§ LORD AVEBURY
, in rising to move to resolve, "That in the opinion of this House the subject of the Sunday opening of shops demands the serious and early attention of His Majesty's Government," said: My Lords, May I say at once that I do not wish to impute any blame to, or make any complaint of, His Majesty's Government? They have had many matters to consider and the claims on their time and thoughts have been numerous and pressing. My object is rather to convince them that in dealing with this subject they would have the enthusiastic and overwhelming support of the shopkeeping community as well as the general approval of religious bodies, of the local authorities, of the working classes, of the Committees appointed by your Lordships, and, if we should be so fortunate as to carry this Resolution, of your Lordship's House.
My Lords, this subject is pressing, for the evil is spreading; and it is important, for it affects vitally the health welfare, and character of the community. That Sunday trading is on the increase no one will deny. The Lord Mayor of Manchester recently called a meeting to 751 consider it. The Town Council of Liverpool have passed a resolution deploring it. Witnesses from various parts of the country confirmed it. In Glasgow the numbers are over 3,000; in Liverpool, 5,000; in Manchester and Salford, 6,000, and they are increasing. It must be remembered that Sunday shopping is strictly forbidden by the law of the land. It is illegal now. Unfortunately, however, the punishment is limited to a fine of 5s. This would be enough to shut up the very smallest shops, but it is a trifle to the larger ones. They pay the fine, snap their fingers at the law, and open again the next Sunday. The law, therefore, is in this respect unjust.
All that is asked is, not to make Sunday opening illegal, for that is the case already, but to render the law just and effective by increasing the fine.
Perhaps, however, it will be said that the gradual increase of Sunday opening of shops proves either that the shopkeepers wish to open, or that it is necessary for the convenience of the public. I shall hope to convince your Lordships that neither of these suggestions is tenable. It would, indeed, be sad if shopkeepers were anxious to open their shops on Sundays. But this is not so. I am acting at their earnest request and with their support.
Your Lordships will remember that last year a Bill was introduced on the subject, that the House passed the Second Reading after some discussion, and referred the Bill to a Select Committee. The Committee sat for some weeks and reported unanimously in favour of the measure, which, however, was subsequently lost on a snap division taken without notice to the House or to the supporters of the Bill.
The Committee reported that an overwhelming majority of shopkeepers were in favour of the Bill; in fact, they ascertained the views of over 300 shopkeepers' associations representing all the principal trades and all parts of the country, and found that with only three exceptions they were all in favour of the Bill. Since then others have passed resolutions of approval, and in fact the Bill is the Shopkeepers' own Bill, and 752 their opinion is surely entitled to respectful consideration.
Perhaps, then, I shall be asked why, if shopkeepers are anxious 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 Committees, both on the Early Closing Bill and on the Sunday Closing Bill, and the answer invariably was—We should much wish to close if all did so, but if a few insist on remaining open, others in the same kind of business feel they must do so, too.What is happening in various parts of the country is that some man, generally a foreigner, goes to a place and opens a shop on Sunday. Then those in the immediate neighbourhood, and in the same way of business, finding their customers going to their rival, follow his example, and gradually more and more open. I am appealing, then, to your Lordships at the request, and with the overwhelming support, of the shopkeeping community. Moreover, I submit to your Lordships that the shop assistants are entitled to the protection of Parliament, and that they may fairly ask that the present law forbidding Sunday shopping should be made efficient.
The shopkeeping community are, of course, not the only class to be consulted. Your Lordships will naturally ask yourselves whether the customers, and especially the poor customers, would be put to any serious inconvenience. The Bill contains special provisions which it is believed would prevent this. The majority of the witnesses who appeared before the Committee concurred in this view. Moreover, every effort has been made to ascertain the views of the working classes. Resolutions in favour of Sunday closing have been passed by the Trades' Councils of Glasgow and Edinburgh, Bristol, Hull, Nottingham, Walsall, Ashton-under-Lyne, Bradford, Camberwell, Worcester, Pontypridd, Todmorden, Oldham, Leicester, Southport, and Stockport, by the Scottish Trades Council, the Irish Trades Council, and by the London Trades Council (for one day in the week) and there is no Trades Council against; and by the Trades 753 Unions of the bakers, bookbinders, boiler makers, bricklayers, cotton spinners, cabinet makers, carpenters, dyers, engineers, enginemen, gasworkers and general labourers, joiners, painters and decorators, plasterers, plumbers, tin-plate workers, wheelwrights, etc.; in all, 195 trades councils and trades unions.
This seems conclusive evidence that Sunday closing would not injure, and is in fact strongly supported by the working classes. It was, indeed, stated to the Committee that six trades unions opposed the Measure. I have endeavoured to communicate with them. The three principal ones have assured me that, on the contrary, they are heartily with us, and that the opposition came from small lodges, not from the unions themselves. The other three are such small bodies that I have been unable to find them, if indeed they still exist. On the whole, then, the working classes, like the shopkeepers, may be said to be, by an overwhelming majority, at any rate 100 to 1, in favour of the proposal.
I now come to the local authorities. Over fifty corporations or town councils in all parts of the country, including the great cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, and Liverpool, and the executive council of the Urban District Councils Association, representing 490 councils, have passed resolutions in our support; while no single local authority has opposed us. I might also mention many chambers of commerce, friendly societies and other bodies which support us, while I know of none which oppose. Your Lordships' Committee reported that in their judgment our proposals appealed to the conscience of the nation. Within the last few days, Mr. Judson, the able and energetic secretary of the Hairdresser's Association, has sent me resolutions in our support, which I have here, from over 600 religious congregations and other cognate bodies.
Of course, my Lords, I do not deny that there is some opposition. It is remarkable that the great majority of tradesmen who are open on Sundays have taken no action. But in two London districts there are great Sunday fairs, and no doubt a large and profitable 754 business is done. But, as the Committee point out in their Report—Shopkeepers in other parts of London and in the country complain on this very ground, and, as it seems to the Committee, with much reason. They urge that this trading is illegal, that it is hard upon them to be placed at a disadvantage because they conform to the law, and to see a large and profitable business taken away from them by those who set the law at defiance.Moreover, they are demoralising the whole neighbourhood. Mr. Poynder, the Rector of Whitechapel, told your Committee that—The great need that impresses all of us busy workers in my part of London is the fact that because of the noise and rush we do want to safeguard the lives of our people by their having one day in seven. It is necessary for brain and for body, quite apart from the religious aspect of the question, for the moment, and by the stress at which we are all living down there, Sunday has become practically like any other day. The police estimate that between 30,000 and 50,000 on a Sunday morning do their shopping in our streets, and crowd our neighbourhood right up till noon, practically converting the whole of the morning into an enormous fair. We have hat shops, boot shops, clothing, and all other kinds of shops open. The British population say that they would lose their custom in a great measure if they in self-defence did not open on Sunday. The feeling is very dominant that the result of all this is that many people have to work, whether they like it or not, seven days a week.Again, Mr. Eyre, Vice-head of the Oxford House in Bethnal Green, gave strong evidence as to the demoralisation of the neighbourhood by the Great Sunday fair. He said that—The conditions which exist in our neighbourhood have a most demoralising effect upon the population, because it is not merely Sunday trading, but it has developed into a regular Sunday fair. Whole masses of people are congregated together, and that attracts all sorts and conditions of buyers and sellers, both the undesirable traders and sellers and the desirable ones; wherever this concourse is gathered together, there you get the professional gamblers, and other people.He also stated that the shopkeepers in this district were by a large majority—525 to 119—themselves anxious to put an end to the existing state of things. Mr. Forster, Rector of St. Mark's, Walworth, also gave similar evidence; My noble friend Lord Wemyss last year made a good deal of a petition which he presented, signed by 2,000 persons. 755 We presented, however, many petitions in favour of our proposals—one signed by 83,000 persons. Moreover, his 2,000 are breaking the law, and our 83,000 are conforming to it. His clients are making profits by breaking the law, at the expense of our clients who are conforming to it. I confess, under the circumstances, I am surprised that the signatures were so few.
The President of the Jewish Board of Guardians, which is the representative body of the Jews of the United Kingdom, appeared before the Committee and pressed two Amendments, subject to which, he informed the Committee, the Jewish community would not oppose the Bill. We inserted Amendments on these points. No doubt, as the Jews close for a great part of Saturday, they are in special position; at the same time they open at sunset, and the greater part of Saturday's business is done in the evening. My Lords, the shopkeeping community have submitted to you the Bill which they earnestly desire to see passed, but I am not now asking you to adopt it. We only ask you to urge upon His Majesty's Government the importance of dealing with the subject. Though, no doubt, many of your Lordships work as hard as any other class of the community, still there is a certain change and variety in your duties, and the absence of monotony is almost a rest. Moreover, your time is, as a rule, spent in a good atmosphere. It is difficult for us to realise what it must be, especially for women, to work long hours in close and impure air, on their feet, and often by gaslight, not only on every week-day, but on Sundays also.
If we are to preserve our people in health we must preserve their Sunday's rest. Rest for the mind is as necessary as that for the body. There are, moreover, other and even higher considerations in favour of my Motion, which I will not presume to urge in the presence of the most rev. Primate. My Lords, we have behind us an overwhelming majority of the shopkeeping community, of the working men, of local authorities, of ministers of religion, and of the medical profession, and I will conclude with the last paragraph in the unanimous Report of your Lordships' Committee—The Committee," they said, "are convinced by the evidence that Sunday trading is on the 756 increase, that the Bill is urgently needed, that it is desired by the shopkeeping interests, and would inflict no serious hardship on the poorer classes; that it would be a great benefit to the country generally, and that it commends itself both to the reason and the conscience of the community.I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.
Moved to resolve, "That, in the opinion of this House, the subject of the Sunday opening of shops demands the serious and early attention of His Majesty's Government."—(Lord Avebury.)
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I ask leave to say a few words upon this subject, in which I have, of necessity, been interested for a great many years. Your Lordships are too well informed to interpret the absence of a large majority of the Bishops on this occasion as meaning that this is a subject in which right rev. Prelates are not keenly interested. Your Lordships know that at this time of the year, during the Lenten weeks, the difficulty is great for Bishops whose work lies in parts of the country distant from London to attend in this House, but I venture to state, without hesitation, that if the Bishops had supposed that this was a matter likely to be lightly treated or pushed aside you would have had these benches filled by men anxious to press the matter on the attention of your Lordships' House and the country.
But I do not suppose for a moment that we need have any fear that this matter will be lightly set aside. Both sides of the House have been committed for a long time by their Leaders to the assertion that the matter is one requiring most careful consideration and possibly action. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, when leading your Lordships' House, was even distressed last year that we had gone forward with the Second Reading of a Bill without a higher measure of inquiry than was at that moment asked for. The inquiry took place over a limited range, and dealt simply with the Bill which my noble friend Lord Avebury had introduced, and when the Report of that Committee was presented to the House the criticism was 757 brought forward on both sides that it would have been better if a. larger inquiry had taken place. The noble Earl, whose absence we all deplore, who was then Leader of the Opposition, pressed the need for this inquiry in the most trenchant terms; and Lord Wemyss, who opposed, as always, action of the kind suggested, was himself a great advocate of further inquiry, and even suggested that the Cabinet should spend a Sunday morning in Whitechapel or Bethnal Green. That opportunity of further inquiry will be offered if this Motion is passed.
I am particularly glad that this question should have been brought forward, not from the Episcopal Benches, but, as formerly, by a layman, and by one who is not only specially identified with all that concerns the welfare of the working classes, but who at the same time has great knowledge as to commercial interests. It is not in his hands that we should be likely to find any Bill which would be apt to prejudice either the interests of the working classes generally or of the trade and commercial interests which may be concerned. My noble friend Lord Avebury has already referred to the Report of the Select Committee of this House over which he presided last year. I am anxious to emphasise what he has already mentioned—that the Committee dwelt upon the fact that not merely is the evil referred to great, but that it is a growing evil. That is what really constitutes the absolute necessity, as it seems to me, for inquiry and probably for action.
If it were merely that the residents in different places had to complain of the continuance of Sunday trading to which they had, perhaps, long objected, but which was not increasing in any marked degree—if that were all, it might be said, as it was some time ago, "Let sleeping dogs lie." But, my Lords, as we have said before on these occasions, the dogs are not asleep. The thing is going forward with great activity, and anyone who will look into the statistics presented to the Select Committee will see that the evil is one which is progressing so steadily And so markedly that if we do not intervene now we may find it impossible to do so a little later. I press that 758 particular point as an aspect of the question which the Committee emphasised. The Committee were convinced by the evidence that Sunday trading is on the increase. That is the real ground why we should not disregard the warning given to us, and why, if action is to be taken for the restraint of what I veritably believe to be a most harmful thing, the action should be taken speedily.
Information is constantly coming in of the gravity of this matter, both in the crowded regions of our great cities and in our quieter country towns, where the contrast is exceedingly marked between the trading and shopkeeping customs of a few years ago and the customs which are now coming into vogue. But while I say that further action is becoming eminently desirable, I do not for a moment withdraw what I have ventured on previous occasions to say here as to the extraordinary difficulties which surround the whole question. It is exactly one of those matters in which we are face to face with the peril that arises from the attempt to legislate too much or too rapidly. The noble and learned Earl, the late occupant of the Woolsack, has reminded us on more than one occasion when this matter was under consideration, in words which we are not likely to forget of the danger of legislating too rapidly. He has warned us against stretching the string too tight, for if you stretch it too tight it might snap. I for one endorse that view, I have always desired that no action should be taken in this matter without the fullest possible deliberation and consideration, not merely as to the interests of the shopkeeping class who are naturally anxious to secure their Sunday holiday, but also as to the interests of the great consuming class the facts about whom it is so exceedingly hard to ascertain with accuracy.
Every Committee which has sat on this question has experienced the difficulty of arriving at a decision whether hardship would be done by restrictive legislation, not to the shopkeeper, the costermonger and the trader, but to the public at large, the customers who take advantage of Sunday trading. But I think the difficulty has been, to a considerable extent, surmounted by the endeavour to obtain the opinion of 759 Trades Unions, not in their capacity as representing particular trades but as representing the purchasers who may be expected to suffer, if anybody would suffer, by restrictions upon Sunday trading as it at present exists. Great, certainly, are the difficulties which have to be overcome before legislation upon this complicated matter can effectively be carried forward. The very strength of the pressure that has been brought to bear by the associations representing the hairdressers and barbers at once suggests on both sides the extreme difficulty of the situation—the hardship for those who are called upon to do a great deal of Sunday work, and, on the other side, the hardship that might be inflicted upon a good many of their customers if they were unable to obtain on Sundays the weekly shave to which they were accustomed.
The question, complicated enough before, is undoubtedly increased in complexity by the incursion into our large towns of a foreign population who in some places constitute a large part of the community. In London particularly, where the difficulty is at its height, it is undoubtedly true that there are districts in which a large number of the sellers and buyers belong to another nationality than our own, and many of them to another form of faith. On a previous occasion the noble and learned Earl opposite, Lord Halsbury, referred to the fact that we must take care that we do not inflict hardship on the members of the Jewish faith, who observe Saturday as a day of rest, by forcing them to observe the Sunday in the same manner. I understand, and sympathise with the desire that no hardship should be imposed upon the Jewish community; but I think, if we press that argument too far, it would practically come to mean the removal of restrictions upon our Sunday work or Sunday amusements in a great many other fields besides. I venture to think that those who are immigrants of the more modern sort, and who are obtaining the benefits which this country is affording them, will not be subjected to undue hardship if they are obliged, in the public interest, to conform, speaking generally, to the rule3 which we find it 760 necessary to lay down in a Christian, community for the observance of Sunday.
Another complication which has arisen in the matter is the enormous growth of the barrow or costermonger trade, as constrasted with the trade of those who are the permanent shopkeepers. That is one of the difficulties which has to be faced, and it may very possibly turn out that the evil of which we are speaking is partly the result and partly the cause of the increase of that trade; in any case that is a matter which, if legislation goes forward, will have to be carefully worked out and examined into. I do not think that anyone will now say that our desire for action, or at least, for further deliberation on this subject, proceeds from a mere Puritan desire to maintain the strictly Sabbatarian view, or for a rigid prohibition of legitimate forms of occupation on the Sunday. The best answer to such a view, if it were taken, is the fact that in the efforts which are now being made, partly under my own auspices, for promoting a better observance of the Sunday, we are strongly supported by the Roman Catholic hierarchy and their followers. That, in itself, if it stood alone, would be an answer to the suggestion that we are actuated by any Puritan prejudice in the desire to assure the better observance of Sunday in trade matters.
Nor can it be said to proceed from mere insular prejudice, for both in America and France the subject is receiving an attention which is well worth the consideration of those who are trying to deal with it here. I would refer your Lordships to a pamphlet, which I believe is still procurable, containing an address by the Anglican Bishop of New York, Bishop Potter, who is a, recognised authority upon social matters in the United States, on the growth and the difficulties arising from the growth, of Sunday trade in the United States of America at this moment, He has pointed out the need of a check being there imposed, and the moral is very easy to draw as to the duty resting upon us in England, where the evil has not yet reached the height which 761 renders it so difficult to grapple with in the United States. Your Lordships may have noticed the great strike that lately took place among the assistants employed in large establishments in Paris and other towns in France with regard to the increase of Sunday work there, and the way in which eyes are set towards the example of England in this matter. All these things throw a great responsibility on the Executive Government of this country for dealing with, or, at all events, examining closely into, a matter which so intimately concerns the welfare of the people at large.
The Home Office has opportunities of acquiring and correlating knowledge on this subject which no one else possesses. We have had help given to us from that quarter in the different inquiries we have held, but a good deal more might still be done. All that the noble Lord who has brought this matter before your Lordships to-night is asking for is that the matter may now receive the prompt and active attention of His Majesty's Government, and I, for one, look forward with some hope to the results of such attention being given to it in authoritative and administrative quarters. There are not a few of the members of His Majesty's Government who have spoken hopefully on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman who now presides over the Local Government Board, and who is in a peculiar sense in touch with the feeling of the working classes, has made this the subject many times of effective speeches as to the need of something being done to check the evil. Therefore I believe we have a right to look hopefully to the result of such attention as I trust we shall hear to-night that His Majesty's Government are prepared to give to this exceedingly difficult and complicated question.
I need hardly repeat what I have said on former occasions, that my own interest in this matter is, of course, a double one, as, indeed, is that of all your Lordships who regard it, not merely from its secular, but from its sacred and religious side. We have opportunities elsewhere than here for, urging that particular consideration on the attention of the English people. Such opportunities we 762 have taken again and again, and we hope this year to do so on a larger scale and in a more organised way than perhaps has been customary hitherto. But we are speaking of it to-night in its social and secular rather than in its religious aspect, and the more it is looked at from that standpoint, the more the various inquiries which have taken place are put alongside one another with a view of distinguishing whether or not the evil is a growing one, the more evident will it appear that this is a matter most eminently calling for the attention, and for the immediate attention, of the Executive if we are to preserve for the English people a privilege which, even apart from its religious sanction, has been an inestimable blessing to the growth and the character and the strength of English life.
The grind of trade competition, in the humble as well as in the higher ranks, was never greater than it is to-day, and I believe that in no way can we better remedy the resultant mischiefs and evils than by securing as far as we possibly can, with all legitimate exceptions and consideration for particular cases, that one day in seven shall be, as it has been in England heretofore, preserved to the people for their benefit in mind, body, and estate. I commend the Motion to your Lordships' consideration.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Lord TWEEDMOUTH)
My Lords, the subject which Lord Avebury has brought forward is an extremely interesting and important one, and one which I think may be said to touch the very roots of our national life. It does not matter which point of view you look at this question, whether from the religious point of view, the hygienic point of view, or from the mere opportunist point of view, I think there will be universal agreement that an endeavour should be made to secure, as far as possible, what I may call a six days week for work and one day for rest. That I believe to be absolutely desirable from every point of view. It is not always easy to attain one's object merely by an Act of Parliament, and the history of the Bill that my noble friend has introduced in this House, I think on two occasions, rather goes to show the difficulty of dealing with such a subject by an 763 Act of Parliament. I do not mean to say that a good deal cannot be done by an Act of Parliament, but I do not think an Act of Parliament dealing with this subject, unless it is very well thought out, and unless it provides for a great many possible contingencies in a thoroughly satisfactory and just manner, will be of much more service than the Act which is now in force.
Above all, I think that the particular clientele of Lord Avebury deserve particular consideration—I mean the shop-assistants. You may draw a great line between the man who carries on the trade by himself or with members of his family, and the one who employs assistants under him. I think that the employees deserve more care from the Legislature than the men who work for themselves. I was very glad to hear the most rev. Primate himself put before your Lordships a good many of the difficulties of this particular subject. There is no doubt that the case of the Jews will have to be carefully considered and provided for in a generous manner. There is no sect, no religion, no community which is so careful about observing one day's rest in the week, and the fact that the particular day observed is not the day that we observe necessitates careful consideration and does require to be met in a thoughtful and generous manner.
I do not think I need detain your Lordships further, as I am not going to raise any opposition to the Resolution which has been proposed by my noble friend Lord Avebury. The Government think that this is a subject which deserves their earnest consideration. But they think that something more is required than consideration of a particular Bill. They think that the whole question of Sunday trading should be dealt with in an authoritative manner, and therefore the proposal I have to make is that we should accept this Resolution on the understanding that the whole question of Sunday trading should be referred to a Joint Committee of the two Houses. We believe that that would be an authoritative body to inquire into this important question, and we recommend that course to your Lordships.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I rise merely for the purpose of expressing the satisfaction with which we on this side of the House have listened to the statement that has just been made on behalf of His Majesty's Government. I do not think I misinterpret the feeling of noble Lords who sit behind me when I say that there is not one of them who would have desired to oppose the Motion made by my noble friend Lord Avebury. We, at any rate, on this Bench, are committed to the view that the existing state of the law with regard to Sunday trading is anomalous and requires amendment. That has been brought out again and again in the discussions which have taken place in this House. The law is anomalous, and the penalties under which that law has been enforced are of such a character that the law, unsatisfactory as it is, is set at naught by those who should be restrained by it.
I believe we are also satisfied that, as the noble Mover told us, this evil is one which is tending to increase. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that the question is one of the most difficult with which Parliament could possibly deal. You have on the one side the universal desire that Sunday should be a day of rest for as large a proportion of the community as possible, the desire that they should on that day obtain some relief from what the most reverend Primate well called the daily grind of their lives; and on the other, you have the undoubted fact that there is a large section of the community who are unable to obtain the common necessaries of life unless they are allowed to trade during certain hours on Sundays. We have also to take into account the interests of the small tradespeople who have been in the habit of supplying the wants to which I have just referred. It is extremely difficult to hold the balance fairly between these different and conflicting interests, and it seems to me that the proposal of His Majesty's Government that this difficult question should be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament is a most reasonable and wise one.
We made an ineffective attempt to deal with this matter last year. It will be 765 remembered that Lord Avebury introduced a Bill which, in principle, met with the approval of the then Government. We at that time made the proposal that there should be a Committee appointed to deal not with the Bill of my noble friend, but with the whole question of Sunday trading. The general feeling in the House was against our proposal. The Bill was accordingly read a second time and referred to a Select Committee, and I am bound to say that when it came back to us we found that the existing confusion was worse confounded. I make no reflection whatever on the Committee. Their hands were tied by the fact that the reference to them did not permit them to make a general inquiry into the whole subject.
I will not, however, refer to the imperfections of the Bill as it came to us last year. It stereotyped many unfortunate exceptions and placed the Secretary of State for the Home Department in a false and embarrassing position; and, last but not least, it was severely criticised both by those who are in favour of the strict observance of Sunday, and also by those who are jealous of any interference with the course of Sunday trading. I hope we shall avoid a similar miscarriage of justice by the course His Majesty's Government propose, and I earnestly trust that the Joint Committee which His Majesty's Government intend to appoint will be able to evolve a measure which shall set at rest this extremely difficult and important question.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
My Lords, I think my noble friend Lord Avebury, and those who acted with him last year on the Select Committee, are to be congratulated upon the reception which His Majesty's Government have given to the Resolution now before the House. I confess I was rather surprised to hear from the noble Marquess who has just sat down the view which the Government took last year on the measure as it came from that Committee. I do not remember any such drastic condemnation of it at the time, and I, for my part, am sorry to hear so much said to-day, especially by the most rev. Primate, about the insufficiency of the inquiry before that 766 Committee. I quite understand the line taken by His Majesty's Government, that if this question is to be considered at all it should be considered in the abstract and not with regard to any particular Bill. But I anticipate that when the inquiry is held, whatever it may be, very little more information will be obtained than was discovered by the Select Committee last year.
The impression left on my mind by the evidence which we got from every part of the country was that the difficulties were not really as great as they were supposed to be. There was one exception, and it has already been mentioned in the course of discussion to-night—I refer to the Jews. No doubt the position of the Jews is one of great difficulty, and the Committee endeavoured, as far as they could, to meet that difficulty; and if the inquiry which is now to be instituted results in better means being put forward of overcoming the difficulty I am sure we shall all be very glad. As regards the position of the consumer, which has been made so much of to-night, we gathered from the evidence placed before us that the class of persons who can only trade on Sundays is much smaller than I myself should have anticipated before I served on that Committee. A very large proportion of the working classes who trade on Sundays could trade on Saturday afternoons perfectly well if they pleased. As a matter of fact they go to the public-houses on Saturday and purchase articles of food on Sunday; and a part of the evidence we had before us went to show that as a collateral benefit of a Bill of this kind we should have less drinking on Saturday afternoons.
Perhaps the best answer as to the difficulty of the consumer is the fact that 160 trades unions have petitioned in favour of the Bill. I imagine that those trades unions know the difficulties of the consumer quite as well, if I may say so without disrespect, as noble Lords in this House. I quite appreciate what the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty said as to the difference between the men who run shops and the shop assistants, but I am afraid he will find that it is impossible to make any distinction. If A keeps his 767 shop open, B must keep his open; and, therefore, if you say A may keep his shop open because he has no assistant, and B must not because he has an assistant, the result will be to make unfair competition between the two, which I am sure Parliament would never sanction.
I do not want at this stage to occupy the time of the House further. If there is to be another inquiry by all means let it take place. I do hope that it will be exhaustive, and that no unnecessary delay will take place in forming the Committee, in the taking of evidence, and in reporting upon it, because I cannot too strongly emphasise the fact that this is an increasing evil, and that everyday nothing is done the question becomes more and more grave and the problem more and more difficult to solve.
My Lords, I wish in a few words to thank His Majesty's Government for consenting to the appointment of a Joint Committee of the two Houses to consider this question and to say that I am sure this will meet the wishes of a great many of those who are deeply interested in this subject. I agree with the noble Duke who has just sat down that a I very large proportion of the working classes who trade on Sundays could very well trade on Saturday afternoons, and that the difficulties with regard to the consumer, which have been made so much of, are greatly exaggerated, That Sunday trading is on the increase no one will deny, and it is very important that the subject should receive the serious and early attention of His Majesty's Government. One matter which is clearly brought home to those who study our hospitals is the increasing need of rest for those who are suffering from nervous disorders, and I believe it will be brought out by the joint Committee which it is proposed to appoint that there is a national danger in the pressure which is, at present, being brought on our large operative classes, and especially on those who will be the mothers of future generations. Anyone who goes into our large establishments and sees the tremendous pressure at which work is done 768 will agree that the decision at which His Majesty's Government have arrived is a right decision. I would also express the earnest hope that this will not merely be an inquiry which will end when the Committee have received the evidence but that the unanimous Report of the Committee will be that there is an urgent need that something should be done, and that His Majesty's Government will act upon the recommendation. I beg, on behalf of many who are taking a deep interest in this subject, to thank His Majesty's Government for the assurance they have given.
§ LORD AVEBURY
My Lords, I will not detain the House for more than a moment or two in replying to the discussion which has taken place on my Motion. With regard to the Jews, very important evidence was given before the Select Committee. Mr. Alexander, who represented that body, suggested certain modifications in the Bill, subject to which, he said, they would not oppose the measure. At the end of his evidence Mr. Alexander was asked—The final conclusion you would wish the Committee to arrive at is that your committee would not oppose the Bill providing the two Amendments you have suggested were conceded?And his answer to that question was—We should not oppose it provided these two Amendments were conceded.The Committee endeavoured to meet his view on those two Amendments, and consequently the Jewish community took no further part in opposing that Bill.
The noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty made a distinction between shopkeepers who employ assistants and those who do not. During the thirty years in which I have been endeavouring to carry out the views of the shopkeeper in these matters our strongest supporters have been the keepers of the very small shops. To the very small shopkeepers who has to be in the shop himself it is most important that the hours should be reasonable, and the result has been that the strongest support we have always had from the beginning of this agitation has come from the small shopkeepers. Much has been said this evening with respect 769 to inquiry. May I remind the House that the Bill dealt with the whole question of Sunday trading, and the Select Committee understood that the whole question was before them. We had the advantage of the presence of Lord Belper, as representing the Government, on that Committee, and at the end of the proceedings I asked the noble Lord if there was any more evidence he desired, and he replied in the negative. I doubt if it will be found that there is much more evidence to procure, nor do I understand in what direction more evidence is required. The shopkeepers and the working classes were satisfied with the Bill as it stood. The Bill did not alter the law; all it did was to increase the fine, so as to make the law as it stands effective. At the same time I fully admit all that has been said as to the importance of the question, and I feel therefore that we cannot but accept the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Tweedmouth. We have not only to carry the Bill through this House but through the other House, and it will be a great step in the right direction if we can elicit the support of the other House in the movement. I would only express the hope that there will be no unnecessary delay, and that the Joint Committee may get to work as soon as possible.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
I now beg to move the Resolution with regard to the appointment of a Joint Committee.
Moved to resolve, "That it is desirable that a Joint Committee of both Houses be appointed to inquire into the subject of Sunday trading."—(Lord Tweedmouth.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Ordered, that a message be sent to the Commons to communicate this Resolution, and to desire their concurrence.
§ House adjourned at Twenty minutes before Six o'clock to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.