HL Deb 23 March 1905 vol 143 cc923-6

Moved, That the following Lords be named of the Select Committee:—


My Lords, I do not rise for the purpose of entering any objection to the Motion of my noble friend. On the contrary, I think the House has done wisely in sending this very important question to a Select Committee, and I hope the Committee will not take a narrow Sabbatarian view of it but will look at it in a broad sense. It is all very well for my noble friend to bring in Bills for the purpose of protecting shopkeepers and shop assistants, but there is a third party to be considered—namely, those who trade with the shops and thereby keep them going. I do not think it is possible to exaggerate the great inconvenience which would be caused to the mass of the working classes if Sunday trading were put a stop to. These people work hard all the week, and on Saturday afternoon they like a holiday. They probably go to see athletes struggling in the mud playing football with their heads, or some other amusement of that sort, and on Sunday morning they have a good lie in bed, get up and see about their trading.

I should like to point out to your Lordships the extent to which Sunday trading is carried on. I have in my hand a paper which every one of your Lordships no doubt possesses, issued by those who are promoting my noble friend's Bill, and I find stated in it as a reason for stopping Sunday trading the fact that, excluding public-houses and the barrow trade, which is greater even than the shop trade, there are in Manchester and Sheffield 8, 000 shops open on Sunday; in Liverpool, 4, 700; Glasgow, 3, 048; Leeds, 2, 039; Bristol, 1, 035; Dundee, 567; Bolton, 555; Aberdeen, 457; Swansea, 282; Newport, 195; Lee, 194; Maidstone, 150; Hull, 75; and Darlington 50. Now, my Lords, if you, shut these shops on Sunday imagine the inconvenience you cause to the working classes, to meet whose requirements the shops are now kept open on that day.

I speak on this subject with knowledge. When a similar Bill was before us two years ago I was advised to visit Petticoat Lane—it is now, I believe, called Middlesex Street, and is on the border of the City—where I could see what Sunday trading in London really was. I went there and found it to be a very narrow street in which two carriages could hardly pass. The whole of the shops were open, and along the gutter on each side were hand barrows, and at nearly every third barrow there was an auction going on. On a fete day or illumination night a busy thoroughfare could not be more crowded than was Petticoat Lane. Clothing, food, everything was to be got there, and the working people of that part of the Metropolis were busy making purchases from 10 o'clock till 12 midday. My noble friend proposes in this Bill that no shop shall be allowed to remain open after 9 a. m. Why, the working classes are not out of bed at that hour, and I hold that it would be a monstrous thing to inconvenience the great mass of people by passing this Bill into law. I asked my noble friend Lord Avebury if he had ever been to Petticoat Lane and seen the Sunday trading there, and he replied that he had not, and I replied that without such knowledge he had no right to legislate. I say, further, that your Lordships ought not to legislate on this subject without actual inspection of this Sunday trading. I am told that what obtains at Petticoat Lane also obtains at dozens of other places in London, and I hope my noble friend and the other members of the Select Committee, before inquiring into the subject, will pay a visit to Petticoat Lane, for I maintain that no man has a right to legislate upon this subject without better knowledge than my noble friend appears to possess.


My Lords, my noble friend has accused me of not knowing what goes on in Petticoat Lane on Sundays. I assure him I know quite well; and if I had not known before the other day, my noble friend gave me a few days ago so graphic a description that it was quite as instructive as a visit. I hope your Lordships will some of you go there as he suggests, for I believe the spectacle will leave no doubt as to the need for our Bill. It is just the facts mentioned by my noble friend which induced shopkeepers to urge me to bring forward this Bill. I had hoped when the Early Closing Bill was passed that the labours of thirty years were over, but the shopkeepers throughout the country brought such pressure on me to deal with the great evil of Sunday trading that I could not resist introducing this Bill. The noble Earl read out a list of the number of shops open on Sunday in our large towns. As those of your Lordships who were present on the occasion of the Second Reading will remember, the figures the noble Earl quoted were precisely those I brought forward in support of some such Bill as this. The noble Earl states that the working classes work all the week, and amuse themselves on Saturday afternoon by going to football and other matches, putting off their shopping until Sunday. But what about the shop- keepers and shop assistants? They do not get a holiday on Saturday. Many of the shops are open until past midnight on Saturday, and the shopkeepers and assistants have to begin work again on the Sunday.

The shopkeeping community have done all they can to ascertain the views of the working classes. The London Trades Council, which represents the working classes of this great Metropolis, and which, on a question affecting their comfort and convenience, may be regarded as knowing their views, have unanimously passed a resolution in favour of shutting up shops on one day in the week. Similar resolutions have been passed by the Irish Trades Council, and also, I understand, by the Scottish Trades Council, and the trades councils in many of our large towns. Perhaps the strongest case of all is the case of Hull. The corporation of Hull have done all they possibly could to act under the present law, and have reduced to a comparatively small number the shops opening on Sunday. The working men of Hull, therefore, know perfectly well what would be the result of the operation of such a Bill us this, and they have unanimously passed a resolution supporting this Bill and expressing the hope that it will be passed into law. My noble friend has expressed a desire that we shall not discuss this question in the Select Committee in a narrow Sab batarian spirit. It is not for me to speak for a Committee which is not yet appointed, but I feel satisfied that the noble Earl need have no apprehension on the point. As I have said, the shopkeepers, while not ignoring the religious aspect of the problem, primarily approach the question from the point of view of the comfort, happiness, and health of themselves and their families, and of the assistants, for whose welfare they are responsible, and it is in that spirit that they ask your Lordships to pass this Bill.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The Committee to appoint their own Chairman. House adjourned at a quarter before Five o'clock, till Tomorrow, half-past Ten o'clock.