§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
I must announce to the House that I have not selected any of the amendments on the Order Paper. More than 65 right hon. and hon. Members have sought leave to take part in the debate, and there may well be others. Therefore, I propose to exercise my powers under the Standing Order to limit speeches to 10 minutes between 6 pm and 8 pm. I hope that that will be the pattern throughout the day so that the majority of right hon. and hon. Members who are anxious to participate can do so.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There was a little noise in the Chamber when you made your announcement and I may not have heard exactly what you said. Am Ito understand that you have not accepted for debate the reasoned amendment that has been tabled by Her Majesty's Opposition?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is a decision that I have to take. There are a number of amendments and instructions on the Order Paper, and I have not selected any of them.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a similar point of order to that raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). Is it usual for you to make such a ruling on a reasoned amendment that is directed to a measure as important as the Shops Bill?
§ Mr. Speaker
The Opposition's reasoned amendment and the other amendments on the Order Paper cover the main provisions of the Bill. I think that the entire House is well aware of the various issues that are likely to be raised in opposition to the Bill, from both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Obviously I do not wish to challenge your ruling, but I find your refusal to select an amendment on Second Reading in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues to be unprecedented. I should be grateful, Mr. Speaker, if you would inform the House why you have departed from all previous practice.
§ Mr. Speaker
There are precedents for not selecting reasoned amendments which cover the main conditions in Bills.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Bill raises matters of profound conscience and there is an early-day motion on the Order Paper, which has been signed by many hon. Members, 585 which asks for a free vote. The Government have deliberately refused to allow that opportunity to hon. Members. The Opposition have endeavoured to meet the cross-House opinion on this matter—as I have said, the Bill involves issues of deep conscience—to enable some Conservative Members to express their opinion and concern. By your action, Mr. Speaker, you have made that protest on their part impossible.
§ Mr. Speaker
Not at all. The reasoned amendment covers the very points that hon. Members are likely to make for or against the Bill. That applies to hon. Members on both sides of the House. There is no controversy about that. If the reasoned amendment had called for a free vote, that might have been a different matter.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have just said that the matters covered by the reasoned amendment relate to the issues that hon. Members may wish to raise in contention against or qualification of their support for Second Reading. Surely that is the position on all debates, especially on Second Reading. That is most certainly the case in respect of a reasoned amendment. If that were not so, the use of the stratagem in the House would not come under the title "reasoned amendment."
If hon. Members have reservations about giving a Bill a Second Reading, they will want to specify those reasons by means of a reasoned amendment. It is a matter of great disquiet to the Opposition that what we thought was a mixture of reasoning and convention, time hallowed in this place—a device that allows us to set out our reasons for having strong reservations about giving the Bill a Second Reading—has not been accepted by you, Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Speaker
The Leader of the Opposition has made the point exactly. In the course of debate Front-Bench and Back-Bench Members will state their reasons for having reservations in the very words that are contained in the reasoned amendment.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Mr. Speaker, I am sure you will recognise that the matters raised by your judgment today—naturally we are not challenging the wisdom or the judgment itself—have extremely important implications, not only for today's proceedings but for all other proceedings on Second Readings, whoever may be in Government or Opposition and whoever may propose a Bill, whether it be a private Member's or a public Bill. It is important that we have a clear and full understanding of the basis upon which the Opposition or any hon. Member may or may not table a reasoned amendment.
There have been cases, well within your memory, Mr. Speaker, and mine, in which there have been areas of contention, possibly not absolute, on certain Bills and, in order to specify reasons, especially on matters of great public importance, those against the Bill have been able to table a reasoned amendment.
Is it not the case in this adversarial House that the official Opposition, for all the natural and normal reasons, can expect to have more notice taken of their reasoned amendments than would possibly apply to others? On that basis, Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will not consider that the judgment you have made today will constitute a precedent on other occasions when we, or perhaps other hon. Members may wish to table a reasoned amendment.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have to make a judgment on these issues. I give the right hon. Gentleman an unequivocal 586 assurance that I shall continue to consider every reasoned amendment most carefully. This is not a new situation. No binding precedent has been set for the future.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I accept your judgment, but in my lack of maturity as an hon. Member I feel that I must record my difficulty in understanding. It is possible for someone of such little experience as myself to misunderstand that this could be part of a covert stratagem to coerce Conservative Members to vote—
§ Mr. Williams
I realise that it is difficult for you to give a snap judgment in relation to the arguments you have heard from the Opposition Front Bench this afternoon. As the issue refers to a vote which will take place at midnight, would you be willing to reconsider it and listen to arguments in detail during the debate to see whether the opportunity of a vote may be extended at the end?
§ Mr. Speaker
I fully accept that I am the servant of the House. I shall reconsider the matter, but the debate on Second Reading will proceed without the amendment at this stage.
§ Mr. Hurd
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill falls into two main parts. It deals with Sunday trading and with the working hours of shop workers at all times. I propose to spend most of my time on the first part, Sunday trading, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Paymaster General will, of course, deal with points on the second part. I should like to clear the ground by beginning with a word of general explanation of the employment provisions.
The Shops Act 1950 requires that all shop workers must take a half-day holiday each week, should take specified meal and rest breaks during the working day and must take time-off in lieu of Sunday employment. Part II also sets more detailed restrictions on the working hours of young people—16 and 17-year-olds. It sets their maximum hours and overtime and controls employment at night. There are no equivalent restrictions for adult shop workers.
The Bill, as originally drafted, aimed to remove the existing restrictions on adult shop workers but to leave in place the provisions for young people which we are reviewing separately.
Fundamental to our argument for lifting the restrictions on adults was the belief that these inflexible statutory restrictions do not reflect modern conditions. They originated during the early years of this century when retailing and society in general were different from today. We believe that the Shops Act 1950 employment provisions for adults are outdated and over restrictive.
587 We believe that those repeals will not of themselves change the maximum hours that shop workers will normally be asked to work. The normal operation of the labour market has secured for shop workers as for other employees with no statutory restrictions, hours well within the potential hours permitted by the 1950 Act. Most employees determine their working conditions without that type of statutory restriction, and we believe that adult shop workers are just as capable of that. That is not to say that there is no place for the law or the Government. The Government intend to keep wages councils within this area, albeit with a modernised and restricted remit. There is now a raft of statutory protection for all employees covering social security, employment protection and health and safety at work, all of which post date shops legislation.
Therefore, we do not believe that there is justification for the view that the Bill, as originally drafted, would dangerously erode the working conditions of shop workers. On the other hand, unnecessary regulation spoils the ability of employers to adapt to changing circumstances and secure the success of their businesses. Despite those arguments, which seem to us to be compelling, in the other place the view was expressed that times have not changed to that extent, and that in shop workers we still have an exploited and vulnerable sector of the work force that is peculiarly in need of protection. Lord Denning's amendment to clause 2 was carried on that argument. His amendment retains indefinitely and in full all the employment provisions of the 1950 Act.
Facing that situation, we thought it right that this House should have the fullest opportunity to consider that particular matter, so we have not put forward proposals to alter the Bill since it came from another place. We shall listen carefully to what the House has to say before coming to our final view on what should happen about part II of the 1950 Act. That is why I say that at this stage we are not proposing any changes in the Bill, which has come to us from the other place.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
Will the Home Secretary tell the House in what part of the Bill he will pay due regard to the principles and conscience of those who wish to preserve the special character of Sunday?
§ Mr. Hurd
Throughout, but particularly in the rest of my speech.
The controversy on Sunday trading, which has gone on inside and outside of the House for many months now, has been both strong and reasonably good tempered. So far as I am concerned, I want to keep it that way. There is scope for argument about the support for either side. Last week I received a group of eminent churchmen who reported to me more than 1 million signatures in petitions against the Bill. I was able to report to them a somewhat larger number of signatures in petitions in favour of the Bill—
§ Mr. Sheerman
Is the Secretary of State aware that only today I have handed in a petition containing half a million signatures against the Bill, on behalf of the Co-operative movement?
§ Mr. Hurd
When all the statistics of polls and petitions have been swapped, two facts emerge, which I believe the House will accept. The first is that there is a very large body of opinion—I believe a majority, although not the most articulate — which no longer believes in a law which says, broadly, that shops can open when people are at work but not when they are free to go shopping. Within that body are many whose pattern of work and life make the present law highly restrictive or inconvenient for them.
Secondly, there is a large body that wants to keep Sunday special, and that body goes well beyond the ranks of regular churchgoers. Therefore, there are those two bodies of opinion, and many of us belong to both—
§ Mr. Hurd
I should like to carry on for a little while, otherwise my speech will be unduly long. If my hon. Friend feels that he wants to intervene a little later, I shall give way to him.
Many of us see no contradiction between believing that the Shops Act 1950 is unworkable and should go and wanting to keep Sunday special. We see no difficulty or contradiction in belonging to both bodies of opinion.
Many people seem to argue as though the special nature of the English and Welsh Sunday has always been enforced by law. Of course, that is not so. All through the last century, and for half of this century, there was no effective law forbidding shops to open. At the high moment of the Victorian Sunday, when Mrs. Proudie and Mr. Slope railed against Sabbath day travelling, there was no effective law forbidding shopping on Sundays. Only in 1936 was the law brought into something like its present shape.
The House must discuss three options: first, whether to continue a 50-year experiment which brought in the criminal law to regulate one, and only one, part of human activity on Sunday — shopping — and an experiment which, in its present form, is collapsing; secondly, whether to rely for keeping Sunday special on tradition, persuasion and example, as in Scotland; or, finally, whether some compromise or middle way is possible. Those are the three choices before the House.
I do not believe that the first option to continue with the present law suffice. The 1950 Act no longer commands respect or compllance. I need not go through the ludicrous contradictions in the Act. Of course, no one defends them. As a result of the contradictions, enforcement is arbitrary.
§ Mr. Hurd
I shall come to enforcement later.
In the first nine months of 1985, there were only 550 convictions for illegal Sunday opening. Within five miles of the House, one could find as many shops breaking the law on Sunday. This is a bad Act because it regulates indefensibly an activity which most people no longer regard as wrong. The co-operatives' poll shows that most people shop on Sundays, many of them buying items which are illegally sold.
§ Mr. Hurd
I shall give way later, if the hon. Gentleman persists. I wish to get on with my argument. I am describing as fairly as I can the three options that the House must consider.
In Kent last month I met a man who runs a garden centre. Two thirds of his trade is done on Sunday, mainly through families who come to the centre in the afternoon. His livelihood is now at the mercy and whim or calculation of anyone who can go to court and force his local council to prosecute him for illegal trading. On what possible social, economic or moral grounds should that man be forced out of business? That is the sort of thing that could happen under the existing law.
A time comes when the Government must step in and change a law which can produce such results. That is the purpose of the Bill, which repeals the central provisions of the Shops Act 1950. It does not compel Sunday opening. It leaves the decision to the choice of the shopkeeper and the customer and it provides for the protection of existing employees, because we accept that the deregulation of shopping hours will alter the position of shop workers, many of whom may have joined the industry originally because Sunday working was not expected and some workers may not wish to work on Sundays for religious, family or other reasons. We recognise their anxiety about the prospect of Sunday working, and the Bill contains two important safeguards to protect their position.
Clause 3 and schedule 1 establish two new statutory rights for shop workers who are in employment before the commencement date of the Act. The first right is that the dismissal of an existing shop worker who refuses to work on Sunday will be automatically unfair. Secondly, shop workers will have the right not to have other action, short of dismissal, taken against them by their employer because they have refused to work on Sunday. All shop workers employed on the day before the commencement date of the Act will enjoy those rights, unless they have agreed to work on Sunday irrespective of how long they have worked for their employers, the number of hours worked per week or their age.
§ Mr. Greenway
My right hon. Friend is making a most impressive speech. Is he aware, however, that the difficulty for many of us in that he is inviting us to endorse unrestricted Sunday trading on a principle of pay now by voting for it tonight and perhaps having a say later in amending the Bill in Committee? It is almost impossible for me to accept that.
§ Mr. Hurd
I wish to make progress before I give way again.
I have dealt with the concessions to protect the conscientious position of shop workers, and I wish to discuss the third option which I mentioned—a possible compromise.
I wish to make two general points before I do that. I have tried to follow this discussion as closely as I can, and two things continue to worry me about the position of 590 those who wish to preserve the status quo or something like it. I can easily understand those who would say that keeping Sunday special should mean restricting what we or others do to what is necessary. However, most people take a different view, whether they are for or against the Bill. Most of us think it harmless to fill up a car with petrol on a Sunday, to take our families out to lunch or to visit a leisure centre or a stately home. But none of those activities is necessary. They all require staff. Nearly 9 million people now work on a Sunday, of whom 4 million work regularly. All those activities, pleasant though unnecessary, make a call on public services. I cannot for the life of me see what is uniquely harmful about a shopping expedition or why going shopping disrupts family life in a way that those other activities do not. I do not understand why shopping alone disrupts the rhythm of life so badly that we should continue to try to use the criminal law to prevent it.
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)
Does my right hon. Friend wish to see the increased commercialisation of the Sabbath?
§ Mr. Hurd
The best answer to the problem of the decay of the 1950 Act is to keep the criminal law out of the matter. I shall deal with possible compromises in a moment.
I can deal more briefly with my second anxiety. I speak as someone who wants to keep Sunday special, who feels strongly about Sunday and who enjoys a traditional Sunday. The churches and others are entitled, and probably obliged, to persuade and to set an example in this respect as in others, and I wish them well in that. However, it is a sign of weakness to argue that the processes of persuasion or example are not enough. It is a sign of weakness to say that we are entitled to wheel in the criminal law to regulate an area which is not, for most people, criminal in an increasingly vain attempt to prevent people from doing what otherwise, from convenience or necessity, they might do.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
We are all listening with rapt attention to my right hon. Friend's excellent speech. We have heard his personal view that Sunday should in some way be kept special. Is that also the view of the Government, or are they purely neutral?
§ Mr. Hurd
I think that it is the view of the great majority of my colleagues, and it is certainly strongly mine. We do not, however, believe that it is a matter for the criminal law.
I will deal briefly with the Auld report and the economic effects before I come to the question of compromises and the handling of the matter in the House. I have looked at the various predictions in the Auld report and elsewhere about the economic effects of deregulation. I think that it is fair to conclude that, as the assumptions are so varied, it would be foolish to claim certainty. Our surveys suggest that under 30 per cent. of shops would open all the year round, which apparently compares with just under 20 per cent. in Scotland, where there is no law against it. I believe that, as in Scotland, there would be plenty of volunteers to man those shops which opened.
One of the merits of the Auld report is that it did not claim that all the arguments went the same way. There is certainly a balance to be struck. There can be no certainty 591 about the net effect on sales and thus on jobs, as these will depend on the free choice of the customer. All that one can be sure about is that the law in its present state produces uncertainty and unfairness, which can only be harmful.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the incidence of church-going in Scotland is higher than in England and that to his knowledge there has been no breakdown of civilisation north of the border of the type predicted by those who oppose the Bill?
§ Mr. Hurd
Civilisation seems to be strong and flourishing north of the border. The Scottish Sunday, about which one may have varying views, is preserved by tradition and example. That seems to me to be a sounder basis than that on which we rely in England and Wales.
I should like to say something about experience abroad. If I do not, others certainly will. Many countries have some form of regulation of Sunday shopping and several are having the same kind of debate as is going on here. We have done a trawl around, and I think it is fair to say that there is a trend towards more flexible shopping hours. In some cases, that has been recognised by legislative change, while in others a debate is going on. In others, illegal trade is increasing.
Norway started on the same course as we are following but was pushed by a minority campaign into a compromise solution with a local option and a schedule of goods. I am told that that compromise is not going particularly well. Sweden, on the other hand, introduced complete deregulation, and I gather that there is no particular demand for the reimposition of control. The reason may be that, as I understand it, the decline in small shops has been halted in Sweden. That suggests that deregulation can help small shops by enabling them to play to their strengths, which are flexibility and quality of service.
In the United States of America, seven-day trading is allowed in most states, and I know of no evidence that deregulation has been harmful to small shops there.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Vale of Glamorgan)
Why does my right hon. Friend keep looking at the smaller countries, such as Sweden and Norway? Is it not a fact that all the thickly populated countries, such as France, West Germany and Holland, have great restrictions on Sunday trading?
§ Mr. Hurd
In differing respects that is so, but many of the restrictions are now subject to argument, especially in Germany. One may also have views about the extent to which those restrictions are enforced. The last "small country" to which I referred was in fact the United States of America.
At a meeting in a church in my constituency on this subject one of the very last contributors was a grey-haired lady who was a warden of one of the churches in Witney. My heart sank, as she looked like a formidable opponent of the Bill — there was that feel about her — but she simply remarked that, having lived for many years in the United States, the main difference that she had observed in this respect was that in the United States the shops were open and the churches were full.
§ Sir Peter Mills (Torridge and Devon, West)
Is my right hon. Friend really saying that complete deregulation 592 will not affect small shopkeepers in this country? The big multiples are gaining in strength and they will open on Sundays. As there is only a certain amount of cake to go round, small shopkeepers will be drastically hurt.
§ Mr. Hurd
I said that it would be foolish to be dogmatic in this respect. I have referred to the Swedish experience. If my hon. Friend has information which contradicts my analysis of that experience, no doubt he will produce it. My analysis is that deregulation has actually helped to end the decline in prosperity of small shopkeepers.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am not responsible for that. I think that I have been reasonably generous in giving way.
With regard to the third option that I set out—those within and outside the House who broadly accept my critique of the 1950 Act but dislike the Bill and argue strongly that the Government should be able to devise some compromise between the existing law and the deregulation proposed in the Bill—I think that Members who hold that view will agree that it is not simply a matter of splitting the difference, nor can the matter be resolved by the ingenuity of the parliamentary draftsmen. Before the draftsmen can get to work, there must be some principle on which a compromise can rest if it is to be fair, acceptable and enforceable.
Many suggestions along those lines were put to the Auld Committee and in another place. I think that they fall under four main headings. First, there are the proposals for some form of local option involving local councillors in some way, despite their strong opposition to becoming involved and the complications and contradictions that would result. Secondly, there are proposals for a compromise on the hours of opening permitted on Sundays. Thirdly, there are proposals to extend but not abolish the list of commodities which can legally be sold on a Sunday, although I think that that would be difficult. Fourthly, there are proposals to limit in one way or another the size of establishment which may open on a Sunday. Under those four main headings, a large array of compromise proposals has been set out.
I do not wish to analyse those proposals today. I wish to make one or two general comments which I hope will be found reasonable. It is desirable that a measure touching Sunday should be as widely accepted as possible within and outside the House. So far, the Government have not been persuaded that any compromise of which we have heard is preferable to the Bill, but we intend to enter discussion of the Bill in detail with an open mind. [Interruption.] It did not require much intelligence to anticipate the scepticism with which that statement would be received. I therefore come at once to the specific arrangements whereby we believe that the general thoughts that I have just uttered can be made effective.
As we are persuaded that the present provisions will not work, we invite our supporters to join us in voting to repeal 593 those unworkable provisions, but neither my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary nor I would wish or expect that invitation to result in Members voting against their consciences. If the Bill receives a Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary will, in Committee and on Report, underline our open approach by doing his best to encourage attendance and then by arranging for Conservative Members to have a free vote on amendments.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Does my right hon. Friend's memory extend as far back as 27 February this year, when, on a free vote on the Procedure Committee's recommendations, the will of the Back Benchers was overturned by Ministers and PPSs who traipsed through the Lobby to do so? Does he recall that less than a week ago the Leader of the House explained this phenomenon by saying that Ministers looked to the Chief Whip for advice on a free vote and that PPSs are expected to do likewise?
§ Mr. Hurd
I have no direct memory of the incident, but I can readily and without equivocation put my hon. Friend's fears at rest. The freedom of the vote in Committee and on Report will be undiluted and unaffected in respect of all Conservative Members—right hon. or hon. Members of the Government or not.
§ Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)
Having listened with care, am I to understand that there will also be a free vote on Third Reading?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the Secretary of State does not give way, hon. Members must resume their seats.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have been following the Secretary of State very closely throughout the discussions about whether or not there will be a free vote. Can we, through you, have a guarantee that at no stage will he seek to move a guillotine on the Bill?
§ Mr. Hurd
I gladly give that guarantee—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] We would propose that the Bill be 594 referred to a Special Standing Committee. That will give the bodies and interests involved a clear opportunity to put forward their proposals for building, if they so wish, on the ground that the repeal of the 1950 Act would leave clear. I certainly hope that the critics of the Bill will welcome this opportunity to move from criticism to construction.
§ Mr. Hurd
No. I am coming to the end.
I have noticed the instruction, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan), which calls on the Government to amend the Billto give statutory recognition to the special character of Sunday.The Bill has always included special arrangements for Sunday in respect of employment, and it will continue to do so after its passage through another place. Therefore, in that respect, it already complies with the views of my hon. Friend in the draft instruction. In Committee and on Report we can consider further whether special arrangements can also sensibly be made in the first part of the Bill. The question is not whether Sunday should be kept special but what precisely should be the role of the law in that regard. I hope that the House will agree that the arrangements that I have outlined give hon. Members a reasonable chance to test thoroughly all possible alternatives to the simple proposal for deregulation. I repeat that we would not try to reverse any such alternative approach that commended itself to the House on a free vote.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am just concluding.
First, we need to clear the ground by a straightforward decision on Second Reading that the present Act will not do. The ground must be cleared before we can decide whether to leave the ground as an open space or to erect some other building. If we fail this first test and the House tonight decides to leave the law as it is, I foresee a good deal of indignation from the wider public and a spasm of arbitrary prosecutions under the 1950 Act, from which traders and public alike would suffer. Later, I foresee a steady further collapse of the Act into disrepute.
The truth is that the law is in decay, and that is bad for us all—for shoppers, shopkeepers and all our constituents. I believe that the course that I have outlined shows us the way to restore the law to effectiveness and good health.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
This debate has been heralded by an unprecedented outbreak of largesse on the part of the Government. There has been an outpouring of goodies, which when carefully examined appropriately fit in nicely with the nostaglic old slogan of one of the Bill's commercial supporters, F. W. Woolworth—"Nothin worth more than sixpence."
We have the generous extension of the debate until midnight. Is it unworthy of me to wonder whether it has crossed the mind of the Patronage Secretary that as midnight approaches some of his frailer Back Benchers may find the lure of a mug of Horlicks and bed more enticing than the attraction of the "No" Lobby?
There is a motion to commit the Bill to a Special Standing Committee—a procedure rarely granted despite the most earnest pleas on even uncontroversial Bills, but 595 now supplied on this Bill for nothing. I ask myself whether the Government are worried about something. I ask that question even more on hearing the Home Secretary solemnly offering his Back Benchers a free vote on some of the remaining stages of the Bill if only they will vote for the Second Reading tonight. Any fly accepting the spider's invitation will have complete freedom of the web.
The Home Secretary's offer of a free vote is only worth while and meaningful if his hon. Friends vote against the Second Reading in numbers ample enough to gain substantial representation on the Standing Committee. That way, with a Committee not packed with Lobby fodder, the free vote will mean something, especially in the light of the promise by the Home Secretary that the guillotine will not apply at any stage of the Bill. No doubt sufficient hon. Members on the Government side will take the hint when the Division bells ring at midnight, and they can have complete confidence that voting against the Bill is in no way a violation of the three-line Whip that was issued to them.
I offer as proof a letter printed recently in British Weekly and Christian Record, a journal published by Christian Weekly Newspapers Ltd. In reply to a reader who demanded that there should be no Whip on this Bill for Government Members, a correspondent wrote in a letter:Mr. Roberts—that is the person who wrote the original letter—misunderstands the nature and power of the parliamentary Whips, at least as far as the Conservative Party is concerned. The Whip is issued to the Conservative MPs who agree to take it, essentially as a bidding to attend the House of Commons and to be present for voting.How the MPs then vote remains very much a matter of their own judgment and conscience.That letter, specifically written about the Bill, came from a most respected Member of this House, the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), who is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. I have spent some time in 10 Downing street, and I know it is inconceivable that such a letter by the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary could have been written without the knowledge and authority of the Prime Minister herself. Therefore, hon. Members on the Government side can be confident and carefree in voting tonight in accordance with what the right hon. Member for Selby calls
their own judgment and conscience.Regardless of one's view of the intentions of the Bill, in the form in which it is before the House it is unfit to proceed further because in the literal meaning of the word it is nonsense. As amended in the House of Lords, clause 2 maintains the Shops Act 1950, which provides protection for all workers in the retail trade but schedule 2, which has not been amended, removes the Shops Act 1950 protection from all except 16 and 17-year-olds. Page 1 does almost the exact opposite of pages 5 to 7. The Home Secretary has nurtured a reputation for seeing both sides of the question, but surely this is carrying broad mindedness a little too far. The right hon. Gentleman really wants to restore the Bill to the state that it was in before Lord Denning and Lord Stockton interfered with it, by withdrawing Shops Act protection from most workers. That is one of the major reasons why the Opposition ask the House to reject the Bill.
596 The Auld report makes it clear that the first Bills enacted by Parliament which related to shopshad their origin in the late nineteenth century concern to protect shop workers from exploitation.I suppose that that is what some people might call Victorian values. Shop workers needed protection a century ago, and today's 2 million shop workers, one in 10 of the working population, need protection just as much. They remain some of the most disadvantaged employees in Britain. Shop workers are a vulnerable work force. About 63 per cent. are women, two thirds of them married women, and 21 per cent. are 19 years of age or younger. About 15 per cent. of male workers are 19 or younger. Three fifths of the women work part time, and part-timers are disproportionately numerous among the younger workers. Of Saturday-only workers, 75 per cent. are under 18. Two thirds of them are girls and 87 per cent. are under 21.
The Auld report highlighted the predicament of shop workers when, speaking of those large numbers of workers whose employers have resisted trade union organisation, it said:They lack the trades union protection enjoyed by most other workers. In the main, shop workers have to fend for themselves on the subject of working hours and conditions.The Auld report emphasised that shop workers work longer hours and receive below average pay. The national minimum wage rate for employees in the non-food retail trades is only £75.52 a week. For those in the retail food and allied trades it is even lower, £75.14 a week. Earnings of women shop workers are only half the national average earnings for women.
It is because of this special disadvantage that for much of this cenury Governments of all parties have agreed that shop workers should be given special protection. The reasons for that special protection were eloquently stated by Winston Churchill just before he became Home Secretary when, in 1909, he moved the Second Reading of the Trade Boards Bill, which launched the wages councils. [Interruption.] I am not sure whether hon. Gentlemen are sneering at workers' conditions or at Winston Churchill: it is up to them to decide.
When Winston Churchill moved the Second Reading of the Trade Boards Bill he said:where you have what we call sweated trades, you have no organisation, no parity of bargaining, the good employer is undercut by the bad, and the bad employer is undercut by the worst; the worker, whose whole livelihood depends upon the industry, is undersold by the worker who only takes the trade up as a second string.That is relevant in a trade with so many part-timers. As President of the Board of Trade, Winston Churchill also said:It is a serious national evil that any class of His Majesty's subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions."—[Official Report, 28 April 1909; Vol. IV, c. 388.]I suppose that what Mr. Churchill was really saying was that one cannot build caring capitalism on exploited labour. From Churchill's legislation there developed the wages councils.
We heard a lot from the Home Secretary today, and from his predecessor in the debate last year, about the impartial recommendation of the independent Auld committee that restrictions on the hours of shop opening should be removed. The Auld committee made other 597 recommendations as well, and its members felt so strongly that they put those other recommendations forward even though, as they emphasised, the subjectwas not directly within our terms of reference.They said:We strongly urge the retention for retail workers of the machinery of the Wages Councils for the fixing and proper enforcement of satisfactory wages and premium rates.They added:
We set great store by the preservation of the role of Wages Councils in fixing statutory minimum weekly rates, holidays and holiday pay for the retail trades. Shop workers need their protection in this respect as much as ever, in fact more so now when jobs are harder to find and the already low membership of unions in the retail sector is declining.The Auld committee went on to say:we believe that there will be a strong likelihood of exploitation of some shop workers in the form of lower wages, particularly for unsocial hours of work, and possibly in a longer working week.That is why it recommended the retention of the wages councils for those three matters. However, the Wages Bill now going through Parliament removes from the wages councils those very powers whose retention the Auld committee said that it set great store by—the powers to fix statutory weekly rates, holidays and holiday pay. The Auld committee said that, as part of deregulation, they should stay, but the Paymaster General is abolishing them in the Wages Bill.
The Auld committee made another recommendation:"we also urge that there should be proper enforcement of the Wages Councils Orders, by adequately staffed Wages Council Inspectorate. This would become an even greater necessity in the event of de-regulation than it is now.Since 1979 the Wages Inspectorate has already been cut by nearly one-third and now the Government intend to reduce it by a further 40 per cent. While the Government have accepted those Auld recommendations that suit them—deregulation and repeal of Shops Act protection—the two Auld recommendations that are an integral part of the package have been cast aside. For all workers under 21, a high proportion of shopworkers, the wages councils are being scrapped. The number of shopworkers aged under 21 totals 500,000. About one in three of young people find their first jobs in the distributive and related trades, yet the Government are repealing their wages council protection.
It has to be said that the Government are completely schizophrenic in their attitude to young shop workers. On the one hand they are determined to deprive all under-21s of even residuary wages council protection, and on the other they want to retain Shops Act protection only for 16 and 17-year-olds. I hope that I may be excused for claiming to see in this some logical inconsistency—it is what they call the generation gap.
A major gap in the Home Secretary's speech was his failure to state clearly what the Government intend to do about Shops Act protection. Their original intention was to remove it entirely for all except certain teenagers, and part of the Bill still embodies that intention. This afternoon the Home Secretary was even more obscure than usual about whether the Government intend to maintain their original intention. If they go through with it, they will be depriving most shop workers of entitlements to halfday holidays and meal breaks, and of the necessary protection for restrictions of working hours.
The Bill will enable shops to open for 24 hours a day, for seven days a week and for 168 hours a week, but under it shop workers will have no legal protection against disciplinary action or dismissal if they refuse to work late 598 at night. What is more, the wages council legislation will give them no right to receive premium rates for unsocial hours. The Bill gives shops the unlimited right to open for all 24 hours on Sunday. Removal of the Shops Act protection would deprive workers of the right to have lime off in lieu of Sunday working, which would abolish the statutory limitation that prevents Sunday opening for more than two Sundays in a month. Worst of all, the Bill will result in forcing all shop workers to work on Sundays whether or not they want to.
The Home Secretary made great play of the provisions in clause 3 and schedule 1, which seem to give existing workers the right to refuse to work on Sunday and not to be dismissed or disciplined if they exercise that right, but even this alleged protection is almost worthless. The unfair dismissal procedure cited in schedule 1(1) is a pallid protection. Even if a victimised worker makes such a complaint, the records show that only 4 per cent. of those who are successful get their jobs back. Employers, who in any case will have the weapon of refusal of promotion and of the opportunity of pleading genuine economic reason or the needs of the business, will not be deterred by this paper proviso.
Moreover, employers are even now planning to circumvent the provision. Schedule 1 makes it clear that this so-called conscience clause does not apply when the worker has signed an agreement to work on Sundays, and that exemption, which makes nonsense of the alleged safeguard, specifically applies after the Act comes into force. Employers are preparing for the new situation already. I have here a job application form issued by Harris Queensway plc. Among the other declarations it asks applicants to sign is this one:I agree to work on Bank Holidays, Sundays and overtime as required.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
When was that prospectus first published? Is it brand new, or has it been in existence for some time?
§ Mr. Kaufman
I know that the hon. Gentlemaa is anxious for a job, but he should not creep every moment of the afternoon.
The form is extant now, many months before the Bill is likely to become law, if it ever does, and those who take jobs now are being asked to sign that form. In any case, this conscience clause, for the little that it is worth, applies only to workers in employment at the time that the Act comes into force. All others will have to work on Sundays, whether or not they like it.
§ Mr. Kaufman
They are queueing up for jobs because there are 4 million unemployed.
All others will have to work on Sundays whether or not they like it, and that will mean that in time all workers will be forced to work on Sundays. The turnover of workers in the retail trade is enormous. One survey shows that 34 per cent. of full-time shop workers and 45 per cent. of part-timers have been in their current jobs for less than a year.
What will be the consequence of the removal of limits on Sunday opening? It will mean fewer jobs. This is made clear in the Auld report, which states: 599Sunday opening would generate Sunday jobs, but the resulting fall in week-day demand would mean fewer jobs at other times. In the short term, the IFS"—the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which did a survey for the Auld committee—
suggests that the net effect of these two conflicting influences on manning requirements would be a small reduction in employment in the retail trade, possibly about 5,000 full-time equivalent jobs … In the longer term, the reduction in retailing capacity would inevitably involve a further loss of jobs. Although more people might be required in the remaining shops, the IFS predicts that the net effect would be a reduction of about a further 15,000 full-time equivalent jobs.That gloomy estimate is confirmed by a letter sent to me last month by Mr. Peter Hartley, executive chairman of Hillards plc. He wrote to me as follows:Hillards is a public limited company operating over forty large superstores and supermarkets in ten Northern and Midland counties. We employ over 6,500 people.We have done our sums and calculate that if we trade on Sundays we shall provide additional part-time jobs for between 800 and 1,000 people. Most of these jobs will be for young people and housewives and will be for Sunday work only. We further anticipate that we shall increase our total sales because we shall take additional trade from many small businesses and corner shops that currently open on a Sunday in defiance of the law.However, our total operating costs are likely to increase significantly more than the extra profit which will be generated from these additional sales and as a result we shall have to employ between 100–300 less people full time during the week.So in one medium sized company (with sales of around £300 million) we provide up to 1,000 jobs for five or six hours on a Sunday but dispense with up to 300 jobs of 39 hours during the week.In areas of already high unemployment this cannot make sense.I have been asked by several Conservative Members of Parliament why should Hillards open on Sundays if they do not want to? That seems to be an odd question from a party which believes in competition and market forces"—[Interruption.]This is a man who employs 6,500 people and has a chain of stores with a turnover of £300 million. I should have thought that his opinion was worth listening to. He goes on to say:
If the law is changed we shall be forced to open on a Sunday and instead of creating full time jobs (we provided over 1,000 new jobs in the last year) we shall have to add to the numbers of those who are unemployed.As Mr. Hartley states, Sunday opening will have a harmful effect on small shops. The Auld report reminds us that original legislation limiting shop opening hours was passedto protect small shopkeepers from excessive competition.If the Bill is enacted, many retail chains which are against Sunday opening will all the same feel obliged to open. The John Lewis Partnership states:Sunday opening would be progressive and irresistible.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is he aware that practically every shop, large and small, which trades on Sunday is trading illegally? Would it be the policy of the Labour party to enforce the present law?
§ Mr. Kaufman
It is not the job of a political party, or indeed the Government, to enforce the law, and the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney-General, shows a great ignorance of what the law says.
The Association of Retail Trades has surveyed its members and found that 82 per cent. of small traders are 600 opposed to deregulation. If the Bill is passed, many small traders will have to stay open seven days a week in order to survive. Many more will be driven out of business altogether. Is the Government's objective really to make Britain a land fit for superstore chains to rake in monopoly profits?
Sunday opening will be financially costly. The Association of County Councils states that the additional costs to the trading standards service alone will be £3.5 million, and that would be for only a skeleton service. There would also be the cost of checking additional fire precautions, the additional cost to private industry of discontinuing the present practice of carrying out road works on Sundays, extra costs of garbage disposal, extra costs of trying to ensure that children are not exploited as cheap Sunday labour, and extra costs of policing.
The chief constable of South Yorkshire says that Sunday opening
will inevitably increase the policing costs and cause additional workload for foot patrol officers.It is the considered view of the Association of Chief Police Officers that Sunday opening will increase crime. Mr. Brian Hayes, the chief constable of Surrey, and the secretary of that association, states:police presence on Sundays might need to be increased and the current practice of minimum manning would need to be reassessed. Parking regulations would require major revision to incorporate Sundays, as many"—[Interruption.]—this is the chief constable of Surrey; he may know a little more than do hon. Gentlemen about policing—Parking regulatiions would require major revision to incorporate Sundays, as many existing regulations do not apply after 6.30 pm on Saturdays. The increased restrictions would then need to be enforced … Longer opening hours would provide increased opportunities for persons, particularly juveniles, to commit offences of theft, and there could be an increased risk to shop staff, especially female, who are required to take cash to the bank or to travel home during the hours of darkness. There is also a possibility of an increase in offences of public disorder, criminal damage and violence if late night shoppers come into contact with early evening drinkers.
§ The Paymaster General and Minister for Employment (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)
The right hon. Gentleman is opposing the repeal of the present legislation, and, most untypically for him, he did not answer the question of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyle). Is it his opinion that the chief constables of Surrey and elsewhere should begin a drive to enforce the present criminal law against the many shops, large and small, the garages and others, which at the moment are trading illegally?
§ Mr. Kaufman
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is also a lawyer. He is unaware of the fact that it is not the job of the chief constable of Surrey to do that; it is the job of the local authorities. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had better stick to explaining why he is putting through Parliament a Bill which will take away the wages council protection which the Auld committee says should be retained.
§ Mr. Clarke
I entirely concede that the right hon. Gentleman was correct in correcting me. It is for the local authorities to enforce the law. Many of those local authorities are Labour controlled. Now will he stop retreating into pedantry and answer the question? Is it the opinion of the Opposition that the local authorities should begin a drive to enforce the present law, and is that the basis upon which he is opposing the Bill's Second Reading? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]
§ Mr. Kaufman
I shall answer. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for acknowledging that Labour local authorities can be expected to enforce the law, whereas Conservative authorities presumably cannot.
§ Mr. Kaufman
We believe that the law should be enforced and respected, and we believe also that that should be done by Woolworth as much as by the National Union of Mineworkers.
§ Mr. Kaufman
No, enough is enough.
Sunday opening could change the character of Sunday. That is accepted by the Auld committee, which admitted:There can be no doubt … that widespread opening of shops on Sundays would affect the traditional character of the day very much more profoundly than the opening of cinemas, concert halls and theatres, or the holding of sporting events. The change would be likely to affect far more people in the way that they spend their Sundays, and would have a significant effect on the feel of the day.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Last week the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster gave a notable address at St. James Church, Piccadilly. Some of that address, as one might have expected, was controversial, other parts were almost canonical. Indeed, on reading the text I had the feeling that the right hon. Gentleman was putting in his claim for the next bishopric that falls open. In his speech the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster called for a return to traditional values of decency and order. That call must have struck a chord with many people. He called for thestrengthening of the sense of personal obligations, most notably within families.He declared that many of our miseriesderive in great part from family disintegration and its causes—which are often spiritual and moral, not material.Many people of the right hon. Gentleman's party, of other parties and of no party, may have agreed with him. How, then, can the Government of which he is a leading member introduce a Bill which could weaken family life and lead to family disintegration?
Mr. Robert Walker of Sears, a company which owns many large stores, including Selfridges, Lewis's and Mappin and Webb, said three days ago of the Bill:
Most of the staff is made up of women and most of those women are married. We feel it is hard enough for people with families to work on Saturdays, and if they have to work on Sundays it will be very hard indeed.The Family Policy Studies Centre estimates that if no more than half the shops opened on Sundays 350,000 shop workers would be required. These would include 94,000 mothers and 35,000 fathers. About 750,000 children would not be with their mothers and fathers for all or part of Sunday. The Bill will lead to many latchkey children being left unsuperivised and alone for long periods.
In response to a survey, nearly three quarters of married shop workers and a majority of unmarried shop workers thought that Sunday work would harm their family life. Of the married shop workers, 48 per cent. said that Sunday was the only day when their spouse was also off work. Of single shop workers who live at home, most of whom are teenagers, 56 per cent. found that Sunday was usually the 602 only day that they could spend with their father. For 46 per cent. the same was true in relation to their mother. On the other days, either they or their parents were at work.
Some hon. Members listening to me may ask, "What is it to do with him?" It is undoubtedly true that Sunday is not my Sabbath, but I do know something about the Sabbath. My father was a Jewish immigrant from Poland. He was a factory worker all of his life. He never earned much of a wage. He had a large and growing family to house, clothe and feed, but whatever it meant to his employment and promotion prospects he would never accept a job which required him to work on his Sabbath. In the jobs which he did obtain, regardless of the effect on his wages, he resisted all pressures to make him work on his Sabbath. For him, in his hard-working and often toilsome life, the Sabbath was held precious as a tranquil island in the stormy sea of the week. That is how many millions of people in this country feel about Sunday. If I respected my father for his defence of his Sabbath, must I not equally respect those millions who wish to defend their Sunday? The Prime Minister takes pride in being a conviction politician. It is, indeed, admirable to be a person of conviction. It is equally admirable to remember that other people have convictions. It is admirable to respect the convictions of others as much as one cherishes one's own.
The convictions of many about the Bill are embodied in a statement made recently by Cardinal Hume, who said:
We must beware lest the principle prevail that the market should rule supreme seven days a week. Our principle is that there is more to being human than supply and demand; there is more to social life than trading and commerce.The bafflement of many was voiced by Lord Stockton, when he said:
this Bill … is saying that because it is impossible to please or satisfy some opinions, and in order to please some strange new doctrine of liberalisation, we should adopt all the worst elements of liberal Victorian tradition, which has somehow infiltrated my old party like some kind of disease."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 January 1986; Vol. 470, c. 159.]The warning of many was contained in a recent leading article in the Daily Telegraph, which declared:
measures which outrage the deep feelings of large sections of the community and command the enthusiastic support only of doctrinaires and a few large commercial institutions do not make good politics … democracy is ill-served by inflexible politicians who are insensitive to public feeling.Yes, the law is illogical and would benefit from reform, but that does not mean that this sweeping and uncompromising Bill, and only this Bill, is the answer. It does not mean that one set of convictions must trample underfoot a differing set of convictions and hold them for nothing.
This country has evolved into the greatest democracy in the world, not by absolutism and dogmatism, but by Governments using their tempering power to accommodate and reconcile clashing and conflicting convictions. The outcome is often compromise—and sometimes untidy compromise. But our democracy is built on the foundation of a myriad of untidy compromises. That is how we live with each other. The ability to live with each other in harmony is the true test of democracy.
Even at this late stage I advise the Government to withdraw the Bill. I advise them to call a conference of all interests—the Churches, trade unions, retailers, small and large, and the parties represented in the House—and try to work out an agreed change in the law that would be widely acceptable. That would be the sensible way. 603 That would be the way that our country usually works. If the Government are adamant against that way, I call on hon. Members in all parts of the House to vote against the Bill tonight.
§ 5.7 pm
§ Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire, South-East)
The Bill did not make any contribution to the large majority that my party achieved at the last general election. Indeed, no mention of it was made during the campaign and, so far as I know, little or no thought was given to the topic. The irony is that it is now evident that the Government need their large majority to get the Bill through.
Tonight's motion should have been on a free vote. I asked my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary as long ago as last autumn to allow a free vote. The Government are not prepared to allow a free vote and have chosen instead a three-line Whip on Second Reading, accompanied by the undertaking of free votes thereafter in Committee and on Report. That is an unusual device, to say the least, and might serve the needs of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but I think that it is a contradiction.
The vote on Second Reading relates to the principle of the Bill. That principle is deregulation. If one is against that principle, as I am, I do not see how in honour or in conscience I can do other than vote against it. If amendments are carried later to introduce some controls and limitations which are not now in the Bill, the principle of deregulation to which the Government attach such importance will be altered. That is a contradiction. I regard the steps that the Government have taken to try to get the Bill through its Second Reading as a moral victory for their opponents.
There is another unusual aspect of the handling of the Bill—the way in which the Government have directed their publicity campaign to justify pressing on with the Bill. That campaign blames the opponents for not coming forward with recommendations that would get the Government out of their own difficulties. But we, the opponents to the Bill as it stands, did not introduce the Bill. The Government introduced it. The Government have the enthusiasm and responsibility for it. They cannot absolve themselves from that responsibility, let alone blame anyone else for the difficulties that they face. Ministers thought that they could bend enough arms to get the Bill through, and maybe they can, but the dislike of it is widespread, and I wonder why it is being forced on the British people. The existing law is unsatisfactory—we are all agreed about that—but deregulation is not the only remedy. Plenty of other remedies are available, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned several this afternoon. As he said, all of them have disadvantages, but there are also disadvantages in deregulation. The Bill is offensive and distasteful to many people, yet the Government brush that aside.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
My right hon. Friend seems to think that this measure is being forced upon the British people; it is not. The Scots have always had deregulation. When the right hon. Gentleman was in high office, did he ever attempt to have deregulation removed from us Calvinists so that we would not suffer, as he opposes the English being given their liberty?
§ Mr. Pym
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend; I stand corrected."The British people" is not the correct description; it would be more accurate to refer to the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] I mean England and Wales.
It is hard to argue that the need for this change, as envisaged in the Bill, is urgent or crucial. At times Governments have to take unpopular action for some overriding need or in the national interest. This Bill, however, is not in that category and should not be treated as though it were. There is logic in the Government's argument that the law is not being obeyed in some cases and is difficult to enforce. The existing arrangement for Sunday trading is not the only example of that sort. It would have been wiser to find a better solution to the problem before legislating in a way that so many people dislike. In a matter of this kind, affecting the social life of our country, there should be a much wider degree of consent in the nation than exists on this measure.
A comparison has been made with the situation in Scotland, which has been prayed in aid. I believe that tradition and ethos in Scotland have been, are, and always will be, different. In particular, Scotland has a deeply rooted and much stronger tradition in relation to Sundays than exists in England today, so the circumstances are different.
§ Mr. Pym
Well, I think they are different. The free arrangement in Scotland would have a different effect in England if applied here. That point is behind the argument used by some members of the Church of Scotland for saying that they themselves dislike the passage of this Bill.
Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends believe that people are deprived of some freedom because Sunday is not like any other day, but it has been unlike any other day since creation, and long may it remain so. The Government believe that Sunday, or the Sabbath, will still be different even after the passage of this Bill. To the extent that it will still be the day on which some people go to church, it will be different. Many families will try to keep it special; no doubt many will succeed. But for many families, to do this will be difficult and perhaps impossible, especially those living near shopping centres or those who find that a member or members of the family have to work on Sundays when they do not want to work. This will apply particularly to shopkeepers who want to remain closed on Sundays but who find themselves forced by competition to open or else lose their livelihood. What a painful position in which to put people in the name of freedom!
In trying to get the Bill through, the Government probably believe that some intolerable constraints that now exist will be lifted, and that the freedom to shop anywhere for anything on Sunday will bring joy and happiness to everyone. I believe that things will work out differently and that many people will regret the change. The character of Sunday will be altered, not necessarily immediately, but over a time. Over time, I fear that the change will have a much greater effect than the Government believe and one that the nation will live to regret. The Government no doubt believe that the Bill will liberate and enrich our lives. I share such admirable intentions, but I believe that the Bill and the method in it for effecting the change, far from enriching our lives, will ultimately impoverish them. That is why I will vote against the Bill.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
I support what the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) said about the Scottish situation, and I shall come to that matter. The right hon. Gentleman also raised an important point which, as legislators, we should seriously consider—that there is no mandate for this change. At the last two general elections the manifesto of the Conservative party has not mentioned any promise or intention to carry out such a revolutionary change as is proposed in the Bill in the pattern of life in the United Kingdom. The Government therefore have no right to proceed with it.
The other day the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster referred to the misfortunes which had befallen the United Kingdom as a result of the legislation which produced the permissive society. I agree with a large part of that charge, but I would be much happier if he or the Government would say what legislation they propose to reverse the permissive society. Incidentally, the right hon. Gentleman referred, in passing, to the trumpet sounding an uncertain note. His remarks would have been more impressive if he had quoted correctly. Unfortunately, there is nothing uncertain about the Government's attitude to the Bill. A measure which most people would regard as involving a matter of conscience will be steamrollered through the House by a three-line Whip. I believe that that is an innovation which the Government will live to regret. To some extent, what the Conservative party does is its own affair. The Secretary of State for Scotland claimed that the Government had come to the Bill with an open mind, but in fact his failure to agree to a free vote on Second Reading shows the extent of the Government's open mind on the Bill.
We have heard a great deal about the Auld report. The Auld committee took no evidence from Scotland, so the report does not cover the Scottish situation. Several companies, including Marks and Spencer, have announced that if the Bill becomes law they will open branches in Scotland, so there is a keen interest in that country in what will follow the passing of this legislation. It is a fact that when the original legislation covering England and Wales was passed no legal prohibitions were required in Scotland, for the very reason mentioned by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East. There are other restraints on Sunday trading in Scotland, where there is also greater respect for the preservation of the Sabbath.
Another fact is that in Scotland there is often no need for central Government statutes to preserve the Sabbath. Many firms are permitted to open under local authority byelaws. It is not uncommon for such byelaws to demand that there shall be no trading on Sunday, so it has not been necessary in many places for Scotland to go to the central Government for legislation to preserve the Sabbath.
It is not true that one can go along the high street of a Scottish town on a Sunday and listen to cash registers tinkling away merrily. There is no demand for the Bill. I have previously challenged hon. Members to say whether their postbags were heavy with letters from constituents complaining of inconvenience or suffering as a result of the lack of such legislation, and not one could do so.
On 3 March, when the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) asked the Prime Minister how many 606 representations she and the Government had received about the Bill, she replied that there were 800 in favour and about 40,000 against.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Waddington)
Perhaps I might bring the right hon. Gentleman up to date. It is obvious that those who support the Bill were a little slow getting off the mark. The score is now 20,736 letters in favour and 47,000 against, and there are more names on petitions in favour of the Bill than on petitions opposing it.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am replying to an intervention. I see that the Government have been working on their Back Benchers and in the country, but the figures are still quite instructive and make nonsense of the Home Secretary's statement.
§ Mr. Stewart
Even the Minister's figures make nonsense of the Home Secretary's claim that there would be wide public indignation if the Bill failed. I believe that the exact opposite is the case.
The Auld report says in paragraph 66:
It would, however, be misleading to leave the impression that there is an incessant general clamour for Sunday shopping or longer trading hours. Most people, even those who work full-time, do manage to buy what they need in the permitted times.A Harris poll, which covered England, Wales and Scotland, found that only 5 per cent. could answer, -A lot" and that 67 per cent. answered "Not at all," when asked:Are you inconvenienced by most shops being closed on Sundays?We can only conclude that the Bill is designed for the benefit of certain chain stores which want to strangle small businesses, which is curious in the light of the Government's professed aim of helping small businesses.
The Bill is opposed by a significant number of large retailers, such as Boots the Chemists, Clarks shoe stores, the Co-operative Union, Dewhursts and Sears, Lewis's and Selfridge's. It is also opposed by the National Chamber of Trade, the National Federation of Meat Traders, the National Pharmaceutical Association, and the Multiple Shoe Retailers Association. On the spiritual side, it is opposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, the Moderator of the Free Federal Council and the churches of Scotland.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
Would the right hon. Gentleman like to add to that list the names of no fewer than seven Ministers who, on 4 February 1983, voted against a Bill which was substantially the same—the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley), the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the hon. Member for Medway (Mrs. Fenner), the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier) and the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke)? Among those who voted against that Bill, and might therefore be expected to oppose this Bill, 607 there were no fewer than three Whips — the hon. Members for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) and for Reading, West (Mr. Durant).
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. I should remind the House that 60 or 70 hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye and that interventions are made only at the expense of the speeches of other hon. Members. I shall have to take interventions into account when determining who catches my eye.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has given some exceedingly useful information. I shall study the Division Lists.
The shop workers' unions oppose the Bill. The effect on women who are employed in retailing and children is obvious. I shall not go into that, as others will deal with it adequately. The interests of shop workers are a legitimate and important concern, which I happily endorse.
It is appalling that a party should be Whipped on an issue of conscience. No fewer than 91 per cent. of the public who were questioned in the Harris poll said that there should be a free vote. After this, the Government cannot put themselves forward as having any pretence to a belief in Christian morality. It is all the more reprehensible when one recalls the numerous private Members' Bills which were defeated. We will watch the reaction of the hon. Members whom the hon. Member for Yeovil mentioned.
The real issue is the spiritual one. The Bill goes directly against God's plan for living. The fourth commandment is an integral part of the moral law of God and is therefore binding on all men. By denying this, a nation erodes its moral and social fabric. The scripture warns us:Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.The fourth commandment says:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.The proposals in the Bill would be irreversible. If the Bill is carried, the House and the country will be crossing the Rubicon, and the nation will suffer for it.
§ Sir Paul Bryan (Boothferry)
The House recognises the strength of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's argument in favour of legislation. There must be legislation to get rid of the chaos of present Sunday trading laws. I would vote against the Bill if I was convinced that, as its opponents say, it is likely to change the special character of Sunday for the worse. That is why I have tabled the motionThat it be an Instruction to any Committee to which the Shops Bill [Lords] may be committed that the Bill be amended to give statutory recognition to the special character of Sunday.I would also vote against the Bill if I thought that it would affect family life for the worse.
From my family circumstances, I am almost tailor-made as a recruit for the Archbishop's crusade against the Bill. I am the son of a parson, my brother was a canon, my daughter is a deaconess, I am the father-in-law of a vicar and I go to church. I almost qualify for a passport to Heaven. However, it appears to me that the case of the Archbishop and his friends is too much based on a fantasy 608 of Sunday — on what it used to be like once upon a time, and on what they would like it to be. There was a time, a long time ago, when a lot of people went to church.
One of my pre-first world war predecessors as chairman of the company over which I used to preside in the west riding of Yorkshire employed his people for 56 hours a week and, come Sunday, preached to them in the Methodist chapel, so they had enjoyed the benefit of his words seven days a week. A lot of people went to church then, but there was nothing else to do. The great Sunday revolution has come not from shopping but from the motor car, the coach, and the fact that many people now own their own homes. When we talk about the "special" character of Sunday, we should look at facts and decide what people actually do on Sunday. In my part of the world —Yorkshire—those who live in the less salubrious areas such as Huddersfield, Halifax and Bradford get in their motor cars and motor over, usually as families, to Scarborough, Bridlington, Filey, the moors, the zoo at Kirby Misperton, Castle Howard and the rest.
According to the Auld report, 10 per cent. of people in England go to church. I suspect that a higher percentage listen to and watch church services on the television and radio. Members of families do a lot of motoring, with fathers and mothers visiting their children and grandchildren and vice versa. That is all very healthy
There are 30,000 caravans between Scarborough and Filey, and correspondingly thousands of families use them. Some families have yachts. Many have weekend cottages and others use boarding houses and hotels in Scarborough. More and more people are playing and watching games. People go to the cinema, and play bingo.
During the past 30 years, house ownership has doubled, and gardening and do-it-yourself have become the great activities. Like many hon. Members, on Sundays people read the newspapers, go to sleep or watch television. Many families use the DIY stores on Sunday.
That is what I see in my constituency, although the position may differ in other constituencies. I do not think that the church has all that much to grumble about. One can say that people are attracted away from church by those pursuits, but there is competition between activities and we must cope with it. I do not think that the "new Sunday" is detrimental to family life. Many pastimes are undertaken as a family. Despite all that activity, Sunday is a quieter day than others. Towns are much quieter on Sundays. [HON. MEMBERS: "They will not be."] I shall answer those interventions in a minute. It is against this wider, growing background of leisure activity that I ask whether it is really true that the opening of a few shops on Sundays will completely change the social scene and the character of Sunday.
When considering the number of shops that will be affected by Sunday trading, we all speculate according to our prejudices. However, the Scottish example shows what actually happens, rather than what we imagine.
§ Sir Paul Bryan
Multiple shops with dealings on both sides of the border have given details showing that shopping habits are similar on the two sides of the border.
What are the facts in Scotland? According to the Auld report, 17 per cent. of people in Scotland go to church compared with 10 per cent. south of the border. Sunday trading does not, therefore, appear to cripple churchgoing.
§ Sir Paul Bryan
Apparently, prices in Scotland are not higher than they are south of the border.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said a great deal about the work force. As I understand it, those who work on Sundays in shops in Scotland are, on the whole, perfectly happy about doing so. There are few complaints. Many married women find that Sunday shopping is convenient because part-time, unskilled work for which they may be highly paid is available.
I know Scotland reasonably well. When I have motored through Scotland on a Sunday, the towns have been quieter than they are on other days of the week, just as happens in England. In America, where the number of churchgoers is much higher than here, families go to church in the morning, go on to the supermarket for lunch and then go shopping in the afternoon. That seems a pleasant family outing. Everyone enjoys it. On the available evidence I believe that, in a year or two, we shall wonder what all the fuss was about.
The chambers of trade are understandably worried. One cannot say that Sunday trading will have no effect on all shops. It is bound to have some effect. One can, however, say that independent shops in Scotland do not seem to be worse off than they are in England.
The real revolution in shopping has been caused not by Sunday trading but by the motor car which has led to the development of large stores on the outskirts of towns. The housewife used to do her daily shopping locally to fill her shopping bag. She now does her weekly shopping to fill the boot of her car and to fill her freezer. That has inevitably hurt the small trader.
Local traders in my area recently sent me the findings of a poll showing that there is no demand for Sunday trading. That is not a good argument because, if there is no demand, there will be no effect on them. One should take notice of only those polls that measure what is happening or what has happened. If the polls forecast the future in hypothetical circumstances, they always get it wrong. The supreme example was broadcasting. When we had one BBC channel, the polls announced no demand for a second channel. Along came ITV, which soon had bigger audiences than the BBC. There was alleged to be no demand for BBC2 or a fourth channel. There was said to be no demand for expensive video recorders, but now they have swept the board.
§ Sir Paul Bryan
I shall not give way. My hon. Friend will have opportunities to speak later.
In conclusion, I do not believe that Sunday trading will have a deleterious effect on the family or on the special character of Sunday. I support the Bill.
§ Mr. Thomas Torney (Bradford, South)
I declare an interest as a Member sponsored by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. For many years before I became a Member, I worked as a full-time officer with that union.
The Home Secretary was magnanimous in promising a free vote in Committee if the Bill is passed tonight, which I hope will not happen. A free vote would not be worth 610 anything if the Government Whips insisted on including on the Committee Conservative Members who were yes-men on Government policy. May we have an assurance that the many Conservative Members who oppose the Bill will be fairly represented on the Committee? I hope that the answer is yes, even though I hope that the Bill is defeated.
I know from personal experience that shop workers have always been downtrodden, with poor pay and long unsocial hours. Even fringe benefits, such as holiday and sick pay and safety regulations, are comparatively new. The workers, usually members of the USDAW, have had to fight for them.
The Bill should be renamed the Exploitation of Workers in Shops (Open All Hours, Including Sundays) Bill. The Bill opens the way for exploitation and victimisation of shop workers. Those who imagine that protection will be given to shop workers who are religious and conscientiously object to working on Sundays are living in cloud-cuckoo-land. With 4 million unemployed knocking on the shop door, plus the threat of a halt to promotion prospects, the shopkeeper can easily suppress conscience and religion.
It is a fallacy for the Government to suggest that Sunday opening will create more employment. It will produce some part-time jobs, but only in shops, and only in shops that already have a considerable number of part-time workers. We want greater employment of full-time staff, but the Bill will further reduce the numbers of full-time workers to make way for part-timers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) quoted a letter from Hillards, which has supermarkets in my constituency. I have received a similar letter, and I endorse what he said.
§ Mr. Baldry
Does the Labour party believe that the present law is satisfactory? If it is not, how does the hon. Gentleman, and the Labour party, suggest that it could be reformed? Can he make that clear to the House?
§ Mr. Torney
My trade union, and certainly the Labour party, recognises the illogicalities of the present legislation relating to shop hours. However, the Labour Government never introduced a Bill of complete deregulation. Therefore, I pass the responsibility back to the Government, where it rightly belongs. They have introduced a Bill of complete deregulation. If they wish to move away from it, they must produce legislation to replace it. Surely it is not beyond the power of the experts in the Public Bill Office to assist the Government with that. The Government should withdraw the Bill and come back with something different.
The often-quoted Auld report states that protection is required for shop workers, but with the Wages Bill the Government will abolish the protection provided by previous legislation. We hear much about the consumer and freedom of choice, but, if we look carefully, we find that there is plenty of choice and opportunity to shop. Many supermarkets and hypermarkets open as late as 8 pm on many evenings, and some stay open until 9 pm.
The only reason for Sunday opening is for people who forget something. The shop workers' unions have agreements with many employers about late-night opening, and large firms will confirm that the unions have never been obstructionist on this issue. We merely want to protect our members and to ensure that proper premium payments are made if they must work late or overtime.
611 If the Bill is passed, it will contribute to making Sunday just another day, not only for shop workers but for all workers. There will be no premium or overtime payments for those who are called upon to work on Sundays. That should be a warning to all workers in industry. Once premium payments are abolished for shop workers—the wages councils have already disappeared — other workers will have to follow suit.
Traditionally, Sunday is a peaceful day when families and friends, including thousands of shop workers, can get together and, even though it may require using a motor car, we want to keep it that way. The Government talk about the freedom to open or close, but they show complete naivety about modern distribution. It is clear that they have failed to think the issue through properly.
There will be absolutely no choice for retailers, because they cannot afford to lose business to competitors who stay open. Competition in the high street is immense, and the margins on food are small. I assure the Government that if one shop on the high street opens, they will all open. I know that from personal experience. When I was a young man working in a shop, my boss would send me out to see whether the other shops were closing before he would agree to close. Most of the large retailing chains are opposed to Sunday opening, but many have categorically said that, while they oppose the Bill, if it is passed they will have to open.
That brings me to a point about Scotland. The major chains in the south also have shops in Scotland. They have said that if the Bill is passed they will also open on Sunday in Scotland. I assure the House that the present laissez-faire position in Scotland will go to the wall if the Bill is passed.
The point about large retail firms has already been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, so I shall not repeat the point about Hillards. Only so much money is available among the consuming public. Eventually all shops will open on Sundays if the Bill is passed, so that money will be spread over seven days instead of six. Therefore, there will be no extra trade. There will be extra trade only if a shop opens and others do not. That shop would then steal a march on the others. But, as the major retailers know that, they will all open and there will be no extra trade. Is that the price of the freedom of the few?
Our traditional, peaceful Sunday will go, and obviously prices will be higher to cover the greater overheads of seven-day trading. Shops and their staff will be exploited, and eventually all workers will lose premium payments for Sunday. USDAW, the majority of shop workers and I say that if we cannot defeat the Bill tonight, we must defeat it in Committee.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)
Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym), I certainly support the Government and hope that the Bill will be carried, supported by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The main reason why I support the Government is that the present law is nonsense. It is illogical, full of anomalies, easily open to ridicule and out of touch with the reality of life today. It is widely disregarded, and those who must enforce it do not wish to do so. To the extent that it is enforced, it is patchy and unfair to individual 612 traders. To continue in that way brings the law into disrepute, and that cannot be right. In those circumstances, the Government are right to take responsibility and to act as they have done. I hope that those who accept the need for change will support the Government on Second Reading.
Some of those who accept the argument for change tell us that, despite that, total deregulation and freedom do not provide the answer. However, I question whether there is a workable compromise. Having considered the various compromises, I am not convinced that that is so. All the options suggested are, to my mind, open to objection and would raise continued problems of enforcement.
I shall give two examples. To attempt to extend and update a list of goods allowed to be sold on Sundays would lead rapidly to yet more anomalies and become out of date and out of touch with the needs of society. As many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have argued, the local option is not an alternative. That would merely be to pass the buck to others to decide in our place.
I would rather not give way to my hon. Friend, as I know that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate.
The only sensible alternative to the present law is to give freedom to shops to open and to the public to shop if and when they wish to do so. I realise, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East has said, that there are many who are opposed to the Bill. The fact that I do not agree with their arguments does not mean, as some seem to imply, that I and others who share my view are not prepared to listen to what they have to say. I respect the sincerity of those who oppose the Bill and those behind the Keep Sunday Special campaign, but they should not try to hijack Sunday for themselves.
It is reasonable and possible to like the traditional Sunday, to be a Christian and yet believe that someone, if he wishes, should be free to buy a mowing machine on a Sunday just as he is free at present to buy petrol to put inside one. It is reasonable to support the present traditional Sunday and believe in it, yet not believe that it is necessary to use the criminal law to prevent people who wish to shop from doing so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) said, we allow many forms of commercial activity to take place on a Sunday. Public houses, restaurants and amusement arcades are open and professional sport takes place on a Sunday. I do not see on what moral basis we can suggest that it is wrong for shops to open when so many other places are open.
It is said that Sunday is a family day and a day on which to relax. That is how many of us like to spend our Sundays. I would point out to hon. Members, however, that the members of many families find that the only day on which they can go out together is Sunday. If they choose to shop rather than indulge in any other form of outing, I fail to see what is wrong in that.
Unlike the Bill's opponents, I do not believe that the effect of this measure will be to change the traditional Sunday. I believe that there is a demand for the Bill. The number of those who shop on a Sunday shows that to be so. I believe that certain types of shop will open widely once the Bill is enacted. It is my view that the fears which have been expressed by some of those who have already 613 contributed to the debate are exaggerated. After the early days, things will settle down and some types of shop will be open and others will not. In areas where there is demand, some shops will open; where that demand does not exist, they will not.
We are not forcing anyone to open his shop on a Sunday and we are not forcing anyone to shop on a Sunday. The only objection to the Bill could be if we were seeking to force people who have strong and genuine objection to work on a Sunday. Despite what the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) said, I do not believe that that will happen. I remind the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that 4.5 million people already work on a Sunday—many of them not in essential services—and we do not complain about that.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I do not see why shop workers should necessarily work every Sunday. Shops open on a Sunday in Scotland and I understand that there is no shortage of people who wish to work in them. I am sure that will be the response in England and Wales.
I believe that the concerns and objections are greatly exaggerated, as is the effect that the Bill will have on the traditional Sunday. As my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry said, the Bill's opponents ignore the reality of Sunday.
If we allow shops to open on a Sunday, it will be in response to those who wish to see a change of that nature. As I have said, the present law is nonsense. It is wrong to use the criminal law in this area. For those reasons, I support the Bill.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
I can readily and happily agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) that the present law is more honoured in the breach than in the observance, and is in many senses disreputable. I understand that there are those in the House and outside who hold views that are entirely principalistic in their nature, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman might regard as the Sabbatian view of Sunday. I do not believe that that view is held widely in the House, but it is one which deserves respect, and that respect should be accorded to it.
There is no doubt in my mind—I believe that this is the prevailing view in the House—that the current legislation needs reform and amendment. It creates confusion and situations that are difficult for shopkeepers. The present law frequently leads to difficulties for those whose job it is to uphold the law. I am not opposed to reform in general, but that is not to say that I am in favour of any sort of reform, whatever its nature and implications.
When I came to examine the Bill, I applied four criteria by which I would judge my attitude to it. First, I took the view that we should not go for entirely free licence; that we should not deregulate to such an extent that we destroy the essential nature and character of our Sunday. Secondly, I considered that there should be a requirement adequately and effectively to protect the rights of shop workers. Thirdly, I decided that the Bill should give local communities some determination of how the law might be applied in their areas to meet the different natures of our 614 various communities throughout Britain. Fourthly, I took the view that the Government should take into account—perhaps not in the Bill but in parallel legislation—the effect that the Bill would have on small retailers if it were enacted in its present form.
The Bill fails to satisfy, not on one, but on all four of those counts. First, total deregulation is proposed—total free licence. The Bill sweeps away all regulations. If enacted, it would allow Sunday to become the same as any other day of the week. There are those who will be deeply offended by that prospect of religious principle, and I can understand that.
For me there are even more important factors to be taken into account. There is a need for a rest day, when families can get together. This need is stated clearly in the Bible, particularly in the gospel according to St. Mark, which states:The sabbath is made for man, and not man for the sabbath.It is essential that there should be that rhythm in our lives. It is a requirement that we have a day of rest. That view was expressed elegantly and powerfully by Lord Stockton in another place, when he said:
Let us remember that the great commandment that was handed down to God's chosen people was perhaps the greatest social reform in the history of civilisation; the concept that every man or woman, however humble, should have at least some period of rest."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 January 1986; Vol. 470, c. 160.]On that ground alone, the Bill could result in a fundamental and irreversible change to our Sunday. That will be important in its effect on the family, an issue which has been raised by right hon. and hon. Members already. It has been calculated that 1 million women will be drawn into employment on a part-time basis on Sundays if the Bill comes into effect. There has been a strong push towards part-time work, and the number employed in the retail sector has almost doubled over the past three years.
I find it ironic, therefore, that, as the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) said, the Conservative party manifesto in 1983 made no mention of the legislation. But the manifesto went further than that. The manifesto which elected the Government said that the Tories were pledged to defend—I shall use their words precisely—Britain's "distinctive way of life" and
build a responsible society which protects the weak hut also allows the family … to flourish.The Bill will create conditions which will damage the one day of the week when, as the hon. Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) said, the family can get together to enjoy those wonderful outings which he described as a family occupation. They will be disrupted because the mother or father, probably the mother, will be away working in a shop because she will be required to do so. The free licence will damage the family unit which the Conservative party at the general election pledged itself to protect.
The Bill will do more than that. As currently drafted, it could cause significant damage to communities because it will introduce into communities a free licence for more traffic and more commercial operation on the one day when they can expect some peace. It will disturb the peace of many of our communities. Therefore, the Bill fails at that hurdle.
Many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have touched on the question of the protection of the rights of shop workers. It is true that partially, at least, the Bill protects the rights of such shop workers as are employed when the Bill comes 615 into force. However, it does not provide for a similar right in the future. I fail to understand the logic of that. If a right is worth protecting now, surely it is worth protecting in the future. Why should we make an arbitrary decision about what rights an individual shall have according to whether they are currently employed in a shop or employed in the future? If now, why not in the future also?
But even the protection currently provided is wholly inadequate. The Bill has certain safeguards in respect of disciplining a shop worker who refuses to work on a Sunday. It prohibits that and it prohibits the sacking of a shop worker for refusing Sunday work. It does nothing, however, to safeguard a shop worker's ordinary expectations for promotion and advancement if he refuses to work on a Sunday. There are examples of that happening already. There was a recent example in Sheffield where a store manager was required to leave his £13,000 job because he refused to work on a Sunday.
Those of us who complain about that issue have to face the fact that it would be impossible to protect completely the rights of shop workers by any form of legislation. However, we can provide some form of protection, even for those who would wish to join the profession in the future. A clause which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone who is not prepared to work on a Sunday could have an application similar to that which makes it illegal to discriminate on racial or sexual grounds. That is not perfect protection, but it can act as a bulwark against such discrimination and act as a mechanism for testing in the courts of Britain whether such discrimination has taken place. But no such provision exists in the Bill.
Perhaps we should not be surprised at that, because when it comes to the protection of shopworkers we know that the Government take a purely minimalistic view. The Auld committee recognised that. The Government prayed in aid the Auld committee to support their position on the Bill. The committee clearly said that it felt that if Sunday trading was deregulated appropriate protection should be put in its place. But, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, the Government have moved in precisely the opposite direction, by dismantling the protection of wages council and by massively reducing the amount of resources available to the inspectorate for employment and shops provisions and conditions.
The Bill not only provides no protection, but will be used as an instrument for further exploitation of the very vulnerable and mainly young work force within the retail sector. On those grounds alone, even if the other criteria that I mentioned were satisfied, I would oppose the Bill.
My final criterion was that of local option. Conservative Members have rightly asked how we can reform the Bill. I see nothing wrong with allowing an element, perhaps even a significant element, of local option. Indeed, it is interesting to note that the Auld committee was interested in that suggestion and said that it had some attraction. The problem for the committee was the inconsistency. Of course there are inconsistencies and differences in the various communities of Britain. There are differences between Bermondsey and rural mid Wales. Why should they have the same application of the law?
We already give considerable freedom to our local government institutions and local authorities to determine car parking and housing policy, which are dealt with 616 differently in different areas. The same applies to taxi charges, education, collection of rubbish and even widows war pension relief. These touch on people's lives just as closely as shop opening. If we allow such inconsistencies now, why should we not allow them in this case? Why not frame within legislation the capacity to determine the hours the shop may open in one location or another within the ambit of the planning procedures? That would provide for a much clearer acceptance of the differences of the local conditions. Such inconsistencies which did arise would not be long lived where they were ridiculous, and where they were not ridiculous they would be consistent with genuine local differences of belief, practice, and environmental conditions.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the local electorate were tested on the issue, it would succeed in a way in which the Bill fundamentally fails? A measure is being brought forward which has not been tested in an election, which is offensive to millions of people in this country and on which millions of people have never had a chance to vote.
§ Mr. Ashdown
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is precisely the point. It would not only provide an opportunity to vote on this issue, which we have not had as it was not in the Conservative manifesto, but would allow the differences between our various local communities to be expressed.
The Bill will unquestionably damage the network of small retail outlets in Britain. That case has been more elegantly made elsewhere. The Government pray in aid, for example, the experience of Sweden, where they say that 3,000 new shops have been opened. I ask Conservative Members to recognise that in Sweden a small retail outlet is one with fewer than 25 branches. That is hardly what we would consider to be in danger in this country. We also ought to recognise the fact that in Sweden the Government have a full package to assist small retail outlets. We know that no such package is under consideration by the Government.
At the beginning of my speech I mentioned the issue of principle. There are principles and practicalities involved. For many, the principle will predominate. My party believes that this is, in part, for all of us an issue of conscience. We will therefore have a free vote. We do not understand why the Government will not allow a free vote. I must say in passing that I do not understand why the Labour party, which has made a considerable point on this issue, is not prepared to allow a free vote as well. However, returning to the Government, seven members of the Government Bench voted against the earlier Bill, and they will have to go into the Lobby tonight voting in favour of this Bill. Three Whips voted against the other Bill when it appeared before us. They will have to go through the process of Whipping their own colleagues in to vote for this measure. Only two years ago the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), who is not in his place now, but was earlier, said:There are important considerations and fears about the character of Sunday, … 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."—[Official Report, 4 February 1983; Vol. 36, c. 557.]617 We are entitled to know why the Government have changed their mind on this issue. Why do they now use the disgraceful instrument of the party Whip to coerce Conservative Members to vote on what two years ago a Minister recognised as an issue of individual conscience? We are glad that there has been an admission that there will be no guillotine on the Bill.
I am in favour of reform, but not any reform. I cannot support the Bill as it currently stands. The Bill in its present form will damage the essential character of our life in Britain. It will hurt the family, which the Government make such a virtue of seeking to protect. It will endanger the essential character of many of our local communities. It provides an instrument for the exploitation of shopworkers, whom the Government have already made one of the most vulnerable groups in Britain. It gives no power of determination to local communities. It will be a further blow to the fast-diminishing number of small retail outlets in our communities. It is being run through Parliament, against the Government's own commitments, by coercion by the party Whip and against the conscience of the Government's own members. I and many of my colleagues will oppose the Bill for those reasons.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Earlier this afternoon I gave an undertaking to the Leader of the Opposition that I would reconsider my decision not to select the reasoned amendment that is on the Order Paper in his name and the names of his right hon. and hon. Friends. I have done so, and I now say to the Opposition Front Bench that it will be in order for the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) to move that amendment when he rises to wind up the debate.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I heard the discussion with you earlier. I suspect that hon. Members are now placed in some difficulty. They thought that the debate was taking place on the basis of the instructions that were given from the Chair at the very beginning of the debate. Hon. Members are now in difficulty because they find that that former decision has been reversed. If, after pressure from one side of the House, your decision can be reconsidered and changed, Mr. Speaker—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that that is the moment when I stop the hon. Gentleman. I gave an undertaking that I would reconsider the matter. What I have announced does not in any sense narrow the debate, which was my concern.
§ Mr. Neil Macfarlane (Sutton and Cheam)
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate, Mr. Speaker. I assure you that I shall be brief, although, having heard the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I doubt very much whether there will be much brevity about the passage of the Bill in the remaining months of this Session. There is now an element of confusion, although I am anxious to do all that I can to help my colleagues on the Front Bench.
My prime concern stems from what we might speculate will be the effect of the Bill. My concern is not so much about the present situation. The traditional Sunday has changed over the past 25 years. Nowadays even the younger generation would have some doubts about what 618 precisely a traditional Sunday is. I am often told that we represent the party that espouses Victorian values. I have never understood that fully. If that were logically applied and we had Victorian values, everywhere would be closed on Sundays, and we would have rather a joyless day.
As I said, my concern stems from speculation about the effects of the Bill. I appreciate that there are many anomalies in the current framework of our legislation on retailing. I can well understand that the legalistic mind of the lawyer is anxious to have the Bill tidied up, but I have some sympathy for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary because he has picked up the policy from his predecessor.
I do not want to tell my constituents in Sutton and Cheam when they should shop or which retailers should open and when they should open. As the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and many Conservative Members have said, I do not believe that the Bill will improve the quality of life, particularly in the suburbs of towns and cities — I represent a suburban area—and that is my concern.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) said, there are now professional sporting events on a Sunday, and the motor car has opened up new possibilities. The framework of a Sunday is totally different from what it was. The fact is that what we are proposing will unquestionably change our Sunday. Those are the things of which we must be most aware when considering the matter over the next few months. We must understand what we are triggering off.
I have never accepted the argument that the Bill will be a job creator, because I believe that all it will do is transfer the pattern through a seven-day week. We know that many retailers do not open on a Monday. They will simply transfer more to Sundays. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney), who speaks for the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, made it clear that he expected an increase in the pool of part-time employment. I echo those sentiments. That is not good. I do not like it at all.
The proposals of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have a major impact on the people in the suburbs of our towns and cities over the next few years. As you will know, Mr. Speaker, representing a seat in an area not dissimilar from mine, over the past 10 or 15 years there has been a stark change in Good Friday. Good Friday, which is perhaps the greatest symbol of Christian hope, has now become a day like any other. I should have thought that it was logical that Sunday would become the same. I cannot believe that there can be any serious disregard for that argument. I think that Sunday will become like any other day. That may well be what a large proportion of the nation wants. It is what a large proportion of the nation already has now. We must work out precisely what we want to do and exactly what will be the bottom line in a few years' time. My hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) said that in 15 years' time everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about. I ant not certain that I share that opinion. We shall have to wait and see. I suspect that the Bill has some way to go before it reaches the statute book.
I ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider the problems, such as the competition that many of the retailers will face. Many of them have already said that they will open, and others have said that they will not. I should have thought that the very fact that many of them 619 are committed to opening, such as W. H. Smith, Mothercare, DIY companies and other retailers that we know about, means that it is inevitable that some of those who have said that they will not open ultimately will. Who could blame them? They will have to open. I would not blame them for doing so. Many of them would be mad if they did not. In fine cities, such as Edinburgh and London, and in the north-east and the west midlands, where there is an element of strong tourist appeal throughout the year, it would not be in their interests to remain closed. The big retailers in Oxford street and Bond street, and in the centre of London, would also be mad not to open.
Therefore, what we are proposing undoubtedly will have an effect. It will have an effect on young people who are starting out on a career in retailing. Their annual staff appraisal might include the words, "Quite a good company man" — or woman — "but won't work Sundays. Therefore, does not have the company's interests at heart." I think that that will begin to emerge.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
Does my hon. Friend agree that many small retailers will have to open, which will lead to a severe diminution in family life for them?
§ Mr. Macfarlane
That is right. As we have heard before, the part-time jobs that could be created as a result of the Bill will be largely for students and women, and women are the anchor of the family.
There will be an increase in noise and perhaps because vehicles will now be making deliveries on Sundays. In my constituency and in many others on the outer peripheries of big cities—the villages and more rural areas will not be affected so much—undoubtedly a transport manager will say to his staff and his board of directors, "I think I can save you several pounds per week per vehicle if you start to deliver on a Sunday," and jobs might disappear as a result of that. In my constituency, we have many major through routes. We already have much commuting traffic on a Sunday, and I think that there will be a major increase in that.
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, or indeed any of his colleagues on the Front Bench, wishes to see a dramatic change in our traditional Sunday, or the Sunday that they consider to be traditional. I suspect that their offspring might have different ideas about the traditional Sunday. I do not believe that they want to see that change. That is why we are beginning to see a slight shift in the policy and opinions of the Front Bench, for which I have sympathy.
The Bill will change our way of life. It is not in the best interests of the country. Therefore, although I shall not vote against my colleagues, because my heart is still with them, I shall abstain and closely watch the Bill's passage in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading.
§ Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)
That this is one of the most controversial measures to be brought before this Parliament cannot be doubted, especially when one witnesses the extent of the disarray on the Conservative Benches and notes the Government's recent reaction to the threatened rebellion of Back-Bench Members. There is no doubt that the hostile public response to the Bill has transferred from nervous Back-Bench Members to the 620 Government, even at this late stage, hence the apparent Whipping concessions. I hope that the Home Secretary's undertaking not to impose a guillotine if the Bill passes its Second Reading tonight will mean at least fundamental changes to the Bill. I hope, however, that the Bill will not overcome its first hurdle tonight.
The battle lines are clearly drawn and opponents from all sections of society have come out firmly in vocal opposition to the Bill. Not least significant in the opposition to deregulation of shop hours are the churches. For once in my life, I completely agree with the various religious organisations. I am sure that the churches do not oppose the Bill to coerce the public into attending church on Sundays. Instead, they argue correctly that for hundreds of years Sunday has been a special day. That point has been made by many hon. Members. It is a day whose promise of rest, relaxation and family togetherness provides, in a contemporary sense, a break of sorts in our increasingly hectic and pressurised lifestyles.
A strange feature of today's debate is that most hon. Members would rarely benefit from the advantages for which they argue on other people's behalf. That is certainly my position.
The Lord Bishop of Winchester in another place provided the strongest argument against the Bill when he said:Total deregulation is a too-drastic solution because it could well lead to the erosion of something we greatly value—a corporate rest day which gives identity to our community. We need these opportunities of rest and recreation for families, and recreation includes … worship … We do not want the cohesive character of … society to be sacrificed for the sake of greater commercial gain on Sundays."—[Official Report, House of Lords; 2 December 1985; Vol. 468, c. 1103.]I say "Amen" to that.
To counter such arguments, supporters of the Shops Bill say that the special character of Sunday is rapidly disappearing from our society. In their view, abolishing Sunday trading restrictions would be an appropriate response to these modern times. There is no doubt, however, that a significant majority of the population favours the maintenance of a special Sunday that does not become just another day. My post bag reinforces my view that the special character of Sunday should be preserved as far as practicable as a day of leisure in which a person is not required to pursue his or her weekday work and is free to do what he or she chooses.
The question then becomes whether the liberalisation of the trading laws will alter the special character of Sunday. Paragraph 132 of the Auld report, on which the Government justify the Shops Bill, states:Widespread opening of shops on Sundays would affect the traditional character of the day very much more profoundly than the opening of cinemas, concert halls and theatres"—that point was made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)—or the holding of sporting events. The change would be likely to affect far more people in the way that they spend their Sundays, and would have a significant effect on the feel of the day.That is just one of the many cases in which the Auld committee's conclusions are hardly supported by its arguments. It is clear that Sunday trading would hasten rather than respond to the demise of our traditional special Sunday.
I return to the economic effects of unrestricted Sunday trading. The Auld committee, again to determine the likely effects of the Shops Bill, commissioned a report 621 from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Although the committee chose to regard that report as the final word on the subject, the IFS begins its report with an explicit disclaimer:The principal conclusion reached is that it cannot be decided on a priori grounds whether the restrictions on consumer choice, inherent in limitations to trading hours … could nevertheless yield overall benefits. The fact that shops choose to open on Sundays does not guarantee that the gains derived from greater consumer choice will offset the additional costs involved. A final assessment must depend on an empirical study of the costs and benefits involved, and this has not been addressed previously.I reject that suck-it-and-see approach, but to rely on empirical evidence sells the pass with regard to maintaining our traditional Sunday.
Staying with the IFS report for a moment, and referring specifically to the suggestion that a 13 per cent. increase in opening hours would lead to a 10 per cent. increase in costs, I must register my profound unease at some implications of that. There is no doubt that there would be an insufficient increase in retail trade to make up for the increased costs. As a result, the costs per unit of sales would necessarily increase to the detriment of consumers. In the long run, as has been said, smaller stores that operate on the margin will be squeezed out of business. The consequence will be that the highly regarded convenience of the local store will disappear and once again, and this must be repeated, the less mobile, the sick, the elderly and families without personal transport—not everyone has a motor car—will suffer inconvenience. Indeed, there is little doubt that their cost of living will increase commensurately as retail domination forces prices up, as I forecast it will if the Bill is passed.
I would have wished to say more on this important matter, but in the interests of brevity and because I want to hear the speeches of many more Conservative rebels, I shall conclude my remarks. I pray in aid the IFS report on which the Auld committee placed such store. The IFS concluded that as many as 20,000 workers would lose their jobs as a result of open-all-hours trading. With unemployment at such an intolerable level, that would serve only to exacerbate an already unacceptable position. That alone is too high a price to pay for the dubious benefits claimed for the Bill. However, just as worrying is the nature of the job losses. The jobs that will be lost will tend to be full-time jobs that require some skill and training. Full-time jobs also tend to lead to the development of jobs in which employees rise within a company, acquiring more skill and loyalty to the firm. To replace those jobs with unskilled, part-time employees is undesirable. That is why I shall oppose the Bill. I hope that many Conservative Members will do the same.
§ Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
I refer to the letter that has been sent to all right hon. and hon. Members by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the Moderator of the Free Church Federal Council. They make several points which I wish to discuss. The letter refers to a large petition against the Bill. My constituency experience is that considerably more people support the Bill than oppose it. We know from opinion polls that were taken in 1984 and 1985 that a vast majority of people favour seven-day shopping in England and Wales. I understand that, for union members, 622 the percentage is even higher than for non-union members. Therefore, it is clear that the majority of people want us to give a Second Reading to the Bill.
The second point of the Archbishop and his colleagues is that they do not wish to throw away the special character of Sunday. I have been enormously impressed throughout the debate by the confidence with which so many hon. Members have forecast exactly what horrors will result from the Bill. Many of the Bill's opponents have remarkable powers of foresight. That was especially true of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).
I am much less confident about what will happen in the future, but I believe that the special character of Sunday will not be destroyed. I cannot prove it beyond doubt, but I believe that there is relevant evidence.
As Aneurin Bevan said,Why look in the crystal ball when you can read the book?For me, the book is Scotland. I am half Scottish, although that does not give me a particular claim to interpret the Scots. Nevertheless, I believe that Scotland is more like England than it was some years ago because of the pressures to which my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) referred in his impressive speech in support of the Bill. Mobility, television and all the other modern pressures have made the different parts of this country far more similar than they were 50 years ago. The large number of Scots who come to Blackpool seem very similar to the people who come from Yorkshire, the south of England and elsewhere, except that they tend to enjoy themselves rather more vociferously. I believe, therefore, that Scotland provides the best evidence available. I should apologise to those who oppose the Bill for actually referring to facts, but it seems perfectly clear to me that the special character of Sunday is alive and well in Scotland. Some of my Scottish hon. Friends may wish to comment further on that.
It has been suggested that the Scottish experience is not relevant to England and Wales, but if the effects of liberalisation turn out to be different in England and Wales from those which have occurred in Scotland, it will be because the people of England and Wales want them to be different. It is not right to use the criminal law to try to prevent the people of England and Wales from following the course, the culture and the life that they wish, especially as the present law is already in such disrepute. That would be a most unwise course to follow. If Scotland is still a more sabbatarian society, it is surely remarkable that Scotland can accept deregulation with enthusiasm while in a less sabbatarian society, if such it be, people are arguing against deregulation. It seems to me that that argument works in the opposite direction from the way in which it has so far been used.
With regard to the anxieties of the Archbishop and his friends, I remind the House that 16 per cent. of people in Scotland still go to church while the figure for England and Wales is only 10 per cent.
The Archbishop and his friends were also concerned about what they described as the "commercial imperative", suggesting thatwe can expect a steadily rising trend over the next 5 to 10 years which ultimately will make Sunday barely distinguishable from Saturdays.Again, they ignore the experience in Scotland and the fact that fewer than 20 per cent. of shops in Scotland are open on Sundays. I think that the House will agree that if anyone 623 recognises a commercial imperative when he sees one, it is a Scot. Therefore, I am not greatly impressed by that argument. The Archbishop and his friends, like many Opposition Members, seem to think that shopkeepers enjoy making a loss. In my experience, if shopkeepers think that they will make a loss they do not open, which doubtless accounts for the fact that fewer than 20 per cent. of shops in Scotland are open on Sundays. I am therefore not impressed by that argument either.
The Archbishop and his friends also fear that shop workers will suffer, but an opinion poll has shown that 72 per cent. of the people in Scotland who work on Sundays wish to be allowed to continue. Again, why look in the crystal when we can read the book? Scotland is the open book.
The Archbishop and his friends hope that the House will not support the Bill
unless it is substantially amended to protect the traditional character of Sunday.We cannot amend the Bill unless it receives a Second Reading. We should therefore give the Bill a Second Reading and then consider the exact form in which it should emerge on to the statute book.
Deregulation is popular in Scotland. An opinion poll in 1985 showed that 98 per cent. of respondents in Scotland thought that the quality of life had not been affected. Sunday it still different from other days of the week in Scotland. It is still a day of leisure and a day for the family. People shop as families, especially for joint decision purchases such as lawnmowers, to which reference has already been made. People do not find themselves compelled to work against their will. There is no shortage of volunteers to work on Sundays. According to the evidence that I have seen, small shops in Scotland have not suffered. Prices have not risen as a result of Sunday opening. I understand that when a questionnaire was sent to various churches in Scotland asking whether they felt that there should be more regulation, the only reply received was from the Free Presbyterian Church which has only 16,000 members. The evidence that I have, therefore, is that the Scots are content with their situation and cannot understand what all the fuss is about in England and Wales.
§ Sir Peter Blaker
In fairness to others, I would rather not give way.
With deregulation, Sunday is still special in Scotland and I am not convinced that the situation would be any different in England. Sunday in England has certainly changed in the past decade. Until very recently the cathedral shop in Canterbury was open on Sundays and selling the "Good Pub Guide" to Kent. I do not complain about that. It is a sign of the way in which attitudes have changed.
Sunday is special in England in another important respect—the extent to which the law is defied. I believe that when the law is so widely defied the time has come to consider changing it.
There are two options before us. The first is to reject the Bill, in which case the existing law will have to be enforced far more rigorously, which I believe will be deeply unpopular with the vast majority of people. 624 Interestingly, the spokesman for the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Gorton, refused to answer questions about the Labour party's attitude to this because he knew that to insist on enforcement of the law as it stands would be deeply unpopular. I therefore look forward to hearing from the Labour party—
§ Sir Peter Blaker
I do not want to hear from the Labour party now, but I look forward to hearing in the Opposition winding-up speech about the attitude of the Labour party to enforcement.
The alternative, which I must prefer, is to give the Bill a Second Reading and thus allow the House, while keeping Sunday special, to bring the law into line with what people want and with common sense.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
When the House last discussed Sunday trading, it was addressing one of those intriguing areas of public policy in which there are sound arguments on both sides, but that was last May and the position is no longer the same. The balance of the argument has shifted against Sunday trading, thanks to opposition in the other place and the Keep Sunday Special campaign, whereas the supporters of the Bill have had nothing new to say, save the surprising claim of the Home Secretary today that he has now received more signatures in support of the Bill.
The Home Secretary starts from the basis that if the law is being openly broken it must be changed. But how openly is it being broken and where are the black spots? In any event, does not a duty of enforcement lie with district councils? When and how far have district councils been encouraged by the Home Office to do their duty? The Government's only response has been to call for a change in the law. The Government plead that there are anomalies, but, given the extent to which retailing has changed since the war, it is scarcely surprising that anomalies have arisen. Must we really go the whole hog to the deregulation of shop hours to resolve them? What defeatism! Do we need Sunday trading because district councils receive no guidance from the Government?
That is certainly not the case in Sheffield, where the city council last month reaffirmed its opposition to the Bill. This opposition is supported by the Sheffield Council of Churches, the chamber of trade, Family Concern, the two trade unions principally involved—the GMBATU and USDAW—and by all but one of the representations that I have received.
The only exception within my constituency has come from the local Asda, which wants the Bill. But Asda makes no mention of the Bill's impact on its workers or on local residential amenities. It does not appear to have occurred to Asda to ascertain how far local residents want heavy lorries, noisy deliveries or impossible parking to split asunder their quiet traditional Sunday.
How many Members of Parliament who tonight plan to vote for Sunday trading live near a supermarket or have checked with those of their constituents who do? I wonder whether there is even one such Conservative Member. Are the Government therefore insisting that for a city such as Sheffield—or south Yorkshire as a whole—there is no case for a local option, and that the local authority be allowed to establish, either through its elected councillors 625 or by a local referendum, whether there should be Sunday opening and, if so, the permitted hours? Environmental judgments of this order are taken daily by planning authorities. To extend a power over Sunday trading in this way would enhance local democracy and thus provide for choice.
Those who say that shops need not open must be unaware of what is now happening to retailing both at home and overseas. It is clear from the Home Secretary's speech that he does not know what is happening in Sweden, and he is even less aware of what is happening in the United States, given what he said about small shops being unaffected by seven-day trading. No other Bill has been presented to the House with less sureness of touch and confidence. The Home Secretary's performance was inept and unimpressive.
Fierce, uncompromising competition has changed the face of retailing. The number of retail outlets has halved in the last 25 years, and 60,000 small shops have gone in the past 10 years. I speak not as a theorist, because my family is involved in the retail sector and in a small shop. I know what I am talking about. Those who survive are under great pressure. With the proportion of national income devoted to spending in the shops down from 46 to 36 per cent. since the war, the overriding incentive is to retain market share. Among the national department stores and supermarkets, some have notoriously and quite unscrupulously sought to bounce Parliament into unrestricted opening hours, and some Conservative Members are falling for it.
The Home Secretary says that there is no workable compromise, but I have offered one. He claims that there is a large public demand for Sunday opening, but the March survey by Harris finds differently. He declared that implementation of the Bill will not stop Sunday remaining special. But if large parts of the community go out each Sunday morning to serve in shops, if the streets are never to know the stillness of non-working days, and if husbands are chivvied by wives to drive or accompany them to a supermarket, things will be very different.
The Home Secretary does not believe that there will be any great increase in public spending on public services. That is not the finding of the Association of County Councils' independent survey. The right hon. Gentleman argued in last May's debate that prices would not be affected by Sunday trading, but when more corner shops have closed and competition is reduced, price movements will undoubtedly reflect costs and rise. At present, small shops are only just hanging on in the face of such competition.
I am very close to the retail trade. I am not merely a member of the all-party retail group; I am involved in the retail sector as well—at the poor end, which is under pressure, which has given so much ground in recent years and which, frankly, is terrified of this Bill. In recent days I have been at pains to consult over as wide a cross-section as possible, and I know of no one who is not opposed to the extension of Sunday trading. Shopkeepers believe that such a development will be detrimental to themselves, their families and retail workers, but if their competitors are to open, they insist that they, too, will have to open, whether they like it or not.
When Sunday is an ordinary shopping day, it may become an ordinary working day for many people in addition to those employed in the retail trade. Can we not 626 have one day off, free from normal pressures, to provide opportunities for rest, recreation, reflection and worship? Must all the seven days now become the same?
Of course Sunday has changed, and it may now involve some of us in travel and organised recreation. But, as Cardinal Hume warns, there is a balance to be kept. The freedom to pursue leisure interests for some involves others in the obligation to work. There is more to social life than trading and commerce. Genuine humanism requires such a perspective. That is confirmed by the Christian vision of Sunday. That is why, if the roles were reversed, I would continue to believe that it is in the public interest to preserve the traditional Christian Sunday. Therefore, nothing would induce or pressure me into action that is calculated to threaten the traditional Christian Sunday.
The plain truth is that there is no overwhelming demand for the Bill, but a large proportion of the electorate, consisting only in part of churchgoers, bitterly oppose it. Small shopkeepers, as well as shop workers, feel threatened by it. On 4 March, the Daily Telegraph said:Measures which outrage the deep feelings of large sections of the community and command the enthusiastic support only of doctrinaires and a few large commercial institutions do not make good politics.In the opinion of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales:The present law may indeed be flouted and in need of tidying up. We do not think the alternatives have been adequately proposed or examined.In the light of the debate so far, I do not see how any hon. Member can quarrel with that judgment.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
It would be a mistake for any hon. Member who is opposed to the Bill to say that there is no need for a revision of Sunday trading law. On the contrary, there is great need for a revision of the law, not only because it is anomalous, but because much of it is unnecessary. What is more, there are parts of the Bill that are desirable, and I personally believe that the deregulation of shop hours on weekdays is justified. I would support that if it were the only part of the Bill.
But the question for answer is whether total abolition of the restrictions on Sunday trading is necessary in order to achieve the abolition of the anomalies. To put it another way, is a balance between commercial considerations and respect for Sunday as a special day desirable and possible? I believe that it is.
Let me also say straight away that I do not believe that this is a party political matter. Conservatives are not libertarians. We are not devotees of the free market to the extreme, certainly not to the extreme that involves conflict with a deeply rooted institution in the life of the British people and a part of our Christian heritage. Woe betide any Conservative party that goes against such institutions, because the Conservative patty should at least live up to what its name implies—change only when there has demonstrably been a case for such change that does not destroy existing institutions. For that reason, although I sympathise with the wording of the reasoned amendment which has been selected, I arid many of my hon. Friends who oppose the Bill will not support that reasoned amendment, because we want to make the point that this is not a matter of party politics. We shall march into the No Lobby under nobody's banner but our own.
627 The Home Secretary offered consultations and mentioned certain procedural arrangements made by the Government to assist in the consideration of the Bill at this stage and beyond. Unfortunately for him, he said that the Government had an open mind on the matter. How on earth does he reconcile that with a three-line Whip on the principle of the Bill? I am sorry that he did not give way when I tried to put that to him during his speech. The principle of the Bill is the total abolition of all restrictions on Sunday trading. How can he say that he has an open mind when everybody is compelled to vote for that principle? That makes nonsense of the procedural concessions offered by my right hon. Friend.
The Government have made a number of tactical ploys. The offer of a Special Standing Committee appears to be a good idea— if only the Bill were suitable for that purpose. The specialist work of the Standing Committee has been done for us. That is what the Auld committee was for, and, whatever one might think about the conclusions of that committee, one knows that it did a good job in assembling the facts and marshalling the arguments.
§ Mr. Hurd
I seek to be helpful to my hon. Friend. I gave way extensively, and my hon. Friend rose towards the end of my speech. I am sorry that I did not give way to him, and I shall try to be helpful on the point that he has made. The Bill creates an empty site. It sweeps away a piece of legislation which, as my hon. Friend said, is inadequate. I do not think that he or anybody would argue that the matter can be righted simply by amending the 1950 Act. The Second Reading would clear the site, and the site is best cleared.
§ Mr. Hurd
My hon. Friend disagrees, and that will have to remain a disagreement between us. However, we all agree that the existing Act will not do, and giving the Bill a Second Reading will enable the Standing Committee, through the procedure that we have acknowledged, to construct, if it so chooses, a new building. That seems a perfectly logical and reasonable proceeding.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that I shall be exempted from the ten minute rule because my right hon. Friend's intervention has taken so long.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
The point that my right hon. Friend does not appear to have grasped is that, if he gets a majority on Second Reading, it will logically be impossible to get a majority on any amendments to regulate opening hours on Sundays. The Government's argument will be that we have voted for the Second Reading. They will say, "You voted for the total abolition of restrictions on Sunday trading. How can you now seek to put in restrictions that will make total abolition impossible?" That is what would happen, and my right hon. Friend should know that the same thing applies about the offer of a free vote in the Standing Committee. Who 628 will pick the members of the Standing Committee? If it is the Committee of Selection and it bears in mind that members of the Committee are to have a free vote, its composition may well be quite different from what my right hon. Friend would like it to be.
If the Bill fails tonight, that is it, but if it goes through I hope that my right hon. Friend will give encouragement to the adoption, where there appears to be a sizeable agreement, of an amendment that will keep Sunday special. The three-line Whip is an affront to the consciences of many of my hon. Friends. Even my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip has agreed that this is a matter of conscience. Everyone will agree that the restrictions on Sunday trading are not matters of conscience, yet we have a three-line Whip, compulsion, on a question of conscience, and we are given a free vote on the detail of restrictions. My hon. Friends have been misled by the Government's procedural tactics on the Bill to induce them to abstain on the vote, but they ought not to abstain. This is a clear-cut issue; either we abolish all restrictions on Sunday trading, as the Bill requires, or we consider a compromise, a balance, between those interests we know run deep, between the needs of modern commerce and the need to respect our traditional Sunday.
The Government should have offered us a free vote. If they had lost they could have said it was an honourable cause but that they had taken the view that the matter was susceptible to a free vote. If they had won, they could have cut the ground from beneath the feet of their opponents by saying that on a free vote this Bill on total deregulation had got through and that they were entitled to go ahead—as they now intend.
It is no satisfaction to me to oppose the Government on this issue because in many other respects the Government have done splendidly. However, they seem to have had a tendency recently to make errors of political judgment. This is not the first such error, but let us hope that it will be the last.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
My speech will parallel that of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) because my mind is running along similar lines. Hon. Members have been canvassed more on this issue than the average voter in Fulham has been canvassed in the last month. Our postbags have been full and we have had the facts, the polls and the figures. I do not propose to weary the House with the selected points in favour of my case for opposing the Bill because that has already been done. In the Auld report and in the information from polls that we conducted a number of points emerged. I am sorry that the Home Secretary did not give way when I tried to intervene. During his speech he allowed only one member of the Opposition to intervene. However, I will make the point now. As the House knows, I have been a Co-operative sponsored Member of Parliament. I am proud to have been, although I am no longer so sponsored because I am no longer a candidate, but I have been during the whole of my time in the House.
I wanted to ask the Home Secretary about his selection from the report by the Co-operative international research people. He gave just two sentences and failed to go through the report in which the whole of the Co-operative movement came down solidly against the passing of this Bill. The impression he gave the House, probably unwittingly, was quite the opposite. The hon. Member for 629 Orpington has put his finger on the biggest botch-up of all time. I agree with the Home Secretary that the ground should be cleared because this is a ramshackle, jerry-built Bill. It is the most complete muck-up of the many mucked-up Bills that I have seen and the obvious thing is not to tinker about with the expertise of the Patronage Secretary or with the ways and means of circumventing the opposition to this Bill, but to take it away, finish this Bill tonight and start all over again.
I hope that a considerable number of right hon. and hon. Members will vote against the Bill. That will give the Home Secretary what he wants. It will clear the ground so that he can then have full consultation with all concerned and produce a second Bill that will receive consensus support. It has emerged from the debate that there is a consensus on a number of issues.
We all agree that the law has to be changed, that we have to accept changes in modern retailing, and that there should be protection for the special character of Sunday. A number of my local clergymen have been on to me about this, including the Bishop of Willesden. There is also much agreement on the subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) concerning the effects of the Bill's provisions on shop assistants.
The ground could be most effectively cleared, and the Government would be showing a little political acumen for a change, if they would accept the decision of the House and introduce a new Bill at a later stage. Why is there such a hurry? Why is the Prime Minister so insistent that this legislation goes through here and now? Are the Government to have an election next June? Are they anxious to get this on the statute book immediately? There should be plenty of time for the Government to take away this botched-up Bill and get it right. This is not a party political point of view, because opposition to the Bill comes from both sides of the House.
The Auld report dealt thoroughly with wages councils. It said that if any changes were made, at least for retail distribution, the wages councils must be maintained. The Government have fudged that one, because by altering the rules and regulations they have left the wages councils in existence, but emasculated them so that many people who will be affected by the Bill, if it becomes law, will not be protected by wages councils.
I remind the House of the importance of the shop assistants and the wives of the people concerned. When the House passed the Licensing Act many years ago, when I first came to the House, the breweries were anxious that the pubs should open on Sundays until three o'clock because it would be beneficial to them. However, the publicans' wives said that this would interfere with their family life. The House made sure that pubs closed at two o'clock so that the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding could be consumed.
Certain philosophies are running behind both the desire for the Bill and opposition to it. Ever since I came to the House, we have been moving more and more towards a materialistic society, but there are other values. The quality of life is even more important than the quantity in it. As a young man, I was very impressed by the Earl of Stockton's book, "The Middle Way". He made a strong appeal for what he considers to be true Conservative values, and he set those out again recently in the other place. Therefore, I hope that Conservative Members who 630 feel keenly about this will behave as I am sure that he would have done had he still been in the House. I hope that they will go into the Lobby and reject the Bill.
We should allow a breathing space so that all the interested parties can feel that they are participating in giving advice on the ultimate decision rather than being told what will happen. A breathing space would give us the opportunity to clear up the mess of the Bill with all its anomalies, and replace it with something based on the best traditions of the House, and on the tradition that we wish to preserve—that not all the days in the week are the same.
As Members of Parliament we go to many different churches, although I cannot claim to be a member of any. However, this matter affects not just churches. We must establish the importance of having a whole day in which one can breathe a sigh of relief because the pressures are off. The Bill would put the pressure on in an unacceptable way, and, as it is unacceptable, I hope that many Conservative Members who feel as I do, and I know that there are, will take their courage in their hands and vote against the Bill.
I have been a Government junior Whip and I know the power of a Whips' Office. The proposal to allow a free vote upstairs is not worth the paper on which it is written. However, because of the way that Committees are run, the Patronage Secretary is all-important and the payroll vote is sufficient to make sure that the Government get their way. Therefore, our only hope is that the Government will change their decision, that this Bill will not get its Second Reading and that this important matter gets a fresh start.
§ 7.5 pm
§ Sir Adam Butler (Bosworth)
Time does not permit me to comment fully on other speeches, but I shall pick up one point made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). He chided some Conservative Members as being unlikely to stay on until midnight. However, matters of conscience are a 24-hour business. Those who intend to vote against the Bill will be here. We are worried that there will be laxity on the part of the Opposition, so I ask him to spend some time between now and midnight making sure that all his troops are here, particularly as I understand that the Opposition have a three-line Whip to vote against the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) deserves some commendation for the way in which he has held steadfast not just in opposing the Bill but in organising the opposition on Conservative Benches. Much to the discomfort of the Government Front Bench, we have maintained solidarity throughout. I hope that that solidarity can be maintained if we have to debate the Bill through its various stages.
I speak as a practising member of the Church of England—I am a church warden. At one time I was compelled to work on Sunday when I was a shift worker in a continuous manufacturing process, so I know from my own experience something about the arguments. There are many arguments, and it is important to concentrate on the important ones. I make no apology for repeating the argument already put by, for example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) and my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington.
We have to grasp the simple point that is fundamental and crucial to the debate. Despite all the arguments and inducements, this issue must decide how we vote today. 631 It is all very well to argue that the Bill may be amended in its progress. If the Bill is in a different state by the time it gets to Third Reading, so much the better, and we can judge whether or not to oppose it on that occasion. However, the principle of the Bill is not, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would have us think, merely clearing the ground for possible amendment. It provides for total deregulation of shopping hours throughout the week and on Sunday. That is what the Government and the Bill's supporters want, but it is not what I want.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is trying to persuade my hon. Friends who might be inclined to vote against the Bill to give it a chance and an opportunity for amendment. If my right hon. and learned Friend the Paymaster General, who is to wind up the debate, will, together with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, take the lead in amending the Bill, we may have other thoughts. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already said that the Bill as it stands is preferable to any amendment, so his mind is not open; it is committed. The House might decide otherwise, but my right hon. Friend's mind is committed.
The Government's case rests on the libertarian principle of removing statutory restraints and letting the people decide. That is a fine, but dangerous principle, and it is not exclusive. What is government about if it is not to restrain the will or the actions of the people? Governments have done it again and again.
§ Sir Adam Butler
Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend should reflect briefly about compulsory helmet wearing for motorcycle riders. Why should that not have been left to the will of the people? Why should not the compulsory wearing of seat belts be left to the will of the people? The principle does not apply as widely as the Government would have us believe.
I have to ask whether the Government want to see the character of Sunday changed. Do the Government want to see the high street opening up for the whole of Sunday as it does on a weekday? Do they want Sunday to become like any other day of the week? I do not believe that they do. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary does. In fact, he has assured us that he does not want that to happen. We know from letters that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has written that she does not want that to happen.
What is the Government's approach to this? The Government say that that will not happen or, if it does, it will be because the people have so decided. The Government have a responsibility to ensure that that does not happen by avoiding that risk. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington once more. He referred to another basic principle that the Conservative party should follow—that we should be seeking to conserve what is best in British practice and tradition, and that means the English and Welsh Sunday, and possibly the Scottish Sunday as well.
The Government argue that Sunday will not become like any other day of the week. I cannot accept that, and I am certainly not prepared to take the risk. All the evidence shows that it will very likely become like every other day of the week because the big stores will open. A sufficient number of big stores have clearly stated that they 632 want to open. The ones that would not open by choice have admitted that they would probably be compelled to do so in order to avoid loss of market share. It is admitted by those who have surveyed the subject that there would be no economic benefit. Indeed, costs would rise, and therefore prices. Overall, there would be no employment gain. There would possibly even be some loss of jobs. I was particularly attracted by the picture which I think the John Lewis Partnership painted, presumably in its house gazette. Retailers were compared with the crowd at a football match. When one person stands up to get a better view and the view of others is obstructed, so all the rest stand up and nobody is better off. That is what would happen with Sunday trading.
I do not believe that people want the high street shops to open on a Sunday. Certainly my post bag tells me that they do not. Of course, there are people who want a particular shop to open on Sunday—the one at which they like to shop. One could get petitions by the thousand in such cases. That is where I think the petition of 1.4 million signatures, referred to by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, came from. If I were to put a petition in pubs and clubs and said that the Government were seeking to ban the sale of beer, I would get not thousands, but hundreds of thousands of signatures. That is what has happened in this case.
We must have regard to the shop worker. There has to be a balance between consumers and shop workers in this matter. We would do the British people a great disservice if we knowingly passed legislation which significantly increased the number of those who work, particularly those who were obliged to work, as they would be in the larger stores, on a Sunday. We must bear that principle in mind if and when we come to amend the Bill.
There is no time to go into all the arguments for the various amendments, but if we can distinguish between the small and the big shop—the small shop is by definition usually a family shop or a shop where those who work are self-employed—if we can deregulate the small shop and then seek to restrict the trading of the big stores, possibly to Sunday afternoons, we shall prevent the high street opening up, as I believe it would otherwise be bound to do.
That is where my case rests. We all have our own views about the special character of Sunday. We might define it differently. It is something which perhaps is personal to each of us. It goes much beyond the question of religious worship, although that is very important. For most people it is a family day. It is a day for rest and recreation. As somebody put it to me only this morning, everyone needs a break from work or the weekday routine, and we must not prejudice that state of affairs. Therefore, much as I regret it, I have no alternative but to oppose the principle of the Bill, with all the risk inherent in it, and vote against the Government tonight.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
The Bill presents a difficult decision for hon. Members on both sides of the House. What the Government are trying to do is basically right in the sense that they seek to liberalise shopping hours and to allow shops to conform more to what the public wish and demand, making things freer and more flexible. That is a goal that we should accept and further. The problem is that the Government have gone 633 about it in what can only be described as a wrong-headed fashion, which makes it difficult to support a principle which in itself is right.
Whatever one's belief in the basic principle, the way in which the Government have gone about implementing it makes it extremely difficult to support. I support the principle of deregulation. At present the law — as has been argued so many times and it is pointless to repeat all the illustrations—is unenforceable. It is a patchwork of enforcement and non-enforcement, of the enforceable and unenforceable, which brings the law into disrepute. It is better that such a law should be taken off the statute book and revised and reformed. Once that process is embarked on, I can see no possible stopping place between the present law and the total liberalisation which is proposed. I can see no common ground on which people can rally. There is no stopping point at which people can say that they need go no further towards liberalisation.
Are we to say that shops above a certain size should remain closed and that smaller shops shall be open? If so, there will be all the problems of measuring up. Shall we say that certain types of shops—garden centres and do-it-yourself shops—for which there is an obvious popular demand, shall he open and others not? Much shopping today is multi-purpose. Many difficulties will be produced. Shall we have a local option which will make the patchwork quilt more patchwork and less quilted and comfortable? I see no stopping point and so it is better to opt for deregulation, which takes the hands of hon. Members off the wheel. It takes the decision away from us. Indeed, the decision does not belong to us. It belongs to the people. They have to decide whether they want to shop on Sunday and, if so, the facilities will be open. It is their decision; it is not for us to enforce our framework on them. If people do not want shops to be open they will not be open. They will he regulated in that way by the market.
We shall have a situation such as that which exists in Scotland. That is the situation that will prevail in parts of Britain such as Grimsby, which is the part in which I am interested. There would not be a strong demand there for shops to open on Sunday and I do not anticipate that shops would open on any scale on Sunday. In London and in the major conurbations, it is probably a different matter. There there is a tourist demand and other social demands. But for most of Britain the situation in Scotland would prevail. If we allow people to decide in that way, all the fears about Sunday trading would prove false. This is a matter of discretionary spending — whether to spend on restaurants, holidays or shopping. More shopping opportunities would mean more trade and so more jobs.
I can accept so much of the argument. I want to keep the character of Sunday special but we do not keep it special by enforcing its special character by legislation. It can be special only if the people want it to be special and that means giving them the opportunity to decide what they want to do on Sunday and whether they want to shop. That is sensible and that is what I think the public want.
All the opinion polls show that there is a majority preference for Sunday trading and for longer opening hours. That is not a burning preference. It is not the kind of passionate preference that would cause people to rush to the shops to break down the windows to try to get in if the shops are shut. But there is a broadly diffused feeling that the law is anomalous and wrong and that shops should be open if people want them to be open. If the Bill 634 responded to that popular demand it would be sensible. However, it is upsetting for someone holding that view to find that the Government have gone further than to assert that clear, demonstrable and defensible principle. The Government put the principle itself in danger by dealing also with hours and conditions for shop workers.
In any society the Government have a responsibility to protect the pay, conditions, standard of life and the role of the vulnerable. That is the Government's social responsibility. It cannot be denied that shop workers are vulnerable. They are underpaid, overworked and badly treated. They have no means of fighting back. Only a few are unionised. Only about one eighth of shop workers are in a union. They cannot protect themselves. Many of them are women, or young workers, and are very vulnerable. It is morally offensive for the Government to do down that vulnerable group in the way which the Bill proposes.
I cannot understand how any Government with a conscience can propose this Bill to deal with deregulation, which is sensible, and at the same time introduce a Wages Bill to undermine the wages councils, which are vital to the protection of that vulnerable sector. The Government are removing the powers of the wages councils as they affect those under the age of 21. The councils' powers in respect of the rates and wages for those over 21 will also be weakened. It is unacceptable for the Government to do that at the same time as introducing this Bill.
The Government plan to remove the protection contained in the 1950 legislation. That compounds the offences in the Wages Bill and does down the workers instead of freeing the shoppers. We accept that shoppers should be freed, but not at the expense of the workers. The Government have made a basic mistake.
The Bill also deals with conscience and with whether people should be forced to work on Sunday. I do not want anybody who does not want to work on Sunday for whatever reason—conscience, convenience or for any other reason — to have to work on Sunday. That protection should be extended. That right should not be signed away. The right should apply to all workers, present and to come.
The Bill deals with three issues, one of which I welcome and two of which I oppose. That is the dilemma. The Government have 33 marks out of a 100 and in any system that means failure. It would be more sensible, logical and reasonable to allow the House to vote on the principle of deregulation. I was one of three Opposition Members who voted for the Auld report. On that basis I would have voted for this Bill on the ground that other parts could be attended to in Committee. I hoped that a sensible Committee would change the Bill to provide protection for the workers. I have been deprived of that opportunity by inept Government tactics.
The Prime Minister's maxim is never to rest content with the plaudits of free men if she can achieve more by coercion. That is what she is doing. A three-line Whip is wrong and offensive. It changes the ball game and puts those with religious scruples in the invidious position of having to choose between eternal damnation and the wrath of the Prime Minister. There is no doubt about the lesser penalty — eternal damnation. That is probably particularly true for the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) who attacks the Bill but endorses Samantha Fox in The Sun.
The three-line Whip makes the Bill a party matter when it should not be. Deregulation is basically right but the 635 Government are going about it in a ham-fisted fashion which makes the Bill difficult to support. I cannot now support the Bill and I shall abstain.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
The speech by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) was refreshing, but I was disappointed with his last sentence.
I accept that the problems of shop workers are special, but I do not understand how their problems, although different, are more special than the problems experienced by hotel workers, firemen, television workers or many others who work on Sunday.
After all the fire and fury about the Bill, and in spite of appreciating that it is always possible to make mountains out of molehill — today's debate is a fair demonstration of that — I believe that the Bill is unimportant. It does not initiate social change, but ensures that the law is brought up to date to accord with the social change that has already occurred.
I do not believe that the Bill will have a great effect. It will not lead to mass Sunday opening. I am sceptical about some of the claims about its leading to more or less employment. If the Bill becomes law, Sunday will still remain special.
Compared with the great issues of the day, such as unemployment, East-West relations and the Labour party's expenditure programme, the Bill is something of a mouse. However, because it is concerned with Sunday, it touches the sensitivities and emotions of many people.
I feel that I have been here before, because way back in 1967 I served on the Committee examining the Sunday Entertainments Bill, introduced by that much respected and popular Labour Member, Will Hamling. That Bill must have been the worst named Bill introduced in the House. It had no hope. It was named the Sunday Entertainments Bill, not the "Sunday Entertainment Bill". It was given a Second Reading, but after 54 hours in Committee it died. The Bill's objective was to allow professional sport, for which entry was charged, to take place legally on a Sunday. The Bill was killed.
The spirit, and often the letter, of the law is now totally disregarded. The Wimbledon tennis finals take place on a Sunday, as do the Open golf championships, the last day of the Badminton three-day event and the motor racing grand prix. Each of those events is accompanied by shop opening.
I favour sport on Sunday because it provides the opportunity for family outings. The only sport that does not take place on a Sunday is horse racing. I am not against that, but that sport is constrained by the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, which insists that there shall be no cash betting on Sunday. Again there is a contradiction, because one can go into a casino on a Sunday, into amusement arcades or even place a credit telephone bet on Sunday on racing in Ireland, France or Germany. It seems to me that in due course sport, including racing, will be another area for action.
It could be argued that as the law applying to sport and shops is being broken without problems now, why change it? The owner of one village shop said to me the other day that the law had been broken for 13 years. We are constantly reminded that local authorities continue to turn a blind eye to the law. However, my right hon. and hon. 636 Friends and I are Conservatives, and we believe in the rule of law. If we acquiesce to the law being flouted in one sphere, it is difficult for us to claim consistently that it should not be flouted in other spheres. When a law is flouted and no effort is made to uphold it, not only that law but all laws are brought into disrepute. That is the strongest reason for saying that the law must be changed.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said, most people agree that the law should at least be amended to clear up anomalies. As we know, the Auld committee and the Government say that that cannot be done, and I agree. The Home Secretary has said that we should not replace an old muddle with a new muddle. The Committee stage is when that opinion can be tested and attempts made to insert realistic amendments. Thus, the Bill must be given a Second Reading. If not, the law must be applied as it is, and that is the third and final alternative open to us.
All I can say about that is that I should not like to be a Member of Parliament who voted against the Bill on the Second Reading and was then morally bound to go back to the constituency and draw the attention of the local authority to current breaches of the law. Apart from personal political considerations, it could be a full-time job catching up with all the law breakers. Therefore, I support the Government and trust that the Bill will become law.
§ Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)
Like many of my colleagues, I have here a petition covering many churches in my area, expressing their concern about the nature and scope of this Bill. They are concerned that it is not aiming to regularise the anomalies of Sunday trading but is bowing to the pressure of a few large influential retailers to change not only the character of Sunday but basically to attack small retailers. I come from a family that earned its living in a small shop, and small business men of that type will go to the wall as a result of this Bill, which will not increase trade but will simply mean a redistribution of trade.
Does the Conservative party, which supports this Bill, want to support large or small business men only? The president of the Federation of Meat Trades said today that, if carried, the Bill will be a disaster for small business men, who will be squeezed out of business by large multiples. Let us make no mistake. If trade is redistributed, what happens in effect is that the person who does not want to open is forced to open, not to increase trade but to maintain the level of existing trade. I find that morally indefensible from the point of view of commercial let alone religious ethics. Although my father was religious, he was forced to reduce his churchgoing and to alter his family life in order to work seven days a week. Many people are in that position today.
The Bill will not even result in increased employment. Rather, employment opportunities will be transferred from the staff who tend to be permanent and experienced to part-time people who will work for knockdown wages. I cannot possibly understand how such moves are justified. There is deep concern about this matter on political and religious grounds. Many religious people do not want to impose their convictions and ethics on the rest of the community, but they believe that the Bill is forcing on them the ethics of the rest of the community. That is wrong. I should have thought that a party that stands for Victorian values, like 637 the Tories, would recognise the family as the basis of moral values in this society. Certainly, the Bill affects the family values of those who work in the retailing trade.
I am concerned about the attitude adopted by many Conservative Ministers. I have listened to the attacks made on bishops, almost with the vehemence of attacks made on the Labour party. I used to believe that the Church of England—and I am a Church of Scotland man—was the Tory party at prayer. I am sure many of them are still at prayer, but I am not sure to which deity they are praying. I believe that an important principle is at stake—the principle of a Member's conscience. It is entirely wrong to implement a three-line Whip on issues such as this that have social and religious implications. It is really abrogating responsibility to say that Members of Parliament must abide by a three-line Whip on the Second Reading, but that a certain laxity will be introduced after that. We must realise that if the Second Reading is carried, the Bill, with all its imperfections, will go through in a form that will in no way remedy the existing anomalies in the law that it could be argued should be remedied.
I believe that the Prime Minister is putting pressure on her party to make this a party issue. I do not denigrate the Prime Minister; I respect her strength of character. I have even said that I believe she is a creation of the Almighty —to test our belief in Him. The fact remains that this issue should never have gone to a three-line Whip. This evening, not only will we see the matter decided on party divisions but we will also see Members having to choose between sincere personal and religious convictions and their party. On an issue such as this, that situation serves neither the function of the House nor the function of the quality of the laws that we should be passing.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)
I warmly echo the closing words of the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Mr. Young).
That the present law on Sunday trading is unsatisfactory, none of us can deny. That anomalies abound is self-evident. That local authorities are reluctant to enforce the present law is, alas, only too true. So what do the Government propose? To deal with what is still a relatively small nuisance, they set about creating a larger one, with no clear idea where it will lead us. When we demur, they brush aside our anxiety by telling us that total deregulation will not change the character of our traditional Sunday. How do they know? When arguing that deregulation will not destroy Sunday as a special day, they give the example of Scotland. They do not tell us that the Auld committee took no evidence from Scotland or that it admitted that restrictions in England and Wales and the strong tradition of Sunday closing have kept opening in Scotland at a relatively low level.
However, we now have more relevant evidence about what is likely to happen in England and Wales. I refer to a survey of the trend in shop opening on Good Fridays, which was carried out late last year by the Jubilee Centre in 10 towns in England and Wales. It showed that, in the decade from 1976 to 1985, the percentage of shops opening on Good Friday had doubled, and last year 40 per cent. of all shops opened. This steadily rising trend of opening on Good Friday is what many of us believe will happen on Sundays. Moreover, what has taken years to happen on Good Friday is likely to happen much more quickly on Sundays, with high street competition being 638 fiercer now than ever before. One can only conclude that, whether it takes six months or six years, the Bill must lead to full-scale business activity on Sunday.
There is more to it than that. The Bill is not about allowing a few corner shops to open on Sunday if they choose. It is about allowing every high street in the land to become as busy on Sunday as on every other day of the week, if the big retail consortia choose. That is the point that we want to bring home to Ministers. Basically, the Bill is about market shares. It is not about freedom, as some claim, as there is no clamour from the constituencies for it. It is about destroying Sunday as a day set apart for centuries as one of rest, relaxation, recreation and family togetherness.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
No. I am subject to the ten minute rule, and I must have regard to other hon. Members. Besides, I am talking about conditions in England and Wales.
The Bill has been designed to satisfy the greed of one section of business. Even putting aside the argument that Sunday is the only day of the week set aside for health and corporate worship—
§ Sir Bernard Braine
It may be rubbish to my hon. and learned Friend, but it is not in England and Wales. It must be clear by now that the overwhelming majority of Christians in England and Wales, and, I believe, in Scotland too, oppose the Bill. Moreover, there has always been good social sense in having one day set apart from the rest which is quieter and more relaxed—never more so, I suggest, than today, when millions of married women are at work during the week and many husbands are on shift work. Sunday is the only day when such parents can come together and be with their children. Not a day passes without the press and media reminding us that family life is under serious threat.
That being so, when we have a Bill which is likely to affect family life in a fundamental way, we can only presume that there are compelling reasons for it. What are they? Are the public clamouring for it? Are our town halls and constituency offices besieged by angry mobs demanding Sunday opening? Are shop workers petitioning Parliament to be allowed to work on Sundays as well? Not at all. The recent Harris poll showed that over two thirds of the public say that they are not inconvenienced by most shops being closed on Sunday. Five per cent. said that they were seriously inconvenienced. Perhaps we can describe the Bill as one for 5 per cent. of the public.
Do retailers want it? The overwhelming majority of small traders most certainly do not, as has been made crystal clear by the National Chamber of Trade. Many big retail concerns—household names such as Marks and Spencer, the John Lewis Partnership, Boots the Chemist, Dewhurst, and Selfridges — utterly oppose Sunday trading.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
Indeed. True, the Open Shop Group wants Sunday trading and has spent a lot of money telling us so, but that vested interest accounts for less than 10 per cent. of retail turnover. Perhaps, then, we can describe the Bill as one for 10 per cent. of the retail trade.
639 How are we to interpret the Government's attitude? Is it that although they know there is no great clamour for the Bill, as the Auld committee admitted, they feel nevertheless that there is an economic case for it? Perhaps they feel that once market forces are free to operate on Sundays the advantage to all will soon become apparent. Alas, they cannot say that, because the Auld committee was told by the Institute of Fiscal Studies that, in the long run, about 20,000 jobs would be lost. Some firms will open on Sunday. It has been made plain to me that some firms will feel obliged to open on Sunday in order to retain market share. As their overall turnover is not expected to increase, part-time workers will most certainly be taken on on Sundays, but at the expense of weekday workers, who will be sacked. Like other hon. Members, I have that in writing. It is no secret that seven-day trading will cost more than six-day trading. Who will bear the cost? Perhaps when the Minister replies he will answer that. Either consumers will pay higher prices, or retailers and shareholders will see their profits squeezed. It is one or the other.
If, then, we are warned in advance that there is no economic case for the Bill, there should be no question of our voting for it, hoping for some small improvement in Committee or on Report. Who do the Government think they are kidding?
Perhaps I might summarise the reasons for rejecting the Bill. The Government have no mandate whatever—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] — to change the character of the traditional Sunday. The Bill is not before us to fulfil a solemn pledge to the nation. It did not figure in any election manifesto. It was not an issue that was placed squarely before the electorate at the last general election. The Bill is not brought before us, like others, as a welcome measure for strengthening the economy and increasing the number of real jobs. On the contrary, it can have only a marginal effect on trade, it may well increase prices, and, while offering some extra part-time employment, it will reduce the number of ordinary weekday jobs.
The Bill is not brought before us as a liberating measure, as some claim, which will encourage small businesses, because it will manifestly force many to close, as the National Chamber of Trade has repeatedly predicted. In truth, the Bill is a surrender to certain large retail concerns which will weep no tears if all the small traders are put out of business, because the Bill gives them the opportunity to grab a larger share from others in the retail trade.
All those are reasons enough to reject the Bill, but there is another and overwhelming reason why the House—especially my right hon. and hon. Friends — should throw it out. To Tories at least, the nation is composed not only of the living but of the dead and the still unborn.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
We who are privileged to sit here have a responsibility to preserve the best of the traditions handed down to us from our predecessors and to cherish them for future generations. We are never more than trustees for posterity. Once the special character of Sunday has been destroyed, it cannot be recreated. It will have 640 gone for ever. No British Government should embark on such a course, least of all this one, who at the last election said:How to defend Britain's traditional liberties and distinctive way of life is the most vital decision that faces the people at this election.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. In fairness to the House, the right hon. Member must keep within the time limit.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I cannot find it in my heart to support the Bill in the Lobby. We are on a slippery slope.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
I should like to compliment the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) on his excellent speech, despite the comments about the Scots. As a fellow Celt, I enjoyed his speech.
I support the amendment in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for his understanding in accepting the arguments for calling the amendment.
The Home Secretary said that the Government will not apply the guillotine. That was confirmed by the tapes which I recently read in the Corridor. On that basis, we all look forward to the Committee stage. Three of my colleagues who want to sit on the Committee can speak for three hours without notes and another three hon. Members who would like to sit on the Committee can speak for three hours without a note or without drawing breath. We therefore look forward to the Committee stage. I do not know when the Government intend placing the Bill on the statute book, but I think that, unless there is a guillotine, it will be a long way in the future.
I declare an interest as the sponsored Member of Parliament for the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. I pay tribute to the Deputy General Secretary, Mr. John Flood, for his work in the campaign against the Bill and similar measures. I speak for the millions of people, especially the 2.2 million employed in the retail commercial sector. The Bill proposes a free-for-all in the retail commercial sector. The legislation has increasingly been described by many informed people as inconceivable and totally unjustified and legislation that will make for the Government more political enemies than friends. The Bill is selective in its approach to the problems facing the retail industry.
In tracing the historic background to the Shops Act 1950, we can appreciate the problems and difficulties that the reformers had to face and try to overcome. There is a need for reform of that legislation, for anomalies to be sorted out and for constant and continued consideration as times and attitudes change. Most hon. Members will readily accept that and eagerly respond by introducing such legislation.
The House will not agree with the bullying tactics of a Government with such a large majority forcing a Second Reading through on a three-line Whip, "strictly enforced" by the Government Whips' Office. The Conservative party was warned by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, 641 South-East (Mr.Pym) when he left the Cabinet and by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), with proof, of the hard, uncompromising, abrasive and thug-like tactics of the lion Lady but, on this Bill, I believe that she has completely lost her ball bearings.
I point out to Conservative Members that, whatever the tactics of persuasion to make them vote for the Second Reading, and whatever the pressure, such as loss of parliamentary office, however junior or senior, their opposition to date is recognised, appreciated and acclaimed by millions as a move to persuade the Government that we need to preserve something in the 1980s to take us through to the next century. We need Sunday for our traditional family talks, meetings and get-togethers. It is a time when the bustle of everyday life is partly stopped for 24 hours. It gives a little respite for the six days past or the six days to follow. Once that is taken away, life as we have known it will soon become the hustle and bustle of endless weeks, woven into a pattern that we cannot even visualise or truly appreciate as we consider the serious implications.
Why is there a need to introduce the Shops Bill? Was there a manifesto commitment by the Tory party in the 1979 or 1983 elections? Has the electorate given the Government a mandate? If not, what moral or Government emergency compels the Government to introduce the Bill without the country's consent? Is it to reward the Tories' main financial backers who have a direct or indirect interest in the Bill? Is it to reward the campaigners for setting the people free to decide whether they want to shop on Sunday, whether they want to open their shops on Sunday or whether they want to work on Sunday? Is that the "setting the people free" approach? It is ironic that, on Second Reading of such a major piece of legislation to free the people from the bondage of the Shops Act 1950, the Government have the effrontery to ignore the requests and pleas of more than 100 of their Members for a free vote on a matter of conscience and blatantly and hypocritically to impose a three-line Whip with useless, puerile promises of a free vote later.
The Home Secretary talked about the Government's open mind. If the Government are so open-minded on this legislation, why have they not allowed a free vote, as requested by hon. Members on both sides of the House? If this legislation is popular capitalism, why is it so unpopular with millions of people? The House and I have been presented with many petitions since the Bill was introduced. Numerous petitions are still being handed in. It is passing strange, to say the least, that the Government can conjure up a figure now but, only a few weeks ago, when the Home Secretary was asked how many letters of protest on the Bill he had received, he said that there were 310 letters in support and 37,000 against. Yet today he talks about the number being fairly even.
I shall now deal briefly with the suggested reasons why the Government are introducing the Bill. They suggest that conflicting interests make it difficult for general agreement on legislative compromises, so they are compelled to abandon all mediation on the pretext that it is too difficult and would mean surrendering the function of Government. Surely the function of Government is to legislate on a programme presented to the people and for which they have a mandate, not on the whim of the Prime Minister, who dreamt this one up when she dropped off to sleep while writing the Queen's Speech after returning from the Tory party conference last October. The House will fully 642 appreciate that she must have had a hard time then, and that there are more hard weeks ahead at Tory party conferences, especially after last Thursday's magnificent result for Labour achieved by my new hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford). In all probability more will be said about that result another time.
The Prime Minister's dream about the Shops Bill resulted in her including one sentence as an afterthought at the end of the Queen's Speech. It read:A Bill will be introduced to remove statutory restrictions on shop opening hours".—[Official Report, 6 November 1985; Vol. 86, c. 5.]That sentence, produced without a mandate or full discussions with Tory colleagues in either House, resulted in the Bill. [Interruption.] I am being told that I have had my 10 minutes. I hope that the House will support the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), and vote against the motion.
§ 8.1 pm
§ Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)
It is interesting for me to follow the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) who is clearly one of the paternalists of the Welsh Labour party.
Before I embark on my defence of the Bill, I should like to declare an interest. I have a share in a number of shops, including gardening centres, which already open on Sundays. I wonder whether I am in breach of the law. I should appreciate it if the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) could tell me whether he would enforce the law so rigorously that I would be inspected, in the unlikely event of the Labour party being returned to power at the general election.
I have been impressed by the references to the enormous number of people who already work on Sunday. A great many work in my constituency, which subsists to a substantial extent, although by no means overwhelmingly, on the tourist trade, especially hotels, and the beauties of the Dorset countryside. It is curious that people shop and enjoy themselves with their families, not only in do-it-yourself and tourist shops, but—Tell it not in Gath"—in the cathedrals of the west country. They can buy their artefacts on Sundays, not only up and down the esplanade at Weymouth but in the Gothic towers and shady nooks of the cathedrals—indeed, in the ambulatories of our ancient cathedrals.
It is odd that the bishops of the Church of England should advocate that W.H. Smith should not open on Sundays while they are happy to sell guidebooks and many other souvenirs on Sundays to cover their substantial expenses. It is perhaps a little pharisaical for them to say that they should be allowed to do something which the high street shop should not.
All hon. Members know that the law is an ass, and as soon as it is universally recognised to be such it brings the rest of the law into disrepute, as well as the law which is demonstrably an ass. Therefore, a Government who attempt to reform the law are surely to be commended for trying to bring life into the modern world so eloquently described by my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan). We know, particularly from my hon. Friend's splendid description, how the world has changed. People go out in their cars on Sundays. It is curious to assume that a tradition, which we learnt on further 643 inspection was started as an experiment only 50 years ago, can become the law of the Medes and Persians and be defended to the death by the paternalists in the Labour party. It is curious how soon traditions in a traditional country come to be established.
We are living in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, not Queen Elizabeth I.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I bow to the hon. Gentleman's superior knowledge. In England and Wales we are in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. [Interruption.] Although I normally love the interventions of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), I have only 10 minutes. If he will keep quiet, I can get on with my speech.
We are living in the world of Queen Elizabeth II, not Queen Elizabeth I of England. Even in the world of Queen Elizabeth I of England, laws were passed to compel people to go to church, not to forbid them to trade on Sunday. That was a political decision, with which I am sure Labour Members would disagree profoundly. The political decisions and puritanism that we have seen exhibited with such eloquence by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), among others, came in 100 years later with the Puritans and Oliver Cromwell. We know what happened to those sentiments after 10 years.
This legislation represents liberalisation. It will allow people to do what they want. It comes ill from canting bishops to tell us what we should do.
I close by reminding the House of a story which hon. Members may find as deeply affecting as I did. Bishop Porteous of London was described in the memoirs of Captain Gronow in volume 2. In 1825 he heard that King George IV held a parade of the Household troops on a Sunday on Horseguards Parade. He hastened from Fulham palace to remonstrate with the King at Carlton house. Bishop Porteous, unlike some members of Fulham today, was a Tory. He told the King that he should not hold a parade of his troops on a Sunday. King George IV sent him away with a flea in his ear. I must tell hon. Members, particularly those who have quoted the views of church leaders with such relish, that as soon as the bishop returned home he was rewarded for his pains by being struck down dead.
The Bill remedies an absurdity, and I commend it and the courage of my right hon. and hon. Friends in introducing it to the House. We can look forward to an age which is not dominated by a law which caters only for the sort of spirit which the Labour party introduced for the first time in its paternalistic legislation of 1945, and which this Government have done so much to repeal.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)
Last Friday at Newport civic centre I was handed a petition containing hundreds of signatures. It had been signed in chapels and churches throughout the constituency and the signatories were opposed to Sunday trading. Before that I had received several hundred letters and a number of smaller petitions expressing opposition to the Bill. I did not need any prompting from my constituents on this issue, because I had made up my mind about it long ago.
644 The Government have introduced the Bill despite the warnings which they have been given, and they have done so by stealth. First, they smuggled it into the House of Lords. Perhaps the worst crime of all was to impose a three-line Whip on Second Reading, when the issue of principle will be decided. I know that many Conservative Members are battling with their consciences, and I hope that they will heed the words of their hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), and stick to their guns and oppose the Bill. The Labour party has always shown a great deal of tolerance on issues of principle, and it is my belief that the Government will live to regret their intolerance on such a sensitive issue.
I oppose the Bill on the grounds of religion, social considerations and trade unionism. When I say "religion", I am not being sanctimonious. I have not seen any blinding light recently, but I am conscious of the fact that Britain has a Christian heritage. We have all been brought up in the belief that Sunday is at least different from the other days of the week. Apart from any moral considerations, we all benefit from the fact that Sunday is different from the rest of the week, in that it is a day of rest. That is especially beneficial when we bear in mind the pressure of modern living.
In our society there is an insatiable demand for consumer goods. Advertising ensures that that demand continues. That is what the capitalist ethos is essentially about. It is characterised by the slang expression, "Keeping up with the Jones's". In other words, if one family has a video system, the family next door will very soon want one as well. The cost of living being what it is, and with mortgage repayments and other commitments, the standard of living that is desired can often be obtained only by the wife going out to work. I have no wish to enter into any argument about the rights and wrongs of that issue. It is a matter for the individual to decide upon, and circumstances will play a part in his or her decision. However, we have a serious crime rate and delinquency is prevalent among our youngsters. There is drug taking and glue sniffing.
If Sunday trading becomes the norm, the wife and mother who works part-time in a shop will be expected to work on a Sunday. Sunday has been the one day when the members of a family can get together, with the mother perhaps preparing the Sunday lunch. It is my firm conviction that the loss of the family Sunday will be highly detrimental to our society.
Throughout my working life I have been a trade unionist and a firm believer in trade union principles. Many shop workers have to work on Saturday, and they certainly do not wish to work on Sunday as well. Lorry drivers will be expected also to work on Sundays, as shop deliveries will be necessary.
§ Mr. Hughes
No, I shall not give way.
There will be parking problems and more police officers will be required to be on duty. The principle of double time for working on Sunday will soon be swept aside as Sunday becomes just another working day. Sunday trading will lead to part-time jobs of four, eight or 16 hours, perhaps, with no holiday rights, pension rights, sickness rights or national insurance contributions. It will lead to the exploitation of young people despite the 645 safeguards that are contained in the Bill. It will lead also to redundancy for many older and experienced shop workers.
I recognise that the law needs tidying up. However, nothing more drastic than that need be done. I would not complain if small food shops were allowed to open until midday on Sunday. I recognise that there is a need to buy newspapers on a Sunday. The public should be allowed to visit garden centres and make purchases; why not? I agree that minor modifications of that sort should be made to the present law. But I do not want to walk along the main street of Newport on a Sunday and see all the main chain stores open and all the hustle and bustle that that involves. That would be a marked infringement of our traditional Sunday, from which we have all benefited.
Sunday trading will do harm in a social sense. It will increase the crime rate and further erode family life. It will lead to a deterioration in working conditions and the more marked exploitation of labour in the retail trade, and wages and conditions in that trade are low enough at present. For all these reasons, I shall vote against the Bill's Second Reading. I do not need any three-line Whip to tell me which Lobby to enter.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Vale of Glamorgan)
It is recognised on both sides of the House that there are some serious and quite considerable anomalies in the current law on Sunday trading. Many of us, however, do not feel that complete deregulation is an acceptable solution. The only thing that commends complete deregulation is the fact that it is the easiest solution. I warn my right hon. Friend that easy solutions are not always the best.
It has been contended that there is disregard of the law as well as anomalies and that the law is difficult to enforce. A survey was recently carried out in 40 towns and it showed that about 93 per cent. of shops are closed on Sundays. It revealed also that only 1.4 per cent. of shops were open illegally. Sunday opening is, therefore, not the enormous problem that some of my hon. Friends and others have suggested. If these figures are only near the facts, it is clear that the problem is capable of being dealt with by reform and not necessarily by complete deregulation.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State have told us constantly that complete deregulation would not lead to any serious change in the nature of our Sunday. We have been told that repeatedly. They are saying by implication that the position can be acceptable only if deregulation fails. They are saying, in effect, that everything will be all right if deregulation does not go too far. That reveals the nature of their argument. It is clear that they do not know how far it will go.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
No, I shall not give way.
Many of my right hon. Friends fear that the change brought about by deregulation will be great. It could hopelessly change the nature of Sunday and would be an irreversible step which we should not take. Many of us are saddened by the course that the Government propose to take, but we are not annoyed. We are sad that the Government are determined to press on with the Bill as it stands. The change that is proposed for Sunday trading 646 seems incompatible with the Government's other aims in recent years, most of which have been founded on family life, improvements in the environment, law and order, and encouragement of small business. The Government have stood up for all those things. Family life is bound to be damaged. Many illustrations have been given by speakers from both sides of the House. The change will be damaging to the improvements in the environment. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) explained what will happen in suburbia, with the increased traffic, which is bound to effect a serious and damaging change in many of our towns. We are often told that overcrowding, bad housing and poverty are contributory factors to vandalism and crime. How rarely does anyone say that the decline of religion and church attendance has also been a contributory factor in creating vandalism and crime? Anything that Parliament does to damage Sunday cannot do anything to help the Church's work. It cannot be beneficial. It is bound to be harmful and that is one of he most potent reasons why I cannot support the Bill.
We have said that we want to help small businesses. I declare a personal interest as a vice-president of the National Chamber of Trade. Nearly all our chambers and nearly all our small members are terribly worried and concerned about the Bill. I shall summarise my objections under three main headings. I hope that I will not be accused of being a narrow Sabbatarian but as a churchgoer I do not want to see our Sundays like other days. Secondly, as vice-president of the National Chamber of Trade I share the fears of our smaller members of the probable consequences of the change on their businesses. By golly, those small shops are already under severe pressure. Thirdly, I do not want employees in the retail sector to he under severe pressure to have to work on Sundays contrary to their religious belief, conscience or even their personal inclination. I am afraid that that will be the case. I regard the protection in the Bill, such as it is, as utterly inadequate. It provides no protection for shopworkers changing jobs. It gives no protection to new entrants into the industry. Are they to be treated differently even if they have Christian conscientious objections? Why should they be treated differently from those already employed in the industry?
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Of course they will not. They will be under pressure. Much of that pressure is difficult to avoid if we legislate in this open-handed way. I trust that those of us who take these views will not be regarded as extremists.
On the Church argument, I share the views based on the Christian doctrine that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. Those views are held by more people in the community than my right hon. and learned Friend suspects, even in this country of many religions or people of no religion. I am satisfied that Sunday has been a boon and a blessing to people of all persuasions and no persuasion. Many have been impressed by the article by Chaim Bermant in today's The Guardian in which, as a Jew, he pays tribute to the British Sunday. He calls it aday out of time, less trammelled, more relaxed, an occasion for rest and recreation.That is what the Bill may put in peril. As Mr. Bermant reminds us,
"Addison put it:'Sunday clears away the rust of the whole week.647 We shall also put that in peril. We put at peril an institution which, despite all its difficulties and imperfections, has been a tremendous advantage to the people of this country. Ministers have cited Scotland, Norway and some of the states of the United States of America. I do not believe that the Auld committee, or Ministers, have looked sufficiently at examples of countries such as France, West Germany and Holland, none of which have complete deregulation.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
I cannot speak with authority about Spain. I do not think that it has complete deregulation but I might be wrong.
Like others, I regret the three-line Whip. During my many years in the House I have spoken and voted on many Bills of this kind but they were always private Members' Bills and there was always a free vote because it was a question of conscience. We are told that because this is a Government Bill there must be a three-line Whip. I suggest that that is not the case. When we came to the issue of capital punishment in the Bill dealing with law and order we were given a free vote. Why should we be deprived of a free vote on Sunday trading if we were given one on capital punishment? The Government have been utterly inconsistent in that. They have also been inconsistent in bringing the Bill forward, as many of my hon. Friends have said, utterly without mandate. At no stage during the previous general election were any of us able to say that this was a part of our policy. It was not part of our policy.
The Bill may have pleased a few. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend knows who it has pleased. I can tell him some who it has not pleased. It has displeased and caused deep anxiety to thousands of churchgoers and fine citizens of this country. It has caused concern among many small shopkeepers and it has caused great worries among many shop workers. How the Government can cause distress and concern to so many people at once I do not know. It could be very injurious politically. I warn the Government and I hope that they will have second thoughts about it.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
I declare my interest as a Member sponsored by the Co-operative movement, and a Co-operator of long standing.
I wish to follow on from the points made by the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower) about the Whip. I certainly do not need a Whip to help me to make up my mind on this matter. It is a pity that the Whip is being used on Conservative Members. It was not just on the last occasion, when it was a private Member's Bill, that there was no Whip. On almost 20 previous occasions when this matter has been discussed there has not been a Whip on Conservative Members. Indeed, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said:
There are important considerations and fears about the character of Sunday … 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."—[Official Report, 4 February 1983; Vol. 36, c. 557.]648 What has changed since that declaration? What has changed since the 20 previous occasions? I can only assume that the Prime Minister has made up her mind and all her troops have to fall solidly in line behind her. I am encouraged to hear the declarations that we have heard tonight from Conservative Members and to know that there are significant numbers of them who will not fall in line. I was greatly impressed by the speech of the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). I am sorry that he is not in his place. It was full of passion and rational argument. It was exactly what has made this House what it is today in debate. He was right to say that the Government have submitted to narrow commercial interests and have dressed it up as an issue of great principle.
Like the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Paymaster General, I smile a little, but for a different reason, when I hear Conservative Members talking about the joy of shopping. Some books begin "The Joy of". I know that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) knows about it, because I have seen his comments about page three of The Sun in relation to this issue. Those books are best sellers. The Home Secretary has written a few best sellers, such as "Scotch on the Rocks" and others, but if he wrote a book entitled "The Joy of Shopping" I can guarantee that it would be remaindered within a month.
We have heard from grandfathers on the Conservative Benches who think that the joy of shopping is taking their grandchildren once a year into Santa's grotto and seeing their eyes light up. That is a myth. That is humbug. It is not the reality of the daily, the weekly, drudge of shopping. I do not look forward to being dragooned by my children on a Sunday, as much as on any other day, into this thing which the grandfathers on Conservative Benches think is a great opportunity.
On a more serious note, it is no joy for the many families existing on £50 a week to go shopping, with the incessant demands of their children, spurred on by the pressure of advertising. It is no joy for them to go around the shops and know that they cannot afford to buy the things that they see there. We are hearing a myth about the great joy of shopping.
§ Mr. Foulkes
No, I shall not give way.
There has been a great deal of pressure on this issue. I am getting a little fed up with the consumer organisations which set themselves up to speak on behalf of the whole population. I received a letter from the National Consumer Council, signed by Mr. Martin Smith, who calls himself the Parliamentary Officer. He has the audacity to write:On behalf of the millions of consumers".What right has Mr. Smith to say that he speaks on behalf of millions of consumers? I have discussed the issues with my constituents, and even I cannot purport to speak on behalf of all of them. I get fed up with consumer organisations, which represent the middle-class Habitat shoppers and not the mainstream of people, saying such things.
I have challenged the Scottish Consumer Council to say who it consulted on this issue—I do not think that it has consulted anyone substantial—and how it decided to support the campaign. The council thinks that it is representing the interests of consumers. It may represent 649 the short-term interests, but the effect of the Bill on prices, British manufacturing and the quality of goods will not be in the long-term interest of the consumer.
I oppose the Bill. There is no widespread demand for its provisions, as many hon. Members have said. I shall not go into that in more detail and repeat the points that have been made, except to say that when Mr. Auld and his committee considered the matter, they had the benefit of the wisdom of six professional assessors, and four of those assessors opposed the deregulation, and are still against it. They are Lord Gallacher, representing the large traders, Miss Head, representing the small traders, Mr. Thimont from the Churches, and Mr. Flood, representing the shop workers. The committee and the Government paid no attention to the people appointed by the Government to be assessors. They knew what they were talking about, yet their views were ignored by the committee.
I oppose the Bill because the weight of the representations to the Government is still strongly against it. Reference has been made to the number of letters. I suspect that the Government have whipped up support for the Bill. Even with that whipping up, the figures are still nearly three to one against among people taking the trouble to write letters.
I should like to refer to Scotland, because such a lot of nonsense has been said about it. If English and Welsh Members want to come into line with Scotland, they should look at the successful changes in the licensing laws. They set a better example for change in England and Wales. I should like to quote from a representation that I received today. I must enunciate the name carefully—it is from the Scottish Association of Master Bakers. The association's representation reminds hon. Members that many bakerswill have to work a Saturday night shift to produce goods for sale on the Sunday.That is forgotten about. The association goes on to say:It might be said, what interest do Scottish bakers have in Sunday trading in England? The fact is that everyone in Scotland will be strongly affected by the Government's proposal to abolish the Shops Act. Inevitably, many supermarket chains and multiple retailers who are currently not opening in Scotland on Sundays—my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and I can confirm that—will be forced willy-nilly to reconsider their position if Sunday trading becomes general in England."—That is why the legislation affects us, and why the situation will change in Scotland if there is change in England.
§ Mr. Foulkes
We know that the consequences for the workers are severe. Double time and time and a half will go. A domino effect will result from maintaining a competitive position. More shops which do not want to open on Sunday will be forced to do so. That is the position into which the Co-op might be forced if the measure goes through. Sunday will become, not like any other day, but much more like Saturday, one of the busiest days of the week—
§ Mr. Foulkes
I have dealt with Scotland.
We are concerned that the turnover will not rise in proportion to the costs, that prices will go up, and that several corner shops will close, particularly small traders. Even the large traders will be forced to close shops which 650 are now marginal. Others will need to work. We shall need more drivers, more policemen to make sure that the law is enforced, more cleaners, more traffic wardens, more trading standards officers, and more local authority employees. There will be pressure for the rates to go up.
I urge the Paymaster General to consider this. There is an opportunity for sensible compromise. Almost everyone who has spoken wants a sensible compromise. We should look at other countries where the Sunday trading laws are working effectively. We should consider the four options which the Home Secretary described, which everyone realises are a potential for compromise. We should look at ways in which we can do that, because almost all of us recognise that the present state of affairs is anomalous and needs tidying up. Many, if not all, Opposition Members would support tidying up and improvement.
Above all, we say to the Government that we do not want total deregulation. We do not want this threat to the traditional Sunday in the United Kingdom. The Government should withdraw the Bill and consult all the interests involved. We can wait another year before we consider detailed legislation. Then we can bring in the new proposals after consultation I can say on behalf of the Co-operative movement that we shall support such proposals if they are a sensible compromise.
§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
I approach the Bill as one who at least seeks to merit the description of being a Christian, as a periodic church worshipper, and as one who also wants to keep a special character for Sunday. As such, I can say that I have no hesitation whatsoever in supporting the Bill.
The law is in such an idiotic tangle that sometimes it has been rather difficult to understand the logic of those who oppose the reform that has been introduced. Some, of course, take the straight Sabbatarian position, and for that one must have a good deal of respect. They will not turn on the television or radio on a Sunday; they do not take Sunday newspapers because someone has to be employed to distribute them; they do not buy Monday newspapers because journalists and printers have to work on Sundays to produce them; and they serve themselves on a Sunday with a cold lunch.
However, surely it is up to each Christian to decide where to draw the line for Sunday observance. As a Christian, I decide for myself. Like the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), I have no wish to shop on a Sunday for provisions or most other things, but as a Christian I do not seek to impose my judgment or decision on that matter on other people.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Manchester Gorton, (Mr.Kaufman), who opened for the Opposition. He would not expect me to agree with a great deal of what he said. The right hon. Gentleman gave a moving description of his father, who resolutely refused, in any circumstances, to work on the Jewish Sabbath. One must have great respect for that mixture of conviction, pride and humility. As the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, the thought crossed my mind that Kaufman senior did not need the criminal law of the land to fortify his position.
Most of the opponents and critics of the Bill, and most of those who have written to us, write from the fear that the special character of Sunday is under threat. I sympathise with that feeling, although I disagree with the 651 conclusion that they have reached. What does the special character of Sunday mean? I was interested in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan), who described the changing nature of the traditional British Sunday. First, Sunday is a day specially set aside for church worship. I should like to see many more citizens attending church regularly—indeed, attending church more often than I do—but that is a matter for the church and its witness. No one could suggest that the reason for the empty pews in many of our churches is that garden centres and do-it-yourself shops are open. In fairness, church men have not so pretended. Most of the vicars from my constituency who have written to me on this subject say that they do not base their objections to the Bill on a fear that it will undermine attendance in their churches. Instead, they cite the rhythm of life—a weekly pattern of life in which people must have some rest. They also cite the strain that would be placed on families if their members, especially mothers, were forced to work on Sundays.
The rhythm of life is not put in question by the legislation. No one suggests that workers should work for seven days a week, week after week, month after month. There are many examples of workers in other areas of the economy, such as my former profession of journalism, who work a 14-day pattern. Someone who is on duty one weekend would have a long weekend off the next. Many people enjoy such a pattern of work.
There is also the example of Scotland, where there is a ready flow of volunteers to work in the limited number of shops that are open on Sundays. Many people, including managers, volunteer for duty on Sundays. Only last week I spoke to a woman who managed branches of a multiple store in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. If she was on duty one weekend, she would have a long weekend off the following week. On her posting to London, she was bitterly critical of the fact that, on alternate weekends, she did not have a three-day break, because there is no chance for her to do duty on Sundays.
As for family strain, there is no evidence that family breakdown is any greater among those employed in electricity generation or in transport who are required to work on Sundays on a rota basis.
A further special element to the character of Sunday is that it is a day of recreation and has been so for a long time. One cannot see that this will be undermined by the provisions of the Bill. More importantly, the special character of Sunday consists in the fact that it is, in many respects, a special family day. Several hon. Members have acknowledged that. Families choose to do many different things in their time off, such as making certain purchases together.
There is evidence from garden centres in my constituency that the whole family arrives and the children play on slides in the corner while mother and father work out what will be planted in the garden that year. There is evidence from do-it-yourself stores, where all the family go at a time convenient to all of them to choose the paint and wallpaper for their homes. In furniture stores open on the Sunday, whole families choose their new suite of furniture together. At the seaside, too, we see families enjoying themselves in shops which 652 are open to serve them. I assert that many shops that open on Sundays are already enhancing Sunday as a family day, rather than detracting from it.
Opinion polls, especially those organised and financed by different sides of the argument, show conflicting evidence of what people want, often depending on how the questions are framed, but the only true way to discover what people want is to give them the chance to choose. I do not believe that more than a handful of our high street shops would open on a Sunday, because there is not and will not be the pressure from the public to warrant it, except perhaps in the weeks immediately before Christmas. Garden centres open because there is a demand for them to do so. Do-it-yourself shops open for the same reason. Out-of-town hypermarkets, which are being developed anyway, will open if they offer a market in circumstances which make them congenial for families to shop together. But there will be no demand for all shops to open, so they will not do so. Sunday will remain a special day because the majority or us want it that way. I believe in the old adage that the customer is always right in these matters.
The extent of Sunday trading will be determined by what our citizens want. I do not believe that the decision is one for archbishops, or for vocal lobbies, such as the Keep Sunday Special campaign. Nor should the decision be made by us in Parliament. The choice belongs to the people as responsible citizens, and the moral merit of the Bill is that it seeks to give them that choice.
§ Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)
This has been an interesting debate with robust contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House and both sides of the argument. A tremendous amount of common ground has been established in that the majority of those speaking have agreed that the present law is in a terrible mess, but the majority also objects to the total deregulation proposed in the Bill. We appreciate that it is a logical course for the Government to take that, if they do not like what is happening, they should completely deregulate, but I do not believe that that view is shared by the majority of people in my constituency or in the country as a whole.
It is the Government's duty, because they brought the Bill to the House, to come up with an alternative reform which they might wish to make in the future, and I assure them that that would have tremendous support from those who have reservations about total deregulation. It is not for Back-Bench Members to produce reforms, but if the Minister wishes to swap places with me, I should be keen to have a go in his place!
Many hon. Members have said that there is a tremendous demand to liberalise the Sunday trading laws. They say that because they come from a Whiggish background, not a Conservative background. There is no pressure or great demand from the country as a whole to introduce total deregulation, but there is some demand from a narrow commercial sector—a small percentage of the retail trade which is pressing for a total deregulation because it knows that that would be in its best commercial interests. I do not blame them for that. It is a perfectly normal attitude, but it does not mean that we should fall in with those ideas. Indeed, we should put them completely to one side.
As many hon. Members have said, in recent years the pattern of Sundays has changed. Many more families now 653 take part in leisure activities. There has also been a great change in the way in which people go about their shopping. In this day and age, with six full days shopping per week and at least one late night, possibly more as a result of the Bill, with flexi-hours and shorter working weeks, I cannot understand why families who want to buy a three-piece suite together cannot do so on a Friday or Saturday or some other day when the husband is at home and can take his wife out. In the small towns in my constituency most shops close early on a Saturday afternoon because everyone has gone home for tea. There is no great demand there for Sunday opening.
The distortion in trading patterns worries me considerably. About half of all retail trade and two thirds of all food shopping takes place in the big multiple chains, which are often based in city centres and draw trade to those centres. I am worried that total deregulation will draw trade away from the smaller centres and especially from the small independent traders. The chambers of trade in my constituency are absolutely together on this. They believe that it will do irreparable damage in the long term and will put many traders out of business.
I live in a rural area in which the village shop is extremely important to people who have no transport of their own. They rely on the village shop for their basic needs and if it goes out of business they will be in real difficulty. Elderly people also rely very much on small local shops. If those shops disappear, considerable social benefits will disappear with them.
Total deregulation will hit the independent trader hardest of all. In a family business members of the family work six full days a week. Sunday is the only day they have off and the only day on which they can catch up with the paperwork and prepare for the visit of the dreaded VAT man. If they have to open seven full days a week to try to maintain their share of the market, their overheads will rise and the family will have no time off at all.
Most people who work in the retail trade are women and young people. If one such member of the family is absent on a Sunday the whole family is affected. Let us not forget that there has been a great diminution in the standards of our family life and, dare I say it, of our national life. I believe that that has been to the detriment of society as a whole. Let us not do still more damage to the family as the basic unit of society and a great major stabilising factor in society. Sunday is the only day when the family can be together. A day off on Monday or mid-week for people who work in the retail trade cannot compensate because the children will be at school. Sunday is the only day when the whole family can be together.
I am saddened, too, that a Conservative Government should seek to introduce such an un-Conservative measure which will damage the independent sector. I thought that, as Conservatives, we favoured creating a climate in which small businesses could thrive and prosper. Total deregulation will have exactly the opposite effect. The Government should govern not by logic alone but by a combination of head and heart and, one hopes, reach a common-sense solution at the end of the day.
This is a Christian country and I am a practising Anglican. I believe that we have a duty to keep Sunday as a special day. In the past, Sunday has been traditionally kept for family life, rest, relaxation and religious worship. We are here to judge the matter in its widest sense, not in 654 the narrow commercial interests of those who support total deregulation, but in the beast interests of our constituents and of the country as a whole. I shall oppose the Bill.
§ Mr. Tom Arnold (Hazel Grove)
I support the Bill, and I should do so with or without any kind of Whip, because I believe in it. Contrary to the remarks of some of my hon. Friends, many of my constituents — the majority, I believe — support the Bill. Despite the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), I believe that important issues of freedom and freedom of choice are involved. Those are among the reasons why I and my constituents support the Bill.
I should like to deal with some of the arguments against the Bill, starting with the argument about the mandate. The Auld committee was set up in August 1983 after the last general election, but I have always believed politics to be a dynamic activity. God forbid that we should be constrained from discussing other issues and putting forward new measures simply on the basis of what was or was not in a previous general election manifesto. If we were constrained solely by the contents of manifestos, I believe that the quality of our political life would suffer and the management of our affairs would be a great deal more complicated.
The Government were perfectly entitled to set up the Auld committee, to reach a considered view on its findings and to proceed with the introduction of the Bill. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) spoke of the major difficulties with the present legislation and the fact that the 1950 Act is frequently not enforced because it is not capable of enforcement. I believe that that discovery by the Auld committee lies behind the Government's thinking in introducing the Bill. Those who have spoken against the Bill have argued that the anomalies, confusion and complexity of the present law are manageable and need not concern us unduly. That is their opinion and they are entitled to it, but the Auld committee reached a different conclusion. Paragraph 25 of the report states:Some authorities have adopted a policy of not enforcing the law at all. Many others act only in response to complaints …. Very few local authorities prosecute as a matter of policy all traders who open outside the permitted hours.It also states:Many local authorities are out of sympathy with it. It is being widely disregarded by shopkeepers all over the country, to the evident satisfaction of Sunday shoppers.It adds:
Even if a local authority does prosecute to conviction it knows that, in many cases, the small fines commonly imposed by magistrates will act as no deterrent at all to further breaches of the law by the shopkeepers concerned. Moreover, the full costs of prosecution will rarely be recovered.That has been the experience in my own constituency. Although I have received many representations from members of the clergy and others who are opposed to this legislation, I believe that some of the other representations that I have received should have greater weight, given experience locally in Stockport in Greater Manchester.
I return to my main theme, that frequently this legislation is not enforced and is incapable of being enforced. I would go further and say that the operation of the Shops Act 1950 is surrounded by a good deal of hypocrisy, evasion and ignorance.
655 Civil obedience, be it to laws, institutions or rulers, is but an outward manifestation of consent and support, and the opinion that must underpin that consent and support. For those of us who believe in upholding the authority of Parliament and our laws, it is not good enough to say that it does not matter whether or not this law is obeyed. After all, we are talking about the criminal law, and there are criminal sanctions for people who break this law. We should bear that in mind. I do not believe that in 1986 it is appropriate for the criminal law to operate in this area, particularly in view of the changes that have taken place in society in recent years.
I have referred to evasion, and I use the example of my own constituency in Greater Manchester. Some years ago there was an attempt by the local authority to bring pressure to bear, in advance of a prosecution, on a garden centre that had been bold enough to start selling books. The centre quite properly desisted, yet three miles away at Manchester airport one can buy the same books.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred earlier to shop workers, but more than 50 per cent. of Manchester international airport is owned by the city of Manchester which is Labour-controlled. Many shop workers work there on a Sunday. Moreover, there are now very few things that one cannot buy at Manchester airport on a Sunday. One can buy men's clothes, women's clothes, food of many descriptions and many other goods and services, ranging from books, publications of all kinds, gramophone records and goodness knows what else—[HON. MEMBERS: "That is irrelevant."] It is not irrelevant, because it underlines yet again the reason why there is so much confusion and dissatisfaction about the Shops Act 1950, which enshrines in law a series of anomalies, some of which I shall refer to later.
Having said that many local authorities choose deliberately not to prosecute until such time as the pressure becomes unbearable — if, indeed, they choose to prosecute at all — I now come to the question of ignorance. One of the complaints made against the Shops Act 1950—and it is frequently made by the very small traders to whom Labour Members have referred—is that such small traders are unable to discover what exactly they are permitted to sell. When the weights and measures man says, "Perhaps you should not be selling that", they ask, "Will you give me a categorical ruling about whether or not I can sell this range of goods?" Frequently, the answer is, "No. I cannot tell you that. It is up to the court to decide."
Since the 1950 Act was passed, there have been many changes in retailing and in the definitions of goods, and many small shopkeepers are in genuine difficulty about knowing what they can reasonably sell.
I conclude by highlighting once again—because it is necessary to do so in a debate of such importance—some of the ridiculous anomalies to which the Auld committee drew attention in its report. It wrote:
"The anomalies have been widely canvassed. Some of the more bizarre ones in relation to Sunday trading are that it is legal to sell—
It is nonsense like that, which hon. Members simply touched on as if it were irrelevant, that has infuriated a great many of my constituents, including a number of small traders who have been most unfairly prosecuted for opening on Sundays when all they have done is respond to the needs of their customers, frequently in circumstances where they have been unable to find out whether they would be prosecuted by the local authority. Frequently the local authority is uncertain about how the law would operate if a case were brought to court.
- gin, but not dried milk;
- fresh vegetables, but not tinned ones;
- spares for a car or an aircraft, but not shoes;
- a razor blade, if sold for the purpose of cutting corns, but not for shaving;
- a pornographic magazine, but not a Bible unless the Bible is sold from a bookstall at a designated airport or railway station;
- fish and chips from any take-away food shop except a fish and chip shop, although fish and chip shops are permitted to sell any other form of take-away meal on a Sunday."
For all those reasons, I urge support for the Bill and I am pleased to have this opportunity to put on record my views and the views of my constituents, irrespective of what happens at later stages of the Bill.
§ 9.6 pm
§ Sir Peter Mills (Torridge and Devon, West)
I apologise to the House for not being here for the whole debate. That is because of my health problems. I am not able to stand, or even sit, for very long, but because I was not here it does not mean that I am not interested in what is happening. Some of us have always had to work on Sunday. Some years ago I was a dairy farmer and I had to milk 14 times a week. Essential work has to be done. Doctors and nurses, and transport and electricity workers, are necessary to modern life, and their work has to continue.
The questions before us are: do we want a further extension of many people working on Sunday? Do we want the complete deregulation that the Government are seeking to bring in? I do not, and I do not approve of this legislation. The Government are making a serious mistake. I am also worried about the tactics of the whole thing. They leave me somewhat dismayed and confused. Many of us are not clear why two hours were added to the debate. Obviously, this is a way of seeing that some people do not attend, that they go home. That is unfortunate, especially when the Government are saying that after this Second Reading there can be a free vote. That worries me, and I am fussed about it as well. It seems strange, especially as I understand from the Home Secretary that there will be no guillotine. I assure the Government that many people will speak for many hours about this in Committee and later. The whole thing is muddled and fuddled, and I am dismayed at the way in which it has been brought about.
Also upsetting to me were the statements made by Ministers before this debate. They seemed adamant about total deregulation, and that was a great pity. Much more could have been done to discuss the matter with those who are opposed to total deregulation, to try to come to some agreement. I would be much happier and would reconsider my actions if the Government made a promise to accept an amendment in Committee that would allow Sunday to be a different day and preserve the traditions of the past. Such a promise has not been given. No hint has been given that the Government would accept such an amendment, and I am disturbed about that.
I should like to raise three further points about which much has been said. There are economic problems about complete deregulation. As I said when I intervened during 657 the speech of the Home Secretary, there is a problem about small shops and a real fear about their future. If the large superstores and multi-retailers in my area open on Sundays, small shops will rapidly start to disappear. I am backed up in this argument by the chambers of trade, which feel just as strongly as I do, and are opposed to total deregulation.
The big companies are in favour of deregulation. Only a certain amount of money will be spent each week in our shops, and if the big companies can grab a large share of this money on Sundays that will have an adverse effect on the small shopkeepers. I am not a lawyer, but I know that there are difficulties. However, I cannot believe that we cannot make the necessary adjustments to bring the legislation up to date, make changes and throw out some of the stupid provisions. I am sure that we could do something about this. Although I may be destroying my argument in saying this, there is a case for looking closely and carefully at allowing garden centres to open on Sundays. They ensure much pleasure and enjoyment, and we want Sunday to be a day of rest, relaxation and pleasure for families.
My second point has also been raised already—the effects of total deregulation on social problems, and in particular on home life. The family is under the most severe attack that it has ever faced, and home life is disintegrating fast. This must not be brushed aside, because the basis of our country's stability is family life. That will be in even more difficulty if we have complete deregulation.
There is a strong case for one different day—a day of rest and relaxation when the family can at least try to get together. It would be serious if the whole week were merged into a whole working week and one could not look forward to that one day of rest and relaxation. If there is complete deregulation, further social problems will arise.
It is said that one multiple retailer has stated that it will be employing women just for Sundays. This will surely mean that many homes will not have a mother at home on that day. It could be that the children in those homes will never sit down to have a meal with their parents at home. Such things cannot be brushed aside. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) is muttering. I am willing to give way to her, because this is a serious matter and we should consider carefully the Bill's effect on home life.
I make no apology for taking the Christian or religious view on deregulation. This may be a minority view, but it is important. We are supposed to be a Christian country —God help us if we forget that, as we are tending to. I had the privilege of replying to the Queen's Speech, and I mentioned that as a nation and a Parliament we should again acknowledge God in the affairs of our national life. We have gone a long way from that, and it will be of no benefit to the country.
God has made it clear that we should have one day of rest. The Ten Commandments are not old-fashioned rules that can be thrown away. They are there, not only for a religious purpose, but to ensure a sane, sensible and ordinary life for every one of us, even though we may not be Christians. It is important to have one day of rest, and we should consider that angle carefully.
The Bill allows workers the opportunity to go to church, but there will be grave problems and dangers for those who wish to do so. Even with Government protection, they will probably be passed over for 658 promotion and find it difficult to carry on if they insist on going to church on Sunday morning. That is what the commandment is all about. Not only should we acknowledge God and his laws, but we should seek for the community this one special day—a day of enjoyment and fun when we can at least pay a lot of attention to our families. Many will probably not accept what I am going to say, but a nation that ignores God and his commandments is bound to fail, and fail miserably. I must give that warning.
All in all, I shall not be able to support my Government tonight. I am usually a loyal person, but on this issue I cannot support my Government. A mistake is being made. In my constituency, and others in the south and west where people feel strongly about this, the Bill will be highly detrimental to the Conservative party at the next election.
§ Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne)
I support the Bill, representing as I do a horticultural area which would benefit from the legalised status of Sunday trading. My constituency contains a large horticulture industry, mainly the glasshouse sector, and important within that sector are garden centre operators and suppliers. The market for the industry is valued at £800 million and consists of 30 million gardeners with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Gardening and the use of the garden have become one of the nation's main leisure activities. A consequence of the growth of interest in gardening has been the increasing expectation of the public to regard gardening as it would any other leisure activity and to make purchases during leisure time, especially at weekends.
The public has always been permitted to purchase plants on Sundays in accordance with the Shops Act 1950, but nurseries which sell pots, ties and stakes are breaking the law. It is virtually impossible to limit sales to plants only, and garden centres openly trade on Sundays across their entire product range. In most cases it is with the knowledge of the local authorities, which recognise that garden centres are meeting a public demand. Indeed, I am sure that it is not unknown for local authority members and Members of the House, by their purchases from garden centres, to encourage illegal Sunday trading.
Many garden centres are now dependent on Sunday operation for their very existence. A recent survey of 380 members of the Horticultural Trades Association showed that 32 per cent. estimated that they would go out of business altogether if they were forced to close on Sundays, with a consequent loss of employment for 1,347 staff. Even in the case of the 68 per cent. who said that Sunday closing would result only in a scaling down of their businesses, significant loss of earnings would affect a further 1,741 staff. Enforced Sunday closing would result in increased unemployment and a significant reduction in garden retailing facilities for the public.
It has been claimed that it would be difficult to obtain staff prepared to work on Sundays if general Sunday opening were to be permitted. Quite apart from the overwhelming evidence of industries which currently operate on Sundays—such as transport, catering and public utilities—the majority of garden centre operators have no difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff who are prepared to work on Sundays as part of a roster arrangement. Garden centres which are open on Sundays 659 provide a retail service for which there is patently considerable demand and, furthermore, provide employment which would not otherwise exist.
Therefore, it is clearly wrong in principle to continue to support a law which operates in favour of some traders in some places selling some goods while the generality of traders are not allowed to do so. It must be to the benefit of the retail trade if trading conditions are created which enable it to compete better in the market place.
It is accepted that for staple items of food, clothing and furniture, the overall market will not expand significantly as a result of Sunday opening, but that for a host of discretionary items the same restriction of demand will not apply. Greater sales will generate increased employment opportunities, as is demonstrated by garden centres.
Considerable concern is expressed that the freedom to trade on Sunday would result in a deterioration in the quality of life. That claim is based upon the belief that all retailers will want to open on Sunday. The Scottish experience does not support that view. In practice only shops that find it profitable to open on Sunday will do so.
Consistent research findings by a number of organisations show that the majority of people are in favour of Sunday opening. Given the high incidence of households in which both partners are wage earners, the availability of shopping facilities on Sunday would certainly enhance the quality of life. The rapidly changing lifestyles over the past decade mean that people's expectations of a family Sunday have altered.
I regret that many hon. Members are using the Bill to hold forth on the concept of a traditional Sunday, which public evidence shows no longer to exist. Hon. Members on both sides may be fortunate to have spouses who are supportive in family tasks, such as shopping. However, we cannot say that our lifestyles permit us to shop in normal trading hours. Often I and many other hon. Members have been grateful for a shop which opens on Sunday. Can hon. Members honestly declare that they have never assisted in breaking the law in that respect or that they have not been grateful for the ability to do so?
It is time that we recognised the changes in society that have affected patterns of consumer as well as retailing demands. It is well known, and much argued in another place, that Sunday trading would have an adverse effect on the lives of the woman shop worker and her family, but there is clear evidence from shopkeepers who trade on a Sunday that there is no difficulty in obtaining employees who are willing to work on that day, provided that adequate rostering is arranged in lieu.
We are not talking about exploitation. For many the opportunity to work on Sunday is not disagreeable. As one weekly journal showed recently, for many people it is preferable to not working at all. Retailers as well as employees must exercise some flexibility and adapt to a new situation which will create opportunities for work for many more people.
I fully support the Bill. If industry works seven days a week, it is rewarded. Why penalise retailers and consumers?
§ Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
During the debate we have had our moments of humour and on one occasion we even managed a little pantomime, but in 660 general the occasion is uncomfortable and even painful for most hon. Members. For myself, I cannot decide which is the greater discomfort — my indigestion or my indignation.
My indignation is because I think it wrong to have a three-line Whip tonight. I am told the reason is that it was thought that the Bill would not get through without a three-line Whip. So be it. If we believe in democracy and in votes in the House, surely what the House says on a free vote should be good enough. I cannot remember a three-line Whip being imposed on such an issue — a moral issue. I tell the Government that there would have been no shame in being defeated on a free vote. That is the voice of Parliament. Only those who are ashamed to listen to the voice of democracy can deny that we should have been allowed to say freely what we wished this evening.
My indigestion is also extremely painful because of what I am being asked to swallow.
Shops already open six days a week, often until 8 pm or 9 pm. Surely that is enough. I do not believe in all these families that are supposed to be unable to shop at any other time than on Sunday because that is the only time they can be together. That is not true, and I cannot swallow the contention that an extra day of shopping is called for.
I am sick and tired of being told, as we are told repeatedly—and my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold) rehearsed the same catalogue—that, on Sunday, one can buy pornography but not a Bible. In 20 years of representing my constituency I have never had one constituent complain to me angrily that he was unable to buy a Bible on a Sunday, and no complaints have been made about buying other things on Sunday, either.
I cannot digest the argument that freedom is jeopardised by the inability to shop everywhere on Sundays. We should remember that the extension of freedom to one citizen frequently means the diminution of freedom to another. The freedom of many people will be curtailed if this Bill becomes law. I refer, for instance, to the people who actually live in shopping centres. One woman wrote to me to say that Sunday was the only day on which her relatives could come to see her because only then could they park their car reasonably near her house. She said that if Sunday trading were introduced there would not be a day on which she could look forward to her family visiting her. She should also be free of the noise of cars being parked and the crowds of people Sunday shopping near her.
Hon. Members should not fool themselves into thinking that we can protect workers who do not want to work on Sunday from being made to work. In many cases, employers will not employ people unless they agree to work on a Sunday. I have read the Bill carefully. What would be the position of those whom it purports to defend? The Bill will affect people who have been working in a shop for some years. Suppose that a shop decides to open and a person who has been working there claims the right not to work on a Sunday. What would be the position of such an employee vis-á-vis the other employees in the shop? A great deal of irritation could be aroused if one person gets Sundays off and others have to work. It is not the same thing to have off another day of the week. I expect that the chances of such a person gaining promotion would be fairly slim.
Many shopkeepers do not want to open on a Sunday. Many have written to me and come to see me, telling me 661 that they do not want to open on a Sunday but that they have to do so if their competitors open. Only this morning I received the following letter from a constituent:I have been employed as a fishmonger in Birmingham bull ring market for over 30 years, five and a half days a week averaging 53 hours.He has now been informed by the Birmingham councilthat in the event of the proposed Sunday Trading Act being passed we will have to open on Sundays or they will revoke our licence. My employer has told me that rather than open and pay more rent, rates and service charges he will close down, putting me out of work.The Bill does not deal with the situation outlined by my constituent, but scores if not hundreds of people will be forced into working on Sundays when they do not wish to do so. We must not fool ourselves into thinking the Bill will protect people in that situation.
I do not understand the supposed economic viability of the Bill. I cannot see where all of the extra money will come from when it is not there to be spent from Monday to Saturday. I cannot swallow that or the argument about Scotland. I was impressed by what my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) said about that. I agree that the present law is a mess, but there again I am in trouble when I try to swallow the fact that there is no alternative to sweeping it all away. I do not believe that we must have a free-for-all or no change.
It has been suggested that, if the Bill is defeated, hon. Members should tramp around their constituencies reporting those who trade on Sundays. I have never thought that snooping was my job as a Member of Parliament. We have many choices about what to do. For example, we could allow opening when there is a clear demand. Garden centres have been mentioned. They are usually quite distant from town centres. [Interruption.] I do not think the acres of glasshouses which have been described are in towns. It would not be impossible to accommodate such demands. Some leisure trades could be permitted.
I cannot see that we must sweep away all controls because we want garden and DIY centres to remain open. We could restrict the hours of opening. We could consider zoning and what other countries are doing. Auld gave only one paragraph to the option of allowing shops to open until 1 pm, which happens in Luxembourg, and less than two paragraphs to allowing shops with three employees or fewer to open, as happens in France. The Auld committee ignored the experience of 10 European countries which limit Sunday trading.
I cannot swallow the contention that the House can only sweep everything away or leave things as they are but enforce the restrictions. We could restrict according to size. It has been argued that that would be impossible, but VAT is levied according to the size of the business.
Never do I accept an official engagement on a Sunday and I do not see why I should force others to do so. The country is going backwards in some respects. I used to have milk delivered on the step every morning, but now the dairy has decided that two pints on Saturday will do and that the milkman should get Sunday off. I am all for that.
The Bill would change the character of Sunday fundamentally and irretrievably, and I shall vote against it.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
I have thought deeply about Sunday trading because it affects many people in many ways. It concerns especially the traditional British Sunday that we have had for generations. Conservative Members have said that Sunday has changed, and so it has, but not so greatly that it should be like any other day of the week. Sunday is a special day, for special purposes. That is how it has always been, despite the way in which it has been presented.
There are many anomalies in Sunday trading. I am sure that the Government are not trying to kid the House that the only way that we can get rid of the anomalies is by wiping them out altogether and bringing in not a Sunday trading Bill but a deregulation of trading whereby shops can open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, if they wish. The legislation will bring about a free-for-all.
I have received only two letters in favour of Sunday opening. I have received applications from Asda and from Woolworth, which have said that Sunday trading will be to the benefit of their customers. I do not know how they reach that conclusion. I have received many letters from people objecting to Sunday trading, on religious and other grounds. We must take account of the habits of generations.
What do those Conservative Members who believe that Sunday opening is a good idea think will happen to traditional family life? What will happen to those people who, Sunday after Sunday, have had their mother or father up for dinner or tea? They will say, "We shall get in the car and go shopping." People will no longer sit with their feet up on Sundays.
The hon. Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) suggested that people now drive to Scarborough, Bridlington or Filey. People forget that families have a car because the wife works six days a week in a shop. Without a shadow of doubt, people will volunteer to work on Sundays. With unemployment of 25 or 30 per cent., of course people will volunteer to work on Sundays. They will work, not because they want to, but because it is necessary. We must not forget that there is only so much money to go around. The wage comes in on Friday, and the women put a certain amount aside for shopping. That is all that they have to spend. If the money is spent on Sunday, it can certainly not be spent during the rest of the week. With seven days a week shopping, prices will be increased because the cost per unit will be increased. Increased heating charges and extra wages will force shops to increase prices.
If shops are open on Sunday, an improved transport system will be needed. The transport system has just been deregulated, putting some services in doubt. Most of the large stores will put on their own bus services to attract customers. People will get into the habit of using those services. Small shopkeepers will find that the number of shoppers is dwindling, and they will have to close.
§ Mr. McKay
It is happening now. More duties will be imposed on the police. It will be necessary to have the same fire cover that is provided from Monday to Saturday. Street cleaners will be needed. We are talking about making Sunday the same as other days and having the same requirements. Sunday will no longer be a normal rest day.
663 For 20 years I worked seven days a week, sometimes 12 hours a day. When I arrived home, I wanted my wife at home, not in a shop. I depended on that. If she had not been at home, I would not have worked on Sundays. There is more to the matter than some people realise.
I am not a regular churchgoer, but from talking to people who go to church, I know that the Bill will do them a big disservice. Indeed, it will be an insult to the Church and to churchgoing people if Sunday is made a normal day. At present, those who want to go to church go to church, while those who want to stay away stay away. That is beyond a shadow of doubt. We should not interfere with our Sundays and that way of life. If the Bill is passed, we and the Government will certainly regret it.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
As the Scottish experience has been much quoted, and as one who has experienced it rather than read about it in figures, I can advise the House about it. The Shops Act 1950 never applied to Scotland, nor has any restriction on trading ever been applied to Scotland. We are natural Calvinists. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) should have understood that.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I am not one either, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will keep quiet for a moment and assume that we are seen to be natural Calvinists.
My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point said that the position in Scotland was different because we were such good men. Let me remind him that until the shops opened in Scotland, thanks to trading in England, no Presbyterian church in Scotland ever opened on Good Friday or Christmas Day, and opened for only one hour on Sundays and then shut again. Therefore, let us have no fantasising that trading and religion are related other than as Scotland shows to its benefit.
Some of the biggest hypermarkets in Britain are open in Edinburgh and people go to them as a family. I have heard no complaints. In Kinross, which is a town of about 3,000 people, only one or two shops are open. There is a market for Sunday trading and it would benefit the people there, if they were so inclined.
The new argument about Scotland is that we did not have to be subject to part IV of the 1950 Act because we were in some way such good citizens of God that we did not need the law of man. That was not said at the time, nor was it true. Then it was said of Scotland, "It is all very well for you little squirts to be exempted from part IV but if England is, woe betide Scotland". Why did they say that? I understand that in England the Licensing Act (Scotland) 1976 is something of which English Conservative Members are afraid. But in 1976 the licensing law of Scotland was liberalised completely, and instead of making us a nation of drunks, which we were supposed to be, it has made us a nation of sober people.
The next argument, which I find extraordinary, is that if people are allowed to shop on Sunday, corporate worship will not be possible in England. As a Christian, I believe that God works seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and that one can worship Him at any time. Any time I have been in a church in England there have been fewer 664 people in the pews in corporate worship than hymns on the list. Therefore, I am not impressed by the argument of corporate worship.
Those who oppose the Bill suffer from the postbag fallacy. They imagine that because they receive many letters—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] In that case they receive a lot of rubbish.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
There is one person in this place whom I would not patronise, and that is my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark).
As a Scot, the idea that we should keep Sunday special is one that I find offensive. I regard every day of the week as special and every Sunday is different. What is Sunday special for? Is it a day on which to be specially lazy, specially boring, specially relaxed or specially quiet? What is it to be?
Let us consider the traditional Sunday in England, which is what we are supposed to protect. What are the two great traditions of the English Sunday? We know that church is not one for 90 per cent. of the people. One of the great traditions is the Sunday newspaper. If someone read them all, he would be kept out of church. The second great tradition is the Sunday lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. That would keep anyone out of church who had to cook it.
Those who are against the Bill should be against shopping on Monday. If a bishop expects to be able to buy his newspaper and his roll, visit his parishoners and have electric light on Monday, he is expecting people to work on Sunday, on the great traditional day of rest. Monday is the day that makes people work on Sunday.
It has been said that we should save the sabbath. That means that we shall see Saturday and Monday as different days and Sunday will be all right for trading. Some hon. Members have talked about religion. Let me remind them of what Christ said in Matthew, chapter 12. The passage reads:At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.But he said unto them"—this is verse fivehave ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?We know that the gospel of St. Mark states:The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.That was an explanation of what was meant.
In Scotland, which is said to be a more religious nation than England or Wales, we have enjoyed the liberty which is proposed for England and Wales. We have enjoyed Sunday as a day of joy, relaxation and fun. As a result, we have worshipped the Lord more. I believe that those who oppose the Bill are the Pharisees of today.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
Anyone who tried to deny that the existing regulations on Sunday trading did not require revision would be accused, rightly, of speaking nonsense. Of course they are crazy and of course they need amending. But the fact that they require amendment is no justification for removing all control on Sunday trading.
I have been surprised by those who have argued that the Bill is justified because the current law is not enforced. It is said that many shops open freely and that no action is taken against the owners. If that logic had been carried to its conclusion some time ago and it had been applied to the murder and mutilation that was perpetrated by Jack the Ripper, the repeal of capital punishment would have occurred about three quarters of a century earlier than it was achieved by sound reason.
Another reason given by a Conservative Member was that right hon. and hon. Members can apparently take the opportunity to break the law by purchasing whatever they like on a Sunday. Therefore, the fact that hon. Members can do that is some form of justification. I suggest that that is another form of twisted and convoluted logic. If that form of rationale were applied, it would mean that we would shortly be legalising prostitution and importuning in public. I cannot accept that that would in any way justify our discussions tonight.
The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) referred to the postbag syndrome with a degree of almost contempt in his voice. I suggest that any hon. Member who has the temerity or audacity to disregard the genuine representations of any of his constituents does so at his or her peril at the next election. It does not cut any ice in my mind to say that the majority of the electorate want to see the removal of all controls. That has been said previously. I do not believe that, nor do I believe that the public believe that. I have had over 160 letters against and six in favour of these proposals.
I have had several petitions against the Bill from many parishes in my constituency. All of those were in the prescribed form of parliamentary prayers and acceptable to the House. I have had one for the proposed change collected by a supermarket, outside my constituency incidentally, containing names which included Roy Rogers and Mickey Mouse residing at addresses in Hollywood and the O K Corral and some slightly nearer my home in the east. That petition was clearly unacceptable in its presented form.
How can we genuinely assess the Home Secretary's assertion that the petition score to date is 1.4 million in favour and 1.2 million against? What yardstick can we use? If we no longer count the number of signatures, perhaps we may be able to get some idea by counting the number of petitions. One hundred and six petitions have been presented to the House in proper parliamentary form. That number reflects only those which were acceptable.
What about those presented for the proposals? I made inquiries at the Journal Office earlier today. I received a written reply from the Clerk, when he had checked the records, in which he said:I have checked that there have been no petitions in favour of unlimited Sunday trading which have been in order…All petitions presented up to today have been in favour of some kind of regulation of such trading.They were not in favour of removal.
I suggest that we need some evidence of the Home Secretary's assertion that there were 1.4 million in favour 666 and 1.2 million against. I simply do not believe that, and I challenge the Home Secretary to substantiate that statement here and now or to have the common decency to withdraw it before the vote tonight.
The truth is that the Government are hell-bent on a doctrinaire and dogmatic approach. We have a skilfully negotiated emphasis on Second Reading rather than on a reasoned amendment. I suspect that that is a means of regimenting the reluctant Conservative rookies who might have conscientiously sought refuge in the more sensible approaches counselled by an Opposition more in tune with the genuine concern of an anxious electorate.
I submit that the motion for a two-hour extension of debate until midnight, which we shall be considering in about six minutes, is no more than a cynical ploy to allow the more craven Conservative representatives, who have publicly expressed opposition to these proposals, to present some specious statement of sterile objection before cowering to the pressure of their party's bully boys and whispering their abstention in the Smoking Room as usual. I remind them that there will be no place to hide when the Division lists are published, and the next election is not many Sundays away from tonight.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)
The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) will probably have to eat many of his words when he sees the Division lists, because many of us look upon a three-line Whip as an invitation to be present, and that is why we are here.
It is regrettable that on the strength of a report compiled by three people the Government have decided to go along this road. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) talked about garden centres, and others of my hon. Friends have referred to small shops. Many of us believe, with them, that there are anomalies. We are not against garden centres or small shops being open on Sundays, but we are against the high street Sunday. To suggest that the Bill, if passed, will not lead to a radical change in our way of life on Sundays is to fly in the face of the facts and the evidence.
I refer to the eloquent speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). He referred to Good Friday. I well remember my first Good Friday in the west midlands. I had come from Lincolnshire, where that day was properly observed, no shops were open and the churches were reasonably well attended. I drove up the main street of Wolverhampton and was so shocked by the extraordinary activity, with every shop open, that I ran into the car in front of me. That brought home to me in a realistic way the fact that here was something that had been changed beyond recall. The change in Good Friday in the west midlands began in the war when, for understandable reasons, people worked all the hours that God sent. Having once departed from that tradition, they have departed from it for good. Now, throughout the country, in many towns and villages, Good Friday is indistinguishable from any other day, and people do not even know that it is a religious festival.
I am confident that if the Government do not accept a reasoned amendment and do not abandon their policy of total deregulation, within a decade what has happened to Good Friday in many parts of the country will happen to Sundays in most parts of the country. The onus is upon the 667 Government to find a compromise. There are compromises. We have talked about hours and numbers of people. I say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Paymaster General that other things can be considered, too.
Garden centres could be exempt. Small shops below a certain size could automatically be licensed to trade on Sundays. If, in order to achieve a compromise that would be acceptable to those who are thoroughly opposed to the Bill as it stands, the high street shops were allowed to trade on four Sundays of the year, we would still be preserving what many of us hold dear. It could easily be done on a licensing system. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) referred to the fact that VAT is levied according to turnover. That has not presented insuperable obstacles to legislators or bureaucrats.
I say to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that there are compromises, there are solutions. If the 668 Government truly believe in the character of the British Sunday and that Sunday is a special day — I do not question the sincerity of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench — it is up to them to look at the realistic alternatives and adopt one or a combination of them. They should realise that if the Bill is passed in its present form many people will suffer. If it is not passed, nobody will suffer. I hope that tonight the House will deliver a warning to the Government and say, "This is something that we are not prepared to put up with. Take it away and think again."
I shall vote for the Bill on one condition. That condition is a total commitment from my right hon. and learned Friend the Paymaster General that the Government will declare their determination to abandon the part of the Bill concerning total deregulation. If they did that, they would get great support. If they do not do that—and I fear that they will not — just as I voted against the Auld committee report in May 1985, I shall vote against the Bill tonight without any qualms, compunctions or consideration for Whips, be they one, two or three-line.