HL Deb 25 April 1968 vol 291 cc741-50

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [General exceptions from Sunday closing]:

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


Clauses 1 and 2 are the key clauses of the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent. I apologise to the Committee for the fact that I was not present on the occasion of the Second Reading, but I have read very carefully the report of every speech that was delivered on that day. Your Lordships may have noted that I have put down on the Marshalled List three Amendments dealing with the Schedules, and if the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, or your Lordships, are good enough to accept them, I appreciate it will then be necessary at the Report stage to move other Amendments consequential upon them. I wanted the opportunity of saying just a few words in reference to the principles involved so far as the early clauses are concerned, and if I speak to the first clause it will not be necessary for me to speak again until I have the opportunity of moving my Amendments.

During the Second Reading of the Bill the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, and my noble friend Lord Stonham made important statements as to the necessity for its introduction. Everything they Said was based on the fact that at the present time there are many anomalies in relation to Sunday trading, and they said that the purpose of the Bill was to abolish those anomalies. I use a very old Oxford English Dictionary, and that defines an "anomaly" as an "irregularity". In the course of his opening speech on Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, on several occasions quoted the Crathorne Report, which we have all read with interest and with which I am sure every Member of your Lordships' House is, in the main, in agreement. But one of the sentences which the noble Lord quoted and made much of was where the Report said that there was no public demand overall for an additional opening of shops on Sundays, except for food and launderettes. I am not concerned with launderettes, but I am concerned with the retail sale of some foods on Sundays, and I feel very strongly about it.

I admit at once that what I say is said on behalf of the National Federation of Meat Traders. I have had no active participation in the trade for more than twenty years, but I have had close associations with them and I suppose that I ought to declare an interest. I am an honorary vice-president of that body—and the operative word is "honorary". They have approached me to oppose this Bill, and I am in complete agreement with them so far as the distribution of meat from butchers' shops on Sundays is concerned. The sale of prepared meats and cooked meats may be a very different matter—I do not know. It may be that people want to buy cooked meats in order to picnic during their visit to the countryside and the sea, and it may be a great advantage to people to be able to buy that kind of food on Sundays, but I am suggesting to your Lordships that it is a very different matter when it is a question of uncooked meats sold from retail butchers' shops.

I submit to the Committee that if there is no public demand—I see no public demand, and the noble Lord himself, quoting the Crathorne Committee, indicated that there is no public demand—and if the particular trade which is mostly involved does not want it, then the proposal in the Bill is for the creation of an anomaly, an irregularity, in so far as we are imposing upon somebody—and that includes the general public as well as the trades involved—something which they do not want. The retail meat trade, I can almost say as a whole, regard this Bill, if not amended, as one of the severest blows ever dealt to the small family butcher. I will tell your Lordships why when we come to the Amendment: I just wanted to just make my point so far as the early clauses are concerned.

In the first two clauses power is given to local authorities to grant permission to any shop to sell any kind of food on Sundays if the sale of food is the principal trade of that shop or store. I suggest, therefore, that if 51 per cent. of the sales of a shop was of food then on Sundays they could sell ironmongery to the extent of the other 49 per cent. So this "creeping" would take place, and all kinds of shops could be open on Sundays. I am no great Sabbatarian, but I always have the feeling that I like Sunday to be something different. I am concerned that the door is being opened very wide at this stage, and that it might result in a very changed Sunday for the British people.

I shall not oppose the acceptance of this clause or of the next one, and I hope that I shall not be tempted to speak again until I move my Amendments to the Schedules. But when the time comes I hope that I may have the sympathy of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, in my Amendments; and, if he cannot extend that sympathy towards me, I hope that the Committee will support me.


I am put in somewhat of a difficulty because I have already made my Second Reading speech. I would rather deal with most of the points raised, which were largely Second Reading points, when I come to the noble Lord's Amendments, which concern meat. There is only one thing I would say at this moment. It is quite untrue to say that under this Bill a shop which sells food to the extent of 51 per cent. of its sales can be registered and open on Sunday. That is quite inaccurate. The wording of the Bill is such that the sale of food must be "the principal or only business" of the shop. That does not mean 51 per cent. This is a matter for the local authorities to decide in accordance with the terms of the Bill. I will argue the rest of the case when the noble Lord comes to his own Amendments.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Registration of food shops]:

LORD DERWENT moved, in subsection (4), to leave out "or cancel the registration of". The noble Lord said: If I may, I will speak to Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 together, because they both deal with the same point. They are in effect drafting Amendments. Clause 2 lays down that food shops that wish to open on Sundays shall be registered with the local authority, and subsection (4), with which these Amendments deal, intends to say that if a local authority refuses to register a shop because it does not come within the terms of the Bill, or if, because the type of trading of the shop is altered after registration has been allowed, the local authority withdraw the registration, then the shopkeeper may appeal to a court of summary jurisdiction. That is the intention of subsection (4).

Unfortunately, that is not what it says. What it says is: A person aggrieved by a refusal of a local authority to register"— that is correct— or cancel the registration of a shop … may appeal … That is not what is meant. A local authority will never refuse to cancel a registration if a shop asks for it, and therefore my second Amendment puts into the subsection the words which should have been there in the first place. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 2, leave out ("or cancel the registration of").—(Lord Derwent.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 2, at end insert ("or a cancellation by a local authority of the registration of a shop thereunder").—(Lord Derwent.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.

Clause 5:

Sunday employment in shops

5.—(1) Section 21(3)(b) of the Shops Act 1950 (which specifies the holidays to be given to shop assistants to whom that section applies, where a notice under that section is in force) shall he amended as follows— (b) in sub-paragraph (ii), for the words from "on Sunday" to the end there shall be substituted the words "(whether on Sunday or a week day) in addition to those mentioned in the foregoing sub-paragraph".

3.27 p.m.

THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER moved, in subsection (1), to leave out paragraph (b). The right reverend Prelate said: I am sorry to put any difficulties in the way of the work of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, on this Bill, because he and I fought I hope bravely together on a similar Bill, and we both had to accept defeat. We accepted defeat because the House thought that the Crathorne proposals were too narrow for modern times; but I feel that if Crathorne could be modified in that direction, it should not be impossible for it to be modified in the other direction. I am not making any complaint about all the rest of this Bill. As a matter of fact, I am not interested in subtle distinctions—all these lists of food that one can sell or cannot sell. I should myself now be quite prepared for all that to be settled simply by the laws of supply and demand, and I am not going to get excited about whether a particular item comes within or outside a particular category.

The Amendment I am moving touches quite a different question, and that is the protection of employees in shops from having to work on every Sunday of the year. It is well known that in the Shops Act 1950 various methods are used to protect employees in shops from having to work every Sunday of the year. In the case of refreshment shops there is one particular way of doing it. There, they must have 26 free Sundays in the year. In the case of other shops, it is so arranged that they must always have two Sundays free in every month. Crathorne thought that these restrictions were too narrow, and I am quite prepared to believe that there may be some cases where they are. I am moving my Amendment to-day as a kind of test of the feeling of your Lordships' Committee, and I shall be quite prepared to see some modifications at the Report stage, or even at Third Reading, if some particular concessions were needed which my Amendment as framed at present would rule out.

It is certain that if my Amendment is passed a further Amendment will be necessary at the Report stage, because at present the Amendment I am moving deals only with refreshment shops. I think that the other kind of employment is even more important, and so I should like to give preliminary warning that if my Amendment is passed I shall at a later stage move that the words at the top of page 3, in paragraph (b) of subsection (2), be also removed from the Bill; and there may be other Amendments necessary to tidy up the Bill.

The Amendment I am moving to-day raises quite plainly the point of principle. The Church Assembly gave full consideration to the Crathorne Report at an earlier stage and at one time had before it a resolution which accepted in general the Crathorne proposals but which drew attention to this particular difficulty about shop-workers. The report before the Church Assembly said that the Board—that is, the Board for Social Responsibility of the Church of England—were aware of the difficulties but felt that they were not sufficient to warrant the proposed change and that the present law should be maintained to ensure that all workers could have some Sundays to themselves if they so desired. Even that was not sufficient for the Church Assembly, who, under a certain amount of trade union pressure, brought in a stronger resolution asking that the legal protection and non-victimisation of those shop-workers who did riot wish to work every Sunday should be maintained, it being the view of the Assembly that so far as possible Sunday should remain the normal day of rest.

This is not only a religious question; it concerns matters of ordinary social and personal welfare. It is not at all the same thing for somebody to have to work on Sunday and to be given in place of it Thursday or Tuesday. These may not be the days when the friends of those workers or their families are also free; and from the social, family and personal point of view this is no substitute at all. But I do not want to disguise from the Committee that we, the Church, are concerned about this matter because we think that if young people, some of whom still wish to observe Sunday as a day in which religion and worship take a part, find themselves having to work perhaps for nearly all the Sundays in a year, it makes it extremely hard for them to maintain their religious principles and practices; whereas, if they are allowed, at any rate, a modest number of Sundays, if they have any wish to observe religious practices they can do so. I want to emphasise this. It is quite a different point from the Church trying to clamp down on the nation by saying, "Because we want to go to Church, you shall not play games or you cannot buy tobacco." It is saying that those citizens who up to now have been given certain rights and protection should not have them taken away without Parliament fully understanding exactly what it is doing. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 42, leave out paragraph (b).—(The Lord Bishop of Leicester.)


As I made clear on Second Reading the Government support the recommendations of the Crathorne Committee, and this Bill in large measure implements the recommendations of the Committee on Sunday Trading. The Government therefore support this Bill. With regard to the Amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate, who made it clear that he wants to prevent employees having to work every Sunday in the year—an objective which I am sure commends itself to the Committee—I would say that the idea of employees being compelled to work every Sunday against their will was most unlikely.

I should like to make it clear why the Government think that this subsection which the right reverend Prelate wishes to delete is essential to the Bill. One thing that the right reverend Prelate did not indicate with quite the clarity that he achieved at other points was that this Bill makes no difference whatsoever to the present position of the holiday entitlement, the whole-day entitlement, of employees who work in shops on Sundays. They must be given 32 whole days' holidays a year, and at present 26 Sundays so distributed that at least one out of every three consecutive Sundays must be a holiday. That is the present position; a total of 58 days. Similarly, under this Bill they will get 58 days at least, the minimum statutory allowance. The only difference is that in lieu of Sunday working the day off can be on a weekday or on another Sunday. This is the essence of the difference.

The right reverend Prelate indicated that if this Amendment were accepted he would have to move Amendments to subsection (2) which deals with Section 22 of the 1950 Act because there would be an obvious anomaly; for the Bill, as it now stands, provides for weekdays off in lieu of Sunday work. But the position as the Crathorne Committee saw it—and they discussed this point very thoroughly when they recommended the abolition of the present position—was that the change envisaged by this Bill would provide for the workers concerned (while still being entitled to the same total amount of time off as at present) to be given a day off either on weekdays or Sundays. The whole point of the Crathorne Committee recommendation was that the present limitation is unrealistic and unnecessarily inflexible, especially in holiday areas where they regard it as being in the interests not only of the public and of the employers but also of the employees to be able to take full advantage of the holiday season in a sensible way. It is therefore in line with the Crathorne recommendations that we should remove this present inflexibility and enable employees to work and to get their time off in lieu in a way which would suit both the business and themselves.


Without going into the details mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, I would say this to the right reverend Prelate. He is living in a world that does not exist; there is not the slightest chance of anyone being forced to work every Sunday. I would remind him also that much of the Sunday labour force works on Sundays only, and that much of it consists of married women on part-time work. Supposing that a shopkeeper wants to open his shop on seven days a week, the worker who does not wish to work on Sunday will not have to do so. It is a question of management. The employees must have days off in the week in lieu if they work on Sundays; if they do not wish to work on Sundays they will not.

There is this further matter. In holiday resorts the employees want to work on Sundays during the season, for this work is highly paid. In many cases the shops do not open for the rest of the year. In fact, in many parts of the country those workers who wish to take advantage of remunerative Sunday work evade the present restrictions against working every Sunday by finding employment with other shopkeepers on their statutory Sundays off. The present law is impossible to enforce, and that is one of the reasons why we are seeking to make this change.

I cannot accept this Amendment. I think that the Crathorne Committee were right. Not only is the present system unworkable and unenforceable; it is far too inflexible. No one is to be done out of time off for holidays, but what the Amendment says is that in the catering trade—and the right reverend Prelate explained that the Amendment deals only with the catering trade—they would have to have a different staff on certain Sundays. But very often these are people who want to work every Sunday, and they do not want to work at all during the week. If they did not want to work on a Sunday but wished to work during the week they would be employed during the week. I think that what was in the mind of the right reverend Prelate was that in these days to make anyone work seven days a week—I am glad to see that he shakes his head. No one is going to work seven days a week. If they volunteered to do so, then both under the existing law and under the provisions of this Bill it would not be allowed. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will not press this Amendment, because I do not think it deals with the present-day practice.


I am anxious that the Committee should not be too easily misled by the two noble Lords—I was going to say "Herod and Pilate", but I do not mean that—who have joined forces to resist this Amendment. I am fully aware that the Amendment would require refinement, and I am prepared to co-operate in due course in producing that refinement. I can well believe that in holiday areas, where there is a tremendous concentration of work during a certain period, the present law is too strict. But I am not in the least convinced by the arguments produced either by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, or by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, if I understood him right, suggested that because the holiday requirement remained, the Sundays off were, in some indirect way, preserved. I do not think the noble Lord really means that, but I think he would not mind if your Lordships thought that he did. We must watch that point. The noble Lord thought it extremely unlikely that everybody would work on every Sunday in the year. That, of course, was only a rhetorical phrase of mine: I do not suppose that they would work on all 52 Sundays; but if they had to work for 45 in a row it would come to very much the same thing.

The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, referred to cases where people worked only on Sundays. No doubt there are all kinds of anomalies of this sort, but the real point which the Committee has to decide is whether it is going to preserve any protection for any Sundays, as such, or for any workers in shops, and that is what I want the Committee to face.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 5 agreed to.

House resumed.