationwide: or it can relax the law and leave decisions on Sunday opening to individual shopkeepers. In my opinion, it is not acceptable to leave the law as it is. In some areas it is honoured much more in the breach than in the observance. In other areas, only a little way away, it is applied stringently. In yet other areas, sometimes it is applied and sometimes it is not. So it has become a very unfair law.
Moreover, the law is extraordinarily anomalous. In spite of the exhortations of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, I should like to give two bizarre examples. What sense can there be in a law which allows a caravan dealer to open for motor spares but not for other products which are on sale at a Sunday market—it happens in my constituency—one mile down the road just because that market is a so-called club? What sense can there be in a law which allows pies, buns, sausages or raw kippers to be sold on Sunday, but not tea and flour? Frankly, the present law is nonsense and a hypocritical facade. I cannot believe that the House would like to leave it as it is for much longer.
The second choice—it is a perfectly logical choice—would be to tighten up the law, remove the anomalies, insist on total Sunday closing, and insist that the law is applied. The trouble with that proposition is that the majority of people in the country would be against it, as all opinion research shows. However, if the Bill does not receive a Second Reading, or if it does not become law, I trust that those hon. Gentlemen who oppose it will 575 go back to their constituencies and insist on the application of the existing law. I believe that that is the quickest way of ensuring that we get amendments, because the pressure that will be put on Governments as a result will be quite fantastic.
The third choice is to leave the decision on Sunday trading—or, for that matter, on other days—to individual shopkeepers. In the times in which we live, I believe that that is the best alternative. Personally, I prefer Sunday to be a quiet and restful day—
§ Mr. Morrison
I shall not give way.
And I do not want to see wholesale Sunday opening. If Scottish practice is followed, it is unlikely that there will be an immense change in the existing shopping scene. On the other hand, freedom of choice about opening can benefit shopkeepers and shoppers alike. It can cope with the problems of seasonal and holiday areas, and with the demands which result in those areas. It will remove anomalies and unfairness.
I should like to emphasise one point that has already been made. The Bill states not that shops must open on Sundays but that they may open. It seems obvious, but, judging from what has been said and from some of the letters that I have received, it is apparently believed that the Bill insists on shops opening. That is quite untrue. The Bill may not be perfect and I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe say that he would be prepared to consider and accept sensible amendments in Committee, but I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading today.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) spoke of changing attitudes, and undoubtedly they are changing, but for the worse. I would have expected Conservative Members to realise that such legislation gradually nibbles away at the fabric of society. Several cogent and well-argued speeches have been made about the Bill's possible effect on those employed in the retail trade. I shall not repeat those arguments, other than to say that is an important and legitimate interest, which I heartily endorse.
In an article on 21 January, the Church of England newspaper said:Even those who make no religious profession at all, can recognise from experience the benefits of having at least one day in the week which is different, when public opinion and the laws of the land protect them from being forced to work.That is tremendously important for the social fabric of the country and should not be lightly cast aside.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) also dealt with the secondary considerations, such as the extra costs to local authorities, and that should be borne in mind. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) made much of the situation in Scotland and seemed to have a bit of a split personality. He mentioned Scotland as if it was an emancipated country and was then at pains to point out that hardly any traders took advantage of the law. If laws relax the ban on Sunday trading, they should be changed, even in Scotland. It is no answer to say that because bad laws exist in Scotland, they should also exist in England and Wales. The hon. Gentleman said that such Sunday trading had no effect. However, I must tell him with great regret that about six weeks ago an article 576 in The Scotsman pointed out that membership of all the churches in Scotland—with the exception of the Free Presbyterian church—was falling and that membership of the Church of Scotland had fallen below 1 million for the first time. Therefore, it is not correct to say that the situation has not changed.
The town that I live in in Scotland is not unique. There are no shops open on Sundays. The chemist opens for an hour on Sunday for urgent drugs and medicines, and everyone finds that acceptable. Life is quite supportable in such towns. In recent weeks, since the Bin's announcement, we have all been inundated with letters, but can any hon. Member say that his postbag was flooded with demands for a change in the law before then? Not one of them can say that.
Much has been made of the anomalies, but that is a red herring. The law should be enforced. With respect, I thought that the Minister adopted a very casual attitude towards the enforcement of the law, although he firmed up later. The fact that the law is not enforced is no argument for abolishing it. The anomalies have arisen because, as has happened today, hon. Members have tried to whittle away the laws for the maintenance of the Sunday. We have seen salami tactics. The existing legislation is being cut slice by slice and eventually the whole sausage will disappear. However, the hon. Member for Wycombe has been courageous—if that is the word—in going for it all at once. I salute the hon. Gentleman's courage in taking on the CBI and USDAW at the same time. That is a formidable combination, which both sides of the House could not lightly disregard.
The main argument against such legislation is the Fourth Commandment:Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.Hon. Members are deploring falling standards in our society. If successful, the Bill will remove another cornerstone of a civilised and Christian society. The Fourth Commandment takes precedence over all the arguments that we have heard today. It is an obligation that existed in the past. It exists now and will exist for all time. It is an obligation on man that no Bill or statute can ever remove.
The Bill is unnecessary. It would be wasteful if it were passed. It is an attack on our Christian standards and should be decisively rejected.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I shall be brief, as I am sure hon. Members will draw my attention to the fact that the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland. I am taking part in the debate because, unfortunately, Northern Ireland always receives a knock-on effect from legislation passed in this House. There was unanimous opinion there in all sections of the community that the alteration of the homosexual laws should not apply to Northern Ireland, yet because they were passed in the House the legislation was steamrolled through for us. We will receive the knock-on effects of this Bill if it becomes an Act.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) spoke of his regard for the quality of Sunday. I do not know how he can sustain that argument by producing the Bill. It strikes at the quality of Sunday. He said that France had such laws and that Sunday was all right there. He said that certain states in the United States of America had such laws and Sunday was all right there, too. I should not like a continental Sunday in the United 577 Kingdom, nor would I like the Sunday which prevails in some parts of the United States of America. That is not the quality of Sunday that should be maintained throughout the United Kingdom.
I am glad that the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) referred to the main argument, to which I shall also refer. The laws that are summarised in the Ten Commandments cannot be departed from without great detriment to the nation and to the people. A nation that holds to those laws will be stable and solid and will maintain itself. If those laws are detracted from, abrogated or rejected, the nation will be in danger. What is true of "Thou shalt not kill" is also true of:Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy".The best way to keep the quality of Sunday is to keep Sunday as a day apart. I know that that argument will not be accepted by some hon. Members. It will probably be seed that will fall by the wayside, and the devil will see that it is quickly snatched away. It might fall on stony ground or on thorns and be choked, but that is my basic objection.
I am glad that the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), mentioned the fact that sabbatarians cannot have a consensus. We have to bow to a law that in our convictions is greater than the law of man—the law of God. We must accept that whether people reject it or not. That is a banner that we must fly. We fly it unapologetically in the House today.
Those who have spoken in favour of the Bill have almost all said that they like a quiet Sunday. They like to have peace and quiet at home. However, are we to consider more those who want to trade on Sunday, who could get the things that they require on another day, or those who want to trade for financial gain? Should we put those considerations before the considerations of those who deserve to have quietness in their home on Sunday? I am thinking of those who work in the stores that it is proposed should be allowed to open. It is no argument to say that they will not be pressured into working on Sunday. When they refuse to work on Sunday, they will be out of step with their fellow workers who will ask why they should have to sacrifice their Sunday when one worker is not prepared to join in and thus enable them to have more Sundays off. There will be such pressures from all parts of the community.
The people who should be considered are those who deserve the same peace and quiet on Sunday as the advocates of the Bill say that they want for themselves. That should be the overriding consideration for the House.
§ Mr. Thomas Torney (Bradford, South)
First, I must declare an interest. I am sponsored by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, which has a real interest in and anxiety about the Bill. I listened carefully to the Minister a short time ago and when he told us that the Government were neutral I began to feel a little pleased. However, as his speech advanced he also advanced a new concept of neutrality that I had never heard before. With all due respect to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), one could almost say that the Minister expounded the Bill's virtues better than the hon. Gentleman did. If that is neutrality it must be a new form of militant neutrality.
578 The Government seem to have completely disregarded the fact that the members of my union have a lot to lose if the Bill becomes law. We represent the people who will be called upon to work. I agree with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) when they say that there is no way, either by law or otherwise, that people can avoid the pressure of working on a Sunday.
We must remember the breaking up of social life. I used to be a full-time officer for my union and before that I worked in a shop for many years so I understand something of the trials and tribulations and the pressures from all sides that can arise in a shop. I always remember many years ago when I worked for a small private firm my governor saying to me: "Laddie, if we kept open until midnight every night there would be somebody tapping on the door at two minutes past midnight asking to be served because they have forgotten something."
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is legal to shop at two minutes past midnight? That is when shops are allowed to open.
§ Mr. Torney
The hon. Gentleman is right and has scored a useful debating point. However, the point that I was making was admirably taken by the House and if the hon. Gentleman did not understand it I am sure that all the other right hon. and hon. Members did.
It has been claimed that it is necessary for shops to open on Sundays. I do not believe that Sainsburys would not want to open on Sundays if it felt that people were unable to do their shopping during existing opening hours. The mass of our people can do that.
Reference has been made to the glossy documents and other propaganda produced by USDAW. That is a legitimate activity by the union. It represents shop workers who pay their subscriptions so that the union will defend their interests. I hope that the union will continue to do that for a long time.
The hon. Member for Wycombe said that the vast majority of the public wanted the Bill, but I wonder how much of that desire has been fostered. Because of my known association with USDAW and my interest in the trading and opening hours, I have received many communications from my constituency and other parts of the country. All the communications that I have received asking me to support the Bill have been printed papers, topped and tailed by individuals.
About 50 such papers were sent in one envelope by one shopkeeper. Obviously, they had been signed by his customers. I do not believe that that is the true voice of the people; it is a voice fostered by a shopkeeper who has a vested interest. Traders believe, as did Dickie Dirts recently, that if they open on Sunday they can steal a march on their competitors who remain closed.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Will my hon. Friend confirm that not only is USDAW rightly opposed to the Bill, but an overwhelming majority of small businesses—one-man shops—are writing to us, urging, "Kill the Bill"?
§ Mr. Torney
I was coming to that point. All the letters that I have received asking me to vote against the Bill have been from individuals or from organisations such as the CBI, trade associations, the Retail Consortium and so on.
I confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) said. I have had 579 letters against the Bill from small shopkeepers in Bradford. They are not Asians, but indigenous small shopkeepers in the city.
The letters were touching. The shopkeepers were begging me to vote against the Bill. Apparently they did not know my views. The letters were to the effect that if I did not vote against the Bill and it was enacted they would go bankrupt and have to close. The large multiples who can offer far more will open on Sundays, which will condemn the small shops. People will go to the large multiples instead of to the small shops and the small shopkeeper will be forced to close. I have the letters on my desk and I can show them to anyone.
It is a complex and difficult problem. The telling part of the speech of the hon. Member for Wycombe came at the end when he said that it is a difficult problem. It is. That is why the Minister should tell the Secretary of State that the Bill has failed—I hope that it will—and he must agree to an inquiry.
USDAW, the union that I belong to, realises that things have changed in 30 years and that there are anomalies, but we do not believe that if a change is to come it should come through a Bill scrapping the protection and the previous Act entirely. Let no one say again that no shop will be forced to open. I thought that I and others had established that shops will open. In today's battle of the high street, with intense competition and the ever-increasing cost of running a business, they cannot afford to allow the trade to go past their door to the other shop down the road that is open. They would be indirectly forced to open.
§ Mr. Torney
I am sorry. I shall not give way because of the time and the number of others who wish to speak.
If the Bill is roundly defeated, as I fervently hope that it will be, I ask the Minister to plead with the Secretary of State to have a public inquiry, an independent inquiry, a Government sponsored inquiry, a Royal Commission or a Select Committee to examine the problem from all sides—from the point of view of the worker, the employer, the Church, the consumer and so on—and produce a report and recommendations. I believe that that would be the will of the House—even of those who support the Bill—if the Bill is defeated. USDAW supports that approach. I hope that the Minister will persuade the Secretary of State to do that.
§ Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) on his good fortune in securing a high place in the ballot and on his courage in bringing in the measure.
There are two reasons for allowing the Bill to have a Second Reading. First, the state of the law is a disastrous mess and widely flouted. We should not be content about that in this place. Secondly, there is a responsibility on us to take account of the changes in the habits and demands of those whom we represent. I do not mean to imply that we are bound to follow what the majority might appear to want, but we ought not to give a majority short shrift by dismissing the Bill at the first opportunity without detailed consideration.
The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) said that a social revolution was implicit in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) 580 spoke of encroachment on the traditional Sunday. The social revolution has taken and is taking place. Things have changed considerably, for good or ill. No mere encroachment on Sunday has occurred; there has been an invasion. We should recognise what people are doing with their Sundays. They are freely indulging in a wide range of activities which depart from that original image of the quality of Sunday that must be protected.
The hon. Member for Edmonton referred to rest, worship and the family. He knows that many people, having completed their worship and rested after lunch take their families strawberry picking, for example. They rely on people being prepared to be on duty to allow "pick your own fruit" operations to take place.
People should be allowed to indulge in such pleasures on a Sunday. We should not stick by our own prejudices. We should agree that people should be free to choose what they want to do on Sunday. People go on holiday, attend sporting fixtures and shop on Sunday. Shops are open on Sunday in many parts of the country. Even in holiday places, where shops can open on 18 Sundays a year—although they are subject to a peculiar regime in what they can sell—there is no evidence that the quality of the traditional Sunday and the ability to take part in corporate worship is more adversely affected than anywhere else. I cannot see any distinction.
Of course, the numerous arguments must be weighed, especially those that spring from religious conviction., but some of the arguments are over-defensive, if not downright exaggerated.
In light of the evidence, be it from Scotland or overseas, it is obvious that the worst fears would not be realised. Freedom does not have to mean seven-day trading. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) made that point as effectively as anyone. It was clear from what he said that the Sainsburys chain would not open seven days a week.
I am suspicious of bogus concern. The Colchester and east Essex co-operative society has told me of its great concern for small businesses and traders. I confess that I gasped in surprise that that organisation, which supports the Labour party, should worry about the fate of small businesses.
§ Mr. Haselhurst
No. I shall follow the practice of other hon. Members and try to be brief.
I was astonished to receive a letter from Tesco which, among other things, called for the protection of small businesses. If ever there was an example of the fox calling for the protection of chickens, it is people running supermarket chains expressing concern for the survival of small businesses. I do not blame them, but supermarket chains have done more to destroy small businesses than anything else.
I wonder whether the Bill's opponents have taken account of the possible backlash if the law is left as it is. The Bill's opponents should pursue their arguments to a logical conclusion. Do they want more prosecut Eons of people who open in defiance of the law? Do they want more prosecutions of shops which are legally entitled to open to sell some items, but which cannot sell other items normally on their shelves? Are the opponents prepared to acquiesce in the loss of part-time jobs which would occur if the present law were rigorously enforced? Are they 581 prepared to acquiesce in the loss of the viability of many small businesses which are not legally entitled to trade on Sunday, but which need to do so to survive?
If the opponents of the Bill want rationalisation or a tidying-up of the legislation, not wholesale reform, what result are they seeking? What is the quality of Sunday for which they will settle? It is easy to say that anomalies should be cleared up. Can anomalies be cleared up without creating more? To say that there can be a rationalisation misunderstands the nature of trading today.
Shops sell a wide range of goods. It is not easy to distinguish one type of shop from another by what it sells. They have a comprehensive range of goods. Many are self-service establishments. It is unrealistic to suppose that in such shops customers may pick one item from the shelf but not another. Rationalisation is not easy to achieve. Would the result of any rationalisation satisfy that minority in our country whose real and abiding concern is the protection of the Sabbath? I do not believe that any such compromise is possible.
Detailed parliamentary scrutiny, on the basis of the wealth of information that is already available, is a more than adequate substitute for another inquiry into Sunday trading. There is a sensible and responsible argument for allowing the Bill to go into Committee. Otherwise, we shall appear to declare ourselves content with ludicrous laws, not remotely concerned with what the majority of people are pressing us to consider.
We betray no interests of our constituents by giving the Bill a Second Reading so that it may have the most detailed consideration possible.
§ 1.3 pm
§ Mr. Tom McNally (Stockport, South)
The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) should be congratulated on bringing the Bill before the House, not least since we heard the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) trying to recapture the Church of England for the Tory party, and the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) announcing the Cecils as family grocers, an aspect of that illustrious family of which we had not hitherto been aware.
It is a privilege to hear the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), in robust form defending the Bill. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) speaking on behalf of the official Opposition laid claim to Tawney. I hope the hon. Member for Dagenham has at least as much right to lay claim to Tawney as the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook.
There has been an interesting lead from the Government. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State has given a better lead than did the Home Secretary, in his own inimitable fashion, when he was briefing the various pressure groups that went to see him. I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for spelling out the Department's views on this subject.
From the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook we heard the expected response, once we knew the position that the Co-op and USDAW had taken on this matter. I shall not go further into that subject. I think that the hon. Member for Wycombe was a little sensitive when he said that the Retail Consortium was acting like a pressure group. Of course it is acting like a pressure group. So is USDAW 582 acting like a pressure group. It is arguing a vested interest case. The House would be well advised when listening to the various pressure groups to put their arguments into that perspective.
There have been some strange bedfellows—USDAW and the CBI, the Co-op and Sainsburys, myself and the hon. Member for Wycombe. I have taken the same position over the years. An interesting development in the speech of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) was something that has become very popular among opponents of the Bill. They say, "It is the sweeping nature of the Bill that we oppose. We are all in favour of fine tuning and a little bit of understanding." It is interesting to note that the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) pointed out that two years ago he tried to do exactly that. At that time, the secretary of my local division of USDAW wrote to me giving the union's view of the proposals and asking me to contact the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney), a sponsored member for that union. He continued:We would therefore be grateful if you would support our campaign to obstruct this Bill".The union's record in the past 30 years raises the question whether the proposed study is just another exercise in time-wasting rather than a real change of heart and an attempt to improve the Shops Acts.
The existing legislation means that a large number of people are needlessly deemed to be criminals or in danger of being so, as I know from my own experience. Only last year, my nephew and niece—two young entrepreneurs who would gladden the Prime Minister's heart—were fined £50 for opening their do-it-yourself shop on a Sunday. Yet when do people who indulge in do-it-yourself most require the facilities offered by such a shop if not at the weekend when they have time to browse and to select the tools and equipment that they need? There has already been a great deal of public study and debate and we should be sceptical of attempts to stall the matter any longer.
A number of hon. Members spoke with passion and sincerity of the quality of the Sabbath and the effect of the Bill on shop workers who will have to work on a Sunday because the shops will be open. Many people in this country have to work on Sundays. For 47 years, my late father showed that he knew how to keep the Sabbath holy whether he was at work or not. The idea that the holiness of the Sabbath is a matter for legislation misses the individuality that is involved. As a shop floor worker for ICI my father worked on three Sundays out of four for 47 years, and he kept the Sabbath for four Sundays out of four throughout his life. The idea that one must have Sunday off to keep the Sabbath holy and to worship brings back an 18th century concept of Sunday that has bedevilled too much of English law. The keeping of the Sabbath is a personal matter and people will do it in their own way. The sabbatarians who believe in keeping Sunday in the traditional way with worship in church would do better to try to fill their churches than to obstruct people making their own decisions. They will fill the churches by making the Christian message relevant, not by making legislation.
§ Mr. Dan Jones
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this very institution is based upon Christianity? [Interruption.] If hon. Members laugh, they laugh at their own ignorance.
§ Mr. McNally
There has been a long and thorough debate. There has been filibustering, not just today but throughout 30 years and a dozen Bills. We must face the 583 fact that the law has fallen into disrepute and the overwhelming majority of consumers in this country want it reformed. The hon. Member for Wycombe has made a perfectly valid offer of flexibility in Committee. To stall yet again would be to ignore the wishes of the general public, to leave the law in disrepute and to prevent a very sensible reform that would help both the consumer and the retail industry.
§ Mr. Dan Jones
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I could not be in my place at the beginning of this morning's sitting as I had to visit my doctor. I have tried to catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair since taking my place, I am burning with indignation at some of the observations—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is not alone in his burning wish to contribute to the debate. There are many hon. Members who have been in their places throughout the debate and who wish to speak. If the hon. Gentleman is patient, he may be called. Points of order of this sort only delay the proceedings.
§ Sir Peter Mills (Devon, West)
I am not burning, but after I have spoken I may be burned by some of my hon. Friends. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) on introducing the Bill. It is important that it should be brought forward so that it can be aired and discussed in the House. I would not wish it to succeed, but it should be debated sensibly and that is what I think we are doing.
It is interesting that everyone who has contributed to the debate has expressed fixed ideas. I do not think that many of the speeches—certainly not mine—will ever convince anyone else to change his mind.
§ Sir Peter Mills
For all that, it is important that we should be present and expressing our concerns and views.
At first sight, the Bill may seem to be a piece of enlightened legislation that will sweep away many of the anomalies which now apply to Sunday trading laws. I am certain that my hon. Friend has the best intentions. I accept that there are many anomalies. Is the answer to the anomalies to open the flood gates to complete commercialisation of Sunday? To me the answer is a firm no.
§ Sir Peter Mills
Commercial arguments have been aired strongly, but there is another aspect of the Bill. The Bill would destroy a part of life in which I believe passionately and strongly.
§ Sir Peter Mills
Christians naturally believe in the Fourth Commandment, which provides that the seventh day be kept as a day of rest and worship. I believe that to be right and wise. It is wise and common sense for the individual, wise and common sense for the family and wise and common sense for the nation. I am certain that some hon. Members will say, "That is all right for you, Peter Mills. That is what you believe in but others do not." 584 With respect, I believe that it is common sense as well as a Christian standpoint that we should preserve one day in the week that is set aside for rest, relaxation and complete change. For those who have a faith and for those who believe in the Christian way of life, people should he allowed to worship with complete freedom. The Fourth Commandment, which should not be put on one side, is sensible if we wish to live in a civilised society. We live in a mad enough rush for six days of the week and it is important that one day should be set aside for complete change.
I deplore the change that has taken place that means that many people have to work on a Sunday, let alone extending the process any further. One of my constituents wrote as follows:Memories of the 'Victorian Sunday' die hard—a grim, joyless, highly restricted day. The proper balance between work and rest must be maintained, but Sunday should be a joyful day for worship, relaxation, family pleasure. The loss of a distinctive quality, which Sunday still has, would be a grievous loss to the nation as a whole, not just to Christians. How inexpressibly dreary it would be if Sunday became a normal working day like any other week day!That is where I stand. There are reasons for the workers, for the small shopkeepers, and many others to oppose the Bill. I wish to preserve our way of life on Sundays with all that it means to so many people. I cannot impose my wish on other people. All I can do is recommend what I believe.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
I rise to oppose the Bill and in doing so place on record the fact that I am sponsored by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. It is Britain's sixth largest union and represents nearly 500,000 workers in the retail and distributive trades. While we appreciate that 2,250,000 people are employed in the retail and distributive trades, we would welcome the 1,750,000 workers who have not yet joined the union.
For the lifetime of the present Government we have constantly been reminded about the need for more democracy in the unions so that representatives and spokesmen speak for the members that they represent. My union has already given deep and searching consideration to the need for amending the Shops Act 1950. The annual delegate meeting, representing all sections of the union, overwhelmingly accepted the necessity for change more than 12 months ago.
My union is not and never has been the Luddite organisation that some would like to portray. It has never resisted any need for progressive change. Over recent years we have negotiated the extension of shopping hours under the present Act. Major food chains have increased their trading hours by over 20 per cent. in the past few years. My union is verbally committed to analysing employment, and retail trading hours.
We have a working party looking at the Shops Act 1950. There has already been reference to a document produced by the working party that has been circulated to right hon. and hon. Members. We requested the Home Secretary in the early part of last year to set up a Government inquiry or a Royal Commission so that all weaknesses, anomalies and defects of the Shops Act could be examined, and to allow consumers, employers—small, large and major—to come together with employees and all other interested parties in representation on the inquiry. We need thorough and penetrating examination of all the 585 facts before we embark on any exercise abolishing or even reforming, so that we can appreciate the consequences of that reform.
I listened with great care to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) and hoped that he would have presented something different that would have cast doubt in the minds of hon. Members on both sides of the House, something that would have persuaded me to think again about my opposition. All he presented us with was a rehash of all that we have read and listened to since the mid-1960s, all the 20 attempts in this House or in the other place to amend the much-maligned 1950 Act. His wide-ranging attack was a mere repeat performance of a baroness's attempt in recent months except—
§ Mr. Powell
I shall not give way. The hon. Member refused to give way when some of my hon. Friends tried to intervene in his speech.
The hon. Member's speech was a mere repeat of the baroness's attempt in recent months, except that she was at least charming enough to persuade some noble Lords of her sincerity. This attempt smacked of a typical staff head of the Foreign Office—a high-flying civil servant with time on his hands and little knowledge of the retail service.
We have listened today to the oratory and eloquence of those who have mastered the art of public speaking, for which this Mother of Parliaments is renowned throughout the world. I would not even wish to try to compete with such masters. I hope only to try and convince those hon. Members attending the debate that the Bill is a serious attack on all employees in the distributive industry. If implemented, it will easily change the whole pattern of trade.
§ Mr. Powell
It will change the whole pattern of living and the whole fabric of family life. It will have far-reaching implications and cause grave social, domestic and commercial upheavals and condemn us almost immediately to a pattern of living that will be regretted for generations to come.
In reply to the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), who had asked whether the Home Office had any proposals to relax the restraints that the Shops Act 1950 imposes on shopping hours, including Sunday trading, the Home Secretary stated on 9 February 1982:The Government can find no ground of principle for opposing such a measure and propose to maintain an attitude of benevolent neutrality during this proceedings on the Bill which will provide a further opportunity for Parliament to express its views on this subject."—[Official Report, 9 February 1982; Vol. 17, c.304.]In a speech on 3 November 1982, the then Minister of State at the Home Office said:I am of course aware of the possible repercussions of a repeal and I entirely accept that repeal of this legislation might lead to some far reaching social changes. I know there is pressure for the Government, if not to introduce legislation, to set up an inquiry to clarify the facts at issue.He also remarked that my union and the Retail Consortium had pressed for an inquiry. Today, there has been the statement by the Under-Secretary of State that the 586 Government still intend to waffle on this issue or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) suggested, do a Pontius Pilate on it.
I have read and followed with great care all the arguments made by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney). I have pondered for some time what special interest should have led him to initiate the Bill. I have examined his pedigree. That reveals nothing. The hon. Gentleman was a diplomat, head of this, that and everything else, at the Foreign Office. He has no special interest in shop, distributive and allied trades.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Gentleman will have his chance in a minute. I have still to be convinced that the hon. Gentleman, having won the ballot for private Member's Bills, decided that this was a measure that he had been yearning to introduce on an issue that he really understood something about. It is, perhaps, a passionate desire to liberalise the high street shops that has been lurking under his belt since his schoolboy days. I had therefore expected the hon. Gentleman to make a great and convincing speech. I had thought that he would convince all hon. Members that he really understood the social, religious and many other implications of abolishing the main parts of the Shops Act 1950. I had thought that he would have explained his contribution to last week's edition of the Bucks Free Press, especially the theme of the principle of personal freedom. Will he explain what personal freedom will be extended to those shop workers who have no wish to work on Sunday? What protection will he advocate for the small shopkeeper desperately trying to survive under the constant pressure of the monopolies and this Government? Is he aware that in the past 10 years, 60,000 small shops have closed, and that the number has dropped from 137,000 in 1971 to 72,600? Is he aware that deregulation of trading hours, far from being a charter for small traders, will almost certainly lead to an escalation in closures and a further loss of jobs?
There is much more that I could say, but I see that other Members wish to speak. I shall merely read from the supermarkets' edition of my union USDAW's "Dawn", an article entitled "Non-union firm sacks man for not working on Sunday", which said:A Merseyside man lost his job because he refused to work on a Sunday for a retailer which does not recognise USDAW. Mr. Tom Ryan is a regular churchgoer and as such believes that he should have the right to attend church on Sundays. His employers, however, see things differently. MFI furniture store at Chester opens on Sundays—which is illegal under the Shops Act—and expects its staff to be available for work when required, as a condition of their employment. Mr. Ryan's absence one Sunday constituted a 'resignation' as far as MFI were concerned and he was subsequently dismissed. The store, in its defence, claimed that it opens on Sundays for 'viewing only'. But it is interesting to note, however, that Chester Council has already prosecuted a store which opened for 'viewing only'.You have indicated, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would like me to wind up. That is unfortunate, because I could have kept hon. Gentlemen here until next Friday afternoon while I expounded my thoughts. I shall conclude.
As one who was brought up in Wales I have had to show a measure of obedience or respect for the requirements of a Christian home. Like many others, I found Sabbath observance restrictive, and often questioned its purpose and the need for compliance with it. I find it comparatively 587 easy to understand the purpose and the need for a day of rest. Modern man requires its protection more than he will ever care to admit, particularly in a highly industrialised and competitive society, giving rise to mental and physical pressures far more destructive of the individual than that occasioned by society's inability to conform with the requirements of the Sixth Commandment "Thou shalt not kill".
The 1950 Shops Act needs reform. There is a need for change. An Act that is 30 years old needs amending to meet modern requirements and changing consumer patterns. All of us recognise that, but the reformers must recognise, too, that not only the interests of consumers need consideration but those of society as a whole—shop workers, retailers, religious organisations, local authority workers, police, transport workers, and those of us who wish to preserve the tranquility of Sunday. I ask all right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to reject the Bill overwhelmingly.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Hemel Hempstead)
In supporting the Bill, I am encouraged by the fact that hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise the need for change. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that sooner or later the Shops Act 1950 must go or be radically changed. I have heard the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) say that it must be radically changed. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) said that it must be changed. The need for change cannot be doubted.
I can say with complete confidence that all hon. Members who represent constituencies in England or Wales would not enforce the present Act. In saying that of an Act, one has an overwhelmingly powerful argument for its alteration. How should it be altered? Does the Bill approach the issue in the right way?
The most important question, which could not have been put more eloquently or sincerely than by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Sir P. Mills), is whether the Bill will radically change the character of our Sunday.
I do not want to see a radical change. It is difficult, in one respect, to see into the future.
§ Mr. Lyell
However, the Scottish analogy is very powerful. There are no Sunday trading laws in Scotland such as we have in England and Wales. There are 5 million people in Scotland, and Scotland has two large, important towns—Glasgow and Edinburgh. Yet the dire consequences referred to by the Bill's opponents simply do not happen in Scotland. The big high street shops open only on the two or three Sundays leading up to Christmas. The USDAW work force is not forced to work against its will. Indeed, the membership in Scotland has voted overwhelmingly in favour of the present position. It does not want laws similar to those in England to be imposed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), who made a persuasive speech on behalf of the Retail Consortium, said that Scotland was a special case and was too small to count. Normally, one would think that a sample of 5 million people was good. There are 5.5 million people in Scotland. Hon. Members who wish to look further afield should consider France where there are 588 no such Sunday trading laws. Nevertheless, the big grocers and shops such as Monoprix do not open on Sunday. Hon. Members should consider the many states in United States of America that have the same culture and background as us, yet their big high street stores and shops do not open on Sunday. Those countries have a sensible and settled pattern of trading with which we would all find ourselves in broad agreement. Furthermore, most of us would envy the practice of church going in those countries.
Therefore, although I recognise the sincerity of those who oppose the Bill and the genuine fears held on behalf of USDAW about possible ill effects, I suggest that their fears are not well founded.
I have referred to the unenforceability of the present law. Many a plea has been made that small shopkeepers do not want the Bill to be enforced. It is said that there would be an outcry if it were enforced against their wishes. They open on Sundays and want to continue doing so. Their only fear is that they will be swamped and pushed out of business by high street traders. However, that does not happen in comparable countries. The House should not tolerate on the statute book an Act which is not fully enforced, which would be the subject of outcry if it were fully enforced, and which, in so far as it is enforced, is operating very unfairly. I note the call for an inquiry, but none of those calling for it has put forward one constructive suggestion for a sensible intermediate position.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) and I would be glad to accommodate those who have sensible amendments to put forward in Committee. However, the Bill's fundamental approach is right:. I shall therefore support it.
§ Mr. Norman Hogg (Dunbartonshire, East)
It has been apparent that those who support the Bill think of it as a measure that will remove restrictions and improve choice. They have had a great deal to say about Scotland. I shall deal with their comments as the Scottish experience has been different from what hon. Members have suggested.
The Bill would have the opposite effect to removing restrictions. In the end it would be a restricting and confining measure which would take leisure time from many and would start our commercial and service industries down a road that would worsen working conditions and the social and family life of many. The notion that to increase trading hours means to increase trade is a fallacious argument. Such is the economic state of Britain that people have only a fixed amount to spend. The cake does not increase to meet the trading hours. It remains the same. Disposable income and trading hours are unrelated.
I strongly suspect that Sunday trading would be inflationary. Keeping the shops open, with all that that entails in increased costs, would affect the consumer. If one shop opens, other shops may feel obliged to do so. Much has been said about that. The whole process would become costly to the consumer and in the long run it would be inflationary. Workers in the retail trade would suffer.
I suppose that seven-day trading has a certain appeal. It would be convenient in the short run, but those who favour it may wish to consider what it means for them. The banks do not open on Saturdays, but already there has been pressure for one high street bank to open on Saturdays to serve those who buy and sell. That pressure would extend 589 to other places. It would be only a matter of time before we were expecting local government offices and some Government Departments to open on a Sunday. There is no end to it. The trade unions, which have fought for a five-day week for many years, would be faced with increasing pressure for that to be negotiated away. It would be detrimental to family life, which has already come under too serious an attack from the Government.
There can be no doubt that Sunday has undergone massive change. I have no wish for a return to the severity that existed in the past. However, I strongly support those who wish to observe Sunday for religious, family, social and leisure purposes. It is right that as far as possible people should be free to spend Sunday as they wish. At a time of high unemployment, an employee who resisted his employer's demands for Sunday work would be faced with considerable difficulty and pressure.
Family, social and leisure activity often go together. Leisure industries provide an aid to that. I am not opposed to leisure activities being available on Sundays. However, once we let loose all our normal Monday to Friday commercial activity, we deny the opportunity for the family to get together. That is what I fear could flow from the Bill.
A great deal has been said about Scotland. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) was much photographed on the day when he visited several cities in Scotland, rather like an American tourist rapidly taking in Scotland before flying off to some warmer and more exotic resort. Unlike him, I have spent 45 years in Scotland. I think that I know a little about its trading. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Union street in Aberdeen. I do not have the honour to represent that city—I represent Dunbartonshire, East. However, I was born in Aberdeen and know something about it. The shops in Aberdeen are not open every Sunday because the traders do not consider it to be commercially viable and the public do not wish to shop.
Many of the high street stores in Scotland have chosen not to open because they know that in the ordinary course it will cost too much. They opened over Christmas and Boxing day was changed. It used to be the day after Christmas, but this year that became Christmas Sunday so that the shops could open. Money can do anything; it can even alter Christmas. If those traders believed that there would be the same volume of money available every Sunday they would open every Sunday. However, Scotland's economy is such that we could not and cannot open the shops. There is not enough money to go around. Indeed, I have every reason to believe that one well-known high street trader, far from considering opening on Sunday, is considering ending his late night opening.
I strongly support the position taken by the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers and those who are resisting the Bill. I hope that in the end we shall have the inquiry that has been asked for because that is the best way to deal with the matter. There is no escape from the anomalies that have beenmentioned. I hope that I have gone some way to stating the precise position in Scotland as against the erroneous one described by other hon. Members.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
I too congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) on winning this place in the ballot and on the manner in which he introduced his Bill. As someone who has introduced a not uncontroversial piece of legislation I know exactly how much work and hassle he has been through. If he had simply concentrated on rectifying some of the anomalies, I would have wanted such a Bill to be dealt with in Committee, talked about and added to. However, my hon. Friend wants something completely different and he has made no secret of it. He wants a complete relaxation of Sunday trading.
Several hon. Members have already dealt with what I call the mechanics of what would happen were this Bill to become law. Hon. Members will form their own conclusions on that. However, there is no doubt that over a period of years Sunday will become a great trading day. More and more people will be drawn inexorably into its operations. People do not realise that it is not just the shop workers who will be involved—with due respect to the representatives of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers who have spoken in the debate. The backup trades as well—policemen, parking attendants, workers in the public utilities and so on will also be involved.
There is no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) will not be affected by the legislation. Sainsburys will be all right, as will Marks and Spencer. However, there is no doubt that there will be considerable pressures on the small shopkeeper. My hon. Friends will know from their experience of retail price maintenance legislation that to support the Bill will be dangerous. One can speculate on the effects that it will have. As the service sector becomes greater more and more people would have to work on Sunday and rest on Monday if the Bill became law.
Does that matter? I believe that it does, particularly, as the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Hogg) and others have said, because of its effect on family life. I am told that 66 per cent. of shop workers are married women and they will be greatly affected, because Sunday is the only day that the family can get together. However, it will have another and equally powerful effect.
A successful society is like a great tree. It has roots in the past, it flourishes in the present and it gives the hope of a continuing, if changing, future. If one hacks the trunk and pours poison on the roots the tree will wither and die.
I was interested in what the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said about the role of the state. Recent legislation that has had a great effect in the sociomoral sphere—the Race Relations Act and the Sex Discrimination Act—did not pretend that they would change general attitudes to racial groups or the opposite sex. The Government merely said by those Acts that the state would have no truck with such discrimination.
No matter how my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) may seek to disguise the fact, the Bill would be saying that the state has no truck with the Christian significance of Sunday. That is not to say that one should legislate to force people to go to church—quite the contrary.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has been put in a difficult position. He has had to try to sit on the fence while coming down firmly on one side. But the effect of the state saying that it has no truck with the Christian significance 591 of Sunday involves the established Church, the basis of our law and customs, the coronation and the prayers with which we start the daily sittings of Parliament. Are those to be considered as a residue from the past an anachronism, all right for tourists but not meaning anything for the future?
If we go down that path we shall be like the spendthrift who, having exhausted his income, turns to squandering his capital. The late Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Coggan, once suggested that those seeking the moral revival of Britain might start with the Ten Commandments. One may fairly ask, if, the Fourth Commandment is rejected by the state what hope is there for the rest?
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
Many people listening to the debate may get the impression that the Bill's sponsors, of which I am one, want storm troopers to go into every house in Britain on Sundays, grab people and push them into shops. That is not the intention of the Bill.
Liberal Members have always tended to support a Second Reading if there is merit behind the ideal of a Bill, and there is considerable merit behind this Bill. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) has made it clear that in Committee he will listen carefully to proposed amendments. I shall table amendments, because I am not happy about some aspects of the Bill, but the general concept is right.
Like other hon. Members, I have received a substantial number of letters about the Bill. Unlike some hon. Members, I believe that they were all sincere and deserved to be read. I have had many letters from religious organisations and fundamentalist religious followers. They quoted Exodus and the Fourth Commandment, but if one is taking random passages from the Bible one could do worse than quote verse 27 of chapter 2 of St. Mark's Gospel:The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.That was written after Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath. His disciples and others took him to task and asked why he had done that on the Sabbath. He gave the reply that I have quoted.
I think that in the time in which we live many families will be involved in one or two major purchases. In my opinion, it is right that stores and emporiums should be open so that those purchases can be made with the consent of all the family, not just those who happen to be off work on such days as shops deign to be open.
The second point that was made was the convenience and continued prosperity of small shopkeepers. I believe that the make-up of a small shop is so fundamentally different from that of the large store and supermarket that it engenders an inbuilt loyalty and that people will continue to use the small shops even if large stores open. If we consider Scotland and the number of bankruptcies in small shops there, we see that it has not made a jot of difference.
I am concerned about the quality of life on Sunday. That is a genuine concern. When the Bill goes to Committee, which I hope it will, I should like to see two amendments—first, that no one may be sacked for refusing to work on a Sunday; secondly, that the overtime paid for Sunday work must not be so high that people will 592 not be able to afford not to work on a Sunday. One way of achieving this would be to ensure that, instead of paying double or treble time, people would be given time off in lieu of working on Sunday. Then that would work.
§ Mr. Freud
I shall not give way because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.
I support the Bill because it clears up many anomalies. I shall not bore the House by going through them. It will allow the law to be evenly enforced between large department stores and corner shops. It is high time that that happened.
The House will remember that Whiteley's, a large store in Bayswater, decided to open one Sunday. The police prosecuted it for opening on Sunday, but allowed all the small shops around to go on trading. It is plumb wrong that we, to whom the country looks for legislation, should sit by and allow that sort of discriminatory law to continue.
We want to get rid of an outdated law that restricts freedom of choice. It is my opinion that a shop exists for the benefit of the consumer. I am not at all sure that the USDAW lobby does not feel the very opposite. Having listened to the small shop argument, I ask its proponents to look at the Scottish example. There was no decline.
The small shop provides a specialised local service which cannot be replaced by impersonal stores which are usually at a great distance from the housing estates and homes where these people live. I believe that many people, especially old age pensioners, prefer the personal service of a small store and will continue to go nem, on whatever days it is open. I repeat, no shop would be compelled to open. The demand exists. If anyone thinks that it will put up the prices of goods, I am sure that some enterprising advertising agency will advise a store to say, "We do not open on a Sunday. Therefore, our prices are low. Come and shop with us", and it will do very well.
I have looked at the USDAW argument and considered the calls for an inquiry. I am convinved that we have had enough inquiries. we all know that they are devices to delay decisions. It is high time that we came to a decision.
In Glasgow, where people are enlightened in their laws, Habitat opens on Sundays, and it is opposite the Alderson shopping centre. But while Habitat is open, only two other retailers are open in that shopping centre. None of the others feels compelled to open. The Co-op hypermarket in the Morrison street area is the only one in the area to open. It is alone, and none of its competitors has gone to the wall.
Shops in England are allowed to open until 8 pm every night except for one early-closing night. Very few do that. Sainsburys at Nine Elms breaks the law three nights a week. The hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) did not admit that in his protestations, but the law is being broken all the time.
Although there might be a slight increase in operating costs, stores already pay standing charges—insurance, rates and advertising in respect of seven-day trading, not five and a half days or six days—so there is an element of economy, and there is consumer demand for Sunday opening. I do not believe that costs will rise.
There is talk about the national cake. But about 46 per cent. of post-tax gross national income used to be spent on retailing—the figure is now 36 per cent.—so there is a 593 great deal of money which might go into retailing if shops opened for the greater convenience of customers instead of shop owners.
The Bill poses problems, but I am sure that we can iron them out amicably in Committee. I support the Bill. I hope that it will get a Second Reading and go upstairs.
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Brighouse and Spenborough)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) on the way in which he presented his case. He said that there were many anomalies. We all have our favourite anomalies, but the problem is not the anomalies alone but the definitiions.
There are doubts about the definition of "souvenir", for example. Souvenirs can be sold on Sunday because they are mentioned in schedule 5 of the 1950 Act. That does not stop people arguing about what a souvenir is. My local authority has a problem as a result of that. The Under-Secretary said that he was willing to consider changes to the present law if anyone could produce adequate definitions. However, I believe that we cannot amend the present law without creating further anomalies that would be questioned.
I understand the feeling of people who do not want to lose the special character of Sunday. Scotland and France have more liberal laws. The Government of the Republic of Ireland tried to introduce more restrictive laws, but people refused to accept them and they were thrown out. I would not say that Ireland, Scotland and France were ungodly places. More people there go to church than in England.
One argument is that Sunday trading would not increase turnover because only a fixed sum is available. That is nonsense. I do not believe that there is a fixed cake. If people want something, they work harder for it and that increases the national income. A continually developing amount of money is available. We must not fall into the trap of assuming that the amount is fixed.
The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) said that small shops would close if we changed the law in the way proposed. I remind him that small shops act illegally if they sell a can of beans as well as fresh produce. That is what is so wrong with the law and why it must be changed. We bring the law into disrepute if it continues to be an ass, as it so obviously is.
Part of my local authority, Calderdale, is also represented by the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill). Calderdale council operates a very popular and successful market within the confines of the Piece hall. The Piece hall is a relic of the days when textiles were paramount. The textile industry no longer employs the numbers of people it did, and Calderdale is faced with an employment crisis. It is able to rent spaces to people selling goods in the Piece hall. Goods are sold there now because the goods are regarded, and the local authority has accepted them, as souvenirs of this popular holiday place. The Director of Public Prosecutions has decided that the goods sold in the Piece hall in Halifax are not souvenirs.
The prospect is that this extremely important and historic place, which the council has restored, will have to close its market. I remind hon. Members that the local authority that runs the market is required under the 1950 Act to enforce the law. It has put itself in an anomalous 594 position. That is why the local authority has written not only to Calderdale Members but to a large number of other Members saying that if fresh legislation is not passed enormous numbers of employment opportunities will be destroyed because of the inability of the local authority to operate the Act.
Public opinion is clear. People want a change. I recognise the difficulty of translating a private Member's Bill into legislation, despite the fact that there is scope for giving the Bill a Second Reading and changing it as necessary in Committee. I say to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that, if the Bill does not succeed, it must become the duty of the Government to act either in this or the next Parliament.
§ 2.2 pm
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I wish to oppose the Bill and to express some confidence about the way in which the debate is proceeding. If the Minister's contribution was a neutral speech, all I can say is that if the Government take positive action to fight unemployment, we shall win the battle easily. The speech supported the Bill rather than took a position of neutrality.
I speak from experience of working in a shop and also from years in a pastoral charge involving the care of people. If the House is concerned about the quality of life in the community and to restore the values that we yearn to see in this land, we must show some concern to the family unit, both nuclear and extended. I submit that the outcome of the Bill—although this may not be its purpose—will be to the detriment of that family unit.
As I listened to the debate I was reminded of a story that went around Ireland. When the Irish Government decided to bring the Republic into line with the traffic laws of Europe they decided that they would drive on the right hand side of the road. The suggestion was made that the Act would be introduced in stages and for the first month heavy lorries only would drive on the right hand side of the road.
As the House discussed the Bill today, anomalies have been discovered because of the lack of clarity in decision-making in the past. The only way we can deal with those anomalies is to reject this Bill, go back to the drawing board and restore the principles that have lain behind our society for years. I have no intention of giving a theological lecture on this occasion. I underline several points. It has been said that the purpose of the Bill is to give freedom. I was reminded about gardening centres in discussions with some Members. There was a famous garden in which there was absolute freedom except on one point; a choice was made and, thereafter, as Rousseau said: "Man was born free and everywhere he is in chains". If we are concerned with giving liberty to citizens, we should ask what kind of liberty we are giving.
I welcome the opportunity to debate this, although I do not believe that it is necessary to describe the introduction of the Bill as "courageous". The courage that is needed is that referred to by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) when he spoke of the man who was sacked because he refused to work on the Sabbath. To return to the comments made by the Father of the House about sport, would to God that there were more men like Eric Liddell who provided the subject for "Chariots of Fire" and was prepared to take a stand on the principle of the Sabbath.
595 I remind the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a creation ordinance for men, who need that tempo of change and relaxation.
In opposing the Bill, I contend that if we wish to rebuild JerusalemIn England's green and pleasant land",we should follow the example of Nehemiah. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) suggests that the change from an agricultural community makes a difference, but man has not changed. When Nehemiah was rebuilding Jerusalem, greedy shopkeepers and others wished to trade on the Sabbath, but he applied the law with equity. When we respect the law of God, people will respect the laws of the land and there will be no arguments about enforcement.
§ 2.6 pm
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
My main concern is that people should be free to go to church on Sundays. That should be the most important act of the day. After that, they should be able to engage in any lawful activity—playing games, going to a pub or even doing a small amount of shopping. I fear, however, that the Bill will fundamentally affect the quality of the English Sunday. I certainly do not want a continental Sunday and nor, I believe do many others in this country.
I understand the arguments for the Bill and the anomalies of the existing Acts, but I believe that they could be dealt with in a far less all-embracing Bill than that which my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) has so courageously introduced.
The basis of my opposition to the Bill is that it will strike another blow at Christianity in England. Many people may say that England is no longer Christian so it does not matter whether more shops open on Sundays. I profoundly disagree. I believe firmly that we must hang on to our Christian heritage. Christianity has played a great part in forming our national character. People must have discipline in their lives and signs to point the way.
Even today, Sunday in England still looks different and is different from other days. It has a wholly different feel and texture about it. It has a freedom quite different from Wordsworth's "Getting and spending", which we all do on the other six days. Offices and factories are generally closed. There is no rush hour traffic. London and many other great cities look lovely and uncluttered. If many more shops opened, as I believe that they would if the Bill were passed, that would rapidly change and Sunday would gradually become almost the same as Monday
§ Mr. Stokes
My hon. and learned Friend will forgive me if I do not give way.
Churchgoers would still go to church, but would anyone else think even for a moment of religious and eternal matters if the world around them was exactly the same as on a secular weekday? The value of the English Sunday is that it tells everyone, especially the majority who no longer go to church, that it is a different day. Even the most purblind must notice the difference. Bells still ring everywhere, from our great cathedrals to the thousands of small parish churches. They would hardly be heard if traffic increased to weekday proportions as more 596 and more shops opened throughout the land. Who knows what thoughts of immortality this might stifle in those who seldom think of such things?
It is for those reasons, therefore, that reluctantly, being a lover of freedom, I oppose the Bill. I am not a sabbatarian. I am a cavalier and not a puritan. I believe that the Bill would yield still more ground to those who are secularising the nation. It would make us as a people even more materialistic than we are now. I believe that it would damage fundamentally the religious and social fabric of the nation.
§ Mr. John Tilley (Lambeth, Central)
This is certainly the first time and, I think, the last, that I shall agree with the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes). I hope that the Bill's opponents are not regarded as reactionary diehards who are stuck firmly in the mud of the last ditch. We have a cogent case against the Bill. It is twofold. First, we argue that change should not take place through the haphazard method of a private Member's Bill. We say that the Government should take the Lead and conduct an inquiry. I shall say no more about that because it has already been covered.
The second part of our case is that the proposed change—the 160-hour shopping week that the Bill would allow—is bound to be disastrous for shop workers and disadvantageous to many shoppers.
The Bill's supporters say that the public want the Bill. They cite public opinion polls in their support. However, the question that has been asked is a loaded one. It assumes that the Bill would change only opening hours and that it would not change any of the other economics of retailing. This means that the public have been asked in the polls of which we have evidence, "Would you like more of what you already have?" They naturally say yes. I think that other questions should be posed. For example, if the question had been, "Do you support the Bill even if it means higher prices throughout the week and many small shops closing down?", I think that there would have been very different results from the opinion polls.
I speak as a representative of the co-operative movement, which has maintained the interests of both consumers and workers in its shops throughout its history. It has shown that both interests can be maintainer at the same time. We in the movement are concerned about the effects of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) gave us no clear indication of what he thought would actually happen. At one time he seemed to be talking about a great social revolution while at other times he said that it would be merely the shops that are opening now on Sundays that would continue to open, and that if the Bill were enacted they would be able to do so legally. Perhaps he will tell us when he replies whether the Bill heralds a great social revolution or is merely a measure of retrospective indemnity.
As the hon. Gentleman said, all shops would have the choice of opening. However, if some opened—some certainly would—it would be Hobson's choice for the others. They would have the choice of opening on Sunday or losing their market share—in other words, open on Sunday or close for good. If the large stores opened on Sunday, that would seal the fate of many small stores. The corner shops that are open on Sunday survive by selling what people forgot to buy during the week at the 597 supermarket. If the supermarket is open on a Sunday, that part of the corner shop's trade will go and many such shops will go to the wall. Mention has been made of Asian shopkeepers. In the area that I represent and in many other parts of inner London these shops are stretched to the limit. The people who own them are willing to exploit themselves to get a stake in the economy. They will be swept in their thousands into the bankruptcy courts if the Bill is enacted.
I, too, shall quote Tawney, who has been mentioned several times. With great respect to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I shall offer the House a pithier quote:Freedom for the pike may mean death for the minnow".That is the essence of the threat that faces the small stores as a result of the Bill.
If the big stores open for more hours but there is no more money to spend, even if the wage bill is less than 10 per cent. of overheads, as the hon. Member for Wycombe said, wages are the only part of the overheads that can be squeezed. Shop workers are likely to find that there is tremendous pressure on their wage rates. I hope that the trades unionist Members were here when the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) suggested that premium rates should be swept away altogether for Sunday working for shopworkers.
We face a danger of apparent hypocrisy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) so diplomatically put it. We are preaching one thing and practising another because we shall close at 2.30 and we shall not open again until 2.30 on Monday. I am not suggesting that hon. Members do not work hard in their constituencies. They do, but how many have an advice surgery on a Sunday? I record the fact that no hands have gone up.
§ Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)
I am astonished that in a debate about the possibility of shops opening on Sundays only the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) has mentioned the customers. That is what the Bill is about. Many hon. Members have spoken about the interests of freedom, but have then gone on to speak about their vested interests. We have already had what sounded like a compulsory church parade and been subjected to the most bare-faced commercials for joining USDAW that I have ever heard.
We should be considering the customer. We have heard that in Scotland there is no compulsion for shops to open on Sundays. Many shops in Scotland do not open on Sundays, whereas others do.
As has been said, many people work on Sundays. I should declare a vested interest as a farmer. During harvest farmers always work on Sundays. Members of Parliament, doctors, lorry drivers and the police work on Sundays.
I am astonished by USDAW's reaction to the Bill. I thought it would have seen it as an opportunity for more jobs. We are always hearing about the lack of job opportunities. Sunday opening will create many jobs. About 66 per cent. of shop assistants are married women. I should have thought they would relish the Government's scheme for job-splitting. The Bill will give many opportunities for more work in future.
598 A joint stock bank which has opened its doors on a Saturday has been overwhelmed by the success of the operation. Its present employees do not have to work on a Saturday if they did not want to do so. The bank has issued a new contract for those who wish to work on Saturdays, and it has been overwhelmed by the response.
I believe that is how Labour Members should look at the Bill. It will create jobs. I am astonished by the reactions of Labour Members. They seem to be more interested in limiting opportunities not only for those who work in and operate shops, but for the customers.
I shall be very pleased to give my wholehearted support to giving the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)
In the years that I have been privileged to be a Member of this House I have never spoken with greater emphasis and pride than I do today. I support the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), who spoke about his Christian experiences
We face a period as crucial as any in recent years. Failure to recognise this fact could involve the nation in harsh commitments. I wish, if possible, without apologising to anyone, to prevent that failure. I believe deeply and passionately that this House alone can overcome the challenge. However, it will mean adhering strictly to the Christian way of life.
I hope that this House, for which I have great admiration and love, will never allow the Sabbath to be abrogated by any form of commercialism. For that reason, I earnestly hope that hon. Members will have the moral courage to say no to this Bill. When this country then looks to the House for the succour that it will undoubtedly deserve, the Government of whatever party is in power will be entitled to be regarded as a Christian organisation that deserves the respect of the whole nation.
§ Mr. Whitney
With the leave of the House, I should like to say a few words at the conclusion of what has been a worthwhile and interesting debate.
§ Mr. Ron Lewis
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some hon. Members have been present in the House since 9.30 am. I take it that you are allowing the mover of the Bill to close the discussion when it is not yet 2.30 pm and many of us would still like the opportunity to speak.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, has been here all day. If he casts his eye over the list at the back of the Chamber he will see that some hon. Members spoke for rather longer than others. Since I have occupied the Chair, the length of speeches has been brief. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) sought the leave of the House and obtained it.
§ Mr. Whitney
I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand the difficulty. I should like to repeat that this has been a valuable debate. It has aired to a great extent all the issues that have been in the air for 30 years. It has given the lie to the fact that this is too important an issue to be dealt with by the mechanism of a private Member's Bill. The debate has demonstrated that no other method can be more effective. The history of this subject shows that Governments tend to alternate between moving away from it and bringing it back to the House.
599 The real issue remains what it was at the start of the debate. All hon. Members know that there must be change. Will this change damage the quality of Sunday, which is so valued? No one on my side of the argument will give one inch to those on the other side in our dedication to preserving that traditional value. This is a great parliamentary occasion. It is like a kaleidoscope that has been shaken up. All the cliches with which hon. Members are associated and all the hat boxes in which they tend to be placed are gone to the winds today. Hon. Members are all over the place in terms of their allegiance. That is good. It is as things should be.
One factor that binds us together is the understanding that the quality of Sunday is the really important issue. The difference between us is that those who support the idea of the Bill going to Committee are prepared not simply to speculate but to look at facts and hard experience. A number of hon. Members on both sides have pointed to the experience in Scotland and in other countries, where freedom does not destroy the Sunday, and where traditional values are maintained. Churchgoing, certainly in Scotland, is higher than in England. We must ask ourselves whether there is something so special, something weak, in the character of the English and the Welsh that they cannot be trusted with the freedom that has been offered to the Scots. If those who oppose the Bill feel so strongly on the matter, they should introduce a measure to impose on the Scots the restrictions that we are saddled with in England and Wales. However, that is not a serious suggestion.
I hope that it is clear both to the House and the nation that none of us here accepts that the exaggerated threat to the British Sunday will be realised. There is no reason whatsoever to suppose that. I hope that it will also be understood that in Committee we should most certainly be prepared to consider every possibility of taking account of concerns that are legitimately expressed.
There is another difference between us. The organised opposition is not a new coalition. It is a coalition which has operated, I suppose, for 30 years, under one name or another, between retailing interests, whether management, ownership or USDAW interests. Its stance needs to be considered carefully by hon. Members who have come here today with an open mind, as I hope many have done. We have heard from the Bill's opponents—almost universally—the argument, "Yes, we know that this is wrong. We know that there must be change, but this Bill does too much for us. It is too exciting, too damaging." They say that it is revolutionary to bring into England and Wales what Scotland has lived happily with, without a revolution, for 30 years. So they now say, "We know that there is need for a change, but please not yet". Was it Saint Francis who said, "Please make me virtuous, but not yet"? [Interruption.] No, I gather that it was Saint Augustine. Saint Francis said other things.
It is important for the House to realise how the tune has changed. Those who say that this Bill is too sweeping and too exciting and want a more moderate Bill were given the opportunity of a moderate Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer). What did they say then? They sent round the usual campaign letters, and the House rejected the measure. So we can take no comfort from this seeming move towards moderation, echoing the tremendous popular pressure in the country at large.
So the opponents take refuge in another defence. They say "Let us have an inquiry". Again, we are all familiar 600 with that defensive device. After they lose the argument, as they have done today, they ask for an inquiry. Has there been the slightest suggestion of the results of any inquiry that might help to amend the law? The answer is No. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
Sunday should be a day of worship, a day of rest and a day for the family. I believe the Bill will change that and it should be opposed.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a. Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 106, Noes 205.602
|Division No. 61]||[2.30 pm|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Luce, Richard|
|Alexander, Richard||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (S'thorne)||McCrindle, Robert|
|Atkins, Robert (Preston N)||Macmillan, Rt Hon M.|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E)||McNally, Thomas|
|Baker, Kenneth (St.M'bone)||Major, John|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Marland, Paul|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)||Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Mawby, Ray|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Mellor, David|
|Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Brinton, Tim||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Moate, Roger|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Buck, Antony||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul||Murphy, Christopher|
|Colvin, Michael||Nelson, Anthony|
|Cope, John||Newton, Tony|
|Costain, Sir Albert||Ogden, Eric|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Parker, John|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Dunnett, Jack||Rathbone, Tim|
|Eggar, Tim||Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Fell, Sir Anthony||Rossi, Hugh|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles||Short, Mrs Renée|
|Freud, Clement||Silvester, Fred|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Ginsburg, David||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|Gow, Ian||Sproat, Iain|
|Grieve, Percy||Squire, Robin|
|Grist, Ian||Stevens, Martin|
|Grylls, Michael||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Hamilton, Hon A.||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Hawksley, Warren||Thompson, Donald|
|Hicks, Robert||Viggers, Peter|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.|
|Horam, John||Waller, Gary|
|Hordern, Peter||Warren, Kenneth|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Whitney, Raymond|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Williams, D. (Montgomery)|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Wolfson, Mark|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Le Marchant, Spencer||Mr. Marcus Fox and|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Mr. Alan Haselhurst.|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Abse, Leo||Ashton, Joe|
|Allaun, Frank||Atkinson, N.(H'gey,)|
|Alton, David||Bagier, Gordon A. T.|
|Anderson, Donald||Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)|
|Beith, A. J.||Faulds, Andrew|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Bennett, Andrew (St'Kp't N)||Field, Frank|
|Benyon, W. (Buckingham)||Fitch, Alan|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Flannery, Martin|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon A. (M'b'ro)||Forrester, John|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Foster, Derek|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)|
|Brown, R. C. (N'castle W)||George, Bruce|
|Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S)||Golding, John|
|Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P)||Good hart, Sir Philip|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Goodhew, Sir Victor|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Graham, Ted|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Gummer, John Selwyn|
|Cartwright, John||Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hardy, Peter|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Harman, Harriet (Peckham)|
|Clarke, Thomas (C'b'dge, A'rie)||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Coleman, Donald||Haynes, Frank|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Cowans, Harry||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g)||Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)|
|Crouch, David||Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)|
|Cryer, Bob||Homewood, William|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Howell, Rt Hon D.|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Hoyle, Douglas|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Huckfield, Les|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)||Hughes, Roy (Newport)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Dixon, Donald||Jessel, Toby|
|Dobson, Frank||Johnson, James (Hull West)|
|Dormand, Jack||Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)|
|Douglas, Dick||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Dover, Denshore||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Dubs, Alfred||Kerr, Russell|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Lamond, James|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Latham, Michael|
|Durant, Tony||Leighton, Ronald|
|Eadie, Alex||Lestor, Miss Joan|
|Eastham, Ken||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E)||Litherland, Robert|
|Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|English, Michael||Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||McCartney, Hugh|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)|
|Eyre, Reginald||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|McKelvey, William||Sever, John|
|McWilliam, John||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Marks, Kenneth||Shersby, Michael|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Silverman, Julius|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Skinner, Dennis|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Smyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)|
|Meacher, Michael||Spellar, John Francis (B'ham)|
|Mikardo, Ian||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Stainton, Keith|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Molyneaux, James||Stanley, John|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)||Stoddart, David|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Stokes, John|
|Moyle, Rt Hon Roland||Stott, Roger|
|Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Strang, Gavin|
|Neubert, Michael||Straw, Jack|
|Newens, Stanley||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Tilley, John|
|Page, John (Harrow, West)||Tinn, James|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Torney, Tom|
|Palmer, Arthur||Trippier, David|
|Park, George||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Parry, Robert||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Wainwright, E. (Dearne V)|
|Pawsey, James||Walker, Rt Hon H. (D'caster)|
|Penhaligon, David||Wardell, Gareth|
|Pitt, William Henry||Watkins, David|
|Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)||Weetch, Ken|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Welsh, Michael|
|Prescott, John||Whitlock, William|
|Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Race, Reg||Wilkinson, John|
|Renton, Tim||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Williams, Rt Hon A. (S'sea W)|
|Richardson, Jo||Wilson, William (C'try SE)|
|Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)||Winnick, David|
|Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Woodall, Alec|
|Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)||Mr. Barry Sheerman and|
|Rowlands, Ted||Mr. Douglas Hogg.|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
§ Question accordingly negatived.