HL Deb 29 June 1905 vol 148 cc507-21

Order of the Day read for the House going into Committee.

Moved, "That the House do now resolve itself into Committee."—(Lord Avebury.)


My Lords, our experience earlier in the evening of the result of Ministerial statements on going to Committee is, perhaps, not. entirely encouraging, but I am, nevertheless, impelled to say a few words to your Lordships on the position in which the House finds itself with reference to this Bill. Your Lordships will remember that when it last came before us my noble friend Lord Belper, on behalf of the Home Office, moved an Amendment to the effect that the House was not prepared to legislate upon the subject without further information as to the facts of the case, and that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the conditions upon which Sunday trading is now permitted by law. We thought then, and we think now, that my noble friend's Amendment was the proper way of dealing with the Bill on the Table. But that Amendment met with a good deal of objection from different parts of the House. It was objected to by the noble mover of the Bill. It was al o, if I remember right, objected to by the most rev. Primate, and the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition supported the proposal that the Rill should be read a second time and referred to a Select Committee.

The Bill now comes back to us from that Committee. It has been, I have no doubt, improved in some particulars, but I am bound to suggest to your Lordships that the Bill as it now stands is not in such a shape that it could with advantage be placed, on the Statute-book. I certainly do not impute any blame to the Committee. They were not given a free hand to examine into this difficult and complicated subject, and were necessarily limited to the amendment of the particular Bill placed before them; and I am afraid the result of their labours has been to produce what I can only call a piece of not very successful patchwork. The Bill is to be tacked on to the existing Sunday Observance Act of 1677. That Act is not repealed and remains in force. We shall, therefore, have side by side the old law end the new law, and the result, I am afraid, will be to produce not a few ambiguities and inconsistencies which may lead to extremely inconvenient results.

It is quite clear that the intention of the authors of this Bill is to strengthen the law against Sunday trading. The main proposal, I suppose, if there is one, in the Bill is the proposal that the penalties for Sunday trading should be considerably increased; but, my Lords, side by side with that proposal are other proposals of a wholly different kind, which create very serious exceptions in favour of Sunday trading. If your Lordships will look at the third section of the Bill and at the schedule you will find that there are, in the first place, certain trades which remain wholly unaffected by this Bill. It does not touch, for instance, the trade in intoxicating liquors, which remains where it is under the law already in force. Then, again, the trade in refreshments for immediate consumption remains unaltered, and, curiously enough, the trade in newspapers, magazines, and periodicals also remains un interfered with, I presume upon the ground that if there is to be free trade in refreshments of the body there should be equal free trade in refreshments of the mind.

Then we come to another class of exceptions dealt with in the second part of the schedule. Those exceptions will have this effect, that the sale of certain commodities, such as bread, fish, fruit, and cooked meat, can only take place before nine o'clock in the morning. There is a third class of exception which is still more remarkable. Under Subsection (b) power is given to the local authority to extend, by resolution, the list of trades which may be practised before the hour of nine o'clock in the morning. So that this state of things will arise, that under this subsection the trade in any particular article may be permitted on Sunday while at the same time, under the existing law, those who trade in that very same article may be punished by fines and penalties.

I must mention yet another exception which also seems to me of a very serious kind. It is the exception contained in Clause 6 of the Bill, under which local authorities are empowered to apply to the Secretary of State for a suspension of the provisions of the Act on the ground that owing to special circumstances they might press with undue and exceptional severity on the general body of the traders and their customers in a particular area. I cannot help thinking that that section will place the Home Secretary in a very invidious position and one in which no Minister should be placed. He will have to hold the balance between those who are in favour of the rigid observance of the Sabbath and those, on the contrary, who hold that a certain class of trading is permissible on the Sabbath day. The result of all these exceptional enactments will, I fear, be that the Bill will operate capriciously and unfairly. It will, I cannot help thinking, be unjust to the smaller traders, who have not the organisation and the means of making themselves heard which are enjoyed by the larger shopkeepers. And, if numerous statements which have been circulated and which your Lordships have seen are to be believed, we are led to the conclusion the these small traders did not have—perhaps it was inevitable—a sufficient opportunity of making their case heard before the Committee of your Lordships' House. These poor people are not pleased, and their customers, who are, I think, entitled to our sympathy, whose opportunities of supplying themselves with the common necessaries of life are very limited, are also discontented with this Bill and would regret to see it become law.

But that is not all. I have here a document which has been circulated by the Lord's Day Observance Society protesting very strongly against the Bill on the ground that it is unnecessary, that it is deceptive, that it is injurious to the best interests of young people, and finally that it will prove impracticable in action. I cannot help thinking that all these documents disclose a somewhat serious state of things, and that they should at least lead us to pause before we too hurriedly pass this measure into law. While I hold this view I do not suggest that your Lordships' House should reject the Bill. I may be permitted to say, in all sincerity, that I regard with the utmost respect the source from which the Bill proceeds, and I respect the opinion of those noble Lords who desire that it should become law; but the fact remains that the Bill has elicited very serious criticism, and, so far as we can judge, there is no chance whatever of its passing into law during the present session of Parliament. In these circumstances, although I certainly should not move the rejection of the measure, I am bound to say that it seems to me at least doubtful whether it would be for the advantage of your Lordships that you should pass it. We, at any rate, who sit on this bench desire that it should be understood that we cannot accept any responsibility for the Bill, and that we regard it as still open to some very serious objections.


My Lords, I need hardly say that I have listened to the remarks which have just fallen from the noble Marquess with very great regret. The principal objections that my noble friend took had reference, not to what the Bill does, but to what the Bill does not do. One of the objections made was that the Bill does not repeal the Act of Charles II. I was disposed to take the same view as the noble Marquess that this Act might well be repealed, and I did my best to repeal it in another Bill last year. But it was objected to by Viscount Cross and by Lord Belper, as representing His Majesty's Government, and in deference to these high authorities in the House I did not this year propose to repeal the Act of Charles II. If the noble Marquess thinks this should be done, we should make no objection. The next objection taken by the noble Marquess was that the Bill does not deal with the sale of intoxicating liquors. There are many who would be glad if the Bill could have dealt with that matter, but because you cannot do all you wish in one direction that is no reason why you should refrain from doing what is good in another. Moreover, public-houses have always been dealt with in legislation separately from shops.

The noble Marquess next complains that we permit certain things to be sold up to nine o'clock in the morning. I submit it is too much to expect working people, many of whom live a whole family in a single room in the great Metropolis, to lay in overnight stores of vegetables and other perfshable food in hot weather. It has been thought desirable, therefore, to allow poor people the opportunity of buying these perishable articles up to a certain hour on Sunday morning. The noble Marquess expressed somewhat severe opinions with reference to this Bill, but he did not hear the evidence which was given in favour of it. The noble Lords to whom the House entusted the consideration of this question in Select Committee heard a great deal of evidence, were unanimous in their conclusion, and strongly recommend the Bill to the favourable consideration of the House.

The evidence taken shows that there is a deep and general feeling among the tradesmen of the country in favour of the provisions of the Bill. We obtained the opinion of over 300 tradesmen's associations in all parts of the country, and the Confectioners' Association was the only one which did not wish the Bill to become law. They were almost unanimous in the wish to have their Sunday rest, and they told the Committee that Sunday trading was on the increase, and would, in their opinion, increase further. I venture to say that there are few things upon which there is such unanimity of opinion amongst the trading community as there is upon the desirability of this Bill becoming law. Then the noble Marquess referred to the customers. The Committee obtained a great deal of evidence as to the feeling of the customers. Sunday closing is supported by trade councils and associations all over the country. It is supported by the London Trade Council, the Bristol Trade Council, the Nottingham Trade Council, the Walsall Trade Council, the Irish Trade Council, the Glasgow Trade Council, and various other trade councils throughout the country; not a single trade council has opposed the Bill, and I submit, therefore, to your Lordships that the customers, the poorer classes, as well as the tradesmen themselves, are in favour of the passing of this. Bill.

The noble Marquess next referred to Clause 6, which enables, in some cases, local authorities, if they are satisfied that in their particular district there may be reasons why it is undesirable to put the Bill into operation, to avoid doing so. That is not a clause for which I am responsible. It was suggested by the Duke of Northumberland, who was a regular attendant at the Committee, and I will leave him to give the reasons for the clause which he suggested and which the Committee accepted. Another criticism made against the Bill by the noble Marquess is that it would operate capriciously. That is what the law does at present. Some places endeavour to enforce the law, but in most cases it is scarcely pat into operation at all because the fines are so small. The noble Lord said the Bill would press hardly on small shopkeepers. That is what the law does at present. Under the present law the maximum fine for Sunday trading is 5s. In those places in which the law is put into operation the small shopkeeper is shut up because he cannot pay the 5s. fine, but the shopkeeper who is doing business on a larger scale pays the 5s., snaps his finger at the law, and opens again, and there are cases of tradesmen being fined 5s. as many as 100 and 200 times and still continuing to trade on Sundays in defiance of the law.

The objections of the Lord's Day Observance Society were referred to by the noble Marquess. There are two societies which are anxious to see Sunday preserved. There is the Lord's Day Observance Society and the Lord's Day Rest Society. The latter society is very strongly in favour of this measure, but the Lord's Day Observance Society objects to it because we give facility for trading in certain perishable articles of food before nine o'clock on Sunday mornings. We thought it necessary to give this facility to poor people to obtain perishable articles, and, as has often happened in connection with temperance legislation, those who hold extreme views on the subject are preventing important and reason-able reform being carried out. Because we do not go quite so for as the Lord's Day Observance Society would wish, they ask your Lordships to throw out this Bill as a whole and prevent the carrying of a reform which is urgently desired by the shop keeping community throughout the country and by the working classes also. I was very glad to hear the noble Marquess say that he was not going to vote for the rejection of the Bill, but I was sorry to hear him affirm that there was no chance of the Bill passing the other House, though I was not very surprised to hear him make that observation; but, at any rate, by ventilating the question, and by your Lordships passing the Bill, an important step will be taken to check the growing tendency towards Sunday trading, and to preserve that day of rest which is, I believe, so important to this country, not only from a religious point of view, but also from the point of view of the health and well-being of the community.


My Lords, I rise to move that the Bill be committed on this day three months. I came down to the House to-day prepared to go fully into the question, but the speech of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was so much to the point that it is hardly necessary for me to go at any length into the matter. But I wish to say one or two words to strengthen what fell from the noble Marquess. The noble Lord in charge of this Bill has described it as a moderate and reasonable measure. On a former occasion I invited my noble friend and your Lordships to go and see the Sunday trading that takes place in London, and if the noble Lord and his Committee had gone to see this trading for themselves, I believe that they would had taken a different view. When I asked my noble friend before the Whitsuntide recess if he had been to see this trading he blandly smiled and shook his head. The other day I again put the question to him, with the same result. I know why he did not go, ray Lords. He is a conscientious man, and he knew that if he had gone he would have felt compelled to withdraw his Bill. Personally I have made such a visit, and what did I see? I saw markets crowded with traders and thousands of customers. It should be borne in mind, moreover, that the small traders have no association, and for that reason I speak in favour of small traders and their hardworking customers.

As these people could not put their case properly before the Committee, having no association, a circular was sent out to ascertain the views of the poorer traders, and 2,000 replies were received. One reply says that— This Bill would mean total ruin for myself and family, as we depend mostly on the Sunday trade. Another says— If I have to close on Sundays I shall be deprived of my livelihood, and I call it monstrous and unfair. A widow with four children says— The Bill means ruin to me. Another shopkeeper—a confectioner—writes— My average takings for the week total £14 On Sunday alone I take £4 15s. I have rent taxes, gas, etc., to pay, and can just manage; but if Sunday trading is put a stop to by unfair legislation my business is gone A small shopkeeper at New Cross writes— When will Lord Avebury stop interfering with the liberty of the subject? The sooner he enjoys a rest the better. These are poor traders, and their customers are busy all the week, but the noble Lord insists that they must not even be shaved on Sunday. Evidently he has no sympathy with razors or shaving; therefore, if a poor man desires to be tidy and to have his chin shaved so as not to give discomfort to anybody, he must be shaved on Saturday night. That being so, I cannot help observing that a more appropriate title for the measure would be the Sunday Bristles Bill. This Bill would cause the greatest possible inconvenience, cruel inconvenience, to these hardworking people, and I appeal to the House to resist this attempt to do a cruel wrong to small traders and their customers.

Amendment moved— To leave out the word 'now' and add at the end of the Motion the words 'this day three months.'"—(The Earl of Wemyss.)


My Lords, I rise to say a few words in support of Lord Avebury's Bill, and I would allude to a representative meeting in the City, over which I presided and at which my noble friend spoke, as showing that the small traders as well as the large traders are in favour of this Bill. Objection was taken at that meeting, at which we were discussing the question of early closing, that we had not dealt with Sunday trading, and when Lord Avebury said that he would bring in a Bill on that subject and I promised to support it that great meeting from end to end cheered us enthusiastically.

I deny that this is a Bill aimed at the small traders as against the big ones. The fact is that the small traders are anxious to get Sunday closing, but whenever they try they are always defeated by one or two rivals. I endeavoured in one large district in London to get the butchers to close on Sundays. They were all, with one exception, anxious to do so, and the man who held out defeated the desire of the rest. And now the idea is to have one law which will bind all the members of a trade in a particular locality. The picture of ruin which has been drawn really depends on the rival being able to keep open while others close. The majority are threatened by the action of the small minority. On the grounds of practical experience, the unanimous feeling of the small traders as well as the big traders, and the fact that wherever it has been tried the voluntary system has broken down by the action of one or two men, I urge strongly that the Bill should be passed.

I am puzzled to know what the Lord's Day Observance Society, in the circular quoted by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, mean by saying that the Bill would be bad for the young people. My experience is that it is the long hour all the week, and then again on Sunday, which is ruining so many of our young people. I earnestly press on the House not lightly to kill a measure which is for the welfare of the shopkeepers and also of the people they employ.


My Lords, as a member of the Select Committee which considered this Bill, I should like to say one word before we go to a division. In the first place, I would suggest to the noble Earl who has moved the Amendment that it is a somewhat inconvenient course to move the rejection of a Motion for the House going into Committee without notice, and I trust that your Lordships will not agree to that Amendment. The attitude taken by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has left an impression of a somewhat painful character on my mind, in that he does not appreciate the-enormous strength of feeling in favour of a measure of this kind.

I entered upon this inquiry with a perfectly un passed mind beyond the abstract feeling, which I suppose all Members of your Lordships' House share, that it is not good for people to have to work seven days a week all the year round; but I confess I was amazed at the enormous weight of evidence in favour of this legislation. It has been found impossible for the majority of traders to close on Sunday if the minority keep open. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House has objected to certain exceptions which we have felt it necessary to suggest. I should have been very glad not to have had those exceptions, but I am certain that the noble Marquess himself would have been the first to point out that, unless we made some exceptions of this kind, the Bill would be hopelessly unworkable. What the House should take to heart is this, that you have an enormous mass of the population working seven days a week, all day long and all the year round. One witness told us—he was a barber, for whom the noble Earl Lord Wemyss has so much sympathy—that lie worked every Sunday in the year from seven in the morning till eleven at night. And this Sunday work is increasing by reason of the pressure of competition.

We talk a good deal about the deterioration in the physique of our population. What do you think the physique of the population is going to be if you will allow men to work every day and all day long all the year round? I do not wish, at this stage of the Bill, to say anything about Clause 6, for which, as Lord Avebury has explained to the House, I am responsible. I would rather leave the explanation of it till the Committee stage. I would only say that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House is quite mistaken when he thinks that that, clause was intended to put, or, with all respect to him. would have the effect of putting upon the Secretary of State the necessity of deciding between rival opinions with regard to Sunday trading. It was not thought desirable to mention them by name in the clause, but I may tell your Lordships that it was framed mainly, and as far as I was concerned I might almost say entirely, for one section of the population—namely, the Jews, who stand on a totally different footing from any other portion of the population; and whether they are Jews or not in the district affected is a matter which the Secretary of State can perfectly well ascertain. I do not think it would be a very invidious task to put upon him. But, as I have said, I do not wish to discuss the clause now. I would ask your Lordships to take to heart the fact that there is an enormous mass of the population working, as I have said, seven days a week, all day long, and all the year round, and that this is a question which sooner or later must be faced in the interests of health and morality.


My Lords, the noble Marquess the Leader of the House having referred to me as one of those who recommended that this Bill should be reed a second time and then referred to a Select Committee, I rise to say a few words upon this matter. I feel that those who share the views which I now hold with regard to this Bill are in a position of some difficulty. While I was impresed by the prima facie arguments of the noble Lord in charge of the Bill when he moved its Second Reading, I must admit that I have very grave doubt, after having looked at the evidence before the Select Committee whether it is judicious or right to pass the Bill.

I do not wish to go into details, but I share the view which the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has put forward, that there are grave difficulties, especially connected with the consumers; and, notwithstanding what the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of London has said, I believe that the small traders have not been so successful in getting their views expressed as the larger traders. I have very little doubt that any meetings addressed by the right rev. Prelate would be swayed by his arguments, but, in spite of what he has said, I cannot help thinking that the small traders are in a very different position from the large traders in this matter. We know there is a law of Charles II. prohibiting trading on Sunday, and that that law, which is still in existence, is being broken. I want to know whether this Bill encourages the breaking of that law or to some extent puts a stop to it. I confess, having read the Bill, that it does both, and it is very doubtful in my mind which it does most.

I gather from the evidence that numbers of people are only able to purchase their food on Sundays. These are the cases of workmen who do not receive their week's wages until late on Saturday night, and there is a danger in those cases if the money were not expended on food on Sunday morning it would be diverted to the public-house. I can understand the noble Duke's object in inserting Clause 6, but will it act fairly? I gather from the speech of the noble Marquess that he thought the clause would lead to very considerable difficulty, and from the cheer which that observation elicited from the noble Viscount on the Cross Bencnes, who has been Home Secretary, it is clear that he concurred that the provision would place the Home Secretary very often in a position of great difficulty.


Hear, hear!


In the Metropolis, for instance, we should have one body doing one thing and another body doing another, which would be extremely unfair. I confess I have great difficulty in opposing the Bill, and I share very much the view, which the noble Marquess has expressed with regard to it. I have the highest possible respect for my noble friend who introduced the Bill, and I quite admit that there are many strong arguments to be put forward in favour of it; but I am driven to say, after reading the evidence taken before the Select Committee, that I should extremely regret if the Bill were carried at the present moment. I do not know whether it would be worth while, after what the noble Marquess has said, to go through the drudgery of the Committee stage. Personally I should not oppose the Motion for going into Committee, but should reserve to myself the right to oppose the Bill on the Third Reading if it reached that stage.


My Lords, I will not occupy more than a moment or two of your Lordships' time, but I should like to answer one or two of the arguments winch have been used. This Bill was down for Committee on Monday, and Lord Belper asked me, for his personal convenience, to put it off till to-day. I had not the slightest idea that there was going to be any opposition to the prin- ciple of the Bill, and therefore we made no special effort to get our supporters to attend.


I informed the noble Lord that I could not be present on Monday, but left it entirely to him whether he would go on with the Bill or not.


That is so, but my noble friend expressed the wish that it should be put off. He did not, however, say that there would be any attempt to throw it out on the Motion for the House being put into Committee. Surely it is a strong order, without any notice, to reject the Motion for going into Committee on a Bill which was read a second time without a division, and which, after careful inquiry, was unanimously approved by the Select Committee to whom it was referred. We have been told, that this is a question of large shopkeepers against small shopkeepers, but on the Committee we continually asked. witnesses—"Are you speaking for large shopkeeper?" They replied—"No, for all shopkeepers." We had the views of over 300 associations of shopkeepers, and only on was opposed to the Bill. Statements have been circulated which altogether misrepresent the object and scope of the Bill. We have been told that poor people will be unable to get their food on Sunday mornings. We were unanimously of opinion in the Committee that with the provision in the Bill there would be no possible difficulty on that score. Great sympathy has been expressed by the noble Earl below me for those who desire to get shaved on Sunday mornings, but the 120 barbers' associations throughout the country, with only one exception, express the wish that their shops should, be entirely closed on Sunday.


But what about their customers?


The noble Lord has interrupted me in the middle of a sentence. I was about to add that in order to get the view of the customers I went to the London Trades Council, and was told by the secretary that the closing of barbers' shops on Sundays would cause little or no inconvenience. He said there were some working men who liked best to be shaved on Sunday, but as working men had their Sunday's rest he thought it only right that barbers should have theirs as well. I appeal to the House not to pass the Amendment which has been moved by the noble Earl, but allow the Bill to go into Committee, when all points of difference can be considered. If the

Canterbury, L. Abp. Morton, E. Avebury, L. [Teller.]
Brassey, L.
Falkland, V. Crawshaw, L.
Norfolk, D. (E. Marshal.) Gordon, V. (E. Aberdeen.) Ellenborough, L.
Marlborough, D. Reay, L.
Northumberland, D. [Teller.] London, L. Bp. Sandhurst, L.
Halsbury, E. (L. Chancellor.) Londesborough, E. Hay, L. (E. Kinnoul.)
Malmesbury, E. Herries, L.
Manchester, D. Mansfield, E. Hylton, L.
Richmond and Gordon, D Onslow, E. Killanin, L.
Wellington, D. Waldegrave, E. Leigh, L.
Macnaghten, L.
Ailesbury, M. Churchill, V. Ravensworth, L.
Bath, M. Cross, V. Robertson, L.
Linlithgow, M. Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.) Stewart of Garlies, L. Galloway,) [Teller.]
Chesterfield, E. Llandaff, V. Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.) [Teller.]
Feversham, E.
Haddington, E. Calthorpe, L. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Harewood, E. Clinton, L.
Lauderdale, E. Digby. L.

House to be in Committee this day three months.