HL Deb 28 April 1904 vol 133 cc1409-21


Order of the Day for the Second Beading read.


My Lords, the associations of shopkeepers and shop assistants with whom I have been now for many years in close touch with reference to the Early Closing Bill, have impressed on me very forcibly the gradual extension of the opening of shops on Sunday, and their strong desire that this should be checked, and it is at their urgent request that I ask your Lordships to sanction the Second Beading of the present Bill. The evil is rapidly increasing. In London I am informed that no less than 24,000 shops and stalls open on Sundays. In Manchester the number is over 5,000. So great and growing is the evil that the Lord Mayor in January called a meeting, which was largely attended, to consider the question. The Lord Mayor expressed a strong opinion that some remedy was required. The first resolution was moved by the secretary of the Manchester, Salford, and District Grocers' Association, and seconded by the president of the Meat Retailers' Association, and it declared that it was— Desirable that legislative powers should be obtained to effectually suppress all unnecessary Sunday trading. This was passed with a few dissentients —principally tobacconists—whom, I may say, we do not propose to affect by the Bill. At the meeting of the Lord's Day Observance Society just held, evidence was given to the same effect, but I will not occupy time on this part of the subject as the fact is notorious. While mentioning the Society I may just observe that though our objects are the same, and we hope for their support, I am approaching the subject from a different side.

The Committee of your Lordships' House in 1901 on Early Closing did not consider it part of their duty to go into the question of Sunday closing, but many of the witnesses took the opportunity of expressing the strong views of the associations they represented that Sunday trading has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished. As Mr. Maclaren, secretary of the Liverpool Fruiterers' and Fishmongers' Association, said in reply to Lord Romney. "Sunday trading is the result of Saturday night drinking and the cause of Sunday drinking." The movement against Sunday trading is shared by many, if not all, trades—by grocers, drapers, butchers, fishmongers, fruiterers, and especially hairdressers. The hairdressers are represented by the Hairdressers' Association; drapers by the Drapers Chamber of Trade; butchers by the London Butchers' Association, the Liverpool Butchers' Association, the Manchester Butchers' Association, and the Yorkshire Butchers' Association, and fruiterers and florists by their Federal Association. The Scotch Tradesmen's Associations also are most anxious to abolish Sunday trading.

I will not, however, weary your Lordships by mentioning all the associations of tradesmen by which we are supported, but will mention a few in one class. Take the grocers. They are represented as a whole by the great Grocers' Federation but I have had communications also from the Northern Council of Grocers' Associations, and the Grocers' Associations of Bath. Belfast, Blackburn, Bristol, Cardiff. Darlington, Exeter, Leeds, Liverpool, Oldham, Portsmouth, Sheffield. Swansea, Swindon, and Torquay; indeed, we are supported by grocers all over the Kingdom. In fact, the only objections I have had are that some of the exemptions go too far, and if it is shown that they can be restricted I should be glad to do so.

Coming now to the Bill itself, the first clause forbids Sunday trading. This merely expresses what is even now the law of the land, which, however, is inoperative, partly on account of its obsolete provisions, and partly because the penalties are only nominal. Clause 2 would render them effective. It adopts the scale of fines approved by your Lordships in the case of the Early Closing Bill. For a first offence the fine is only 5s., but for the second it is £1, and for the third £5. This, it is believed, would be quite effective. The third clause deals with the exemptions. There are some cases in which exceptions must obviously be made, namely, public-houses and refreshment houses, which come under other Acts of Parliament. Tobacconists, I fear, must also be excluded, because tobacco is habitually sold in public-houses and by newsagents. These would be excluded altogether from the operation of the Bill. The business of the Post Office, again, is left untouched. Chemists rarely now open their shops on Sunday, but there is generally someone in attendance who can supply anything which is wanted in an emergency. This would continue to be permissible.

Next comes the case of such articles as fish, fresh vegetables, and other perishable articles of food. We propose that the sales should be permitted up to 10 o'clock in the morning. Unfortunately, many families in our great cities live in a single room. It would be unhealthy if they had to lay in their stores on Saturday, and in many cases the articles themselves would be seriously deteriorated. Lastly comes the case of milk and cream: these we propose should be saleable up to ten and after four. In all these cases some relaxation seems necessary. We hope we have gone as far as the case requires, but we propose to give local authorities certain powers in the interpretation of this clause. As regards the local authorities, we suggest to adopt those entrusted with the administration of the Shop Hours Acts. This was the view approved by your Lordships last year, mainly on the ground that they are already dealing with cognate matters and have special inspectors conversant with these questions. The second schedule repeals the existing Acts so far as they deal with Sunday trading. Your Lordships will see, therefore, that this Bill does not materially alter the principles of the existing law, but rather adapts them to modern circumstances, and renders them effective.

Such, my Lords, are the general provisions of the Bill. I have introduced it on behalf of a large number of tradesmen's associations all over the Kingdom, and believe it represents their general views. Perhaps, then, I shall be asked why. if they wish to close, do they not close now? If it is their general wish that shops should be shut on Sunday, why is there any need for a Bill? This question was put to several of the witnesses before the Committee on the Early Closing Bill, and those of your Lordships who were members of that Committee will, I am sure, confirm me when I say that the answer invariably was that— We should much wish to close if all did so, but if a few insist on remaining open, all in the same kind of business feel they must do so too. Shopkeepers are anxious for the Bill because they believe that while they would do just as much business, they and their assistants would get more rest. I have been brought so much into contact with them that I am naturally anxious to help them, if possible.

But there are two other reasons which, I hope, may commend this Bill to your Lordships. One is the question of health. One day's rest in seven; rest for the body and rest for the mind, has from time immemorial been found of great importance from the point of view of health. Finally, there is a reason of even greater importance—a reason which, I trust, will appeal with special, though not exclusive, force to the right rev. Bench. Hitherto, I have referred to the health of the body only, but that of the spirit is even more important. Philosophers, theologians, and men of business in all ages have agreed that every man ought to be set free on one day in the week to study, to pray, and to think; to examine his own life, his conduct, and his opinions; to lift his mind and thoughts from the labours and cares of the world, from the petty but harassing worries and troubles of everyday life, and to raise them to the calmer and nobler, the higher and purer regions of Heaven above. I submit the Bill to your Lordships and trust that you will give it favourable consideration.

Moved, "That the Hill be now read 2a"."—(Lard Avebury.)


My Lords, the case, as I understand it, for the Bill which has been introduced by my noble friend is that it is brought forward in the interests of shopkeepers. Where the lot of this hard-working class of the population can be alleviated your Lordships and Parliament have always been willing to pass legislation with that object, and I am sure that if it could safely be done your Lordships would be unanimously in favour of passing such a provision as would give them one day of rest in seven. But I venture to say that there are other considerations to which your Lordships must give attention, and I hope that in laying some of these before the House it will not be considered that I am at all wishing to disregard the very strong appeal which my noble friend has made on behalf of the class for which he speaks.

Now what does this Bill really propose to do? It repeals the Acts which have been in force for so many years, but my noble friend passed over that part of his Bill somewhat lightly. The Acts which this Bill proposes to repeal practically forbid Sunday trading; they forbid the sale, or offering for sale in shops and in other ways, of goods on Sundays; and they go much further than that, because the restrictions' in these Acts refer to other matters besides trading in shops. The Acts of Charles I and Charles II. prohibited any tradesman or artificer, workman or labourer, from exercising any worldly labour on the Lord's Day except where it was work of necessity or charity. Further than that, there are special provisions with regard to the baking of bread on Sundays, which the noble Lord's Bill also proposes to repeal. This Bill proposes, further, to alter the fine which is imposed. The fine under these Acts is only 5s., and, as the noble Lord explained, this Bill proposes to impose a fine in the case of second and subsequent convictions rising to £5.

There is another provision to which the noble Lord did not allude, which presumably this Bill also proposes to repeal—the provision that no proceedings can be taken unless with the consent of two Justices and the Chief of Police of the locality in which it is desired that the prosecution should take place. Therefore, it lies at present with the local authority to say whether prosecutions would be in accordance with public policy in cases where the law is broken by Sunday trading. Those are, practically, the chief provisions which the Bill proposes to repeal. In their place the Bill inserts provisions against Sunday trading and sale in shops and public places, and makes several exceptions which have been explained by the noble Lord who introduced the Bill. But. in addition, there is the special prohibition that no barber is to be allowed to carry on his trade on a Sunday. I do not think the noble Lord referred to that particular provision, but I should have thought that that was one case which might well have been made an exception. If a man wants to get shaved on a Sunday, and cannot get shaved in his own house, there surely is no very great crime either on his part in getting shaved on that day, or on the part of the barber who performs the duty. I think I ought, however, to state that there has been a very strong request on the part of hairdressers themselves in favour of some prohibition of this sort.

The Bill makes one rather more serious exception. It gives power to a local authority to exempt any shops or any classes of shops from the operation of the Act up to ten o'clock in the morning on Sundays. I think that might, perhaps, give rise to some abuse: and I notice that the noble Lord has not adopted the safeguard which he introduced into his Bill of last year with regard to the closing of shops—namely, that it should not take place until the views of the shopkeepers interested were ascertained. If a local authority had full power to set aside the operation of this Act up to ten o'clock in the morning, it might to some extent defeat the object the noble Lord has in view. The point I have to ask your Lordships to consider is whether there has bean made out a prima facie ease for such an alteration as is proposed, which makes the law in many cases much more stringent than at present. Has the law as it stands proved so inconvenient that it cannot be reasonably worked? I have some statistics which may throw light on the question. I find that in England and Wales in the year 1902—tho last year in respect of which statistics are available—there were 5293 prosecutions for trading on Sunday, and that of that number 4,072 took place in one borough, and that not a borough of first class importance. Out of the total of 5.293 prosecutions, no fewer than 5.167 were in the areas of five local authorities—that is to say, throughout the rest of England and Wales the number of prosecutions was almost infinitesimal.

That does not seem to show that, generally speaking, the law is working in such a way that it requires alteration, because one of two things must have been the case in the larger area—either there were no shops open on Sundays at all, with the result that the law was not broken, or the authorities did not think it desirable to allow prosecutions to be instituted. I believe there are a large number of boroughs in which a certain amount of Sunday trading goes on. Presumably that is the case for the Bill; but the fact that prosecutions have been so very few shows that public opinion in these boroughs is not in favour of prosecutions being taken, or, at all events, that the authorities empowered to order the proceedings were not prepared to take the responsibility of instituting them in the state of public opinion in their districts.

Then there is the question. What is the public opinion in this country on this matter? I am well aware that this Bill deals with a very difficult and a very delicate question, and one which arouses a good deal of contention on both sides. I notice that the society which represents those who take the strictest view of the keeping of Sunday have issued a paper on the subject and I cannot say that they very keenly support the Bill of my noble friend. The fact is, they are afraid that his Bill will, in some matters, extend the facilities now given for trading on Sunday; they deprecate very strongly some of the exceptions which he makes with regard to hours and to different sorts of trades, and they deprecate still more the proposals to entrust to local authorities the power of allowing Sunday trading up to ten o'clock in the morning in any class of shops. I venture to think, therefore, that they are hardly themselves prepared to support an alteration of the law, al- though in some respects it might be in the direction of making the prohibition of Sunday trading more stringent than it has hitherto been.

With regard to the public generally, is it wise to ask them for their opinion on an alteration of a law which has existed for a very great number of years? It may be that that law is not absolutely logical, or not drawn in the terms that it would be if we had to draft it as a new Act to-day. There is an old proverb, "Let sleeping dogs lie," and I think this is a case where, if you stir up this question, you will create a vast amount of feeling and opposition on both sides which it may be very difficult to quell. I would ask your Lordships to consider whether there has been a sufficient case made out for an alteration in the law at the present moment, and whether, in the circumstances, seeing the vast opposition that may be aroused, and the fact that this Bill, being a contentious measure, has little likelihood of being passed into law this session, it is wise on the whole to proceed with the Bill any further. That is a matter for the House, but I do think that some of the considerations which I have very imperfectly endeavoured to point out ought to be duly weighed before your Lordships give this Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill, and whose efforts on behalf of all that affects the working classes of this country in matters of holidays and hours of labour, whether on Sundays or weekdays, have earned for him the respect, not only of those classes of the community on whose behalf he especially labours, but of all classes. referred in his speech to the evidence taken before the Select Committee of your Lordships' House on the Early Closing of Shops. I had the advantage of being a member af that Committee, and I can entirely support what the noble Lord said as to the strength of the evidence which was brought before us in favour of something being done in the direction he advocates. In their Report the Committee called attention to the fact that many witnesses expressed a strong desire that the law affecting Sunday trading should be strengthened, and therefore I feel that the action taken by the noble Lord in raising this question is the natural and legitimate sequel to what was embodied in the Report of the Committee.

At the same time I venture to express the hope that the noble Lord will nor to-night press the Second Reading of this Bill to a division; that he will not ask your Lordships' House to declare itself now upon a subject so extraordinarily delicate and difficult for it is quite possible that action on our part taken prematurely might defeat the very object which the noble Lord and probably all Members of your Lordships' House have at heart in this matter, and result in even worse difficulties than those which may at present exist. The subject is, as I say, extraordinarily delicate and difficult, and it seems to me to be one upon which further inquiry would be eminently desirable before any action of this kind is taken. Whether it is a good thing to have that inquiry in any formal shape, and raise the question prominently before the public in order to obtain legislation one way or the other, I am not so clearly convinced; but that we cannot legislate without some further inquiry does seem to me quite certain. The noble Lord who spoke on behalf of the Government quoted certain statistics. I should like to ask whether those statistics are the private property of the Government or whether they are published.


I cannot say whether they are published. I will inquire.


The statistics which the noble Lord quoted rather startled me. I was surprised to hear that there had been so many prosecutions in the course of a year, and I should like very much to go into these matters in detail before coming to a conclusion on the subject. I doubt whether, outside this House, attention has been directed very widely to the noble Lord's Bill. I venture to think that I would have been one of those who would have received a very large number of communications on both sides if the matter had been in the cognisance of the public at large. Nothing is more undesirable than to prematurely do something which is not consonant with that deliberate public opinion which might be arrived at after more consideration had been given to the matter. But the point I specially feel is that the matter is so delicate and difficult that it does require tender handling lest we defeat the object which the noble Lord has in view, an object which I join with him in desiring to see accomplished, though I doubt whether the best mode of accomplishing it would be by giving a Second Reading to his Bill.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will be content with having introduced this Bill. I can speak, from past experience at the Home Office, of the difficulties in connection with Sunday trading. There is very strong feeling both ways. I sympathise deeply with the views which have been put forward by the noble Lord who introduced this Bill, but I am afraid he may defeat his object if he presses it too strongly on the country at the present moment. Personally. I should very strongly object to the repeal of the old Acts of Charles I. and Charles II. I think they had better remain on the Statute-book. There is another part of the Bill to which I should entirely object, and that is the local option clause, which. I think would lead to a great amount of unpleasant discussion up and down the country among local authorities. If there is to be legislation of this kind, I think it ought only to be brought forward after very mature and deliberate consideration, and certainly a Bill of this nature ought to be in the hands of the Government itself. Having every sympathy with the noble Lord's object I hope he will not press his Bill to a division.


My Lords, I need hardly say that I listened with considerable regret to the speech which was delivered by my noble friend on behalf of His Majesty's Government. The noble Lord objected, in the first place, that the repeal of the statutes referred to might, in one or two points, effect the very opposite of that which those who introduced this Bill desired. I do not quite follow that, and, indeed, my noble friend himself seemed to have some doubt on the subject. I may say at once that if it could be shown that there was anything in the Acts which it is proposed to repeal, the repeal of which would enable things to be done on Sunday which cannot be done now, I should be the first to wish to see ray Bill amended in that respect when it got into Committee. With regard to the question of fines, I would point out that the fines suggested in this Bill are those which were recommended by the Committee of your Lordships' House, and which were adopted by your Lordships in the Bill of last year. The noble Lord also objected to the inclusion of barbers; in the Bill. I was at first under the same impression as my noble friend, that: it would be desirable to exclude barbers; and, as a matter of fact, from the Bill as originally drafted barbers were excluded, and it was only at the urgent request of hairdressers' associations throughout the country, who pointed out the great hardship that would be inflicted upon them if Sunday trading was not stopped, that they were included in the Bill.

Objection has been raised by the noble Viscount opposite to giving the proposed power to the local authorities, and the noble Lord who represents the Government stated that I myself last year only suggested that the local authorities should have certain powers if supported by two-; thirds of the shopkeepers. I would point out that there is very great difference between the two cases. In the one case the local authorities were to shut up the shops against the wish perhaps of the particular shopkeepers and we thought that ought not to be done unless there was a strong consensus of opinion in its favour; but in this case we are allowing the local authority to leave shops open, which is a totally different matter, and we therefore did not think it would be necessary to provide for a two-thirds majority in this case. At the same time, I frankly confess I do not think there are many cases in which the local authorities would be likely to act on these powers. I placed them in the Bill to obviate objection on that point; but local authorities generally would, I believe, desire that the shops should be closed on Sundays. Then my noble friend who represents the Government gave some statistics as to the operation of the present law. He told us that there had been 5,293 prosecutions, and that they were confined to very few places. I should have drawn from those statistics a totally different conclusion from that which appeared to recommend itself to my noble friend, because it would seem to me to be obvious that throughout the whole of the country, with these four or five exceptions, the present law is absolutely inoperative.


As they wish it to be.


I cannot admit that. My conviction is that the inadequacy of the fine is the reason. My noble friend said that that state of things could only have arisen in one of two cases—either there were no shops open or the local feeling was against prosecutions. But I would submit that there is a third explanation, and it is, in my opinion, the real explanation—namely, that the present fines are so Small that the local authorities do not think it worth while to prosecute. The offender merely pays the fine, snaps his fingers at the authorities, and opens his shop as before, The shopkeepers say that the present Acts are well intentioned, but perfectly ineffectual because of the smallness of the fines. If we had a substantial fine for second and subsequent offences, you would see a different state of things.

I feel, however, I cannot resist the appeal which has been made to me by the most rev. Primate and by the noble Viscount opposite, that I should not put the House to the trouble of a division on the Bill to-night. I have done my best and fulfilled my promise to the shop- keepers and assistants in calling attention to the subject. This is no hobby of my own. It has been at the urgent request of the shopkeepers themselves that I have asked your Lordships to take the matter into consideration. The noble Lord who spoke on behalf of the Government said that they wished to "let sleeping dogs lie." Well, I do not think the shopkeeping community are disposed to allow the subject to remain in its present condition. I am satisfied that they will move again. either in this House or in the other House of Parliament. Knowing as I do the strong and almost unanimous feeling of the shopkeeping community throughout the country, I have very little doubt that sooner or later we shall get a measure of this character passed into law. I do not even despair of His Majesty's Government dealing with the subject. I trust your Lordships will take the matter into your serious consideration. If you will make inquiries in your own districts you will find that this evil of Sunday trading is great and growing, and that the Bill which I have had the honour of submitting to your Lordships does express a general and earnest desire on the part of the shop-keeping community. For the present, however, I beg leave to withdraw the Bill.

Bill, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty minutes past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.