HC Deb 27 February 1990 vol 168 cc188-206

Which amendment was: in page 2, leave out lines 17 and 18 and insert: '(2) A market established under this section may be held on such days of the week as the Council may determine, including Sunday.'.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I remind the House that we are also discussing the following amendments: No. 3, in page 2, line 18, at end insert 'save that the market shall not be held on more than two days a week'.

No. 4, in page 2, line 18, at end insert 'save that the market shall not be held on more than one day a week'.

7 pm

Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)

It is nice to see you in the Chair again, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I am thinking back to the time when we last debated this matter a couple of weeks ago—although I am not sure that you would extend the same welcome to me. Hon. Members who were present when the debate was interrupted then will not need me to remind them where we had reached in relation to this group of amendments. In fairness to hon. Members who were not present, I will give a brief resume of what we are discussing, or new arrivals may find the issues complex.

The essential aspect of the amendments is the number of days on which the proposed Ilford market may open. In that context, several options are before the House, including the option to open on Sunday and various restrictions on the number of days per week, to which I shall refer in detail.

The wider issue at the heart of the Bill is whether it is fair and proper for the private Bill procedure to be used to cancel rights enjoyed by royal writ for over 700 years, when successive Governments have chosen not to do so. We have discussed that matter and it would not be in order for me to talk about it at length now. It is important for hon. Members coming new to the discussion to be aware of what is involved and, in particular, to remember that 284 hon. Members have in their constituencies equivalent charter markets, each of which could be affected by Bills such as this. That is why the National Market Traders Federation remains strongly opposed to it.

Since I last addressed the House on this subject my council has written to me again making some points that it believes were not properly made last time. They are germane to the question of how many days the market should open because that, in turn, goes to the heart of the profitability of the proposed Ilford market and, from my point of view, that of the existing Romford market.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, is unable, as on previous occasions, to contribute to our proceedings. He must sit in frustration listening to my second-hand attempts to put across the case that he would make.

The first point that was made to me—this is relevant to how often the market trades—is the need to clarify once and for all the number of traders involved in Romford. The number of traders occupying pitches in a full market would be nearer 300 than 600. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), who is on the Opposition Front Bench, will recall that we discussed that point at length two weeks ago. Havering council, which covers Romford, makes the point that many of the existing stalls cover two or even three spaces, and that is why the figure is nearer 300 than 600, with a percentage set aside for casual traders.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is no queue for stalls at Romford market? Traders are not queueing up to take part in the market, so one must ask whether there is any need for additional resources in the area.

Mr. Squire

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point which the promoters of the Bill will wish to take on board. I accept that 5 per cent. of the spaces are reserved for casual traders, who turn up when they wish to and who are not regular traders.

There was much discussion about the distance of six and two thirds miles and it was suggested, rightly, that that was an arcane form of measurement. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) asked why the Food Act 1984 did not provide the same protection. That measure left intact the rules that a franchise market is protected against any rival within six and two thirds miles. A statutory market is also protected, within six and two thirds miles, from any rival other than a statutory market.

Those are all relevant points when considering how many days the market should be open because the distance within which markets may operate one from another goes to the heart of the profitability of those markets. For all the argument about anachronisms, if the Bill is enacted, the London borough of Redbridge will enjoy protection under the same rules against rival markets established within that borough, and that protection will undoubtedly be relevant to the financial arrangements for the market at Ilford.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)

My hon. Friend might ask those representing Redbridge to say exactly what is the span of the Redbridge area. I suspect that we shall find that its protection extends over a substantial area in terms of square mileage.

Mr. Squire

I suspect that that question is directed to someone else, through me, so it would be wise if I continued speaking rather than looked to an hon. Friend to answer. But I know that my hon. Friends from Redbridge will confirm that parts of Redbridge would be more than the relevant six and two thirds miles from Romford market and, presumably, would be outside the scope of the Bill.

My good and hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) said when we previously debated this matter that the compensation was extremely generous. The central difficulty for the London borough of Havering is how to establish a proper compensation basis, which is part of the issue of taking away long-held rights. How does one measure such matters?

It has always been open to the London borough of Redbridge to ask the London borough of Havering, "Would you grant us not permanent rights but scheduled rights under your powers, so that we may trade and set up all the necessary conditions?" The only time that that was even suggested in the context of the Bill was in the statement, which hon. Members will recognise, "This will happen anyway and, because of that, we would like to discuss it". That is scarcely what might be termed open-ended discussions. Discussions have been promised only in the context of a Bill which would, in the council's eyes, be passed.

It should be remembered, especially in view of the weather now, that we are talking only about the open market, not about the covered market in Romford, which is privately owned and run and is similar, I am told, to the covered market in Ilford. We are talking about a clearly defined open market area.

I stressed that I did not want to talk at length or to quote from letters, and I hope that I have managed not to do so. However, the key point in this group of amendments is whether market trading should be extended to Sundays. When our proceedings were interrupted on the previous occasion, an interesting discussion was getting under way on hon. Members' attitudes to Sunday opening.

A few years ago hon. Members were required to come to a conclusion on Sunday trading and it is not my rode tonight to persuade them, one way or the other, to change their conclusion. However, since then there has been a surge of people wanting local authorities to take action and in some cases of councils, including my own, taking action to close places on Sunday and attracting a lot of public condemnation as a result. The matter is unsatisfactory and most of us, whatever our views about Sunday trading, would welcome clarification of the rules.

I would go a little further. I suspect that Sunday trading is the baby of the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), who has many things on his plate at the moment, including working out what we should be watching on our televisions and listening to on our radios. Because of his current workload and what happened when the Government last tried to introduce legislation on Sunday trading, I can understand why he may be reluctant to introduce legislation that would raise the issue again.

But we have an opportunity tonight to show the Government whether we are interested in the reintroduction of such legislation. It would be welcome if 300 or 400 hon. Members were to vote on this group of amendments. It would be even more welcome if they voted overwhelmingly in favour of the line that I took at the time, which was to extend Sunday trading. We should then be showing the Government clearly that a substantial body of hon. Members had seen the inevitable consequences of rejecting legislation a few years ago—that local authorities would be required to prosecute the law with full vigour—and recognised that that was essentially unsatisfactory. This is an unstable position which creates much annoyance among many of my constituents.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Would it be possible for hon. Members to be in favour of the extension of Sunday trading but opposed to the Sunday trading extension being applied to the market? Much depends on what is happening in Redbridge and the shopkeeping provisions near the market. I do not know whether we know what is likely to be sold in the market or in the areas round the market, and whether the sales within the market would assist sales in the shops or whether they would be in competition with them and cause problems within Redbridge.

7.15 pm
Mr. Squire

The hon. Gentleman makes several valid points. He must be right to suggest that one could take a different view on Sunday trading at the market and generally or one could be against both or in favour of both. All that we know about what is to be sold, based on the evidence taken in Committee, to which I shall refer later—I do not want to stretch your tolerance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by referring to it now—is that a number of things would be prohibited or permitted. But nothing in the Bill as yet would cover that point. This group of amendments would give the House a valuable opportunity to tackle what most people see as an anomaly that will not go away except as a result of future legislation.

This is a narrow Bill on which to vote on Sunday trading, but it would be one of many straws in the wind. Many issues have started in small measures and have subsequently been seen to be major issues in their own right.

The critical point of holding the market on one or two day a week goes to the heart of the Bill. We are discussing a precedent. I am grateful for a short note that I received only this week from Mr. Toller, the general secretary of the National Market Traders Federation. The key paragraph in his letter says: A point that has not yet been raised is that if this Bill were passed it would form a precedent for anyone, not just a local authority, to sponsor a Private Bill to set up a market"— on any number of days per week. I know from experience that both British Rail and London Underground are interested in setting up markets at weekends on station car parks as a way of raising additional revenue, and British Coal, British Steel and British Ports all have spare land that could be used. I am not trying to make blood-curdling suggestions to hon. Members with markets in their constituencies, but the general drift of the general secretary's fears is clear, and he is a man with experience and knowledge of markets. The only precedent for this Bill is the so called "Bexley Bill" which disappeared suddenly because agreement seems to have been reached. But precedents, once established, are easily quoted. Hon. Members will find that the fears expressed by Mr. Toiler could be realised in their constituencies. They could find similar private Bills, not national legislation that can be voted against on principle, and their worst fears could be realised which would have an impact on many of their constituents and market traders.

Mr. Harry Barnes

From what the hon. Gentleman is saying, we appear to be in a difficulty. Should we judge the best interests of Redbridge and treat this as a separate Bill, or should we consider the consequences that are likely to flow from it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. We must confine ourselves to Redbridge, for good or bad.

Mr. Barnes

The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) suggested that the Bill had a knock-on effect which, without going into it in detail, would influence the attitudes of hon. Members to the measure. That would presumably add weight to his point that this is not an ideal way in which to deal with legislation.

Mr. Squire

The hon. Gentleman makes the point succinctly and with admirable accuracy. It would be stretching the well-known tolerance of hon. Members to expect them to identify with the specific issue of Romford market or Ilford market, for reasons that need no expansion. I take that point. But my one hope is that I can get across to sufficient hon. Members that we are talking about the way in which the matter has been dealt with, establishing a precedent which can and arguably will be followed by other markets in other parts of the country where councils will seek to set up markets in competition with markets that have been established by royal decree for some 700 years and without any wholesale revision of the law.

I am a reasonable person; I do not think it is yet a crime to plead guilty to that. If we were considering wholesale revision of the law on markets, there would be an opportunity for some to say, "I want the law to remain as it is," and for others to say, "We want a complete free-for-all". But we are not having that. It is unfortunate that the Bill has been presented.

The key point is the number of days per week on which the market may be held. Again, that goes to the heart of the profitability of the market. In previous debates on the measure, we heard that Romford market is open three days a week. As drafted, the Bill proposes six days a week for Redbridge, twice as many as for Romford. That increases the concern of those involved with the existing market. They have no other way of defending their livelihood. How else can they do so except by saying that this is not a reasonable and proper way to proceed?

I have given the reason for the proposed amendments. They are worthy of consideration. In particular, amendment No. 3, which proposes that the market should not be held on more than two days a week, deserves support.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

I am participating in the debate because an important point of principle is at stake. I have no particular interest in the markets being discussed by my hon. Friends. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) on the way in which he moved the amendment in my absence some days ago.

We are debating the principle of Sunday trading because the precedent that could be set by the Bill—if the House is minded to accept my amendment—could apply to other statutory markets. As we have heard, there are 284 in all. Two are in my constituency, and both would benefit greatly from the introduction of the Sunday trading facility.

We are not trying, through the amendment, to compel any market to trade on Sunday, nor to compel any council or local authority to insist that it does. We are merely saying that the local authority should at least have the enabling power to determine the days upon which a market should trade. If the local authority wishes to include Sunday, so be it. That is the wish of Parliament, but it will also be the wish of the democratically elected local authority.

We have heard a great deal recently about accountability in local government. No doubt with the introduction of the community charge such accountability will grow. Many of us very much hope that it will. If a local authority decides, therefore, that rather than being compelled to enforce the law on Sunday trading—in other words, to take Sunday traders to court for having broken the law of the land—it should enable those traders to trade on a Sunday, that would be to the benefit of everyone.

Mr. O'Brien

I wish to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the evidence given in Committee. The local authority—on this occasion, Redbridge—stated categorically that it would not wish to operate the market on a Sunday. That was a decision taken by the council. Why is the hon. Gentleman saying that we should go against the wishes of the local authority?

Mr. Colvin

I am not saying that. If the hon. Gentleman has listened, he would have heard that I said by passing the amendment we would enable the local authority in future, should it so decide, to allow a market to trade on Sunday. The composition of the local authority will no doubt change as elections take place. The elected councillors who made the decision, and who presumably gave evidence in Committee, may change. When they change, the new council may take a completely different view. What we are talking about is in a sense an enabling measure.

It may be of interest to the House to consider the attitude of the trade unions. Perhaps there is an hon. Member present who can enlighten us as to how many of those who man trading markets are members of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, which has been resolute in its opposition to Sunday trading. In the case of trading markets, I do not think that there are many members of that trade union involved, so I cannot see that those who are in the business of manning stalls in statutory trading markets should necessarily be opposed to trading on Sunday.

I also believe that the National Market Traders Federation would like its members to be entitled to trade on Sunday, if they wish, and they do not want local authorities to take them to court for breaking the law. I remind the House that the last time a survey was done on the attitude of the public towards Sunday trading, 72 per cent. were in favour of reform. That is overwhelming support.

Because the principle of Sunday trading is crucial to the amendment, it is as well to remind the House of the basis upon which the committee of inquiry under Mr. Robin Auld, QC, was established in August 1983 to examine proposals for amending the Shops Act 1950, which is the basis upon which traders are taken to court by local authorities if they are seen to be trading on a Sunday. The terms of reference of the committee of inquiry were: To consider what changes are needed in the Shops Act, having regard to the interests of consumers, employers and employees, and to the traditional character of Sunday, and to make recommendations on how these could be achieved. As you will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in its report the committee came down overwhelmingly in favour of Sunday trading. It was therefore regrettable that Parliament, when asked to consider the matter on a later occasion——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not think that this is the appropriate moment for a general debate on Sunday trading. Parliament has already dealt with that. It is beyond the terms of the amendment before the House.

Mr. Colvin

I accede to your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to bring the debate more into line with Redbridge and the market which we are considering in today's debate.

When the House last voted on this issue, it voted against a change in the existing law, but it was a very close run thing. The debate was on 14 April 1986 and the vote, which was a free vote, was lost by only 14. The pity about the Second Reading debate is that the House never had the opportunity to discuss any compromise on Sunday trading. Had it done so, perhaps we could have finished up with an Act on the statute book which would have taken account of the special needs of statutory markets.

Mr. Squire

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the many compromises which might have been open to the House was directly relevant——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have just reminded the House that Parliament has already decided the general policy on Sunday trading. We cannot use this modest amendment as a vehicle to reopen the debate and have an inquest on what alternatives Parliament might or might not have considered agreeable. We have to get back to Redbridge.

Mr. Colvin

I conclude by saying that the debate on Sunday trading will continue both in the House and outside. The House has an exceptional opportunity with the Bill before us to send a signal to the Government that it feels that with the passage of time the opinion of the House has changed and is more in line with the opinions of those whom we represent. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) made a brave attempt last year to bring forward a private Member's Bill to amend the law on Sunday trading and the amendment in my name is aimed at sending another signal to Government that it is high time that the House was given the opportunity——

Mr. Harry Barnes

I wonder what the hon. Member's attitude is towards the other amendments. That could influence our attitude to his point about Redbridge and Sunday trading. He is making a speech about Sunday trading generally, whereas we are discussing the situation in Redbridge. There is some inconsistency in the conjunction of the amendments as the amendment to which he is speaking would theoretically allow markets to be open for seven days while other amendments would reduce it to one or two days.

Mr. Colvin

The only amendment on which I wish to speak is the one tabled in my name. If the House makes a decision on the remaining amendments it will be up to the House to set my amendment aside. We do not wish to lay down the law emphatically on the way local authorities conduct their affairs with regard to statutory markets. We should enable authorities to take such decisions as they see fit in the light of the feelings of their electors, and that is precisely what my amendment seeks to do.

7.30 pm
Sir Nicholas Bonsor

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) mentioned the threat to Romford market from what is happening in Ilford. Recently, the borough of Havering has heard from Romford and Dagenham. They want information on this issue. That leads us to suspect that they will seek to follow the example set by Redbridge and will also seek to infringe the rights held by Romford market. When they do that——

Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North)

What sort of information did they seek?

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I had a letter from the chief executive of my borough—Havering—telling me that the borough of Barking had been in touch with him to seek information and specific details about our market rights, which leads him to suspect that they propose to follow the route taken by the borough of Redbridge.

If the House decides to give passage to the Bill, I find it hard to see how it can differentiate in the case of Barking and all the other boroughs throughout the country which will seek to follow Redbridge's example. We are not talking only about what is happening in Romford and Redbridge.

Sunday trading is an important issue from the point of view of people in my borough, and we must not skirt over it, notwithstanding the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) which seemed to cover a wider scope than the amendment that we are now discussing.

The effect of the Shops Act 1950, and the way in which Sunday trading may or may not apply to what is proposed for the new market in Ilford, is of great importance to us. We must deal with it fully.

We are talking about rights in Romford which go back some 800 years, and are deeply steeped in history. It is worth making the point that that is also true of Sunday trading restrictions. Hon. Members will undoubtedly recall that Sunday trading restrictions date back to the Sunday Fairs Act 1448 and were strengthened by the Sunday Observance Act 1677 and have been in the law ever since.

Whatever the merits, or rights and wrongs, of Sunday trading, this is certainly not the appropriate Bill—as the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) said—for Sunday trading to be introduced in legislation. The reason that I say that is, first, that we have to consider the fifth schedule of the 1950 Act— Transactions for the purposes of which a shop may be open in England and Wales for the serving of customers on Sunday". In this case, there was no reason why the market stall should not be put in the same position as the shop. The list is fairly comprehensive, and I shall take out those items that may have relevance, or would have relevance to market stalls that I suspect that my hon. Friend's council is likely to put in Redbridge market. Were it to do so, the following stalls would fit in the definition of the fifth schedule of the 1950 Act: those which serve meals or refreshments, whether or not for consumption at the shop at which they are sold, but not including the sale of fried fish and chips at a fried fish and chip shop; … newly cooked provisions and cooked or partly cooked tripe; … table waters, sweets, chocolates, sugar confectionery and ice-cream, (including wafers and edible containers); … flowers, fruit and vegetables (including mushrooms) other than tinned or bottled fruit or vegetables; … milk and cream, not including tinned or dried milk or cream, but including clotted cream whether sold in tins or otherwise; … aircraft, motor, or cycle supplies or accessories". I noted that when this issue was discussed in Committee—I was not a member of the Committee—Redbridge council said that it would specifically not include aircraft, motor or cycle supplies or accessories. As I was not present, and as I am afraid that I have not had the chance to read all the details of what went on in Committee, perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) could enlighten me at some stage as to why that was mentioned in Committee. It seems to me that it might have had something to do with Redbridge council attempting to distance its proposals from the terms of the 1950 Act.

The list continues: newspapers, periodicals and magazines; … guide books, postcards, photographs, reproductions, photographic films and plates, and souvenirs … requisites for any game or sport at any premises or place where that game or sport is played or carried on"— perhaps this is not relevant to Redbridge market but it is deeply steeped in the history of the whole affair— fodder for horses, mules, ponies and donkeys at any farm, stables, hotel or inn. My reason for reading that list out is that a huge number of the items I have mentioned will undoubtedly be sold in the market in Ilford. I am not clear whether the terms of the Shops Act 1950 will allow stalls to open on Sunday or not, and I should like some enlightenment from my hon. Friend when he tells us the reactions of his borough to the proposals in the amendments.

The second category in the 1950 Act for which trading on Sunday is allowed is in section 48, which says that the local authority is empowered to make partial exemption orders permitting shops to be open for part of Sunday for the sale of bread and flour, confectionery, fish and groceries. I also suggest that many of those items will be on sale in the market, and I wonder whether the Shops Act 1950 applies to it. If it does, will the council allow the market to open on Sunday, notwithstanding whatever may be said by the House about the amendment?

Mr. Harry Barnes

The hon. Member is pursuing the line that it seems that there will be a considerable overlap between what will be for sale in the market and what could be available in the shops in the area. The hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) said that people in markets are often not organised in USDAW, which is the union that operates in shops, yet USDAW members will be prominent in the shops, so their interests begin to be directly related to what happens in the market because it may cause their shops to be opened on Sunday.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

The hon. Gentleman is undoubtedly correct. However, I am trying to explain that I am not clear whether my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South, who is sponsoring the measure, needs the amendment or whether the market could happen willy-nilly. Before we can make a decision on voting on the amendment in the Lobbies, that point must be made clear.

The third category dealt with by the 1950 Act, in section 53, concerns people who observe the Jewish sabbath. At present, as I understand it, they may open shops on Sunday until 2 pm, but must close the shops on Saturdays instead. I am not clear whether this will apply to the proposals for Redbridge. If they may do that under the 1950 Act, and if my hon. Friend's proposal is that Redbridge market should be open on Saturday, would members of the Jewish faith who have stalls in the market be able to make an application that they should be allowed to trade on Sunday instead of Saturday? According to my reading of the 1950 Act, there is no reason why that should not be so, but it would ride a coach and horses through the legislation with which we think, at least, that we are dealing this evening.

Section 54 of the Shops Act make special provision for Sunday opening in respect of street markets and shops that have customarily been held, or open, on Sundays in some parts of London. On the face of it, that is an extremely potent argument in favour of the amendment: if many other London markets are already empowered specifically to open on Sundays, Redbridge—as part of the Greater London area—should be able to do the same. As far as I know, however, Romford is not among the markets that have opened on Sundays, and I therefore do not think that it would he appropriate to allow Ilford to creep in under section 54 of the Act to obtain a power that would be denied to Romford because it has traded for so long without trading on Sundays.

The administration and enforcement of the Shops Act is the responsibility of local authorities—that is, the common council of the City and the London borough councils. Each authority has a duty to appoint inspectors to enforce the Act. Debates in the House and comments in the press have often suggested that the extent to which those powers are enforced varies a good deal between authorities, and that is of course true.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch has already said that he is worried about the number of letters that he has received complaining that the London borough of Havering is enforcing the regulations on Sunday trading to an excessive degree. I too have received some angry letters about the way in which the local council is pursuing some of the shops in Havering to ensure that they abide by the law. I do not make that complaint myself, because I believe that laws that have been enforced by the House should be enforced until such time as we see fit to change them. As I said at the time of the proposal to change the law, I feel that Sunday trading should be allowed, but the matter has already been the subject of debates in the House—as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have pointed out.

We are confronted not merely by an opportunity but by a threat—that the law on Sunday trading will be undermined and reversed by what we decide this evening. It is important for us first to realise why a change in the law may be, overall, a good idea, and secondly to differentiate between that and the legislation that we are discussing tonight.

The essence of the proposal to allow Sunday trading in Redbridge market—and, perhaps, of the wider argument—is that this country's whole way of life has changed. The religious basis of the refusal to allow Sunday trading—which was addressed in the 1677 Act, and which has formed the foundation of our law for some 300 years—is much weaker now. Churchgoing habits have altered rapidly: I have no doubt that that applies to Redbridge, and I fear that it is also true in Romford. It is nonsense to suggest that the vast majority of people now think that Sunday trading would be against the religious principles on which our society is rightly based.

Another argument for allowing Sunday trading is the importance of people's quality for life. Sunday is the day when families can get together and, among other things, go shopping. According to my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside and others, that is a good reason for undermining the present law, and introducing a chink into the armour that has so far resisted all the efforts of private Bills to allow Sunday trading.

Although there is some strength in that argument, I do not feel that it is strong enough, for two main reasons. First, it would give Redbridge an unfair advantage over my borough, which would certainly not be able to trade on Sundays under the law as it stands. Secondly, I suspect that a more general proposal for wider legislation would also not meet with success because of our strong inbuilt resistance to change in the current Sunday trading laws.

7.45 pm

Let me remind the House of some of the failures of the not-too-distant past. There was an attempt to introduce Sunday trading in the Shops Bill 1956–57, and more attempts in 1967–68. In that year the Shops (Sunday Trading) (No. 2) Bill was presented by Lord Derwent in the other place, and he made another attempt in 1970–71 in the Shops (Sunday Trading) Bill. The Shops (Weekday Trading) Bill was presented in 1970–71 by Mr. Evelyn King, later Lord King.

Sunday trading legislation was tried again in the Shops (Holiday Resorts—Sunday Trading) Bill presented by Baroness Phillips, and yet again in a ten-minute Bill by Clement Freud in 1976—the Shops (Sunday Trading) Bill. Further attempts were made by Sir John Langford-Holt in 1976 and 1977. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) presented a ten-minute Bill in 1978. It is not directly relevant to what we are discussing now, but I am sure that he would take the same view as I do. Nevertheless, there is a broader view that a change in the law is desirable; I do not wish to waste the time of the House, but I could give at least eight more examples of attempts to change it in the past few years.

I believe that, on that wider base, the initiative should be allowed to succeed, but in this instance such a move would be divisive and also unfair to shopkeepers, whose trade would be threatened by Sunday trading on the part of stallholders.

Mr. Harry Barnes

The hon. Gentleman's list shows the extent to which the general principle of Sunday trading has been debated, but is entirely inappropriate—almost in a procedural sense—to discussion of this measure. We are debating something much more specific, and it would be quite wrong to push through a measure that might have knock-on consequences when the House is half asleep.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I take the hon. Gentleman's point; indeed, it is in line with my feelings about the amendment, although I would feel differently if we were dealing with the broader issue. I feel that the proposal would be extremely unfair on Romford council, and on everyone trying to trade within the vicinity of the proposed shopping area.

Mr. O'Brien

There are other possibilities of unfairness. When we last debated the Bill, we were told that Redbridge council would not necessarily run the market, and that its operation might be taken over by a third party—a private individual. Is there not a danger that such an individual would seize the opportunity to exercise more unfairness in relation to the local shopping community and the neighbouring markets?

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. This is not the appropriate moment to pursue legislation that would gradually create wider powers for Sunday trading. I support the ultimate objective, but I do not support the steps that would be taken to get there if we were to use a creeping method, which would be one effect of passing the Bill. When we go into the Division Lobbies, I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and I will find ourselves in the usual position of being on the same side of this matter.

As for the other amendments in this group, there is a proposal that the market should be allowed to be held on only one day a week. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch made that proposal. As I am of a much more generous disposition and spirit, I have proposed that the market should be allowed to be held on two days a week—if Redbridge is to be allowed to have it at all, to which I have objected throughout.

It must be wrong that the Redbridge market should be open for the whole week. That is asking a great deal of hon. Members. I referred to that point on Second Reading, and I have heard nothing in the meantime to make me change my opinion. On that occasion, I referred to the fact that not many hon. Members were present, and few hon. Members are here now. Therefore, the point bears repeating so that it reaches a slightly wider audience.

My hon. Friends the Members for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) and for Ilford, South propose that there should be 80 stalls a day, on six days a week. That would provide Redbridge with an enormous number of stallholders. I do not recall having heard or read anything about the number of stallholders who would have a stall for six days a week, or about how many different stallholders would have a stall for one day a week. We should probably find that as many stallholders were occupying their stalls as those who are occupying the Romford stalls on a day-stall basis. That proposal would pose a great threat to the Romford market.

Times have changed. People have no difficulty in getting to a market. The legislation was drafted on the basis that it was extremely difficult in the old days to travel by horse or by foot to market. Most people travelled by foot to market because only the comparatively rich could travel to market by horse. The reason for the six-and-two-thirds-mile-limit was precisely the need to protect traders within an area where one could easily travel to market.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

Within one day.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

Yes, within one day, as my right hon. Friend reminds me.

It is now possible to travel many miles within a day. Our wives get into the car and travel long distances to a sale where they wish to buy something, or to a shop that stocks an article that they want to buy. The need, therefore, for two markets in the area has not been established.

As for the point that is raised by the amendment, would it be right for one of the markets to be open six days a week so that housewives in exactly the same catchment area of the two markets would be able to go to one of the markets six days a week?

Mr. Harry Barnes

One also has to consider the traders. As the hon. Gentleman said, people no longer walk to market, but saturation point must be reached when it comes to those who want to be involved in trading.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. If the market were open for six days a week, it would pose a substantial threat to the Romford market and to all those who are trading in the area.

The Romford market is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. On Mondays and Tuesdays, many of the people who normally come to Romford to do their shopping in the market do not go shopping in order to preserve Romford market's trading position on Wednesday. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South wants the market to be open in direct competition with mine, on the days on which mine is open. He also wants it to be open on the first two days of the week, when mine is not open. The House ought not to grant powers of that kind. It would contravene statutory rights and historic common law rights that have been preserved for centuries.

I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would explain why he thinks that it is necessary for Redbridge to have that six-day right, whereas we have been content for a very long time with the three days that we enjoy at the moment. I should also like him to explain what the consequences will be for Romford. There is certainly not room for both of us, according to the timing proposed by my hon. Friend.

If such a power is granted, we shall disregard what the powers that have run this country for a thousand years have said is right. Furthermore, we shall disregard what has always been protected by statute and what the House has always laid down in the past. Against the will of the council that is the recipient of these ancient rights, direct competition would be allowed within its restricted area of six and two thirds miles.

I am sad that there are so many empty Benches. As my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside said earlier, this does not affect just Redbridge and Romford: it affects the whole community. There are 284 markets. Will the precedent that we are proposing to set, if the Bill is given a Second Reading and duly passes its Third Reading on another day, be disregarded? Shall we be the only market that is affected by the Bill?

I suggest that that will not happen. The Bill will be used as a precedent. There will be an unstoppable flood of hon. Members coming to the House and taking up a vast amount of parliamentary time on similar Bills. It would be neither right nor proper to have to deal with 284 applications such as this one during the next heaven knows how many years, nor would it be right for this House to be asked to change the general law and to abolish market rights that we have enjoyed for so long.

Mr. Barnes

In the 17th century, the tradition was to introduce Bills of this type. In later times, general legislation was introduced; the law was consolidated. For example, local enclosure measures were followed by a general Enclosure Act. After several Bills relating to markets had been passed, it might be thought that the law ought to be consolidated and there would be general legislation.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

That is a very good point. It is not right that changes of great magnitude should be made in this way. Redbridge has introduced this measure because of its parochial and self-centred desire to get itself a market, in contravention of all history and tradition. That is not the right way to go about it. If a change is to be made which will have national consequences, we ought to introduce legislation to cover all markets. Then it would be not only my hon. Friends the Members for Hornchurch and for Romsey and Waterside and I who would be deeply concerned about the results of the legislation: all my hon. Friends who have markets in their constituencies would come here to support us. I believe that such a proposal, with the assistance of many Opposition Members, would be defeated.

Mr. Barnes

My reason for taking part in the debate is that Chesterfield market is almost exactly six and two thirds miles from Dronfield, my own town, which is in the neighbouring constituency.

8 pm

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

It is a great relief that the hon. Gentleman is supporting me. As a consequence of what happens tonight, Dronfield might decide to set up a market, although I am sure that the people of Dronfield would be much too sensible to do that, because in that part of the country, as in my own, there is demonstrably not room for two such markets, let alone three, in such a confined space.

I remind the House of what I said about Barking and Dagenham. If they wish to set up a market, we will come back here and go through precisely the same procedure all over again. On that occasion, Romford would have about the same chance of winning a vote as we do tonight, because it is piecemeal legislation, involving one local borough against another, and I am afraid it has not commanded as much attention as it should.

I am rather disappointed that my hon. Friend the Minister cannot take a robust view. That is most undesirable, and certainly not in line with the Government's wish to preserve markets in such a way that they can remain profitable and effective. I know that it is not the wish of a Conservative Government to change without good reason rights which have been enjoyed for 1,000 years.

I hope that I have made the points that I wish to make on the three amendments. I am not quite clear whether we shall have one or three votes, but clearly the amendments require individual attention. It might be greatly to the advantage of the House if we were to divide on each of them, but that is a matter for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Neil Thorne: (Ilford, South)

I shall try to deal with the points as they arose.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) said that the 300 stallholders had an average of two stalls each, making a total of 600, and that there was no waiting list. I found that rather surprising because on a previous occasion I said that Redbridge had had 250 applications for the 80 stalls. If stallholders were to have two stalls each, there would be only 40 possible opportunities. That would suggest that a number of stallholders in Romford believe that they could profitably have a stall in the Redbridge market, too, and therefore have confidence in a demand which others have suggested does not exist.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

Is not my hon. Friend ignoring the fact that it is well known that Redbridge market is seeking the right to remain open for six days a week? It is absolutely wrong for him to suggest that market traders would be in Romford for our three days and in his constituency for the other three days. It is much more likely that they would decide to set up their stalls for six days in the same place rather than to-ing and fro-ing. That would make a great deal of economic sense and is one reason why I oppose him so strongly.

Mr. Thorne

My hon. Friend does not understand market traders as well as I thought he did. If he did, he would appreciate that market traders normally work as a family and that the father, mother, daughters and sons are usually in the business together. They are likely to have a stall in Bexley on the same day as they have a stall in Romford, and it is very likely that they will want a stall at Ilford on the same day. So I do not think that there is likely to be any such conflict. They are unlikely to move into Redbridge and ignore Romford. Romford is a substantial, well-established and viable market with 600 stalls and an established clientele which I do not think will be affected in any way by an 80-stall market at Ilford.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I understand market traders well enough to know that none of their families are sitting on their backsides waiting for the legislation to go through the House. It is nonsense to say, as my hon. Friend suggests, that they are unoccupied at the moment. Of course, Romford is a well-established, successful and thriving market. That is because it has enjoyed statutory protection for nearly 1,000 years. My hon. Friend is trying to destroy that success and stability and that is why he is wrong.

Mr. Thorne

As I said on a previous occasion, I do not under any circumstances agree that a market of 80 stalls can possibly undermine a 600-stall market at Romford. have visited Romford market for more years than I care to remember and I shall continue to do so. I believe that the matter of a small market in Ilford is purely coincidental, so I do not think that my hon. Friend makes a relevant point.

Mr. Squire

None the less, it is worth recording that if it were merely coincidental, the question of compensation would not have been discussed or put into the Bill. That is a recognition that it is more than coincidental. Obviously, my hon. Friend is making the case for the Bill, but even he would accept that.

Mr. Thorne

I said to my hon. Friend previously that I accepted the compensation provisions purely and simply because the Opposed Bills Committee which considered the matter in considerable detail, on the advice of counsel appointed by the respective councils, reached that conclusion. That was not my view. I felt that it was extremely generous and unnecessary, particularly as on only two days in the week would there be any conflict between what Havering does at Romford market and what Redbridge wishes to do.

Mr. Bendall

Does my hon. Friend agree that the many markets in east London which are very close together all do exceptionally well and that there is no deterioration of business in any of them?

Mr. Thorne

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The number of markets encourages people to use them. I believe that when people have successfully visited some of the stalls in Ilford market, they will be more ambitious and will see what the 600 stalls in Romford market have to offer. I have every confidence that within a year or two of the passing of the Bill, by the will of the House, both markets will be thriving even more than now. That is my honest belief.

I am informed that no protection is sought for Redbridge market, so it is unlikely that a six and two thirds mile limit will be relevant. The calculation of compensation was dealt with on a previous occasion.

Mr. O'Brien

Compensation was decided on the understanding that the market would operate six days a week. Do not proposals for Sunday trading alter the formula for assessing compensation?

Mr. Thorne

I think not, because the proposal of the Opposed Bills Committee would still apply. That measure was not sought by the London borough of Redbridge. Redbridge has been most diligent in applying the Shops Act 1950 and insisting that shops shall not trade on Sunday. It has been far more diligent in enforcing the law in that regard than any other authority in the neighbourhood. There is no reason to suppose that the borough would agree to allow Sunday trading in the market in advance of a decision to the contrary by the House. Any question of letting the land to another operator would be on the condition that it were not used in that way. There is no question but that the authority did not apply for Sunday trading. If the House wishes to give that right, it will be accepted but not used.

Mr. O'Brien

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument closely. The hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) said that amendment No. 2 is an enabling amendment. If the constitution of the council changed after an election, it could use the amendment to allow Sunday trading, although the present council opposes it. Is not there a danger that the amendment may lead to the principles and policies of the council being ignored or disregarded? I suggest that we should reject amendment No. 2 to ensure that the council's principles are adhered to.

Mr. Thorne

I should be happy if all three amendments were rejected. Amendment No. 2 would enable the council to hold a market on Sunday. The council has been Conservative-controlled for the past 25 years, but if it were to change another political party might decide differently.

Mr. Bendall

Such a change could not be made if the premises, property or land on which the market will be situated were let and there was a clear clause in the contract not permitting Sunday trading.

Mr. Thorne

My hon. Friend is right. I assume that tenants may apply for a waiver if they wish. If the landlord agreed to a waiver, there could be Sunday trading. But I am not asking the House to pass the amendment any more than I am asking it to pass the other two. If the House decides to give the authority such a power, it will accept it but not use it.,/lb> The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) asked about prohibition, but that was not requested.

It has been suggested that the Bill is likely to lead to a stampede for waivers for markets. The private Bill procedure is expensive and takes a long time. Authorities are not likely to rush into it unless they are convinced that it is the right thing to do.

Hon. Members asked how many constituencies are likely to be affected by the Bill. My constituency does not stretch six and two thirds miles in any direction. In large constituencies the distance between markets would not be a problem because they would probably be under the same local authority. It is wrong to suggest that 284 charter markets are likely to be adversely affected by the Bill.

Mr. Bendall

When the original limit of six and two thirds miles was set, London had not spread out to the extent that it has now, which is obviously why that limit was set in those days.

Mr. Thorne


The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East raised the question of union interests in shops. Norwich Union and Prudential are developing a substantial shopping mall in my constituency. They believe that a street market would help the promotion of the centre. Far from detracting from the interests of shop workers, it would enhance their numbers and their pay bargaining opportunities. I have no doubt that the proposed market would benefit workers in Ilford.

8.15 pm
Mr. Harry Barnes

The hon. Gentleman is saying that the market would be generally beneficial to the area, but I assume that it would not operate on Sundays.

Mr. Thorne

That is right. Sunday trading in the market would be unfair to the other shops in the area, and the council would not grant permission for it. Moreover, I am certain that it would stipulate in the lease that the market could not open on Sundays. As I said before, I shall not ask the House to vote for any of the three amendments.

I was asked several technical questions by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor). Those issues would be dealt with in exactly the same way as his authority deals with technical matters relating to Romford market. There is no intention to require anything different.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster made considerable play of the fact that it has been requested that the market should open six days a week. It is clear that market traders would use the market only as and when they wanted to, and there is nothing to prevent his authority from opening its market on Monday, Tuesday or Thursday as well as Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Redbridge would not object to it doing so.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

My hon. Friend has fallen into a trap. My authority would not wish the market to open on those days because there is insufficient room for it to trade.

Mr. Thorne

My hon. Friend does not appreciate that if there is no demand there is no question of forcing street traders to trade on those days. If they wish to take a stall at Ilford market on another day they can do so, just as they could in Romford market. If there is no demand, the market will not open.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

If there is no demand, my hon. Friend's local authority will discover that its market does not work, but in so discovering it will have destroyed Romford market.

Mr. Thorne

I cannot in any circumstances accept that Romford market, which has 600 stalls and which is extremely well run and viable, will be affected by a market five and a half miles away with a maximum of 80 stalls. It is not sensible to make such a suggestion. If anyone will suffer, Ilford market will suffer most and more immediately. The council would not proceed with the market if it were not viable. It would therefore have wasted its money obtaining the Act of Parliament to give it permission for the market. I am not so despondent, because I believe that Redbridge and Havering markets will be successful. In three years' time, both will be extremely viable and well run.

Mr. Harry Barnes

The hon. Gentleman said that the council would not pursue the market if it were not viable, but having given such a commitment and having sponsored the Bill, it may give the benefit of the doubt to the market being viable in the future. The act of seeking the legislation will influence its attitude in the future.

Mr. Thorne

The hon. Gentleman said that the local authority might find that the market was not running economically. However, the district auditor would have something to say if the London borough of Redbridge started to try to run an unviable market. The London borough of Redbridge is an extremely cautious and careful authority. It manages its street markets well and does not enter into enterprises that it thinks will be unviable in the first place. If it were later to find an enterprise unviable, it would not subsidise it to give an unfair advantage to its market over another. In those circumstances, I hope that the House will decide to reject all three amendments.

Mr. Squire

I sense that the House wishes to move to a Division and I do not want to detain it long. I have listened—as ever—carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne). The position with the Bill is rather as it is with much legislation in this Chamber. My hon. Friend cannot say that he is certain what the outcome will be, any more than the rest of us can. It seems logical that it will, more likely than not, lead to similar legislation coming before us. That seems to be the nature of things, but I do not want to go over the arguments again.

I noted my hon. Friend's comments on the wording of amendment No. 2 and, in the circumstances, I recognise that it might make little difference were it put to the vote. I also realise that I may be missing a few of the 400 hon. Members whom I mentioned earlier as taking part in such a Division.

As the central issue for those resisting the Bill is that Havering is being asked to give a compulsory licence in perpetuity to grant another market rights in competition, we shall seek to divide the House on amendment No. 3—subject to your comment, Mr. Deputy Speaker—which seeks to limit the operation of that market.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 3, in page 2, line 18, at end insert 'save that the market shall not be held on more than two days a week'.—[Mr. Squire.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 44, Noes 77.

Division No. 98] [8.22 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Hinchliffe, David
Allen, Graham Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Barron, Kevin Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Bermingham, Gerald Meale, Alan
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Miller, Sir Hal
Buchan, Norman Mullin, Chris
Burt, Alistair Neubert, Michael
Caborn, Richard O'Brien, William
Callaghan, Jim Pike, Peter L.
Cox, Tom Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Cryer, Bob Skinner, Dennis
Dalyell, Tam Spearing, Nigel
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Squire, Robin
Dixon, Don Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Duffy, A. E. P. Wells, Bowen
Dunnachie, Jimmy Widdecombe, Ann
Durant, Tony Wigley, Dafydd
Eastham, Ken Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Flynn, Paul Wise, Mrs Audrey
Gill, Christopher
Godman, Dr Norman A. Tellers for the Ayes:
Golding, Mrs Llin Mr. Harry Barnes and Sir Nicholas Bonsor.
Haynes, Frank
Alexander, Richard Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Allason, Rupert Kilfedder, James
Arbuthnot, James King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Aspinwall, Jack Kirkhope, Timothy
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Knapman, Roger
Bellingham, Henry Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Bendall, Vivian Lightbown, David
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Lord, Michael
Bevan, David Gilroy Maclean, David
Brazier, Julian Mans, Keith
Bright, Graham Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Browne, John (Winchester) Monro, Sir Hector
Buck, Sir Antony Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Budgen, Nicholas Moss, Malcolm
Burns, Simon Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Butterfill, John Oppenheim, Phillip
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Paice, James
Carttiss, Michael Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Chapman, Sydney Riddick, Graham
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Ryder, Richard
Currie, Mrs Edwina Shaw, David (Dover)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Dorrell, Stephen Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Emery, Sir Peter Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Evennett, David Skeet, Sir Trevor
Fenner, Dame Peggy Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Franks, Cecil Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Fry, Peter Summerson, Hugo
Gow, Ian Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Hague, William Thorne, Neil
Hampson, Dr Keith Thurnham, Peter
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Tredinnick, David
Harris, David Waddington, Rt Hon David
Hayes, Jerry Wheeler, Sir John
Heathcoat-Amory, David Winterton, Mrs Ann
Irvine, Michael
Jack, Michael Tellers for the Noes:
Janman, Tim Mr. David Amess and Mr. Tim Boswell.
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)

Question accordingly negatived.

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