HC Deb 21 June 1984 vol 62 cc533-41

Order for Second Reading read.

.13 pm

Mr. Roy Galley (Halifax)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is a modest measure seeking a slight variation in Sunday trading laws in a unique building in the town of Halifax. The Bill, which is promoted by the Calderdale metropolitan borough council, is intended to make lawful certain types of trading on a number of Sundays in the year in a building of great significance in the history of Halifax, the Piece hall.

It is not the council's intention in promoting the Bill simply to create in Halifax a trading centre that will be characteristic of any other trading centre elsewhere. The purpose is rather to enhance the attraction of a special, even unique, building, which is a tourist feature of the area, in which Sunday trading is seen not as an end in itself but as a means of attracting people to the building in which that trading takes place. So unique is the building that, in the opinion of the Civic Trust, there is only one other market hall in this country that is comparable in scale and design, and that is Covent garden. In passing the Bill, the House would not be setting a precedent applicable to other buildings in this country.

The Bill, for the metropolitan borough council, is an important step in its policy of developing tourism in the area, which contains Halifax, several surrounding towns and rural areas. Some important environmental works have been undertaken to enhance the tourist prospects in the district. The council has designated not only Piece hall, but the towns of Hebden Bridge, Sowerby Bridge and Todmorden as holiday resorts as part of that strategy, and they are working together in a co-operative effort to boost the economy and to develop the tourist centres of the area.

Halifax has several fine buildings worthy of preservation, as well as several buildings of the Georgian era—the same period as the Piece hall. It has a superb Victorian town centre, the jewel of which is the town hall. It was the last work of Sir Charles Barry. Indeed, it has been claimed that Barry's work in the House was but a preparation for the building of Halifax town hall.

There are also model villages, built by Victorian industrialists and philanthropists, and many fine churches as well as an extensive industrial heritage. A commentator, in 1980, said that, more than any other town in England, Halifax illustrates vividly the continuity of industrial history from the early heyday of the domestic cloth trade through the age of technological innovation to the present day, and that visually, Halifax is one of our most impressive towns. It is upon that important aspect of the heritage of Halifax that the Bill largely rests.

Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)

Does my hon. Friend have any assessment, should the Bill be passed, of the amount of trading, if any, that would be taken from surrounding towns, cities and villages on the basis that they would not be permitted Sunday trading?

Mr. Galley

If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall deal with that point as I develop my speech. He may wish to intervene later.

The Piece hall is the principal tourist feature of the area. It is unique in construction and worthy of promotion in its own right. It is one of the most outstanding 18th century buildings of its kind, and the primary attraction of the district. In the competitive world of national and international tourism, the borough council feels bound to do all that it can to make this major attraction the best possible means of producing income for the local and national economy. The promotion of Piece hall is considered to be of benefit not just to Halifax, but to the surrounding Pennine area and the rest of west Yorkshire.

Visitors who are attracted into the hall will find there information about the surrounding area. To some extent, that covers the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens). People will be attracted to travel to the surrounding areas from the Piece hall, which is the centre of tourist information for the district. The object is to make the hall a magnet attracting people to a much wider area.

The council's efforts in promoting Piece hall as a local amenity and tourist centre have already been recognised by the achievement, since 1976, of four major national awards, including those from the Civic Trust and the British Tourist Authority.

The council attaches great importance to the promotion of tourism in Calderdale in common with other attractive areas of Yorkshire and the north in the face of a decline in the traditional industries upon which our prosperity was based at the end of the 19th century and the early part of this century. Since 1974, the council has become acutely aware of the economic vulnerability of Halifax during a period of rapid economic change. The economy was based very much upon machine tools, textiles, particularly carpets, and the food and drink industry. Many of those firms have suffered a decline in recent years.

The census of employment taken in 1978 illustrates the imbalance of the local job structure and forms much of the basis of the council's concern to develop new ideas for the local economy. In 1978, 51 per cent. of employees in Halifax worked in the manufacturing sector compared with a national average of about 30 per cent., 8 per cent. of the work force was engaged in the textile industry compared with 2 per cent. nationally, 9 per cent. was in mechanical engineering compared with 4 per cent. nationally, and 15 per cent. was in the food and drinks manufacturing sector compared with only 3 per cent. nationally. In 1978, only 49 per cent. of the Halifax work force was engaged in the service sector, compared with 65 per cent. nationally. There has thus been a serious reduction in the number of jobs, especially in the late 1970s. A large number of jobs have been lost in the sectors that I have mentioned, including 38 per cent. of the jobs in mechanical engineering and 30 per cent. of those in textiles.

Although there was a 4 per cent. decline in population between the censuses of 1971 and 1981, by May 1984 unemployment in Halifax was 11.5 per cent. That is slightly below the national average, but the increase in unemployment has been markedly greater in recent years.

Against that background, the borough council is pursuing a wide range of initiatives to diversify local employment opportunities, including the development of tourism which is an important part of the economic strategy. A strategy has been developed to enhance the many tourist aspects of Halifax and surrounding districts in an endeavour to conserve and improve the outstanding architectural heritage of the area. Projects are currently being funded by the National Trust, which is especially interested in the development of Halifax as a tourist and conservation area.

The Piece hall itself was constructed in the late 1770s around an open rectangular courtyard with colonnaded buildings consisting of 315 rooms in which lengths of finished woollen cloth were offered for sale by weavers to merchants who then sold them in other parts of the country. As the industrial revolution developed, the importance of the Piece hall declined somewhat, but it is directly related to the textile trade which formed the basis of the city's prosperity. Although the building subsequently became somewhat dilapidated, in 1928 it was listed as an ancient monument and in 1972 it was listed as a grade 1 building of historical and architectural interest. In the past 10 years, it has been renovated to a very good standard at a current cost of between £3 million and £4 million, and it has become very much the recreational centre of Halifax. For example, it is the centre for band concerts. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be aware of the importance of brass bands to the culture of west Yorkshire.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

Before continuing his interesting guided tour of the Piece hall in Halifax, will my hon. Friend confirm that the Bill is in no way an attempt to drive a coach and horses through the Sunday trading laws, but merely a sensible, modest and reasonable attempt to provide a few jobs and to sort out some of the mish-mash of uncertainty in the Sunday trading laws?

Mr. Galley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Bill is about the Piece hall, the creation of jobs in Calderdale and west Yorkshire and the preservation of our local heritage. The Sunday trading aspects are incidental, but they will be extremely helpful in developing the heritage of the area.

Under section 51 of the Shops Act, Sunday trading is possible in the Piece hall on 18 Sundays per year when shops and stores may sell the types of goods set out in the relevant schedules. It is important to note that the Piece hall market is intended not as a means of satisfying everyday shopping needs, but as a setting to which people can resort predominantly for recreational purposes.

Initially, a Sunday market of this kind proved a considerable economic success, but over the years its impact has dwindled and it is now too small to justify many shops being open. The potential of the present restricted market has thus not been achieved and it has not proved a sufficient attraction to draw to the hall the number of visitors that local people and the local council would be justified in expecting, given the historical and architectural importance of the building. The council believes that it would be helpful if the scope of the market were widened. That is why it has promoted the Bill.

It is important to appreciate that the Bill will not allow Sunday trading without restriction or on every Sunday of the year. There are two specific restrictions. First, the number of Sundays must not exceed 18 in any one year, which is in line with the provisions of the Shops Act. Secondly, the Bill imposes a duty on the council to ensure that sales authorised under clause 3 would be predominantly such as to maintain the special and distinctive character of the Piece hall as a traditional textile centre and thus an important link in the unfolding history of Halifax. The first restriction is clearly intended to bring the Bill within the existing framework of the Shops Act and the relevant schedules thereto. The second is intended to ensure that shops and stores allowed to operate will mainly sell goods related to textiles. That is closely related to the original use of the hall as the commercial centre of the local wool and cloth trade and it will also be complementary to the present use of certain parts of the hall for museum purposes.

At present, there are two museums related to the Piece hall which bring to life the industrial heritage of the area. The promoters of the Bill believe that although the hall itself with the museums and art galleries in it, all of which are open on Sundays, provides a centre well worth visiting, the number of visitors attracted to the hall on Sundays would be significantly increased if the market could operate more fully. As a result, it is hoped there would be a considerable improvement in the local economy and in the attraction of visitors to the area. It would also enable the full recreational potential of the hall to be used.

I am aware of the doubts of some Members about the propriety of trading on Sundays, but the position of the Piece hall is such that local inhabitants will not be disturbed, and the primary purpose of the Bill is to enhance a recreational facility. The stores and shops are small businesses operated by their owners, so there is absolutely no question of staff being required to work additional hours against their will when they would prefer to rest.

The Bill is an ideal compromise between those who support and those who oppose a change in the Sunday trading laws. It will allow those who wish to trade and to shop within the great limitations of the Bill to do so in an entirely separate location, well away from any residential development. Those who wish to have a quiet, residential and holy day will be able to go about their business undisturbed.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the relevant trade unions are being consulted about the proposal and, if so, what their views are?

Mr. Galley

I do not think that there will be much trade union involvement, because the people who would operate the shops and stalls would be owners and small business men selling their own goods. Those operating the services in the Calderdale metropolitan borough council agree with the plan. As far as I know, the trade unions that represent those who work for the metropolitan borough council do not disagree, nor does any other organisation in the town.

Some people would take a parochial attitude and say, "Why should limited Sunday trading be permitted in Halifax when it is not permitted in my town?" The Bill seeks not to allow Sunday trading in Halifax per se, but to allow a Sunday market, which is predominantly related to textiles, in one unique building, the like of which no other town or city possesses. The building has unusual and historic links with textile trading. According to the Civic Trust, the building has no equal, other than Covent garden.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

Will my hon. Friend answer his own question and tell the House why Halifax should have this advantage?

Mr. Galley

If my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) had listened to me, he would appreciate the reason for it. Halifax has a unique building, which is paralleled only by Covent garden, and which is underestimated as part of our national heritage. We seek to develop the building and the local economy. If my hon. Friend or any other hon. Member has a comparable building in his constituency, he can introduce a private Bill of this nature, which seeks to enhance the local heritage and economy.

Some traders claim that such a Sunday market may put them at a disadvantage. That is not true. Such a market cannot satisfy everyday shopping needs. The goods offered would generally be bought by visitors, who would not shop locally, and would be special purchases related to the heritage and economy of the area. In nearby towns it is claimed that visitors will be attracted to Halifax, to their disadvantage. That is not true. Part of the purpose of the venture is to attract people to a wide area, whose architectural, rural and other delights would be marketed in the Piece hall. It is important that the House recognises the tourist potential of west Yorkshire and the many benefits that it can offer.

Others ask why the market should be held in a publicly owned building, the consequence of which is to bring in revenue for the council. By "council", they mean ratepayers. The local people will benefit if the Bill is enacted. Those who will run the market stalls will be the proponents par excellence of private enterprise.

The council is asking the House to support its endeavours to enhance its most important building as a tourist attraction. It seeks to introduce into Halifax what already exists in London. London has many Sunday markets, which provide considerable recreational activity. The range of the proposed market would be more limited than the markets which already exist in London. The council seeks to create a living and working building rather than to preserve a relic. It seeks support for a strategy which will encourage local initiative and enterprise in the face of local economic problems. The borough of Calderdale and people of Halifax deserve the support of the House in seeking economic rejuvenation.

7.36 pm
Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)

I declare an interest. Since before entering the House, I have been a consultant to the store chain that is known as Woolworth Holdings Limited. A tale about that company may be relevant in this case.

Woolworth recently conducted a study in Massachussetts where Sunday trading, which had been forbidden following a wide-ranging debate in the legislature, was accepted less than six months later. The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) will be glad to know that a reason for the change was that three or four of the major store groups, together with the trade unions, changed their position, because they found that Sunday trading in adjacent states was drawing as much as 25 per cent. of shops' incomes from Massachussetts to Vermont. Since Sunday trading after 12 noon has been permitted, the workers are better off, trade is much more buoyant and, strangely, the volume of trade which had been promoted in adjacent states has not materially fallen. Everyone is better off and enjoying a higher standard of living.

Next month, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will inform the House about Sunday trading generally, when he receives the report from the working party, which he has set up. Tonight is not the appropriate time to discuss that. Although I wish the citizens of Halifax nothing but health, happiness and prosperity, it is bizarre that the city fathers are promoting a measure that will allow people to trade on Sunday and at the same time are hurling thunderbolts in the form of summonses at everyone else who attempts to trade on Sunday, including my friends in B and Q—part of the great Woolworth empire.

Hon. Members should think carefully about whether they wish to permit a privilege in one area which they deny to others. The House may feel that this matter should more properly form part of the general debate.

Mr. Galley

Why are special privileges allowed to operate in parts of London, when they are not allowed to operate on a very limited scale relating only to textiles in one building of national heritage importance?

Mr. Stevens

Most of the Sunday trading exceptions allowed in London are on the basis of religion, which my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Galley) did not mention in his speech.

I was on the last sentence of my brief intervention when my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Durant) kindly intervened. I have said what I had to say, so I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House——

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

Before my hon. Friend sits down, will he acknowledge that some of his remarks might be misleading? He said that the local authority was planning to trade but that it would still enforce the law against others who wished to do the same. He should be aware that the local authority must enforce the law, whether or not it believes in the Shops Act 1950, because it is the enforcement authority. He should also understand that the local authority does not wish to trade in the Piece hall; it simply wishes to enable traders to carry on their activities and at the same time bring in some revenue for the ratepayers of Calderdale. I hope that my hon. Friend was not deliberately misled on this point.

Mr. Stevens

I cannot make up my mind whether my hon. Friend's intervention was designed to keep me on my feet for longer or whether he was making a point to which he believed I could usefully respond. I imputed no vice to the burgesses of Halifax; no suggestion was made that they were behaving illegally or improperly. All that I said was that until now—presumably it will continue—they have implemented the Sunday trading laws in the area for which they are responsible. We have been told that the council is the owner of the Halifax Piece hall, and it is splitting hairs to say that it is not asking to trade on Sunday itself but simply wishes to permit trade to be carried on in premises of which it is the proprietor. However, if my hon. Friend's rebuke will be appeased by my confessing my fault, I am happy to do so, and I hope without further delay to resume my seat.

7.42 pm
Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Galley) said, the Bill seeks to secure a change in the law on Sunday trading. It would be for local use. The building about which he spoke so eloquently is not relevant to the principle under discussion. I oppose this piecemeal approach to legislation. It is a back-door method that would set apart one place from other parts of Britain at a time when the legislation on trading hours is under public discussion.

The Shops Acts, which govern only England and Wales, derive from the Fairs and Markets Act 1448. The Shops Act 1950 is unsatisfactory for Sunday trading legislation, because there are countless anomalies. Although alcohol can be purchased on a Sunday, mothers cannot legally buy powered milk for babies; sales of bibles are prohibited, but not magazines devoted to what is euphemistically called soft pornography. In consequence, a committee of inquiry has been asked to consider what changes are needed in the Shops Acts, having regard to the interests of consumers, employers and employees, and to the traditional character of Sunday, and to make recommendations as to how these should be achieved. We should not introduce legislation that would cut across the inquiry, its findings and their consideration by the House. The Committee's deliberations may lead to the most far-reaching change for the retail trades in England and Wales since the abolition of resale price maintenance in 1964. It will influence jobs in the labour-intensive retail trades, the structure of retailing and certainly consumer prices.

This is very much a live issue in York. One retail sports store, which took £91,000 on a Sunday in January, was fined £250 plus costs. Following the judgment in Stoke-on-Trent City Council v. B and Q (Retail) Ltd. on 17 May, I hope that local authorities will ensure that traders stay within the law. If a local authority condones unlawful Sunday trading and does not use its power under section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972 to institute proceedings, I hope that responsible bodies such as chambers of commerce will ensure that the statutory duty is enforced by an order of mandamus on judicial review, as in Regina v. Braintree district council last year.

I wonder whether Calderdale borough council has prosecuted illegal Sunday traders. The question was asked, but my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax has so far declined to answer it. I also question, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens), whether there might be illegality in some areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax did not say whether the citizens of that authority have petitioned against the Bill. If they have, not only does the Bill go against the democratic will, but it will seek a back-door breach in advance of the findings of the committee of inquiry. Therefore, I urge hon. Members to oppose this ill-conceived legislation.

7.46 pm
Mr. Marcus Fox (Shipley)

I must support my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Galley). I have listened to this short debate in astonishment. We all accept that piecemeal legislation is undesirable, but the laws on Sunday trading are ludicrous. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) admits that he is involved with a chain store. What is surprising is that the opponents of Sunday trading——

Mr. Martin Stevens

I did not "admit" it; I stated it.

Mr. Fox

I was seeking to show that, by stating it, my hon. Friend had admitted it. There is an unholy alliance between my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham and the two Opposition Members in the Chamber—that is an amazing attendance—who are concerned about the trade unions. We know what happened with a previous measure that wished to bring some sense to Sunday trading. The chain stores and multiple retailers and the trade unions managed to defeat us, although it cannot be said that the people outside this Chamber believed that the present laws were right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax is trying to introduce a little change. How many people have visited the Piece hall? I have, and I can tell the House that it is a farce that tourists cannot go there on Sundays and buy the goods described by my hon. Friend. The suggestion that it would affect other traders in Halifax is not true. I have heard it said that there is no abuse of Sunday trading in London, but I know of many markets there. Does my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) dare to get to his feet and tell the House that York, which is the capital city of my county—it is a gem of a city into which tourists flood—has no shops open on Sundays? There are exemptions in all tourist areas, especially on the coasts.

This tiny measure would at least show people outside the Chamber that we will not put up with these ridiculous laws for much longer.

7.50 pm
Sir Michael Shaw (Scarborough)

I should like briefly to support my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Galley) on the Bill. If hon. Members who feel inclined. not to support the Bill were to go to see the Piece hall, as I have done many times, they would realise that it is a tourist attraction, but one that is not getting the attention it warrants. When people are staying with friends in the west riding of Yorkshire and want to go somewhere for a day out, one of the attractions they must consider is the Piece hall. It spells out uniquely the character of our past.

The traditions of the Piece hall have been borne in mind in the request for an extension of the permission to trade on Sundays. A general bar is not being sought. Great care has been taken over the restoration of the Piece hall and other buildings in the area. We have a genuine tourist attraction that has a great historical content.

An easement of the law on Sunday trading is available to many places that have special historical interest. It should be available in this case. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friends to give the greatest sympathy to the case put forward by my hon. Friend. I hope that they will support the Bill.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 57, Noes 37.

Division No. 378] [7.52 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Bottomley, Peter Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hanley, Jeremy
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Hargreaves, Kenneth
Conway, Derek Haselhurst, Alan
Currie, Mrs Edwina Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Dorrell, Stephen Hayes, J.
Durant, Tony Hayward, Robert
Eggar, Tim Heathcoat-Amory, David
Fookes, Miss Janet Hind, Kenneth
Forth, Eric Hirst, Michael
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Howard, Michael
Freeman, Roger Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Freud, Clement Hunter, Andrew
Galley, Roy Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)
Gow, Ian Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Knowles, Michael Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Knox, David Spencer, Derek
Lawler, Geoffrey Stern, Michael
Malins, Humfrey Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Maude, Hon Francis Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Mellor, David Thurnham, Peter
Murphy, Christopher Watts, John
Nelson, Anthony Whitfield, John
Nicholls, Patrick Winterton, Mrs Ann
Powley, John Wood, Timothy
Proctor, K. Harvey
Rowe, Andrew Tellers for the Ayes:
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Mr. Marcus Fox and Mr. Gary Waller.
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Alton, David Moynihan, Hon C.
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Neubert, Michael
Body, Richard Onslow, Cranley
Cockeram, Eric Pawsey, James
Farr, Sir John Penhaligon, David
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Rhodes James, Robert
Gregory, Conal Skinner, Dennis
Haynes, Frank Soames, Hon Nicholas
Holt, Richard Spearing, Nigel
Irving, Charles Stanbrook, lvor
Jackson, Robert Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Lilley, Peter Waddington, David
McCrea, Rev William Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)
McCusker, Harold Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Winterton, Nicholas
Maclean, David John Woodcock, Michael
Marek, Dr John
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Tellers for the Noes:
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Mr. Jonathan Sayeed and Mr. Greg Knight.
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

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