§ 3.18 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Haire of Whiteabbey.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:
§ Selection of shop's early closing day by its occupier. 1950 c. 28
(2) The occupier of every shop to which the said section 1 applies—
(a) shall keep conspicuously displayed in the shop, so as to be visible from outside the shop at an entrance used by its customers, a notice specifying the day selected by him as the early closing day for the shop; and
LORD AIREDALE moved, in subsection (2)(a), to leave out ("an") and insert ("every"). The noble Lord said: This Amendment is to amend that paragraph of the Bill which requires the shopkeeper to put up a notice stating which is the shop's early closing day. The noble Lord in charge of the Bill, Lord Haire of Whiteabbey, told us on Second Reading that the paragraph would require the shopkeeper to put up the notice at the entrance most used by his customers. The paragraph does not, in fact, reproduce those words and, as your Lordships will see, all it says is:
at an entrance used by its customers".
That would entitle the shopkeeper, if he chose to select the entrance least used by his customers, to put up the notice there, which would entirely frustrate the purpose behind this paragraph of the Bill.
§ Some amendment therefore seems called for, and I should have thought that a common-sense Amendment was one which 1440 required the shopkeeper to put up the early closing notice, not at one entrance, but at every entrance used by his customers. Then, in the case of shops having more than one entrance, all the customers would have the opportunity of discovering which was the early closing day, not only the customers who happened to use the entrance which the shopkeeper chose for this purpose, which might be the entrance used by fewest of his customers. Accordingly, I have put down this Amendment to require a notice to be put at every entrance to the shop used by customers. I beg to move.
Page 1, line 19, leave out ("an") and insert ("every").—(Lord Airedale.)
§ LORD DERWENT
I hope the noble Lord will not press this Amendment, but if he does, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Haire of Whiteabbey, will not accept it. To begin with, I think this requirement would be unduly onerous on shopkeepers. What this Amendment is in effect saying is that, if you have a shop like Selfridges, with perhaps twenty public entrances (I do not know the number), and if, through some inadvertence or even redecoration going on—whatever the reason may be—on one of those doors there is not a notice on a particular day, then an offence is committed. To that extent, I think it is too onerous.
Secondly, I would remind the noble Lord that the wording of this subsection was put into the Bill by an Amendment in the other place, and that its sole purpose was enforcement. What this subsection seeks to do is to ensure that, whether a shop be open or shut—and I emphasise the words "or shut"—an inspector appointed under the Shops Act can see the notice through one of the doorways. That is the sole object of this subsection. Normally, in their own interests, shops put up notices about their early closing day, for the benefit of their customers, and very often these notices are inside the shop—some of them are, anyhow—and cannot be seen from outside at all. But that is not the purpose of this subsection.
Further, the Home Secretary has promised that there is going to be much wider legislation on shops; and, if this particular matter does not work properly, it can be altered then. Lastly, this is 1441 a Private Member's Bill, and if we put in what is, as I believe, a quite unnecessary Amendment we may lose the Bill. This Bill is awaited with great eagerness by both large and small shops, so I do hope the noble Lord will not press it.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (LORD STONHAM)
As the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has reminded us, this is a Private Member's Bill, but it is one in which the Government are very interested and which they support. I regret to say that this is one of the very rare occasions on which I find myself in disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, and one of the not so rare occasions on which I find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, who in this matter speaks with the authority of President of the Institute of Shops Act Administration.
The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, said that the Bill as at present drafted would permit the early closing notice to be put up at the least-used entrance. That is quite so; but, in stressing that, he is virtually doubting the sanity of the shopkeepers, in whose interests it is to inform as many customers as possible of when their shops will be closed. The noble Lord may say, "Then they should accept my Amendment so that that information may be as widely distributed as possible". But, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said, the reason for the addition that was made on Report in another place was, first of all, so that the Shops Act inspectors will be able to carry out their duty under the Act without undue difficulty. Moreover, if we insisted on the notice being visible at every entrance, it would create considerable difficulties for shopkeepers and place them at risk without, in my submission, any real advantage to customers.
The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, mentioned Selfridges as having 20 entrances. To be strictly impartial, I will mention Harrods as having 24 entrances. But it becomes really farcical to insist that there should be a notice at every entrance which is visible from outside, and to make it an offence in the Bill for a shopkeeper to fail to comply with this provision. If the Amendment were accepted, a shopkeeper would be liable to a fine on conviction if, by some mischance, at just one of the many entrances to his 1442 shop he omitted to display a notice—or, indeed, if a notice became defaced or illegible. I do submit to the noble Lord that it is necessary to balance the desirability of securing that an early-closing notice is placed at every one of the entrances to a shop against the desirability of not creating new offences unless it is absolutely essential and is going to serve a useful purpose for someone.
The Bill already deals adequately with the display of a notice for enforcement purposes, and a shopkeeper who thinks it will assist the public to be able to exhibit at each entrance to his shop copies of the notice which must be displayed in accordance with Clause 1 can do so. It is a help to shoppers to know the time at which a shop opens and closes each day of the week, but it is not an offence for a shopkeeper to fail to state his shop hours at the entrance to his shop, and this seems right. We feel that it is right to limit the offences under the Bill to the minimum necessary to secure the Bill's proper enforcement. I hope that, with this explanation, the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, will feel able to withdraw his Amendment, happy that his point has been duly discussed and considered; but, if not, I hope that my noble friend Lord Haire of Whiteabbey will indicate that he is unable to accept it.
§ LORD HAIRE OF WHITEABBEY
The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has stated that he wants a conviction for a failure to display a notice on every entrance to a shop. This, surely, is contrary to the Bill which is before us. The spirit of this Bill asks for one notice, so that the shopkeeper can tell his public what his early-closing day is and so that his shoppers will know on what day he will close his shop. I think that it would be quite unnecessary to require a shopkeeper, especially a large shopkeeper, to put a notice on every single door of his shop. This, in fact, would be increasing the risk of conviction of large shopkeepers. I should have thought that many shopkeepers would, in any case, in their own interests, be quite willing to put up notices on other doors of their shops without, in fact, being compelled to do so by legislation.
It is not my intention in this Bill to increase the risk of conviction, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, 1443 will withdraw his Amendment, not just for the reasons which I have adduced now, but for those which my noble friend Lord Stonham has so ably put forward, and for those which have come from the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, with all his authority in this field. I would hope that the noble Lord may yet withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD AIREDALE
I am obliged to those noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. It is always interesting to hear all the views that can be expressed on a very narrow subject matter. I was told by the noble Lord, Lord Haire of Whiteabbey, that I had stated that I wanted a conviction against shopkeepers. I think that, when the noble Lord comes to read Hansard to-morrow, he will not find that I said anything of that kind.
This debate has reminded me, if I may say so, of part of the debate we had on the Committee stage of the Protection of Birds Bill, when we were told that, if we made it an offence to take eggs from birds' nests, we should thereby be making criminals of well-behaved little boys who took one egg out of a thrush's nest. But, in the end, good sense prevailed, and we realised that the people we were really legislating against were the hooligans who ransack a whole nest, throw it on the ground and stamp on it. In the same way, no doubt, if this Amendment were accepted, technical offences would be committed from time to time against the provisions of this Bill; but I do not suppose for a moment that any inspector would think of prosecuting a shopkeeper for some technical offence committed through inadvertence. He would surely remind the shopkeeper of his duty to put up a notice at every entrance. If the shopkeeper deliberately refused to co-operate he would, no doubt, then be prosecuted; but he would have deserved it. That part of the argument, I must confess, did not impress me very much.
The part of the argument that impressed me most was the suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, that if this Bill is amended this afternoon by your Lordships it may be lost altogether. It seems to me to be true that a Private Member's Bill cannot have full justice done to it in Parlia- 1444 ment in the month of July. That is something which might have the attention of those who at the moment are very interested in the subject of Parliamentary procedure reform. However that may be, I will not take any more time this afternoon on this matter because your Lordships have many weightier matters to discuss. I accordingly beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ House Resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.