HL Deb 02 February 1971 vol 314 cc1141-53

3.52 p.m.


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

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Schedule 3 [Enactments repealed]:


When the House was last in Committee on this Bill the Committee divided on Amendment No. 51. As fewer than 30 Lords voted I declared the Question not decided, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52, and the House was resumed. The House is now again in Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52, and the first Question before the Committee is that Amendment No. 51 be agreed to.


I have some inhibitions about making a second speech on the same Amendment—to leave out line 40 on page 6—but I owe it to the Committee to say a few words with regard to it, in view of the circumstances which prevailed on Monday of last week at well after 7 o'clock in the evening. When a Division took place, 20 noble Lords voted in support of my Amendment while I think nine voted against, so that it failed to be carried by only one vote. Here we are again on the same Question, and I must say one or two words if only because of the fact that only 29 of your Lordships were able to stay that evening to listen to the arguments.

This Bill extends the provisions covering the opening of shops on Sundays, and throughout the proceedings on this Bill, and particularly during the Committee stage, some of us on this side have expressed doubts and objections to that extension. We have discussed the subject in general, but we are now dealing with the retail meat trade in particular, and my contention is that under the terms of the Bill meat shops should not be permitted to open on Sundays. There is a further Amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, and others, which has roughly the same intention as mine.

Sections 60 and 61 of the 1950 Act provide that butcher's meat shall not be sold on Sundays, and it is proposed in the Bill that those sections shall be repealed. Section 63 deals with delivery, so that it is in exactly the same category. The other sections which will be deleted by my Amendment are concerned with exemptions, and deal very largely with the sale of kosher meat and with the sale of meat to ships. Therefore, if my Amendment is carried it will be necessary—and this I realise to the full—for those matters to be put right on Report stage. I am taking the simplest possible line by moving that the whole of line 40 in Schedule 3 to the Bill be deleted.

The 1950 Act consolidated the Retail Meat Dealers' Shops (Sunday Closing) Act 1936, which meant that butchers' shops would not be open on Sundays. In 1936, and for years before, there had been great agitation by the meat trade that their shops should not open on Sundays. They succeeded in getting a Member of another place and a noble Lord in this House to take that Bill through, so that it became the law of the land. But, just as the meat trade objected in 1936 to shops being open on Sundays, they object strongly to their shops being open from now on. Of course in 1936 the situation was rather different from what it is now: there was then a greater emphasis on Sunday observance than there is to-day. But, as I said before, this is not a question of taking cans off shelves. Carcases have to be turned into chops and steaks, and the trade is very anxious that butchers' shops should not be open on Sundays.

The only other argument I want to use is in regard to inspection. In 1966 this House, along with the other place, carried an Amendment to the Regulations covering the inspection of meat. That was introduced in order that local authorities could restrict slaughtering in private slaughterhouses to five days a week, because it was impossible to find sufficient inspectors to ensure that regulations relating to hygiene and other matters were observed if slaughtering took place at weekends. If it was agreed that it is impossible to inspect meat in slaughterhouses on Sundays, then the same must be true in regard to the opening of shops on Sundays. If that argument applies to slaughterhouses, it surely applies also to shops.

The meat trade is surrounded by weights and measures regulations, and by hygiene regulations, and the best people in the trade are obviously very happy to accept those regulations for their own protection. But the Bill provides that the shops shall be open in spite of the fact that it is impossible to find inspectors to go into them, which is a very important aspect. In view of the fact that there is no public demand to purchase meat on Sundays; that the trade itself is completely opposed to its shops opening on Sundays; and that there are inspection difficulties, I feel that I can ask the Committee to support me in this Amendment.


When we debated this Bill in Committee on the last occasion, the argument I adduced against it—


If the noble Baroness will forgive me interrupting, I do not think the Amendment has been put yet, has it?


Perhaps I may point out to the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, that we are in fact engaged in debating whether Amendment No. 51 shall be agreed to.


I apologise. I was not quite clear.


As I was saying, when we debated this Bill in Committee on the last occasion and on Second Reading the argument I adduced against it was on humane and health grounds. I felt it had taken Parliament perhaps a century to recognise that the workers in shops should have protection; and now, in 1971, we are seeking to introduce a measure which would take that protection from them. The protection in this case was to ensure that workers in shops and elsewhere, wherever retail distribution was conducted, should be assured of only a six-day working week and should not be called upon to work on Sundays. We failed in so far as we managed only to get support for an Amendment limiting the number of hours which the worker worked on Sundays to those before 12 o'clock.

This Amendment deals with one particular category of workers, the butcher and his assistants. My noble friend is too modest; he was a butcher, and he was a great worker. He did not like to recall to the Committee, perhaps because he feels so virile, just what the working conditions of the butcher are. By pure coincidence, I was in my butcher's shop this morning, and I looked at the magnificent man who was chopping away at these things. He had a red face and blue hands, and was working in a temperature in which I, with a very thick coat on, shivered. I saw him and his assistants, when they had finished with one piece of meat, go into the huge refrigerator, where they dissected the carcase. All this calls for great physical energy and expertise to be exercised in a very low temperature, because (and here is the special case) it is deliberately kept low in order that the meat shall not deteriorate. So we cannot compare the conditions of a butcher with, for instance, the conditions of a draper.

Added to this, of course, there were eight women (I counted them) patiently waiting; eight women quite rightly indulging in a running commentary on butchers, on the price of meat and on the price of other household articles. I would add as a doctor, that the incidence of accidents in butchers' shops is quite high, and that is understandable. The butcher has to use very sharp instruments the whole time, and he is cold. But he is not doing this in a laboratory; he is not doing this in an operating theatre; he is doing this in a shop, where he is subject to all the chatter of the customers. This must inevitably increase the nervous strain of his job. Surely this man deserves Sunday morning in the warm, in comfort with his family. He should not be subjected to a measure which will compel him, because competition is so great, to work on a Sunday, as well as on the other six days of the week, in those conditions which I have described.

As my noble friend said, it has taken us years, inside Parliament and outside Parliament, to introduce the Shops Act to protect these workers; and yet here we are, in 1971, and particularly in this privileged House, introducing this retrograde measure. Apart from that, of course unless this Amendment is accepted we shall also be sanctioning the use of child labour on Sunday mornings. Noble Lords may say that a boy brings the papers. All right; we accept that. But this is a widespread sanction of child labour in every field where food and other commodities are distributed; because here, specifically, in the Shops Act it prohibits the delivery of meat on Sundays. If this Amendment is not passed, small boys (and girls, it may be) who not only have five days at school, where they are supposed to work well, and who are probably errand boys or girls on Saturdays, will be called out to deliver meat. Surely to-day we cannot accept this retrograde measure; and although this Amendment deals with only one aspect of the matter at least it will be seen that these people, because of the conditions of their work, should have special protection.

4.5 p.m.


I cannot speak with the specialised knowledge which the noble Lord, Lord Royle, has on this question, or with the great knowledge which the noble Baroness has on all the health aspects; but I should like to make one point. In many countries where I have lived and worked, and where the meat trade is not kept under such good regulation as it is in this country, the result is often rather disastrous to those who have to consume the meat, and I believe that this is responsible for a great deal of what is known as "Gippy" tummy, Balkan tummy, Warsaw tummy, Paris tummy and all the other tummies which are to be found around the place. Therefore, I should like to support the noble Lord in what he has said, and I think we should be careful before we diminish the control over this trade in this respect.


I am just recovering from the immense emotional impact of the speech of my noble friend Lady Summerskill. I felt that I was listening to Lord Shaftesbury defending chimney sweeps.


That is a great compliment.


It is indeed meant to be. But I wonder whether it is exactly applicable to this situation. Lord Derwent's Bill suggests that people should not be prevented from doing certain things on Sunday. My noble friend Lord Royle says that if the shops were to open, nobody would buy the meat; that the customer does not want it. If that is so, they will not do it. I simply cannot understand what all the fuss is about. It seems to me a "work-up" on really a false premise. In principle, it is desirable that people who want to buy things should be given the maximum opportunity to do so, and that people who want to sell things should be controlled from exploiting other people. Our law already does this. The shop worker is protected from exploitation. Nobody has to accept a job where they have to work on Sundays. The family butcher, the family salesman of anything, is not obliged to enter into this competition. If it is true, as my noble friend Lord Royle says, that nobody is going to buy the meat anyway, then my noble friend Lady Summer-skill's little boys will not be exploited. I believe that we want to look at this with a rather more reasonable attitude, as a measure which allows freedom without enforcing abuse.


I shall support this Amendment, and the only reason I rise to speak at this moment is to correct an impression which I think the noble Lord, Lord Royle, may have made inadvertently when he referred to noble Lords "on this side of the Committee", meaning, presumably, the Opposition side. This is not a Party matter at all, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, made clear to us on Second Reading when he said: Thus, while welcoming Lord Derwent's initiative in introducing this Bill, the position of the Government at this stage must be one of neutrality".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10/12/70, col. 1133.] I hope that noble Lords who agree with me that in many respects this is a bad Bill—that it is not something we should vote for just for the sake of getting rid of a certain amount of nonsense in the present state of affairs—will not hesitate to go into the Division Lobby in favour of this Amendment.


In line with the Government's declared policy, to which the noble Lord, Lord Platt, referred, I intervene, not to discuss the merits of the noble Lord's Amendment, but merely to help fill in some of the background to enable your Lordships to reach a decision. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, underlined what the noble Lord, Lord Platt, had to say; that is, that this is not a matter in which Party interests predominate at all. There is a very difficult clash here, I suppose one of the oldest in politics, between the interests of a particular group of people—with a special and legitimate interest which was effectively explained by the noble Lord, Lord Royle—and the interests of the consumer, of the public as a whole, on whose behalf Lord Donaldson, with his former connection with the Consumer Council, was speaking.

The provisions of the Shops Act, Sections 60 to 65, which are the subject of Lord Royle's Amendment, are those that concern retail meat dealers' shops in England and Wales. The effect of the present legislation, the 1950 legislation, is to prohibit the sale and delivery of butcher's meat on Sundays. There are some exemptions concerning Jewish butchers and meat required for ships or aircraft, but these are incidental to the main prohibition.

Noble Lords will recall that earlier in the Committee stage last week, we had an interesting debate on an Amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, in which he sought to preserve the special position of the fish fryers under the Act. Although this is a "meatier" subject, Lord Royle's Amendment is similar to that moved on behalf of the fish fryers by Lord Ingleby. It is aimed at preserving the special position of one class of shops in relation to the proposed provisions of the general law which otherwise would permit the sale of that particular commodity.

As in the case of the fish fryers, what has to be proved to the satisfaction of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, and his supporters, is whether a special case can be made out for treating butchers separately. The noble Lord, Lord Royle, has given some reasons why, in his view, there should be special provision for butchers. He is right in reminding the Committee that butchers have been treated differently ever since the Act of 1936, the Retail Meat Dealers' Shops (Sunday Closing) Act, which first created a special exemption from the Sunday trading law for retail butchers' shops.

The butchery trade is a specialist one requiring trained staff and, as a result, the payment of higher wages than for most other shop assistants is likely to be incurred by Sunday trading. Moreover, under the Bill as it is at present drafted, some butchers might feel themselves obliged to open to meet competition from shops selling meat purely as a side line. Again, as in the case of the fish fryers, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, said, we have to keep in mind that there is no obligation to open. No one is requiring butchers' shops to open; they would merely have the freedom to do so if they felt that there was a sufficient demand for their goods.

The question that remains to be answered, therefore, is whether shops legislation should be used as a medium for protecting particular trading interests. It could be argued that there is no logical reason for treating butchers' shops as basically different from other categories of specialist shops. It may have been arguments on these lines which led the Committee to reject Lord Ingleby's Amendment in respect of fish and chip shops.

Perhaps I may say a word about the question of inspection which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Royle, when moving his Amendment. The noble Lord felt that if butchers' shops opened on Sundays they would be vulnerable to difficulties as regards hygiene unless they were inspected. The fact that weights and measures inspectors, or shops inspectors, would not normally be available on Sundays is not, I am advised, likely to be a decisive consideration. At the moment, butchers would not expect local authority inspectors to visit their premises every day and the fact that inspectors would not be available on Sundays does not seem, on the face of it, to introduce any particularly novel problem. Butchers' shops would not be in a unique position if they were open on seven days each week and the process of inspection could take place only on five days. An instance would be that of restaurants, which are open all the time, though inspectors call in only during the days when they are on duty. In the last analysis, I do not think that the Committee will feel that it is on an argument of this sort that a decision will turn. It really turns on the deeper question, whether the shops legislation should be used to safeguard the position of individual classes of traders; and second, if it should, whether or not a sufficiently strong case has been made in respect of butchers in this Amendment.

4.18 p.m.


I apologise, as did the noble Lord, Lord Royle, for inflicting a second speech on your Lordships; but I agree with him in thinking that it is necessary. May I say this regarding Amendment No. 52? I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Royle, agrees with me. If the Committee agrees with him on Amendment No. 51, then Amendment No. 52 will fall. If the Committee agrees with me, I take it that Amendment No. 52 will not be moved. In any case, it is faulty in drafting, but I will not discuss that point now.

Let us see what we are really talking about. The noble Lord, Lord Royle, says that people in the meat trade, the butchers—I mean a man who is mainly a butcher—does not want to open on a Sunday. I entirely agree. The butcher will not open on a Sunday because it will not pay him. People do not go to their butcher to buy a joint on a Sunday. Competition from someone else who opens on a Sunday will not stop people going to their butcher. It is not like shopping round in various grocers' stores. One goes to a particular butcher because one likes his meat better than that of another butcher; or because the price is right or because you like his face.

Another reason for not opening on a Sunday is that butchers will not get their skilled cutters to work on Sunday. The cutters are paid a very high wage, and they would have to be paid double or treble wages to work on Sunday, and if a butcher did open on a Sunday, I am convinced that he would not sell enough meat to make it worth while. The noble Lord, Lord Royle, did not say to-day (although he said it the other day and it is a point that he might have made again, but perhaps I persuaded him on the last occasion) that this will induce the big stores to open their meat departments. Apart from meat, the big stores can, in effect, sell any food they like on a Sunday now. There are one or two items that they may not sell; but even those items may be sold if they are sold as part of a meal to be taken away. So it remains a matter of butcher's meat. The big stores will not open on Sundays, for reasons which I think Lord Sainsbury hinted at last week: that they would have to pay their staff so much, that in any case it would be difficult to get the staff to work on Sundays, and that it would not pay them to open. If the big store which sells all kinds of food does not think it worth while to open now, it will certainly not think it worth while to open in the future simply because it will be enabled to sell a piece of meat on a Sunday.

So I do not think that there is the slightest danger of butchers' shops, as such, opening on Sunday. But when this legislation about butchers was first passed in 1936 (and virtually consolidated in the Shops Act 1950) things were very different. In those days grocers were grocers; greengrocers were greengrocers: fishmongers were fishmongers, and butchers were butchers. But now butchers sell food other than meat. Quite a number of grocers sell meat; butchers sell tinned fruit, and sometimes eggs; and fishmongers do not sell only fish. Nowadays, butchers, with the exception of the small family butcher, sell all kinds of things.

All these shops are entitled now to open on a Sunday; but very few of them do because there is a limited demand for shopping on Sunday. In every area there are nearly always one or two food shops open. The hours chosen by the shopkeepers to open vary according to the number of customers they expect. Others do not open because there is not enough business. Very often, nowadays, grocers will keep in the refrigerator the odd cutlet or chop, as well as fruit and vegetables. What this Bill is trying to do is to end the present nonsense that a customer who goes into a shop is never quite certain what he may buy on a Sunday and in many cases the shopkeeper is never quite certain what he may sell. All this Bill tries to ensure is that when a shop opens to sell food on Sunday—there are not many of them; and this Bill will not increase their numbers—it can sell any food.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, that this is a consumer matter. Nobody is going to do an enormous amount of business, but there will be the odd customer who will want something. Why should it not be sold to him simply because the meat trade, as such, does not want Sunday trading? What we have heard from Lord Royle, who feels very deeply on this subject, and from the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, is tending to take us back almost to the days of our grandfathers. I cannot accept this Amendment.


Did I understand the noble Lord to say that there was faulty drafting in one or the other of these Amendments? If so, could he indicate where it is?


If one takes out Sections 61 to 65 there will have to be inserted another—I think the one dealing with kosher butchers. The Bill will have to be re-drafted; and we could deal with this question perhaps on the Report stage. I do not think it is necessary for the Committee to exercise their minds on this matter now.


I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, on this point. I said earlier that this was a question of a simple Amendment which I knew could be put right with regard to the exemptions like kosher meat and aeroplanes and ships. The first thing I want to say is that when this debate is over I think that I shall go to the headquarters of the National Federation of Meat Traders and suggest that my noble friend Lady Summerskill be made an honorary member. I have never had such strong support in anything I have done. With regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said, I did not say that no one would buy on a Sunday. I believe that some stores will open on Sundays; that perhaps the meat department of a

big store may open. If that happens, then the small butcher round the corner will feel compelled, for the sake of his business, to enter into competition with the store. This is what is going to happen once the door is opened, and before long we shall see almost the wholesale sale of meat on Sundays.

To the noble Lord, Lord Platt, I may say that I am sorry that I slipped up with regard to neutrality, because I appreciate very much the support he gave my Amendment on a previous occasion. I do not want to say much more. But if an individual wishes to buy food on a Sunday—say, for an unexpected guest—as Lord Derwent has already mentioned, there are many items which may now be sold on Sunday, so that the would-be buyer can go to the grocer who is open on a Sunday and find there something for a Sunday lunch. Not only that, but people who live in areas like Hampstead have only to walk a few yards to buy anything they like from a kosher shop on a Sunday. I am not a bit impressed by the arguments used by Lord Derwent, and I must divide the Committee.


The noble Lord said that if somebody sells meat on a Sunday in one shop, then the shop down the road will be forced to open. I do not believe that this necessarily follows. It is quite common for a particular grocer to open his shop on a Sunday, but this does not force his competitors to open—because often they do not think it worth while. Why should butchers be so different in their nature from grocers? They open or do not open according to whether or not it pays: and it is not going to pay a butcher to open his shop on a Sunday.

4.30 p.m.

On Question: Whether the said Amendment (No. 51) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 43; Not-contents, 74.

Amulree, L. Crook, L. Henderson, L.
Ardwick, L. Davies of Leek, L. Henley, L.
Arwyn, L. Diamond, L. Hoy, L.
Brockway, L. Douglass of Cleveland, L. Jacques, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Garnsworthy, L. Kilbracken, L.
Champion, L. Hamnett, L. Leatherland, L.
Chorley, L. Hankey, L. Lindgren, L.
Collison, L. Hanworth, V. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Maelor, L. Popplewell, L. Taylor of Mansfield L.
Merthyr, L. Royle, L. [Teller.] Wells-Pestell, L.
Moyle, L. St. Davids, V. White, Bs.
Nunburnholme, L. St. Just, L. Williamson, L.
Ogmore, L. Shepherd, L. Wright of Ashton-under-Lyne, L.
Platt, L. Slater, L.
Poltimore, L. Summerskill, Bs. [Teller.]
Albemarle, E. Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Meston, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Falkland, V. Milverton, L.
Allerton, L. George-Brown, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Ampthill, L. Gray, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Ashbourne, L. Greenway, L. O'Neill of the Maine, L.
Avebury, L. Grenfell, L. [Teller.] Phillips, Bs.
Aylestone, L. Gridley, L. Rankeillour, L.
Bacon, Bs. Grimston of Westbury, L. Rhyl, L.
Berkeley, Bs. Hacking, L. Robbins, L.
Bessborough, E. Hatherton, L. Roberthall, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Hawke, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Buckton, L. Hood, V. St. Oswald, L.
Caccia, L. Howard of Glossop, L. Sempill, Ly.
Clwyd, L. Hylton-Foster, Bs. Serota, Bs.
Colville of Culross, V. Ilford, L. Shannon, E.
Craigmyle, L. Jessel, L. Sherfield, L.
Cromartie, E. Lauderdale, E. Stonham, L.
Daventry, V. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. Strange of Knokin, Bs.
Davidson, V. Loudoun, C. Suffield, L.
Derwent, L. [Teller.] Lucas of Chilworth, L. Teynham, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. McCorquodale of Newton, L. Vivian, L.
Douglas of Barloch, L. Macpherson of Drumochter, L. Willis, L.
Dundonald, E. Mansfield, E. Wise, L.
Effingham, E. Merrivale, L. Wootton of Abinger, Bs.
Ellenborough, L. Mersey, V.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


Amendment No. 52 is consequential on Amendment No. 28 which has been accepted by the Committee. I beg to move. Page 6, line 40, leave out ("to 65") and insert ("and 61").—(Lord Jacques.)


This Amendment is not quite right. I accept it now, but it will need to be slightly amended on Report.


This is a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved. Page 6, leave out lines 42 to 44.—(Lord Derwent.)

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with Amendments.