HL Deb 18 June 1973 vol 343 cc1015-8

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why they do not rectify the absurd anomalies inherent in all present Sunday trading legislation; and whether they are aware that the present laws are being increasingly flouted with impunity.


My Lords, the Government are conscious of the anomalies in the present law, and the problems of enforcement which it presents to local authorities; but amending legislation would be neither simple nor uncontroversial, and I cannot say when there will be an opportunity to undertake it.


My Lords, does my noble friend mean that Her Majesty's Government are perfectly happy to have on the Statute Book laws which are both incomprehensible and unenforceable?


No, my Lords. I know that they are extremely difficult, and that some of the anomalies are quite strange, to put it mildly. But the difficulty about this matter is first that there is, as I understand it, substantial opposition in some quarters, both from the unions and among some traders, against any Amendment; and secondly, there is the everlasting problem of Parliamentary time. There must be no Department in Government which would not like to amend the law in some respect, and, as my noble friend has shown, this matter is certainly a candidate. The trouble is that if we try to do it all we shall have a repetition of last summer.


My Lords, is my noble friend not aware that this House passed a perfectly simple Bill of mine not so long ago? Why is the matter so complicated?


My Lords, I think the House passed it twice, but that, unfortunately, did not result in it getting through another place. At the time when my noble friend introduced the Bill, the Government showed an attitude of benevolent neutrality and certainly we will do so again, but the problem is one of Parliamentary time.


My Lords, if the Government will not give time for any amending legislation, could the Minister say whether the Government would be prepared to look favourably on the introduction of a Private Bill with a view to ironing out some of these anomalies? We have the ridiculous position now, which I have no doubt is in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, where not far from my home in Melbourne fines are being imposed, but the traders continue in the market on Sundays and another imposition of fines takes place. This seems a completely topsy-turvy kind of thing. Would the Government be inclined to give favourable consideration to a Private Bill to hammer out some of these anomalies?


My Lords, the noble Lord probably means a Private Member's Bill. A Private Bill would probably be produced by an individual local authority, and it might not be so successful to try to amend the law bit by bit across the country. But as to Private Members' Bills, as I said just now, our attitude would still be one of benevolent neutrality to such a Bill as my noble friend Lord Derwent has already had twice passed through this House. As to the markets to which the noble Lord referred, we have had an approach from at least one local authority and we are looking very carefully at this matter at the moment.


My Lords, if the noble Viscount agrees that the present laws are being flouted with impunity, is that an acceptable situation? Would the noble Viscount not agree that if, at the very beginning of the next Session, your Lordships' House were, with Government blessing, to receive a Bill, perhaps in line with that of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, there is every reason to believe that the House of Commons could provide time for a Government Bill?


My Lords, it is not for me to say what might happen in another place, but certainly I would be prepared to pass on what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said, to my colleagues there. The attitude of this House is perfectly plain on the Amendments that my noble friend behind me has put forward and these Amendments, as we have said before, produce at any rate a sensible amendment to the existing law.


My Lords, am I not right in my recollection that the previous Bill proved to be very little controversial and passed through this House with the support of all Parties, and foundered in the other place only because of differences of opinion as to whether there should be Welsh local options?


My Lords, I am not sure ever what may go on behind the scenes in another place and what may be the reasons for one form of objection or another, but certainly so far as as this House is concerned I believe that the Bill went through with substantial support.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are a great many people who value Sunday as a day of rest and worship which they can spend with the families, and that any extension of Sunday trading will mean that some people will lose their Sundays?


Yes, my Lords, and that is one of the degrees of controversy that that Measure raises. It is not the only one, and that is why it is not such a simple subject as all that. That is certainly a point that has been made with considerable force on a number of occasions.


My Lords, in order to get rid of the quite anomalouos situation that exists at present, with its absurdities, is it not about time that we got down to the grass roots of the problem by the Government setting up some independent Commission, possibly a Royal Commission, to investigate the whole problem of Sunday trading; to get the general views of outside bodies; and try to make some reasoned and reasonable recommendations.


My Lords, a Committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Crathorne reported, somewhere in the region of ten years ago, on two subjects, Sunday observance and Sunday trading. The Report concerned mainly Sunday observance, although it took in Sunday trading. I doubt whether another Commission of this sort would be immensely productive because I believe that we now know what the problems are and we have already had a number of attempts to try to solve them in a sensible fashion. I think it best that we go ahead on our own advice and on the experience already obtained.

Back to