HL Deb 25 April 1968 vol 291 cc754-63

3.54 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Transactions for which shops may be open on Sunday]:

LORD ROYLE moved, in paragraph 1, after "cream" to insert "except butcher's meat". The noble Lord said: I beg to move the first Amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Soper and myself. May I say straightaway that my noble friend has expressed regret that he cannot be present this afternoon but that he is happy to add his name to my Amendments. It may be convenient, from the point of view of saving the time of the Committee, if I speak to all three of my Amendments, because they are on the same topic. I hope that they are drafted properly but if they are not, I hope I shall be able to fall back on my noble friend Lord Stonham, as did the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, to assist in the drafting.

If the first Amendment were accepted, paragraph 1 of the Schedule would read: 1. The sale of food (including sweets, chocolate and other sugar confectionery, and ice cream) except butcher's meat … and so on. The second Amendment is precisely the same, but applies to paragraph 3. The last Amendment, which is to the Repeal Schedule, provides that the repeal of references to the sale of meat should not be taken out of the law as it stands.

I do not hesitate to say that I am speaking for the meat trade. It may be that other trades are equally, or even more, associated with this problem; but let those trades have their cases heard for themselves in your Lordships' House and in another place. When replying on the Amendment to Clause 5, referring to employees, in reply to the right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said there would be no question of people being occupied almost every Sunday, and he rather suggested that it would be part-time people who would be working on Sunday. So far as the meat trade is concerned, this is completely ridiculous. The employees are skilled people. People cannot be brought from anywhere just for the purpose of working on Sunday, and the noble Lord's argument does not apply to the meat trade.

I know that U.S.D.A.W. are preparing a massive case when the Bill reaches another place. The people employed in the distribution trades will put up a great fight in another place to see that some alteration is made in the Bill. The purpose of these Amendments is to take the retail meat trade out of the provisions of the Bill.

There is an interesting history attached to this matter. The peculiar thing is that the men in the meat trade, who have the name of being rather rough characters, have agitated for as long as I can remember for the provision that their shops should not be open on Sundays. They regarded it as a menace and an evil when certain shops were opened on Sundays. I remember my father, who was engaged in the trade for the whole of his life and who was a great Sabbatarian, fighting hard in the days before the First World War against the opening of butchers' shops on Sundays.

I can remember hardly a conference of the National Federation of Meat Traders up to 1936 at which there was not a resolution on the Order Paper asking that legislation might be introduced. So it was that in 1936 they succeeded in getting the sympathy of a private Member in the other place, and he introduced a Bill to close butchers' shops on Sunday. And both Houses in 1936 adopted that Bill. A Bill dealing with Sunday trading was introduced in 1950, and your Lordships and Members of another place did not object to the inclusion in that Bill of the 1936 Act, which was accordingly brought in as part and parcel of the 1950 Act. And to this moment it is the law that butchers' shops shall not be open on Sunday.

What I am asking your Lordships is why we should support legislation which forces upon butchers something which they themselves do not want. Nor, as I said previously, is there any evidence that the public as a whole want it. The butchers may be compelled to open for one reason. It may be reasonable for large multiple stores, who can switch their staff about and give time off during other parts of the week in order to bring men and women in to work on Sundays. If local authorities had this power to grant certificates to open on Sundays some of the large stores, to whom the sale of meat is not the whole of their business, might take advantage of it and apply for a certificate to open. If they did, it would be a tremendous blow to the small retail butcher.

By far the greater proportion of all meat sold in this country is sold over the counters of the smaller retail butchers' shops. In the main, these are businesses, run by the butcher, with the help of his wife, maybe in many cases in the cash desk—although I know of many butchers' wives who actually cut up the meat—and the help of one or two, or at most three, assistants. They have always felt that Sunday should be a complete day of rest for them, without the anxiety of the large stores forcing them to open because of the competition which may ensue. If they were not selling their meat on Fridays and Saturdays, and shops were open on Sundays, in order to keep up their turnover they would be compelled to follow the example of the big stores which might open.

We are living in the days of fewer working hours. We find that in industry the regular time worked is five days a week and 48 hours a week. By the terms of this Bill we are asking a certain section of the community to work much longer hours than that. There is some shortage of skilled men in this trade. This is not a trade in which the men lift tins from a shelf and push them across a counter. These people have to turn a carcase of beef into small joints and steaks, and carcases of lamb and mutton into chops and other small joints. It is a skilled trade. It is not a matter of just opening a butcher's shop on Sunday and of handing goods out over the counter: there has to be a good deal of preparation. If Parliament thought it unnecessary to open butchers' shops in 1936, how much more unnecessary is it that they should be open to-day! So far as keeping facilities are concerned, there is hardly a modern council house in this country to-day which has not a refrigerator. It is quite easy for housewives to make their purchase of the Sunday meat course on Friday or Saturday and to keep it quite safely until Sunday. People are paid their wages on Thursday night in these days; they do not have to wait until late on Saturday, as used to be the case, to get their wages. They go out shopping on Friday and Saturday, having drawn their wages on Thursday.

I say that there is not the slightest demand from the general public that there should be a change in this respect; and I emphasise the fact that the trade is opposed to this change in the legislation, and want to continue to have the privilege of being certain that they can close their shops on Sunday. In view of this, I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, to accept these three Amendments, and later on if he is so kind, as I have said, I will table an Amendment on the Report stage, which would be a consequential Amendment to bring the whole Bill into line with what I am suggesting. If the noble Lord does not agree with me in regard to this, then I must ask for the support of your Lordships on this Amendment, on which I feel very strongly. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 5, after ("cream") insert ("except butcher's meat").—(Lord Royle.)


I hope that the Committee will not accept this Amendment which has been moved by my noble friend, in spite of the very persuasive and moderate way in which he has put it forward. I realise that this is a difficult subject. It was dealt with fully by the Crathorne Committee in paragraph 159 of their Report. I should like to read a short relevant passage from the Report, because I think the arguments are put there with great cogency. The Report says: We appreciate that an exemption for food shops would permit the opening of butchers' shops on Sunday, and that the National Federation of Meat Traders' Associations did not consider that 'there was any demand for this or that it was desirable. Frozen uncooked meat is, however, now commonly sold in grocers' shops as well as in butchers' shops, and for the reasons given below we think it would be unrealistic to prohibit the sale of some articles and not others in grocers' shops. Furthermore, we see no logical justification for treating butcher's meat differently in law from other foods sold for off-consumption. If butchers chose to close voluntarily, they could, of course, do so, but it should not be made a matter of law. With those sentiments I fully agree. I think this Amendment would give rise to the kind of anomalies to which this Bill attempts to put an end, whereby one type of food may be sold in a shop but not another. As the Crathorne Committee said, a great deal of food is sold now in grocers' shops and supermarkets, where meat is packaged and sold frozen and stored in refrigerators. It would be an anomalous situation if people could not buy this meat while they could bay perhaps fish or packaged prepared cooked meat. Therefore I should much prefer Schedule 1 to be left in its present form, whereby the generic term "food" is used, and that there should be no exceptions.

My noble friend mentioned housewives. Housewives, of course, represent a large proportion of the buying public. On the other hand, they are not the whole of the buying public. There are a great many young people who work and are kept very busy during the week, and the only time they have to do their household shopping is over the weekend. At present, a great many supermarkets are open, particularly in residential areas of the bigger cities for this type of customer. I think it would be most invidious, very difficult and, indeed, unfair that these customers, who are occupied all the week, should be able to buy everything in the shop except a piece of steak wrapped in cellophane and kept in a refrigerator, which would be the effect of my noble friend's Amendment. Therefore I venture to suggest that the Amendment should be rejected.

4.10 p.m.


My noble friend's great experience of the meat trade and the knowledge with which he spoke, and of course the fact that he made clear that he was representing the views of the Meat Traders' Federation, added great weight and importance to everything he said. He said that there was no public demand for the opening of butchers' shops on Sunday. I think he is right; indeed, I feel quite sure he is right. He convinced me that butchers themselves have only two aims, which are to sell as much meat as possible, and to sell none of it on Sunday. If, as it appears, and as I think is the case, there is no demand, or there is not much demand by the public for opening butchers' shops on Sunday—as he rightly said, people buy their Sunday joint on Friday and Saturday now, and there is no need to buy it on Sunday—I cannot for the life of me see how this Bill is going to make butchers' shops open on Sunday at all. My noble friend said that the great chain stores will open and that that will force the little man to open; but he also said that the great bulk of meat is sold off the counter by the little man. If they are determined not to open, then of course they will not open.

I want only to make these one or two points clear. I must say again that this Bill does not propose any significant relaxation of existing restrictions on Sunday trading. Its main aim, in the view of the Government, is to clarify the present law on Sunday trading and to remove the absurd anomalies and stupidities of the present Sunday trading regulations, while at the same time seeking to preserve the special character of Sunday. Your Lordships may recall that on Second Reading I gave instances of some of the absurd and ridiculous food anomalies that exist now. For example, it is lawful to buy fish and chips on Sunday so long as you do not buy them from a fish and chip shop; it is lawful to buy tripe on Sunday if it is wholly or partly cooked but not if it is raw. One could go on giving examples of this kind.

What my noble friend's Amendment seeks is that it should be lawful to buy meat on Sunday provided you do not buy it from a butcher's shop. It merely adds another anomaly. My noble friend proposes that among all purveyors of food, butchers alone should by law be prevented from opening on Sundays. Well, he might be clear that that is what he wants, but what we have to decide on this Bill and this Amendment is what is right. The right reverend Prelate was kind enough, when I ventured to disagree with him earlier, to compare the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, and myself with Herod and Pilate. I do not know which is which. I do not mind. They were both bloody individuals who were responsible for almost the worst crimes in history. I do not know whether the noble Lord thinks that in disagreeing with him on this Amendment I am guilty of that kind of crime, but even if he thinks so I shall go on doing what I regard as my duty and pointing out what is in my view, and in this case certainly the Government's view, right or wrong about a particular Amendment.

The Amendment of my noble friend would have two effects. The first is that a butcher would not be able to sell his meat on Sunday but could sell any other food he stocked. Butchers sell many things to-day which are not butchers' meat. He could be open to sell not butchers' meat but frozen peas and vegetables, and anything else in the food line that he stocked. Secondly, a food shop would be able to sell all its food and, on registration under Clause 2, all its other stock except for its butchers' meat. What "butchers' meat" means in the context of a shop other than a butcher's shop I really do not know. My noble friend consulted the dictionary about the word "anomaly", but not for the definition of "butchers' meat". I ask: does it mean that a delicatessen should not sell cold beef, which is a butchers' meat, or tongue or ham or any of the other forms of meat sold in food shops which are not butchers' shops?

The crux of the matter is that, because of the difficulties that have arisen from the fragmentation in the existing law of what foodstuffs can be legally sold on Sunday, this Bill proposes to permit the sale of all food and drink on Sunday, and the Crathorne Committee considered that there was no logical justification for treating butchers' meat differently in law from other food sold for off-consumption. If butchers choose to close voluntarily, they may do so, as they do now. But the Government do not think that it should be made a matter of law. To accept the Amendment would give rise to the sort of anomaly which the Bill seeks to remove, and would be contrary to the spirit and the letter of the Crathorne Committee Report.


I am afraid I shall not be able to accept these Amendments. In these modern times there is really no reason why butchers should be treated differently from grocers. The noble Lord, Lord Royle, talked about the 1936 Act when they were left out of it. I would ask noble Lords to cast their minds back. In 1936 and earlier one went to a fishmonger to buy fish or poultry, and one went to a grocer to buy groceries, and went to a butcher's to buy only meat. What happens nowadays? My fishmonger in London sells fish, but he also sells poultry, vegetables, eggs, ham and so on, as do many other fishmongers. Grocers sell groceries, but many also sell fresh vegetables. They sell meat out of the "fridge", uncooked meat in cellophane, the odd cutlet and so on. A great many of them sell those goods now. The butchers sell poultry, eggs, herbs, parsley. If the Amendment were carried, a butcher's could open on Sunday and sell all other food but meat.

The object of this Bill is to do away with anomalies, and a very great anomaly has in practice been found to be this. Where a shop is entitled to sell food on a Sunday, it can sell certain foods but not others. There is considerable cheating. Sometimes shopkeepers make a mistake about the law; sometimes it is broken deliberately. The public get annoyed, and it is all a lot of nonsense. That is the general view, in rather tougher terms, which the Crathorne Committee had. I really do not see why butchers' shops should be exempt from this Bill. I quite agree with the noble Lord that they will not want to open on Sundays if they sell meat only. They will not get their professional butchers to work seven days a week, and so they will not be able to open.

I think the great point about butchers' shops is this. In many countries in Europe all shops are allowed to open on a Sunday. Butchers' shops do not. The public do not want to go and buy their joint on a Sunday; they want to have it in the house before the weekend. That position has not altered abroad, and there is no reason why it should alter here. What the meat traders are really objecting to is that competition has become much fiercer, that there are many shops (not only multiple stores but other shops) which sell meat of the kind I have suggested—the odd steak, the odd cutlet, from the refrigerator—and it is doing the butchers some harm. They sell first-class meat. I know the butchers feel that they sell good meat while other people sell bad meat, but that is not true. In my own part of Yorkshire it used to be difficult to find a butcher who would sell me first-class meat. I have a good one now. But just because meat is hung up and a piece is cut off, it does not necessarily mean that it is first-class, whereas just because a cutlet is in cellophane and comes out of a refrigerated display case it does not mean that it is not a first-class cutlet.

Whatever was the case in 1936, in this day and age when food shops sell every kind of thing there is no case, in my view, for leaving any part of the food industry out of this Bill. To do so would lead to the same sort of anomalies that we are now getting, and undoubtedly to the same amount of cheating that is done by some few traders. I am equally certain that butchers' shops which sell only butcher's meat will not open on Sundays and the public will not buy from them. I must resist these Amendments.


I have inhibitions about occupying the time of your Lordships, either in the House or in Committee, and in particular when it is a question of great interest, as it is in this case. However, I wish to say a few words in reply to some of the comments which have been made. In the first place, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, there is a big difference between anything which is tinned or packed in the way of meat and the preparation and care and service of raw meat. They are two different things. And when he refers to the sale of fish in shops on Sundays may I say that I have not been approached by fishmongers, but I am putting the point of view of a trade which is leading in this agitation that it shall not be compelled, because of the force of competition, to open its shops on Sundays.

My noble friend Lord Stonham made the speech that I expected him to make. It sounded extremely sympathetic, and then he finished up with a complete condemnation of my Amendments. I would say to him that the big trouble is that of competition from the large stores, and the anomalies which he quoted of other commodities are not in any way an analogy to the question of butcher's meat. "Butcher's meat" has been defined in various Acts. It is not just the kind of commodities which are sold in delicatessen shops. It is defined as raw meat—as products from cattle, sheep, pigs and so on—and the commodity which should not be sold on a Sunday could easily be defined. I am sorry, but I feel so strongly about the matter that I must ask your Lordships to express an opinion. I usually know when I am defending a lost cause, and I hope I am not defending one this afternoon, but from your Lordships' voices I shall have my decision.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Remaining Schedules agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported, with Amendments.