§ Order of the day for the Second Reading read.
§ *LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, I have the honour to present a petition in favour of this Bill signed, as I am informed, by over 83, 000 persons. The object of this Bill is to stop Sunday trading with some necessary exceptions. Sunday trading is indeed illegal even now, and so far we do not propose to alter the present law, but only to make it effective. At present the law is inoperative, because the fine is nominal. Any one who chooses to pay from £12 to £15 a year can snap his ringers at the law, set it at defiance and open every Sunday. This is surely an anomalous and very unsatisfactory state of things. The result is that Sunday Trading is greatly on the increase. Shopkeepers assure me that unless something 1335 is done, many more shops will soon be open. Even now in Leeds the number is estimated at over 2, 000; in Glasgow, over 3, 000; in Liverpool nearly 5, 000; in Manchester and Salford 8, 000; and in London, I am told, some 20, 000.
The Bill is a very simple one. Clause 1 prohibits Sunday trading. Clause 2 specifies the fines, which are 5s. for the first offence, 20s. for the second, and £5 for the third and subsequent convictions. These are the fines proposed by the Government in their Shop Hours Act of last year. Clause 3 refers to the exemptions which are specified in the schedule. It also gives a certain latitude to local authorities, but perhaps your Lordships may think this unnecessary, in which case I should not press it. Clause 4 deals with machinery, adopting that in the Shop Hours Act, of last year.
I now come to the schedules. We believe that any possible inconvenience to the poor will be obviated by the provision that perishable articles of food may be sold up to nine in the morning, arid milk again in the afternoon. The Bill does not deal with public-houses or refreshment rooms. Last year we proposed to repeal the Sunday Act of Charles II. This was objected to and we have dropped the suggestion. No objection was made to the repeal of parts of the Bread Acts, but if the Government wish them retained I may say at once that we shall be guided by their views in the matter. With some regret we have excluded tobacconists, because they mainly compete with the public-house. The Lord's Day Rest Association, which strongly supports the Bill, and has issued an admirable statement in its favour, think that tobacconists might be included. This, as well as one or two other exemptions, will be questions for Committee.
The Bill, therefore, is simple, but its effects would be very far-reaching. It would profoundly influence the conditions of our great cities, and is enthusiastically supported by those concerned. I had hoped, after the passing of the Shop Hours Bill, that my work in this direction was over, but have found it impossible to resist the appeal made by shopkeepers and assistants all over the country. Last year my noble friend 1336 Lord Belper pointed out that the law is enforced at present in very few places, and he argued tint either, therefore, it is broken in few places, or the local authorities do not care to put it into operation. Now, I think I can convince your Lordships that this argument will not hold water.
Take Manchester. The law is infringed to a great extent. Is it that the local authority and local feeling are against Sunday closing? Not, at all. Last year the Lord Mayor himself coiled a conference of Manchester shopkeepers at the Town Hall to consider the question. In his opening remarks the Lord Mayor stated that Sunday opening was on the increase. He expressed his own opinion that, retail traders ought to have their Sundays to themselves, and that—It is desirable that steps should be taken to prevent a continuance of the present state of things.The meeting was large and representative. Mr. Kendall, the able secretary of the Manchester and District Grocers Association, moved, and Mr. Openshaw, president of the Manchester and District Meat Retailers Association, seconded a resolution declaring—That this meeting of representatives of retail traders carrying on business in the city of Manchester regrets the alarming amount of Sunday trading conducted in Manchester, as shown by the recent canvass and fully borne out by the report presented to the Watch Committee by the Chief Constable, and in expressing their disapproval of trading on the Lord's Day (Sunday), appeal to all traders to close their business promises and cease to trade on Sundays.This was carried almost unanimously. In Liverpool also the law is at present nugatory. But this is not because the local authority are unwilling to intervene. The town council have resolved—That having regard to the large amount of Sunday trading in Liverpool, such being prejudicial to the best interests of the community, the Council petition the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary in support of Lord Avebury's Bill for the suppression of Sunday trading, and requesting that it be made a Government measure.Our Bill, moreover, is strongly supported by the Liverpool Tradesmen's Associations. It is clear, therefore, that my noble friend's idea is untenable. I could, in fact, go through others of our greatest cities in the same way, but will only mention one 1337 other case—that of Hull. The corporation, to their honour, are anxious to put down the opening of shops on Sunday. They prosecute the shops which open, but the only result is a fine of 5s. The Chief Constable writes to me that the present law is not sufficient to cope with the evil, but that in his judgment our Bill would meet the case.
I think I shall be able to satisfy your Lordships that the shopkeeping community are really and keenly anxious for this Bill. I am speaking in the presence of several noble Lords who were members of the Committee on Early Closing. They will, I am sure, confirm me when I say—indeed it is so stated in our unanimous Report—that though it was not comprised in our inquiry, many of the witnesses impressed on us very strongly the necessity for some such measure as that now before your Lordships. It is supported, as regards the grocery trade, by the Grocers Federation, by the Northern Councils of Grocers Associations, by the Grocers Associations of Bath, Belfast, Blackburn, Bristol, Cardiff, Darlington, Exeter, Leeds, Liverpool, Oldham, Portsmouth, Sheffield, Southampton, Swansea, Swindon, and Torquay. As regards butchers, I may mention the Butchers Associations of London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, and Yorkshire. Among other trades I may mention, for instance, the Federated Association of Fruiterers and Florists, and the National Federation of Hairdressers, with their affiliated branches all over the kingdom too numerous to mention. It is under the auspices of their energetic secretary, Mr. Judson, that the monster petition has been prepared which is on your Lordships' Table. Then there are a number of local general Tradesmen's Associations which support us, including the National Chamber of Trade, a very important organisation; the Tradesmen's Associations of Liverpool, Birmingham, and Bootle; the Council of Irish Traders, the Oldham Chamber of Trade, the Manchester Retail Traders' Association, and the Mid-Rhondda Chamber of Trade. Last, but not least, the Scottish shopkeepers are organised as a whole rather than in separate trades, and their two great associations, the Scottish Shopkeepers and Shop Assistants' Union and 1338 the Scottish Traders Defence Association, are giving us their strongest possible support.
Your Lordships will see, therefore, that so far as the shopkeeping community is concerned the consensus of opinion is very great, and there are two circumstances which render it even more overwhelming. The measure has, as your Lordships see, been considered by shopkeepers, associations all over the country; yet so far as I am aware there is not one which opposes the Bill; and, secondly, in almost every case the resolution in its favour has been unanimous. Moreover, I would ask your Lordships to consider how unfairly the law works at present. The majority of shopkeepers conform to it, but a large minority set it at defiance. Of these, again, the majority would gladly close if all did so, but consider themselves compelled to open because their rivals do so. Those who really wish to open are, I believe, a very small minority. Now it is obvious that this state of things places the shopkeepers who obey the law at an unfair disadvantage.
Now, my Lords, you will perhaps ask how it is that so many shops open if they desire to close. Some of my noble friends who were on the Early Closing Committee asked many questions on this point, and the answer always was that if any open, those who are doing the same class of business are compelled to open also. I may give an illustration. One of my correspondents writes to me that being much opposed to Sunday trading he determined to keep closed. In a short time he lost most of his little capital, and then he opened and made money. When he thought he had made enough he closed again, and now he writes me word that he is nearly ruined again, and compelled once more to open; and he ends his letter, "I am a hatter." If I do not dwell on the assistants it is because the measure is so obviously in their interest that I believe I may say they support it unanimously. I do not, therefore, weary your Lordships by going into detail to show this, but I would strongly urge that the extreme importance of the Sunday closing to the health, happiness, and charaćter of shop 1339 assistants must, and I feel sure will, commend the Bill to your favourable consideration.
I now pass to another class of evidence: local authorities often abstain from resolutions which may seem to be of a political character. Nevertheless, as I have already shown, we are supported by several authorities, and perhaps in this category it will be sufficient to mention the Liverpool Town Council and the council of the Urban District Councils Association, which comprises 480 district councils.
Now, my Lords, you will naturally ask whether the measure would inconvenience working men. We think we have sufficiently provided for this by allowing the sale of perishable articles up to nine o'clock in the morning. But what do the working men themselves say? The London Trades Council has passed a resolution that in their judgment all shops should be shut on one day in the week. They add, "not necessarily Sunday," but of course it must obviously be Sunday. The Irish Trades Council have passed a resolution in our support, and so have the trades councils of several districts—I may mention those of Hull, Bristol, Walsall, Nottingham—and the National Union of Enginemen and Tramwaymen. As regards Scotland, Mr. Cooper, secretary to the Trades Defence Association, writes me word that he has seen the secretary of the Scottish Trades Council, and that they also are in favour of the measure. As regards the general public, I may refer to the petitions in favour of the measure presented both last year and this, especially the monster petition with more than 83, 300 signatures. On the other hand, though this proposal has been for several years under consideration, there is, so far, practically no opposition.
The importance, I might almost add the necessity, of a day's rest cannot be overestimated. As Macaulay well said—While industry is suspended, while the plough lies in the furrow, while the exchange is silent, while no smoke ascends from the factory, a process is going on quite as important to the wealth of the nation as any process which is performed on more busy days. Man, the machine of machines, is repairing, winding up, so that he returns to his labours on Monday with clearer intellect, with livelier spirits, with renewed corporeal vigour.1340 My Lords, I have commended this measure to you so far on grounds of health and happiness. But it appeals also to the religious feeling of the country. In the presence of his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury and other reverend Prelates, it is not for me to speak of the Church of England, but I may say that I have had numerous resolutions from Nonconformist congregations all over the country supporting the Bill. We were advised last year to let sleeping dogs lie. But, my Lords, the dogs are not sleeping, and are not disposed to let things lie as they are. I have shown your Lordships that the law is in an anomalous, unsatisfactory, and even absurd position; that to render it effective, as we propose, would create no serious inconvenience; that the working men approve; that those immediately concerned, ardently, enthusiastically, and by an overwhelming majority, support the proposal; that it would greatly promote the health, happiness, and character of the community; and, lastly, I believe that it appeals to, and is approved by, the conscience of the nation. I beg to move the Second Reading.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(Lord Avebury.)
*THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I ask your Lordships' leave to say a few words in support of the Motion which has been moved by the noble Lord opposite, who has identified himself with so many efforts of this kind for the public good and advantage. I hope that your Lordships will consent to give a Second Reading to this Bill, although that would be, if my wish were followed, with certain conditions and restrictions which I will refer to in a few moments. I do not think that there is any subject that can come before your Lordships, of a practical kind concerning the ordinary welfare of the people at large, which is more difficult to handle than this particular subject.
Last year, when the noble Lord introduced a Bill similar in some respects to the measure which is before you now, I ventured to plead for a period of delay during which we might make further inquiry into the actual need that exists 1341 for our intervention. The public, as it seemed to me, were not at that time really aware of what the proposition was which was being submitted, and it seemed to me as if we might almost inadvertently slip into the taking of some important step which we might afterwards find had been taken without due deliberation. But since that time I at least, and I doubt not many other noble Lords, have received abundant evidence showing that the interest in the question has grown, and that, as Lord Avebury has truly said, it is no use remarking, "Let sleeping dogs lie," because the question is awake. It is being stirred, and the time, it seems to me, has come when some forward action on our part is practically necessary. I at least desire that we should courage and make some definite step in the direction which the noble Lord advocates.
The correspondence which I have had upon this subject, and not a few of the interviews with which I have been favoured by those who are interested in it, have shown me how widespread still is the general misunderstanding and confusion as to what is at this moment the actual position of the law on these Sunday questions. In this House your Lordships are no doubt familiar with the facts, but I am quite sure that is not so in the country at large. Sunday observance has caused a great deal of controversy, and has been the subject of enactments of different sorts, ecclesiastical and civil, through every period of English history.
Legislators, civil and ecclesiastical, have again and again tried to decide about the recreations which ought to be legitimate, morally and legally, on Sunday, and strange stories come to us from the past as to how that question was dealt with. In the "Book of Sports" of James I., which took the form of law in the first year of Charles I., elaborate rules were laid down to what recreations might be indulged in on Sunday and what recreations ought to be peremptorily forbidden. Then came a tremendous reaction, and the restraints of the years that followed form a strange episode in English history, both religious and secular. There were restrictions on 1342 actual physical movement, as, for example, that no man should be allowed to go faster than a walk on Sunday. This restriction was modified indeed, as your Lordships may remember, by one peculiar clause dealing with the episode when a man's hat might be blown off on Sunday. The question then arose, what, should the man do in such a case as that? It was enacted, as perhaps some of your Lordships may remember, that he might run after his hat if he ran "reverently." Such was the mode in which these matters were dealt with in the Puritan period.
In the following century the subject was again tackled with considerable resolution, particularly as to the nature of the entertainments which might be given, and the places of amusement that might be open; and that branch of the subject was dealt with nine years ago with great care by your Lordships, who referred the matter to a Select Committee, on which I had the honour of sitting. A very elaborate Report was presented to this House, which I need not refer to further because it culminated in a final Resolution, which received the approval of the House, stating that, while the phraseology of the earlier Act was now inappropriate, and the alteration of such phraseology would be expedient, the existing law as laid down in the statutes corresponded substantially with the wishes and sentiments of the English people, and that, any material change in its general provisions would be harmful rather than advantageous.
Therefore, we can leave out of sight legislation and attempted legislation dealing with recreation and amusement, and fall back on the far graver question of the legislation dealing with the branches of trade and labour which may be properly sanctioned on Sunday. Upon that point the main statute that exists is, of course, the statute of Charles II, which definitely enacts that no person or persons whatsoever shall publicly cry, show forth, or expose for sale any wares or merchandise on the Lord's Day, or any part thereof, upon pain that every person so offending shall forfeit the goods exposed. That was subsequently so far amended that an infraction of the Act is met by the trumpery tine to which the noble Lord 1343 has referred—a fine which in the case of any lucrative branch of trade is absolutely ineffectual. The old law has further been restricted in its operation by the Act passed some thirty years ago, that no prosecution shall be instituted except by, and with the consent in writing of, the chief officer of police of the district, of two justices of the peace, or of a stipendiary magistrate having jurisdiction in the place where such offence is committed.
The law at this moment, therefore, is that all trading on Sunday is practically forbidden; but the law has become in many places a dead letter, and in very large branches of trade a quite futile enactment, because of the double restriction that the fine must not exceed 5s., and that a prosecution shall not be instituted without the sanction I have quoted. I do not in the least find fault with the second restriction, because obviously there should be something to prevent frivolous or trumpery prosecutions. But the fact that the Act has become inoperative in practice has encouraged those who in our own day have desired, to go forward in the direction of an increase of Sunday trading to step forward boldly without much fear of harmful consequences. The testimony is, so far as I know, quite universal that, as regards our great towns, there is an immense increase of Sunday trading, and that the increase is going rapidly forward. That is due mainly to two causes—at least, so it seems to me. The first is the very large increase of the barrow or costermonger trade, which is conducted in the open street and has now reached dimensions so formidable that it is practically impossible for the small shopkeeper to compete with the costermonger or the vendor from a barrow or stall, if he is obliged to have his shop closed on Sunday while the barrow-trade may still go on. The other reason is that in London, and in the East End particularly, the increase of the foreign element of the population, and especially the Jewish element, has operated in the same direction, and complicates the problem considerably when we try to deal with it. Anyhow, the opinion has, I can say for certain, found expression among the vast number of those who are really best qualified, in 1344 the widest spirit, to look at this matter all round, that we can no longer let the matter alone, and that the time has now come when it must be dealt with in some way or other. That opinion, so far as I know, has the general consent of all those who have the best interests of the people at heart.
In many regions—I can speak for parts of London—an endeavour has been made to ascertain, not merely through the associations to which the noble Lord has referred, but by taking a census from shop to shop, what shopkeepers themselves feel on this matter. I have here a list of such a census taken in a large district in East London, and it shows that the proportion of shopkeepers anxious to have Sunday trading put an end to compared to those who were prepared to allow it to go on was 541 to 137, and I have reason to believe that that is a sample of the statistics which might be procured from any district in which the difficulty at present exists. But I entirely admit that we must proceed with the greatest caution and care if we are to go forward at all. It is by no means plain sailing; our action needs to be safeguarded lest we inadvertently do an injustice.
The views of shopkeepers and tradesmen, important as they are, constitute only one element, and perhaps not the most important element, in the consideration of a question of tins kind. The noble Marquess who for so many years led this House, and who spoke more than once upon this subject with all the weight which attached to him personally as well as to the office he held, used to be constantly reminding us that what we had to consider in these matters was not merely the wishes of the shopkeepers or sellers, but those of the general public, the purchasers who gave the demand for such trade, either in evenings or on Sundays, as we were trying to restrain. I believe that to be absolutely true; but, of course, the task is a very difficult one of ascertaining in any quite clear and concrete form what is the opinion of those classes who are affected as purchasers in a problem of this sort. However, we have tried to ascertain it in such ways as seem to be possible.
1345 The noble Lord has referred to what has been said by trades unions—not trades unions composed of the shop-keeping community, but of the people who themselves, or through their families, are purchasers. That is, as far as I know, as good a criterion as is readily available for discovering what the popular opinion on this subject is. I have also had inquiries made at large gatherings of working women and among girls' clubs and the like, attended by the class of people who would be the ordinary purchasers in the kind of shops which would be affected by this Bill. Although there is not a unanimous opinion on the subject—it is exceedingly difficult, in a constituency of that kind, to get an exact or statistical answer to a question—yet there can be no doubt at all, and I challenge inquiry about it, that there is a very large preponderance of opinion on the part of those best entitled to be listened to among the working classes that there is no real necessity for anything like the amount of Sunday trading which is going on at this moment. Such is also the opinion of some of the best of the leaders and spokesmen of the working classes Mr. John Burns and many more have spoken to the effect that Sunday observance is a vital matter in the interests of the working class. At the same time I admit to the full that it is the duty of those who advocate a measure of this kind to show that it not only pleases the shopkeepers, who might be accused of caring mainly for their own respite, and being careless as to the public convenience, but also that it is in no respect unfair to those whom we may call the purchasing public.
There is a variety of view about the details of what ought to be done, but there is, as far as I can see, a practical consensus of opinion on the principle which underlies the Bill now before your Lordships. It is, indeed, one of those measures which very largely turns, as regards its practicability and effectiveness, upon the exceptions in the schedules, upon the way in which the rule is to be modified in practice in favour of certain branches of trade and merchandise, and for that reason it seems to me that some further inquiry, with the formal taking of evidence from the spokesmen of those who would be affected by it, is eminently 1346 desirable before the measure takes legislative effect. My great hope is that your Lordships will, by reading the Bill a second time to-night, assert the principle that some measure of the kind is wanted, and will then refer it to a Select Committee, who shall inquire particularly into the kind of points I have referred to with a view to making the measure a workable one. After such an inquiry we should be in a better position to go forward than we are now.
There are a great many points which will have to be much further considered before a Bill like this can actually become law—I refer to such points as the purchase of perishable provisions, and especially the purchase of meat in summer weather by families who live in only one room. Then, again, in express terms, the Bill exempts from exemption, if I may use such a phrase, hairdressers and barbers. Now, I confess that, though no section of the community has approached me on this subject with anything like the volume of unanimity that the hairdressers of England have, I yet remain to some little degree unconverted as to the absolute necessity of closing barbers' shops on Sunday morning. I admit that the Sunday business is so heavy that it inflicts hardship upon those who have adopted that honourable profession, but none the less, the needs of the public do seem to me to be met in that particular respect in a way which I should not like to see curtailed without further and formal inquiry as to the feeling of the customers who would mainly be affected. But if you look at the nature of the articles which are sold in most of the large London markets on Sunday—in East Street, Walworth; in Bethnal Green, Shoreditch, and elsewhere—you will find that, far from their being solely perishable articles meeting the special wants of the moment, there are ten times as many things on sale which are not in that sense perishable at all. Crockery, birds and rabbits, and pets of different kinds, flowers and plants, and clothing, old and new, form the very large preponderance of the marketable articles. It is the trade in these articles, and not in the perishable necessities to which I have referred, that we must endeavour to curtail and I am certain that inquiry would 1347 elicit the fact that it could be done without any genuine hardship being inflicted upon the purchasing public.
I am perfectly well aware that dealing with this subject at all is an action fraught with peril. There is danger lest when we begin to handle it we may find we are led on, against our will perhaps, into the repeal of wholesome existing enactments, or into a general treatment of the subject which would lead in a direction opposite to what most of us would desire. But I think the time has come when that risk must be run, because not only is the evil great but it is steadily crowing, and when that is the case, the kind of consideration I have referred to loses a great deal of its force. The evil has reached that stage that if we are ever to step in we ought to step in now, lest it increase to a degree which will place it altogether beyond our control. I believe that at this moment we are face to face in our great towns with the prospect of that Sunday relaxation, that rest from work on Sunday, which has been so long a marked characteristic of English life, being seriously imperilled.
Of course, I need not say that, in my own case, and in the case of those who act specially with me in a matter of this kind, the religious element of the question is predominant in our minds. But I want to emphasise the fact that it is not upon that ground that I am arguing the matter to-night. There are other places and other occasions upon which that line of argument may be more suitably followed. But I am supporting the Bill to-night on the wider, more popular, and less controverted line that the general well-being of the people as a whole requires the day of rest and the day of recreation, in the true sense of the word, which Sunday ought to be and happily is, in most parts of England, from the ceaseless grind and worry of modern life. That is what I desire to safeguard and protect, and that is what I believe may be imperilled unless we step in and take some action for its protection. Hitherto it has been possible in our great cities for the denizens to have one day out of seven during which there can be some respite from the clamour and whirl which goes on throughout the week, but we are in some danger lest that day of rest should 1348 become a day of labour without any commensurate good to the public at large. As I have said, I think careful inquiry is necessary as to the manner in which the proposed legislation should take effect. Therefore, I hope the Bill will be referred to a Select Committee. I believe we should then find that we could amend the existing law with practically the unanimous consent of all those who, from different points of view, have truly at heart the best interests of the English people.
§ LORD BELPER
My Lords, although this is practically the same Bill as the noble Lord brought forward last session, I fully recognise that there has been since then some progress with regard to this I question. The speech which has just been addressed to the House by the most reverend Primate marks a distinct step in that direction which cannot be ignored. I do not, therefore, in the least complain that the noble Lord has again brought the Bill forward, for I fully recognise that the question, having got to this point, requires the fullest consideration. I do not wish for a moment to enter into any controversy with my noble friend in charge of the Bill as to the facts which he has laid before us in regard to the views of the shopkeeping community, but I may remind him that I opposed the Bill last year, not so much with regard to its details, but because I ventured to think that there were other considerations which must have the greatest weight in dealing with this question; and I can appeal to no stronger argument in support of this view than that used last year by the most reverend Primate, who said then, as he has said to-night, that this was a question of the utmost delicacy and difficulty, and one which he deprecated touching without fuller information than we have before us.
The Motion which has been moved by my noble friend is that the Bill should be read a second time, and the suggestion has been thrown out by the most reverend Primate that, after having been read a second time, the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. I desire to point out that if the Bill is read a second time before being referred to a Select Committee, it would not only be practically admitting the principle 1349 of the Bill, but would prevent the Select Committee from going into the whole question of Sunday trading by restricting them within the four corners of this small measure. My suggestion, therefore, on behalf of His Majesty Government, is that there should be an inquiry, but an inquiry before reading the Bill a second time, so that the House shall have full information on all the facts of the case before it attempts legislation. As the most reverend Primate has said, it is necessary to approach this question with great care and caution. The matter does call for further inquiry, and it is impossible for the House to ignore the arguments which have been brought forward. In these circumstances I ask your Lordships not to read the Bill the second time, but to assent to Amendment which I am authorised to move, namely—That this House is not prepared to legislate on this subject without further information as to the facts of the case; and that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the conditions under which Sunday trading is now permitted by law.I think that even my noble friend who moved the Second Reading of this Bill will recognise that if a Committee of that sort is appointed it will mark a distinct step foward in this matter, and he will be able to congratulate himself that he has at least taken the first step to a satisfactory conclusion.
To leave out all the words after the word That' for the purpose of inserting the following words 'This House is not prepared to legislate on this subject without further information as to the facts of the case; and that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the conditions under which Sunday trading is now permitted by law. '"—(Lord Belper.)
§ THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
My Lords, I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Avebury will be disposed to accept the Amendment proposed to accept the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord on behalf of the Government. I am inclined to hope that if he has the prospect of sufficient support to carry it, he will adhere to the Motion. I think it was clear from the able speech of the most reverend Primate that there would be a good deal for the Committee to do even if they were restricted to the consideration of the provisions of this 1350 Bill. The noble Lord who spoke for His Majesty's Government says that the whole question of Sunday trading should be dealt with. To a great extent we may that the Bill as it stands does deal with what is generally included in the expression Sunday trading. As to the provisions of the Bill it is quite evident, from the measure itself, and especially after the explanation of the noble mover, that it is not intended to prevent people from doing any business on Sunday which they wish to do, but to protect people from being compelled to do business on Sunday which they do not want to do. It has been said that any one who desires to do so can close his business on Sunday, but, human nature being what it is, we can easily understand that it is felt to be intolerable by a shopkeeper that others who take advantage of his adherence to the general custom of the country by observing the Sabbath should be allowed to carry on business to his detriment.
It is quite clear also that this proposed legislation cannot be described as puritanical. As the most reverend Primate has truly said, the Bill proceeds mainly on the principle of the general welfare, and it would be a little late in the day to object to the Bill on the ground that it interferes with the liberty of the individual, since Parliament has already recognised in kindred legislation that it is in the general interest that there should be certain restrictions on liberty of action. The Bill is sufficiently on the lines of what has already been sanctioned by Parliament to prevent its being described as the thin end of the wedge, or as importing a new principle into our legislation. As to the details, I cannot help thinking that my noble friend has been very tender to one class of trader, namely the tobacconist. Smoking requisites can easily be laid in beforehand. It may be true that a man cannot lay in a stock of draught beer to last over Sunday, but I have observed that smokers exercise wonderful forethought in the matter of their supply of tobacco, and it cannot be said that any hardship would result from closing tobacconists' shops on Sunday. In Scotland public-houses are closed all day on Sunday, except to travelers, and if it is possible in Scotland for public-houses to be closed on Sunday, 1351 I cannot see why, in England, tobacconists should be, allowed to keep their shops open during the whole of that day. Tobacconists, like other people, should be spared the annoyance of having to keep open during the whole of Sunday. The most reverend Primate referred to the views of working-men's wives, who largely form the purchasers on Sunday, and indicated that the majority of that class are in favour of Sunday closing. We can easily understand that when they know that shops will be open on Sunday, husbands of a certain class will not take the trouble to give their wives the requisite money for purchases until Sunday morning, but if they know that the shops will be closed they will, for their own sake, take care to provide their wives with the necessary money on the Saturday. That difficulty would, therefore, be removed. I do not know whether my noble friend will accept the Amendment, but if he does not, and goes to a division, I shall certainly support him.
§ EARL SPENCER
My Lords, I should like to say a few words on this matter, particularly in view of the stage at which it has now arrived. My noble friend behind me has made a very clear statement on the subject, and has spoken strongly in favour of the Second Reading. He was followed by the most rev. Primate, who has peculiar means of knowing the opinions of the people concerned, and who strongly supported the general principle of the Bill, though he thought some of its details ought to be further considered. I have been very much struck by the arguments which have been used, and I consider that the case for a Bill of this sort has been abundantly proved. There is a strong consensus of opinion in favour of closing earlier on Sunday, and it is also considered that exceptions should be made. There is a view of the religious necessities which may be put forward. I am not, however, going to argue that; but, certainly, from another point of view, it is of enormous importance for the country that we should maintain, if possible, the greater part, if not the whole, of the Sunday holiday. It is not good, I am convinced, for any man, however industrious and energetic he may be, to work during the whole seven days in the week.
1352 I protest against the subject being at once sent to a Select Committee. I think it is most important that your Lordships should give an opinion on the general principle of the Bill. If the Motion for the Second Reading is agreed to the Bill might then be sent, as the most rev. Primate has suggested, to a Select Committee. The noble Lord who spoke on behalf of the Government said he objected to the House agreeing to the general principle of the Bill. I am not a lawyer and may be wrong, but I maintain that no new principle will be established by parsing the Second Reading, since the principle of stopping Sunday trading exists in the present law. I sincerely hope your Lordships will not agree to the Amendment, but will vote for the Second Reading and let the Bill then be submitted to a Select Committee.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
My Lords, I desire to associate myself very heartily with this Bill, and to express the hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading. The necessity for remedying the evil to which the noble Lord called attention is felt very deeply in our large towns, and the larger the town is the stronger, I believe, is that feeling. In those great towns where the population is for the most part exceedingly poor, such legislation is acutely needed. I hold that legislation in this direction, instead of adding to the restrictions of the people, will very largely add to their liberty. The small trader, who has to exert himself throughout the week, finds himself compelled, through the excess of competition, to choose between complying with the law and shutting his shop on Sunday, or infringing the law and opening it. The loyal man who shuts his shop finds himself at a disadvantage in comparison with his neighbour who does not, and he feels sore at heart that because he is loyal to the law he should suffer by the diversion of custom to his less conscientious competitor. This Bill is, I am sure, welcomed by a very large portion, of the retail traders throughout the country. In places like Liverpool and Portsmouth the evil is very great, and especially in regard to the hawkers' trade carried on in the streets. This Bill will remedy what is felt to be a cruel 1353 disability on small traders. I am also convinced that anything that can be done by Parliament to give the working classes greater liberty for relaxation and rest on Sunday will be heartily welcomed by the country at large. The working classes look hopefully and anxiously for this extension of their freedom, and I am sure the parsing of the Hill will be heartly welcomed in our large towns.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (The Earl of HALSBURY)
My Lords, I wish to say, at the outset, that I think an injustice was done to the noble Lord who spoke on behalf of His Majesty's Government by the suggestion of the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition, that he (Lord Belper)objected to the principle of the Bill. Lord Belper said nothing of the sort. What the noble Lord stated was, that if the Select Committee were confined to this particular Bill they could not enter into the whole subject of Sunday trading. I am sure the noble Earl unconsciously misrepresented my noble friend. The subject is of a much more complicated character than has been assumed. I think that some of the proposals of the Bill are intended obviously more for the accommodation of those who are well of than for those who are poor. One of the exempted trades is the tobacco trade. Will anyone give me a reason why that trade should be exempted from the prohibition? Again I observe that newsagents are exempted. This is another trade the carrying on of which on Sunday is especially agreeable to the rich. On the other hand, I find a special section prohibiting barbers from carrying on business on Sunday. Can anyone give a good and substantial reason why barbers should be specially mentioned for prohibition? I know that some years ago, when there was a very violent effort on the part of those who took a stricter view of Sunday observance, an attempt was made to bring the whole law on the subject into contempt and ridicule by a series of prosecutions which, I believe were only stopped by the magistrates declining to convict; but why this particular trade of the barber should be selected for special prohibition I am wholly unable to conjecture.
The whole subject is an extremely difficult one. In my opinion the Bill is 1354 very imperfect, and I confess that I would have liked to have a more general inquiry than is possible by a Select Committee on a particular measure. So far I agree with my noble friend Lord Belper; but I recognize that it seems to be the view of your Lordships generally that there should be an inquiry, and rather than appear to impose any difficulty in the way of such an inquiry I would ask my noble friend to withdraw his Amendment and allow the Bill to be read a second time. At the same time, I think that one must recognise how serous and important the question is. Take the religious question. A great deal of the trading in the East End to which the most rev. Primate has referred is conducted by persons who are not Christians and who do not recognise the sanctity of the Christian Sabbath. Yet these people, who are prohibited by their own religion from trading on Saturday, will be prohibited by the Bill from trading on Sunday also.
Again, there is the question whether this is not a case of the smaller traders against the costermongers, who undoubtedly have established an enormous trade in the poorer districts. If the Bill were passed in its present form the whole of that class of traders, who are a great accommodation to the poorest classes, would be prevented, from carrying on their business. I hope that it will not be supposed that I make light of the Christian obligation to observe the Sunday. I was for some years chairman of the Lord's Day Observance Society, and I am certainly not inclined to suggest in the smallest degree that the observance of the Sabbath is not important; but, at the sane time, one cannot but feel that in our complex civilisation it is sometimes very inexpedient to try to draw the string too tight. If you do so it snaps. I think that the importance of keeping the Sunday as a day of rest is being gradually recognised by mankind to such an extent that it does not require the stimulus of legislation. By driving that feeling too hard we are apt to hinder rather than to assist the movement. Rather than run counter to the desire of the House, however, in regard to this particular Bill, I would ask my noble friend to withdraw the Amendment.
§ *LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, I need hardly say that I have listened with great satisfaction to the conclusion of the speech of the Lord Chancellor. Perhaps I may explain that the reason why tobacconists were excluded from the operation of the Bill was that they alleged that the public houses came into competition with them, and that it was not fair that they should be compelled to close when public houses were allowed to remain open. As to the special mention of barbers, that was due to the fact that the Barbers' Associations throughout the country were most anxious to come under the Bill, and they were afraid that they would not do so unless they were specially mentioned.
§ Amendment, by leave of the House, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and referred to a Select Committee.
§ House adjourned at five minutes before Six o'clock, to Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.