§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. This Bill was originally to have been introduced into this House by my noble friend Lady Phillips, but, unfortunately—or luckily for those of us in London—she now holds high office as Lord Lieutenant of Greater London, and therefore it was inappropriate for her to introduce the Bill on this occasion, as she did when this matter was last discussed in your Lordships' House some three years ago. Before that, your Lordships may recall that a Bill of a similar character was introduced on two occasions by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent.
These Bills have all derived essentially from the report of the Craythorne Committee in 1964, which was appointed in 1961 by the then Home Secretary, Henry Brooke, to review the law relating to Sunday entertainments, sports, pastimes and trading. Since 1957, when the then Government introduced a Bill amending the 1950 Act in relation to closing hours and found it more controversial than they expected, successive Governments have treated Amendments to the Shops Acts as best left to Private Members' legislation, because of its controversial nature, and the history of subsequent attempts at legislation suggests that the subject has become no less controversial over the years.
Since a Bill to amend the 1950 Act was last under discussion in your Lordships' House various discussions have taken place between different organisations involved, trying to find a mutually acceptable formula for a Bill. Unfortunately, it has been found impossible to reconcile all the various viewpoints. However, I think it fair to say that the current Bill has more organisational support than ever before. That organisational support includes the National tourist authorities, and as chairman of the London Tourist Board I support the view that this Bill would be of benefit to tourism. This additional support has come about not only because of amendments to take account of various viewpoints but also because of changes in trading patterns that have taken place unrelated to the law. For example, the National Federation of Fish Friers for 559 many years resisted attempts to change Sunday trading law because friers contended that the restriction on Sunday sales of fish and chips helped them to retain Sunday as their day of rest. However, with the spread of Sunday sales by other traders this has eventually led to Federation policy being reversed so that they are now committed to trying to get for fried fish and chip shops the same freedom to sell fish and chips as is accorded to other traders.
This is not a wildly radical Bill which will bring about vast changes in people's life styles. It is a Bill which is aimed at placing on the Statute Book an Act which is easily understandable and enforceable, one which will remove various anomalies in the present Act and legalise various abuses of the 1950 Act which public opinion appears to have accepted should be allowed. The Bill has been drawn up by the Institute of Shops, Health and Safety Acts Administration, after widespread consultation. The Institute feels a duty to provide an Act which is understood by shopper and shopkeeper alike, is capable of enforcement and, while reflecting the times in which we live, preserves the basic purpose of the 1950 Act. The Institute itself neither advocates nor opposes Sunday trading. One of its main objects is to provide for uniform and proper administration of the Acts as they exist. The Institute has to be impartial but is particularly sensitive to and disturbed at the current abuse and exploitation of the provisions of the Act, particularly those related to Sunday trading, and what is more, is embarrassed by having among its membership those whose employing authorities have either stated publicly or covertly that they will not enforce the Act.
Why is there this confusion about the 1950 Act? The 1950 Shops Act allows the sales of meals and refreshments on Sunday, and this has been interpreted by the courts to mean that a person can buy the ingredients for a whole meal on Sunday. As early as 1939, in the case of London County Council v. Lees it was laid down that the Act did not prohibit the sale of bread, flour, confectionery, such as jam tarts and cream buns, veal and ham pies, as being within the expression "meals and refreshments" to be eaten on that day. A loaf of bread was held 560 to be a refreshment. Later, in 1956, Lord Goddard, then Lord Chief Justice, held that a raw kipper could constitute a meal or a refreshment, but packets of tea or matzo flour could not be used for refreshment until they had been treated in some way, and therefore could not be sold as single items.
In 1959 Lord Chief Justice Parker held that a pound packet of sugar could not be sold on a Sunday as a single item, but it could be purchased along with other articles of food when it was part of a "meal or refreshment". Such inconsistencies in the law make it very difficult for shoppers and shopkeepers to understand the law exactly. The particular anomaly to which I referred earlier—how one can legally buy fried fish and chips from any take-away food shop which is not a fried fish and chip shop?—highlights the situation. We also have the situation where a butcher can be open on Sunday to sell poultry, sausages, eggs, pies and game, but he may not sell beef, pork, veal or lamb. However, if one lives in Central London, one will not have much difficulty in buying packaged butcher meat from a delicatessen which is open on a Sunday. That, technically, would be an illegal purchase.
Another anomaly which arises under the Act is, of course, the special privilege granted to those of Jewish faith under Section 53 which also applies to the Seventh Day Adventists, which allows shops which are closed on a Saturday to open on a Sunday. However, despite that situation the shoppers and the shopkeepers do not have much to fear if they make or buy illegal purchases, because local authorities appear in some cases to have given up trying to enforce the Act. For example, on 10th July last year Mr. Stillwell, the town clerk and chief executive of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea wrote to a Mr. David Sandler in the following terms:Local authorities throughout the country have for some time been expressing their concern over the Shops Act 1950, which require action to be taken against shopkeepers who, although nowadays meeting a wide and increasing public demand in circumstances of changing social behaviour, nevertheless are operating outside the permitted hours. This is a dilemma which local authorities have not yet resolved, and the problem has therefore been brought to the attention of their representative body, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, requesting representations to the Home Office with a view 561 to amending legislation being introduced, which will allow a shopping service to the general public commensurate with the present demand.In view of the special circumstances, including the widespread disregard of the relevant sections of the Shops Act, this Council have decided that, pending the outcome of their representations, it would be inappropriate to take action on specific contraventions brought to their notice in this Borough".So, the Act is not enforced. On 31st October the Association of Metropolitan Authorities' General Services Committee decided to support the Bill. While the committee of the AMA considered that the Bill did not meet many of the points which had been raised by different member authorities, the Committee accepted that the Bill would at least remove the anomalies in the present legislation and facilitate the enforcement role of authorities. The Association of District Councils has also fully supported the aims and objects of the Bill.
I think that we should all be very concerned that there is an Act of Parliament on the Statute Book which is not being enforced. Either local authorities should be made to enforce it or it should be amended. I have already shown that enforcement is very difficult because of the terms of the Act. It should, however, be added that changing public attitudes to shopping on a Sunday does not encourage enforcement, particularly when unreasonably low fines tend to be imposed by magistrates for such breaches of the Act as there are.
The current Act does not apply to Scotland, as it was held at the time of the passing of the Act that it was unnecessary for an Act to be put on the Statute Book for Scotland in view of the influence of the kirk in stopping Sunday trading. Notwithstanding that, a situation has arisen where departmental stores in Scotland have opened on the three Sundays before Christmas to sell ranges of goods which they would be prohibited from selling if they were open in England. There has also been the establishment of Sunday markets in Scotland by market operators from this side of the Border, due solely to the fact that the Sunday trading provisions of the Shops Act do not apply to Scotland.
Faced with that situation one must consider whether it would be right to amend the existing Acts in line with current 562 public needs or to scrap them altogether. Certainly any proposal for a free-for-all would meet with overwhelming opposition. The Bill seeks to liberalise Sunday trading fully in respect of food and drink and medical, surgical and personal toilet requisites. It does not liberalise trade in such categories of goods as furniture, carpets, domestic appliances and clothing.
Only last week the National Consumer Council published a survey showing that public opinion had dramatically changed with regard to Sunday opening. A Home Office survey in 1970 showed that there was little support for the Sunday opening of shops. The National Consumer Council research was concentrated on what use shoppers would make of Sunday opening. The National Consumer Council also co-operated in a broadly similar piece of research carried out by Woman magazine. The respondents to the Woman survey were, not unnaturally, nearly all women. They also tended to be younger, better-off and more likely to live in the South-East than the random sample researched by National Opinion Polls. However, since women are more likely to be mainly responsible for household shopping than men, their answers may be more indicative of shoppers' attitudes than the national random sample.
In the National Consumer Council survey the percentage in favour of longer shopping hours in general was 33 per cent.—very much the same as in the earlier Home Office research. Interestingly enough, the Woman samples were much more strongly in favour: 65 per cent. of respondents wanted longer shopping hours. The NCC survey showed a marked difference in the general response by age: 52 per cent. of the under-25 age group were in favour of longer shopping hours, about 42 per cent. of the 25 to 39 age group. Not unnaturally, people who were working and people who had children were more likely to want longer shopping hours than those who were not working or who were without children.
The most important finding of the NCC research was that the percentage of people wanting to take advantage of Sunday opening was now substantial. The results from the survey showed that 21 per cent. of people would use food shops if they were open on Sunday. The Woman survey reported 43 per cent. As regards 563 chemist shops, the figures were 22 per cent. and 37 per cent. All the other categories of shops had percentage answer figures that were about half of those figures. The National Consumer Council believes that that shows that there is a substantial demand from consumers for shopping on Sundays, particularly for food and chemists' goods.
It is interesting to note that 46 per cent. of those in favour of longer shopping hours saw the main advantage as being "Giving working people more choice", while 45 per cent. of those against thought that people should be able to shop in the hours provided. That ties in closely with the fact that those who are working are those who are most in favour, and the people who are not are those who are most against.
One question inevitably raised is the likely effect on prices if more shops were open on Sunday. That is of course a matter of controversy. Some retailers suggest that prices are bound to go up because of the extra expense of staying open on Sunday with no increase in total overall sales. Other retailers suggest that spreading the shops' fixed costs—such as, premises, rates and so on—over longer opening hours will be more economical and that total sales will go up and prices will come down.
I know that these are matters which are of great concern to my noble friend Lord Allen of Fallowfield. I am glad to see that he is to speak later in the debate. I know that he holds the view—and I have heard him use the argument on many occasions—that any extension in trading hours will inevitably lead to higher costs. In a sense that is true. Those of us who patronise late-night or Sunday-opening food shops in London know well that we have to pay more for our staple items of food there; and we are prepared to pay for that convenience, while doing the bulk of our food shopping during normal working hours.
Having been closely associated with the work of the Shopworkers' union for many years, I shall have much sympathy with and understanding of many of the things that I know will be said later in the debate by my noble friend Lord Allen. However, my view is that the union's opposition to this Bill is based on a false 564 proposition; that is, that the effect of the Bill will be to make seven-day trading the norm. I do not believe for one minute that that will happen. I believe that the multiples will keep to their present trading hours, partly because the Bill would prevent them from selling non-food items on a Sunday and partly because, to keep their competitive edge, they would not open on a Sunday. I am very pleased to see that my noble friend Lord Sainsbury is also to speak; no doubt we may hear from him on this aspect of the matter as well. However, I believe that the Bill would lead to a spread of the small, higher-price convenience food shops, such as we know in central London at the present time.
In a statement circulated to various of your Lordships by the union, the union states that attitudes within the union,range from an uncompromising objection to the whole idea of commercial activity of any kind being permitted on a Sunday, to a belief that whilst modern conditions make some modification inevitable, these should be confined to demands of necessity and that the State should take appropriate measures directed to ensuring that Sunday does not, in effect, become just another trading day".It is because of this that the Bill is here to ensure that Sunday does not just become another trading day. It is for that reason that much of what the union says about the working conditions of shop workers is unlikely to apply. Shopkeepers will not open for long hours on a Sunday at a loss. It is interesting to note that in Scotland, where the present provisions do not apply, I am told there is no evidence of higher prices.
The National Chamber of Trade has taken very much the same view as the union, but acknowledges the need for some change, particularly in relation to the sections in the existing Act relating to holiday resorts and fish and chip shops, and also for some changes relating to exhibition centres. Recently we discussed the West Midlands Bill which contains a clause to take the Birmingham Exhibition Centre out of the provisions of the Shops Act 1950. This is something which we shall have to examine further, because I have received representations from other exhibition centres saying that if these special privileges can apply to Birmingham, they should also apply to other exhibition centres.
565 I should now like to turn to the terms of the Bill. The Explanatory Memorandum states:Clause 1 substitutes for Schedule 5 of the Shops Act 1950 a new Schedule listing the transactions for which all shops may be open on Sundays. The main change here is that the new list includes the sale of all kinds of food, including butchers' meat, for consumption on or off the premises.Clause 2 enables any local authority, by order, to allow shops within their area to be open for the sale on Sunday of the articles listed in Schedule 2 to the Bill".Those articles are intended to be articles with a recreational purpose.This replaces Section 51 of the Shops Act 1950 which gave similar powers in respect of districts frequented as seasonal holiday resorts but which only applied to a maximum of 18 Sundays in any one year".The reason it is suggested that this amendment should be made and the powers should be universally held is that it has become increasingly difficult to draw adistinction between a 'holiday resort' and other towns. Visitors are found on Sundays not only in the traditional holiday resorts but in many other tourist centres throughout the country".As your Lordships were reminded in the debate which we had on tourism last year, the Shops Act 1950,is seriously hampering the development of tourism in inland areas. While … any inland area can obtain a designation as being a resort and therefore be entitled to open on 18 Sundays a year, this is unsatisfactory since, from a retailing point of view, consistent opening all the year round is necessary".The inland areas of England do not have the heavily seasonal pattern of visitors which is characteristic of the seaside resorts.—[Official Report, 25/1/78; col. 420.]In the circular to which I referred earlier from the Shopworkers' union, the union states that the orders under this clause are at the discretion of the local authority. That is not so. The local authority may not and will not be able to make these orders without a direct request from the shopkeepers in a given area. If they agree, then the local authority must make the order whether it likes it or not. It is entirely up to the majority of traders involved. The Explanatory Memorandum continues:Clause 3 extends the existing arrangements for compensatory time off for shop assistants and certain catering workers employed on Sundays to all persons employed about the business of a shop on Sundays whether or not the shop is open for the serving of customers".566 At present the Shops Act 1950 protects only those shop assistants employed on a Sunday in a shop which is open for the serving of customers. Shop assistants employed on stocktaking, window dressing and so on in a shop which is not open for the serving of customers under the present Act are not protected. The Bill will protect all shop assistants employed on a Sunday about the premises of a shop, whether or not the shop is open for business. This clause also substantially increases the penalties for contravention of the Act. Then,Clause 4 amends the Shops (Airports) Act 1962 so as to permit shops to open on Sundays at airports in England and Wales as designated by the Department of Trade".We believe that this will help the tourist trade.Clause 5 provides for minor and consequential amendments to the Shops Act 1950 and for the repeals listed in Schedule3".Finally, I should like to speak from the point of view of the tourist trade. We find that there is increasing competition from many other countries striving to encourage tourists to visit their territories. Therefore, it is most important, both for the British residents and for overseas visitors, that facilities available here should compare not unfavourably with those outside Britain. The present Sunday trading law can be annoying and irritating, both for shopkeepers and for their potential customers.
Although simplifications would be largely to the benefit of British residents, who make up the bulk of the visitors to places or centres of interest, they would also be to the benefit of overseas visitors. The relaxations enabling shopkeepers, if they wish, to provide an improved service on Sundays could help a growth in the visitor trade which would enable us to have more people profitably employed in hotels, restaurants, shops, places of interest and so on. I hope that I have managed to outline some of the pitfalls and problems which the present Shops Act faces, and hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.)
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, I am sure the whole House will be extremely grateful to 567 the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, first of all, for bringing forward this Bill and, secondly, for the clear and concise way in which he has outlined its provisions and has gone into the details and the effects of the provisions of the Bill. The House will, I am sure, look forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Norrie. For my part I know that he has no small knowledge of the Bill's main provisions as they affect various sectors of trade which might be, and indeed are, carried out on Sunday.
From these Benches my comments would be brief. First, because there is a lengthy and expert list of speakers, and, secondly, since this appears to be fairly familiar ground for debates in your Lordships' House on this particular subject. I am reminded of a similar provision that was brought forward in your Lordships' House in 1936. I think there are various relevant items in the particular debates there. The noble Marquess of Dufferin and Ava introduced a Bill designed with the same objectives as the one before us today. Throughout its passage in your Lordships' House legal anomalies were produced. I regret to say that most of the anomalies which were produced then are still with us today 42 years later.
In those days problems arose over what was or what was not fresh produce, or what was food. The hoary question of tinned goods alongside similar fresh goods caused some dispute. But there was one valuable comment thrown up during the debate in 1936 and it was, as I understand, de minimis non curat lex. I understand this to mean that the law should not concern itself unnecessarily with trivia, but a Bill such as we have in front of us today is, I am afraid, very much concerned with trivia.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has explained most of the detail very clearly. I believe though that the trivia can have a serious bearing on the lives of thousands of people who are employed in shops and the distributive trades. Some of the trivia and the anomalies have been covered in various communications and one from one of the bodies mentioned by the noble Lord, the Association of District Councils. I think that they mentioned the case of Newberry v. Cohens (Smoked 568 Salmon)Ltd.,1956. During the course of that case the late Lord Goddard, who was then the Chief Justice, Pointed out that the Shops Act 1950, and its Schedules, was to a large extent unworkable. He continued:It is not fair for the shopkeepers, it is not fair to the inspectors who have to do their best to carry out the Act, and it is not altogether fair to the magistrates who have to try to interpret the law".Further, there was the case of Binns v. Wardale in 1946. In this Mr. Justice Humphreys said that he was very much averse to the notion that any person should be convicted in this country—and this of course was England and Wales—on the terms of an Act of Parliament which was obscure and which even lawyers could not construe clearly. From my studies of the 1936 debate in your Lordships' House this question of Sunday trading went right back to 1677, so it has been with us for 300 odd years, and I see that the anomalies are perenially with us.
There were further anomalies that came up in the debate of 1936. One concerned a toothbrush which apparently was not an item to be sold on a Sunday in a chemist's shop since it was not a medical nor a surgical appliance and was not medicine. Further, a trader could not sell a ball alone; he had to sell a ball with a raquet or bat, or some means of propelling the ball. In 1936 apparently any trader who chose to sell one lone ball was liable to a fine of £5—a considerable sum in those days.
The debate in 1936 went further and there was a question as to what was food, what was fresh, and indeed the question of food gave rise to fodder which was given to domestic animals. A debate ensued as to the definition of a horse, whether it covered a donkey and/or a mule. Further, the definition was extended to cover domestic animals right down to dogs, and one noble Lord—indeed I think it was the ancestor of one of my noble friends, Lord Onslow—pointed out a defect in the 1936 measure that dogs were not covered, and could he not give his dog its dinner on a Sunday. The mover of the Motion, the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, pointed out that cats came into the same category and it was unreasonable that dogs should be treated as a separate item, and possibly a man who took a cat into a restaurant and gave 569 it a drop of milk would not expect to sec on his bill something described as "fodder for cat".
These may appear to be mere trivia, but I would suggest that it is the interpretation of these trivia that the Bill, as so clearly spelled out by the noble Lord, seeks to overcome and seeks to interpret in a reasonable way. I believe that the Bill has very serious effects on the lives of thousands of people employed in the distributive trade, but also on thousands of small shopkeepers and traders. It is this category of the trade which I find in general has welcomed the Bill and its aim of legalising what is done on a Sunday—and I regret often in defiance of the law—and where there seems to be a clear and strong desire for such trade to he carried on. It is this particular category of shopkeepers and traders which seems to me to deserve some consideration.
The Association of Metropolitan Authorities and, as I have already spelled out, the Association of District Councils, have both given their strong support to this Bill. This is indeed reasonable since these local authorities have the specialised local knowledge of conditions in their particular areas, and these authorities take the responsibility of enforcing the law as it affects Sunday trading, and the authorities, and their inspectors above all, wish to be realistic in what can and what cannot be tolerated in the 1970s, 1980s, and possibly the 1990s.
I know that many butchers, both individual and organisations, are unhappy about butchers' meat being included in the provisions of the Bill, and other noble Lords will have detailed knowledge of the meat trade. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, has special knowledge. I suggest that he would. We for our part certainly understand their fears that one small butcher could open on a Sunday and this would lead to general opening of all butchers, or shops, in that particular area, spreading throughout the land, since I would suggest that no one dare miss out on the opportunity for further trade.
It seems that general opening is not necessary, especially since this would entail seven day working, which would raise labour costs as well as causing pressure by employers on their employees 570 to work on a Sunday as a matter of course. Problems of this kind are especially clear in the larger chains of supermarkets. But the Bill is one which aims to clarify the law, and I believe that we can all be grateful for that, and the more so the interpretation of the law. So far as meat is concerned, I wonder where the definition of butchers' meat starts or finishes. For example, is a shopkeeper in breach of the law when he cuts some cooked meat for a customer who happens to be collecting his Sunday newspapers, and indeed picks up and buys the meat at the same time from the same counter. We have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about the sale of pies and pastries containing meat. We heard about veal, chicken, and pork, but I believe the sale of associated meat products is also of very relevant concern to the students of the Bill.
In general, Sunday trading is of growing interest to many of your Lordships, but is it reasonable to find the law so unclear and capable of so many differing interpretations? Surely the Bill deserves support since it seeks to bring the interpretation and the meaning of the Shops Act 1950 into line with what the law should mean, and does mean to those of us who need some special service or substance on a particular Sunday. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, spoke of abuse and exploitation of the 1950 Act. I believe that these two words "abuse" and "exploitation" spell out his case very clearly, and certainly I could not do better than to thank him for his tremendous efforts with this Bill and to commend it to your Lordships' House.
§ 6.30 p.m.
My Lords, I look forward with interest to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie. I believe he is a market gardener and thus well qualified to contribute to this debate. I welcome the Bill. It is as long overdue attempt to rectify a situation in law that in practice is ignored, and I hope the necessary steps will be taken to remedy this.
In spite of the hard work of many Members of your Lordships' House to bring us up to date, there are still many problems for a shopkeeper as to what he is allowed to sell. For example, growing flowers, shrubs and plants are allowed to 571 be sold on a Sunday, but not so artificial plants and I do not see the logic of this. Under Schedule 1 we are told that:Flowers, plants, shrubs (other than artificial)may be sold, and Schedule 2 refers to:Articles which may be sold on Sunday pursuant to orders made by local authorities",and then paragraph 3 mentions:Works of art and reproductions of works of art".I suppose artificial flowers could come into that category, so that aspect must be looked into. Accessories for aircraft, motors or agricultural machinery can be sold, but apparently not the machines themselves. I am at a loss to understand why.
The Crathorne Report on the law of Sunday observance looked at entertainment, sport, pastimes and shopping on Sundays and recommended that local authorities should have complete discretion in deciding how many Sundays in a year shops could open. The recommendations called for an increase from 18 to 26 in the number of Sundays a shop could be open, but that has never been implemented and is still not law. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, in 1976 introduced a Sunday Trading Bill in which she referred to the Crathorne Report, urging those recommendations.
I realise that Sunday is a day of great importance to the Christian way of life and that many people wish to preserve its meaning and identity. The Lord's Day Observance Society strongly opposes the Bill in the fear that Sunday will become just another day of the week and that our values will be lost. I do not believe that that would happen any more than at present. Nor do I think that Sunday should be devoted entirely to God, with everything closed. What about public houses that are open seven days a week, offering the same services irrespective of the day? Sunday is the one day of the week when the family is together, and should be enjoyed as such, whether the family goes to church, wishes to visit an open air market, watch or play cricket or take advantage of other sports facilities.
One argument may be that shop workers may be exploited, but that aspect and their protection is covered in 572 the Bill. It should be a matter for individual shopkeepers and staff. If staff wish to work on Sundays I see no reason why they should not; neither should they be made to work on that day if they do not wish to do so. Many small family shops use Sunday opening to help them combat the strong competition from the larger supermarkets, and their existence may well depend on opening on this extra day. We in the Liberal Party have always been in support of the smaller business, and we welcome the Bill. I support the argument for Sunday traders to be allowed to sell their normal range of goods without restrictions and would welcome some legislation for free enterprise proposed by a Labour Government.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Lord NORRIE
My Lords, it is with much humility that I rise to speak this evening and I realise that in choosing such a controversial subject for my maiden speech I cannot refer to the difficulties which already affect the horticultural trade, particularly nurseries and garden centres, in respect of which I must declare a personal interest. All I can do is draw your Lordships' attention to a number of key problems which affect or might affect extended Sunday trading. To do this I shall speak briefly about the Shops Act and then suggest what might be a possible chain of events should Sunday trading enlarge or develop into a free-for-all.
Let me deal, then, with the intention of the Shops Act; that is, that Sunday trading should be distinct and different from trading on ordinary days. Even though the majority of the population may not hold strongly expressed religious views, there is still a large body of opinion favouring the traditional English Sunday as a day of rest. The Bill does not seek to abolish restrictions on Sunday trading generally. Nor does it seek to increase those classes of shops which may open. It attempts to allow those businesses presently open to sell the whole range of goods that they would sell on other days. The Bill would help to ensure efficient trading and would safeguard the jobs of those already employed.
When it comes to enforcement, it is the local authorities which are responsible and they have the task of appointing shop inspectors. At present the attitude of 573 the authorities varies enormously; some appear to turn a completely blind eye until a complaint is lodged, which is usually done by another trader. Not surprisingly, certain boroughs openly admit that they do not have sufficient manpower to enforce the law. The only effective sanction is an application to a court for a civil injunction. If criminal proceedings are taken a fine will result, but the breach will continue. This is arguably a strong case for legal reform, but whatever views your Lordships hold on Sunday trading, it would seem reasonable to recognise that any law must be capable of enforcement and be in line with present working, leisure and commercial conditions.
There is always a great deal of comment about the anomalies of the present restrictions on Sunday trading. It is inevitable that there will be some conflict of interest when deciding what is or what is not essential or desirable in the interests of the general public, but there is a vast difference between catering for a specific need and a Sunday free-for-all. In Scotland, where the Shops Act does not apply except to barbers and hairdressers, Sunday seems to have retained its own particular character without legal restrictions on trading.
Your Lordships may now consider that the traditional Sunday in England would remain unaltered if legal restrictions were less narrowly defined. With the law as it stands, no one need starve, go without medical supplies or be deprived of newspapers, tobacco or confectionery. Housewives may be irritated by not being able to buy cosmetics, books, greetings cards, some ingredients from food shops or even fish and chips to eat at home. Traders in holiday areas may feel that the 18 Sundays on which certain transactions may take place are not sufficient to cover the entire season. The anomalies inherent in the Shops Act 1950 have been aggravated by time. New recreational activities have developed such as yacht marinas, which have been considered as providing for a sport—namely, sailing—but others have been restricted, like nurseries and garden centres, which offer a weekend service to the family and which can still sell only certain of their goods on a Sunday. Reform would bring the law more up to date, and this the Bill attempts to do.
574 Before putting before your Lordships the possible chain of events, should there be a substantial extension of Sunday trading, there are certain questions I would pose. Who will actually benefit if restrictions on Sunday trading are reduced or lifted? Will the advantage to the housewife be outweighed by the disadvantage to the trader and his workforce? Sunday has always been the day of rest and relaxation and, leaving out all religious consideration, might it be that increased Sunday trading may only disrupt further family life for the shopper and retailer alike? Shops can at present open any time after midnight on any weekday and generally speaking can remain open until 8 p.m. with an extension to 9 p.m. on one week night. The permitted trading hours may therefore be as many as 121 out of a total of 168 during the week, including Sundays. Furthermore, is it an accurate assessment that a large number of working housewives find it difficult or impossible to shop in conventional hours?
Your Lordships may feel that this is very much the case, and that the only opportunity the full-time working housewife has for shopping is during her lunch hour. Saturday may often be taken up with household chores which leaves little time to shop with her family. Certainly those who advocate increased Sunday trading do not believe that there are sufficient hours for shopping; that is according to the opinion polls that they have conducted. But they have tended to concentrate on questions such as: "Would you like greater opportunity to shop on Sundays?", and, not unnaturally, many housewives have said, "Yes". But had the question been rephrased to read: "Would you be willing to pay higher prices if more shops were allowed to conduct increased Sunday trading?", it is doubtful whether the answer would have been the same.
The reason for these higher prices could be as follows. To enable the trader to recover the extra costs caused by extended Sunday opening, he might be forced to increase his prices because the average customer tends to have a fixed amount of spending power and this would be spread over seven days, instead of six as at present. The only alternative might be to economise on staff, which would hardly be to the advantage of the customer, and still less 575 to the employee. If only one housewife in 10 were to change just part of her shopping to Sunday, it is probable that the vast majority of shops would be compelled to open in order to protect their interests. As a businessman, I know that at least 50 per cent. of all retail operating costs are attributable to labour. Opening on Sundays would require additional staff or permanent overtime payments to existing staff. Employees are unlikely to work for less than double time on Sundays, so the costs in labour alone could be anticipated at an additional 40 per cent. on present costs.
If the same shopkeeper decided to operate six days by closing on a weekday and opening on a Sunday, there is still the additional cost involved in employing staff on that day. No employee will sacrifice a Sunday in exchange for a weekday without adequate compenation. Furthermore, he is protected by Section 22 of the Shops Act 1950, which states that staff working on a Sunday for more than four hours are entitled to a (lay off other than their statutory half-day holiday. In addition, they cannot be employed on more than two other Sundays in the same month.
My Lords, whether or not you believe that there will be substantial consumer demand should Sunday trading be extended, or whether you believe that the forces of competition would impel the majority of shops to open, one thing is quite certain: there would be a great deal of consumer traffic, whether it be for expeditions or for window shopping. Sunday trading would very much follow the pattern of Saturday trading. Increased public transport might be required, car parks might have to be manned, traffic wardens and police might find themselves under pressure in dealing with traffic congestion. Emergencies or failures in the shops of any of the public services—telephone, gas, water, or electricity—would require cover from engineers. Additional security precautions might be necessary to safeguard shop takings where banks are reluctant to provide weekend facilities. Thus, very many people who normally enjoy a relaxed Sunday would be required to work. Let us also not forget those who live near the main shopping areas, who would be denied the peaceful enjoyment of their domestic 576 environment on what is now a day comparatively free of traffic.
Not even the Continental Sunday, which we hear so much about, provides a solution to the problem. Trading laws within the EEC are by no means uniform. In France, because of regional differences in law, there is often misinterpretation and confusion. In the larger towns you will find that there is very little Sunday trading, and what there is must be done at the expense of another trading day. This is because local authority permission must be sought, and it will depend on the shop being open on only six days in any one week. In Italy shops close on Sundays, and the same rule applies in Germany, except for specific trades in holiday resorts where even these are limited to festival days and 16 Sundays in the year. German law goes one stage further in forcing shops to close at 2 p.m. on Saturday, with the exception of the first Saturday in the month and the four Saturdays preceding Christmas. Any retailer in this country wishing to adopt the Continental Sunday without really being aware of these facts may now feel that it is better to operate under the existing law.
May I summarise the key problems which I believe merit further considration by your Lordships. First, there is the fear that widespread Sunday trading would lead to higher prices, and the fact that if this were so the general public would be resentful of the extra cost which in turn would adversely affect the trader and his workforce. Secondly, there is the grave possibility of family life being disrupted, not only for the Sunday shopper, but also for the trader and the ancillary services, and for those who live in the immediate vicinity of the shopping area. My Lords, I have already spoken far too long and I am grateful for your Lordships' patience. May I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for giving me this opportunity to speak and assure him that I am looking forward to the Committee stage of the Bill, when I hope I may be permitted to speak quite openly on behalf of my trade.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Lord ALLEN of FALLOWFIELD
My Lords, at the outset of my speech I wish to express my personal thanks and 577 those of your Lordships' House to the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for his maiden speech, the contents of which I personally thoroughly agree with. Whether one agrees or disagrees with it, I am quite sure that the House will accept that it was a speech of substance, and one looks forward to future contributions of that kind on other subject matter. I hope that in rising at this stage in the debate I shall be able to make myself audible because I am just recovering from bronchitis and a relaxed throat.
I rise to register my total opposition to the Bill. That will not be any surprise—or it should not be—to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. Before I explain my grounds for opposition I am obliged, by way of some introductory comments, to put the issues involved in their true perspective and to shed some light on other matters of concern to myself and to those on whose behalf I speak. First, I must declare an interest. For the past 16 years—17 years by next month—I have been privileged to occupy the post of general secretary of the Union of Shop, Distributive, and Allied Workers, a union whose membership of close on half a million men and women will be principally affected by the provisions of the Bill if it is accepted. Secondly—and I mean this most sincerely—I must confess to considerable surprise (astonishment is perhaps a more fitting term) that the Bill is introduced by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, whom I have known for a long number of years. Indeed, he is a member of the union that I represent, and until recent years was a member of the union's parliamentary panel—that was as recently as 1976. With this background I am sure that he will not mind my reminding him, in the event of his having forgotten within the last few years, that the provisions of the Bill which he is asking the House to accept are totally alien to his, and my, union's policy.
Moreover, if I can ask him to cast his mind back a few years—only as far back as 1976—he will recall attending the annual conference of the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers in an official capacity as a member of the union's parliamentary panel. If he reflects deeply about this occasion—or, better still, consults the record of proceedings of that conference—he will readily acknowledge that resolution No. 68 on that 578 agenda, which reaffirmed the union's total opposition to Sunday trading, was adopted without opposition. I was in attendance at that conference but have no recollection whatsoever, nor do the proceedings show, that my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Mr. Ponsonby as he was then) opposed the union's policy on Sunday trading. Some of my friends are saying that the conversion of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby within most recent years makes the conversion of St. Paul on his journey to Damascus pale into insignificance. In the setting I have just described, the terms "surprise" and "astonishment" do not appear unfair or inappropriate.
My Lords, I turn now to the Bill itself. Clearly, it is a revised version of two earlier Bills which were introduced in this House on this subject-matter in 1968 and 1970 by Lord Derwent. Both Bills failed. I hope your Lordships will accept that this Bill is deserving of the same fate. It will be noted that Clause 1 amends Section 47 of the Shops Act 1950, and substitutes for the current Schedule 5 to the Act a new Schedule listing the transactions for which all food shops may be open on a Sunday. The main and most important change is that the new list would permit all food shops to open on a Sunday for the sale of food. Presumably, meat and butchers' shops would be classified as food shops, and their transactions would also be permitted on a Sunday. We hear a great deal from my noble friend and others about the great value of having a butcher's shop open on a Sunday, and all our large supermarkets and food stores—large, medium and small.
What a great incentive that would be for those who visit us from across the water, to come and see our shops open on a Sunday! Whereas, as has already been said by my noble friend Lord Norrie, it is a total misunderstanding for anyone to believe that the kind of Sunday we want to see here is the Sunday that we see on the Continent. Those of us who know anything at all about retailing know quite well that in France, in Italy and in Germany the shops are not, with, as is the case here, one or two minor exceptions, open on a Sunday. The extension of Sunday trading as envisaged in this Bill, beyond that currently permitted under the present legislation, inevitably raises issues 579 of a special and diverse character which do not arise when dealing with the question of weekday shopping hours.
There is a growing fear among those who work in retail distribution—and may I say that they are not an irresponsible section of the British community; they are a balanced and responsible cross-section of the working populace and a section of the working populace that has served the British consumer well and consistently, with very little exception by way of break for one reason or another—that those who from time to time attempt to meddle or tinker with shops legislation do so with little, if any, practical knowledge or understanding of the retail trade.
I ask your Lordships to examine seriously and in depth all the issues that emerge from a consideration of this Bill. They range from an uncompromising objection to the whole idea of commercial activity of any kind being permitted on a Sunday to a belief that, while modern conditions make some modifications inevitable—and I am not arguing that there is not a case for some modifications, although the method put forward by my noble friend seemed to me to compound all the difficulties that he mentioned rather than to deal with them—if there is need for a change it should be confined to demands of proven necessity, and the State should take appropriate measures directed to ensuring that Sunday does not, in effect, become just another trading day.
Another widely-held objection to the Schedules to this Bill is their failure to recognise that there are deep and profound social objections which, if the provisions contained in this Bill were accepted, would all have an adverse effect on those who would be expected to staff the shops, and their families. If this is the issue that we are going to face tomorrow, so to speak, then I submit that the family Sunday in the United Kingdom as we know it now will be destroyed. The vast majority of those who work in most other occupations have both Saturday and Sunday for family and social activities. This is not the case in the retail trade. Saturday as a day of leisure is ruled out. For the shop worker, it is part of his or her working week. Nor is there any special payment or recompense for the disadvantages of Saturday working. The 580 employee has a weekly day off on some other day of the week, with the exception of a very small minority of cases where Saturday half-day closing appertains or the day off happens to be rostered. Consequently, Sunday is the one day of the week which offers the opportunity of a common rest day with the family. The man or woman whose family is home at the weekend but who would be required to work on both Saturday and Sunday would be at a considerable disadvantage. Young persons, of which the distributive trades take the greater proportion as school-leavers—and badly paid they are, too—would bitterly resent having to work on Sundays as well as Saturdays.
My Lords, it is my view, based on a long number of years' experience in dealing with the retail trade, that young people today will not put up with it if you expect them to work on Saturday and Sunday. That view, I feel confident, is shared by many established employers in the trade. I deliberately use the term "established"; I am not thinking of the get-rich-quick overnight operators or the whizz kids who very often do irreparable harm—yes, to our tourists—in the name of the so-called retail trade. And what about the social implications for married women in employment? They represent a considerable and growing proportion of the labour force in retail distribution. If they are expected to work on Sundays in addition to Saturdays they would be faced with considerable problems. Over 70 per cent. of the labour force in distribution are women. A high proportion of these are married women with families and domestic responsibilities. In cases such as that the social disadvantages would be most acute.
Anyone who knows anything at all about the practical problems in the retail trade will know that staffing difficulties are already most acute. Sunday opening would make matters in this respect worse with a serious effect upon efficiency and service to the consumer. When I hear those who support this Bill saying: "If they don't want to work on Sundays, they can please themselves, although the shops will be open"—then I submit to your Lordships that that reveals a total and abysmal ignorance of how the retail trade must operate in the society in which we live at the present time. I want to say 581 that Sunday opening would meet with the strongest opposition from those people at present employed in retail distribution. I have no doubt in my own mind that it would result in many of them leaving the retail trade rather than put up with Sunday working in addition to their present Saturday working.
My Lords, as far as one has been able to ascertain through close association with members of my association and others, and with employers who are in close and constant touch with shoppers, and through inquiries that they have made, there is no evidence of a genuine or widespread demand on the part of the majority of the shopping public for extended shopping facilities on Sundays beyond those already permitted under the current legislation. If you ask people: "Would you like to see the shops open?"—then, of course, you get the answer, "Yes". Some of them find it pleasing to have a look at shops because they have nothing else to do with their time. But if you put the question in another way and ask: "Would you, as a housewife, be prepared to pay more for the production of these goods and the distribution of those goods over the counter because of the shop having to open in the winter, because of heating, electric light and overtime?"—then I think you will get a different answer. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby knows that as well as I do.
My Lords, I think that one is entitled to ask whether the lobby wanting to alter the law of Sunday trading really have the consumers' interest at heart as they claim to have, or whether their motives are pecuniary and commercial. Shop workers are impolite enough to hold the latter view. I take the view that apart from the religious objection—which I sincerely respect—to the provisions of the Bill, together with some of the social objections which I have touched upon earlier, a fundamental and most important consideration now raises its head: namely, the economic factor involved in an exercise of this kind. The retail trade is a highly competitive business. All the experience of the past proves conclusively and beyond any shadow of doubt that increased shopping hours, particularly the provisions of the Bill to extend from six-day trading to seven-day trading, will not increase turnover, will result in high operating costs and will require the 582 involvement of shop workers in unsocial hours of working.
The argument is adduced by some advocates of Sunday trading that it is practicable without imposing longer hours on shop staffs or increasing operating costs. They try to support this argument by vague references to shift working and staggering of hours. This shows a lamentable ignorance of the circumstances of retail trade. If shops are to be kept open around the clock for seven days a week, no over-all greater volume of goods would be sold, for the housewife's purse is not elastic; it is not a bottomless pit. It would simply mean that the same volume of sales would be spread over a longer period of time with increased labour costs and overheads. Extended trading hours must in the long term mean longer hours over which the staff are deployed, involving regular overtime, increased staff, shift work or all three. I am sure your Lordships will recognise how difficult or impossible this would be when I tell you that over 70 per cent. of shops in the United Kingdom employ less than four persons, including working proprietors and manageresses. This figure serves to illustrate the very high proportion of the retail shops in the country where the application of a shift or rota system would be totally out of the question. It could only become a practical proposition by a substantial increase in the labour force in the distributive sector.
The alternative would be to lengthen the working hours of the shop staff. This would involve regular overtime working. Either way, the higher labour cost involved would be substantial—a cost which I submit could not be covered by an increased volume of turnover and which in the final reckoning would be passed on to the consumer in higher prices. Conversely, shopping extended to seven days a week without higher prices is possible only by unfair exploitation of the labour force in shops. I am sure that there is no one in your Lordships' House who would want to support legislation of any kind that reinforced what in some places at the present time is still undue exploitation. These higher food prices would follow at a time when all responsible people in the community are anxious to see the annual rate of inflation restricted to single figures and would have to be paid for by the housewives, irrespective 583 of whether they made their purchases during normal weekday shopping hours—which is still the practice, I am glad to say, of the majority—or on a Sunday, which would be for the minority to whom unlimited shopping hours would appeal or who were desirous of making their purchases on a Sunday. Let there be no doubt—none whatsoever—that increases in costs of retailing and distribution as a result of the provisions contained in the Bill before this House at the present time would fall on the consumer by way of increased prices. At no stage have any of the supporters of the proposed change in the legislation indicated how this important aspect will be dealt with.
Given the emphasis and efforts by the Government directed to trying to control inflation and, where practicable, a reduction in food prices, and their recently-declared intention to continue to do so, is my noble friend—and those who support his Bill—now seriously suggesting that it would be in the national interest to legislate for increased retail prices on the questionable ground of a supposed demand as yet unproven for a seven-day shopping service?
I heard it said—and no doubt this is perhaps the motivation of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby—that it will be good for British tourism. I have before me a pamphlet which is carrying the title Who's Who of British Tourist Boards. I know that my noble friend Lord Ponsonby is the chairman of the London Tourist Board. I also note:Britain earned an estimated £2,763 million in foreign exchange from tourism in 1977. Overseas visitors spent £12,179 million within the country and a further £584 million on fares to British air and shipping lines. Total tourist earnings represented an increase of 28 per cent. over 1976. There were an estimated 11,500,000 overseas visitors to Britain in 1977, an increase of 14 per cent. on 1976. The British Tourist Authority estimates that a similar number of overseas visitors came to Britain in 1978".My Lords, I put it to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and those who, I believe mistakenly, want to follow his Bill, that there is no evidence here—even if British tourists have no attraction—that people are staying away from Britain because food shops are not open on a Sunday, because it is not possible to buy a lamb or a pork chop on a Sunday. All the evidence is that the attraction to come to Britian is there 584 notwithstanding the fact that food shops and butchers' shops are closed on a Sunday. I believe it is a very commendable performance by the Tourist Board to clock up a record of this kind. I do not believe that the opening of shops will in any way enhance the figures that I have just read out to this House. For that reason, and those reasons that I have advanced previously, I hope that this House will treat this Bill in the same manner as the two previous Bills in 1976 and 1978, which were presented by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord MONSON
My Lords, I should like to join the previous speaker in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, on a most impressive, challenging and powerfully delivered maiden speech. We look forward to hearing from him again soon. I am afraid that I take an entirely different view of this Bill from that just expounded by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Fallowfield. I warmly support this Bill, not only for its intrinsic merits, which are considerable, but also for what it symbolises.
We have had far too much restrictive legislation over the past 10 years or so, restrictive legislation which necessarily involves providing for fining people, sending them to prison or awarding large sums by way of damages against them, and we have had far too little legislation of a liberalising nature—liberalising in the true rather than the debased modern sense—legislation which removes restrictions and adds to the sum of individual freedom. Into the first category comes legislation on crash helmets, seat belts, race relations laws, sex relations laws, and so on. The aims of such legislation are doubtless laudable but the means provided for attaining these objectives are, perhaps inevitably, coercive and smack of authoritarianism.
Regarding the second, liberalising, category, since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act and the Abortion Act which followed soon afterwards I can think of only one useful but modest Bill to relax the Sunday trading laws in holiday resorts to which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, alluded, which was introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, in your Lordships' House, plus the Bill recently 585 introduced here by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, to relax certain restrictions upon marriage and re-marriage—but that Bill has many hurdles to surmount before it becomes law.
Quite disgracefully, both major political parties have, when in office, totally ignored the excellent recommendations of the Erroll Committee for the reform of the licensing laws, doubtless for fear of the temperance lobby. Equally disgracefully, many tens of thousands of people had their New Year's Eve ruined 10 weeks ago (with dances cancelled, and so on) because both major parties appear to be terrified of the religious extremists of the Lord's Day Observance Society, tiny minority though they are. Luddite attitudes are also persistent, although those are diminishing. This is why this Bill is so important in a symbolic sense, because apart from anything else it recognises the strong swing in public opinion against such restrictive attitudes.
I need not spend much time in itemising the specific merits of this Bill; its advantages are more or less self-evident. However, apart from conferring greater freedom of choice upon the individual, I believe that this measure would produce a very satisfactory "spin-off", or bonus, from the national point of view. If it becomes law, I suggest that this measure will tend to help very considerably the dispersal of industry away from London and the South-East, where—whatever the law may say—almost anything goes in practice (certainly so far as food shops are concerned) mainly, although not entirely, because of the large number of highly entrepreneurial Asians, Cypriots, Italians and so on who tend to congregate in this part of the country and to run small shops.
I believe that more liberal Sunday trading laws will, albeit in a minor way, help to tempt industry into the development areas, the intermediate areas and small towns or large villages which are trying to attract industrial development in order to help dwindling employment prospects because of the growing mechanisation of agriculture, and so on. Human nature being what it is, industrialists will be reluctant to move to such areas, whatever the tax inducements proffered, unless they can find the amenities that they used to 586 find in cities like London. In this way, as in others, this Bill will contribute to the sum of human happiness, and I wish it a swift and successful passage.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Lord SAINSBURY
My Lords, as has already been stated, the Bill before your Lordships' House this evening is a revised edition of the one that was considered at the end of 1970 and the beginning of 1971. I spoke against the Bill at its Second Reading on 10th December 1970, and on re-reading what I said then I find my views unchanged: in fact I was tempted to repeat the speech I made then, being sure that no noble Lord would remember what I said on that occasion. I should like to make it clear, as I did eight years ago, that I am speaking in a personal capacity and that my views do not necessarily reflect those of any trade association or of the firm with which my name is associated.
Let me say at the outset that the present regulations relating to Sunday trading are unsatisfactory, complicated, full of anomalies and draw arbitrary distinctions between food that can and cannot be legally sold. In addition, the present regulations are difficult, if not impossible, to enforce. Therefore, my Lords, you may ask why, set against these considerations, I oppose the Bill before your Lordships' House. I do so primarily on humanitarian grounds and, secondly, on economic grounds. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, when introducing the Bill at Second Reading on 10th December 1970, said this at column 1095:I do not believe that this Bill will lead to any increase of Sunday trade in so far as shops that are not now open on Sunday will, as a result of the Bill, open".I did not agree with that statement then and I do not agree with it now, if the same argument is used about the present revised version which we are discussing today. I think it may lead in the course of time to a steady increase in Sunday opening by food shops and supermarkets because of the fear of the retailer that some of his trade will be taken by his competitors opening on Sundays. With my knowledge of the retail trade, I feel that, despite possible difficulties to obtaining staff or having to pay a higher rate of wages, we may in time arrive at a situation in which the majority of food shops will 587 be open for trading on Sunday, instead of, as is the case now, Sunday opening being the exception to general practice. No matter what staff arrangements are made with regard to shift working, it will have the effect of increasing the number of people in food retailing who work on Sundays. A large proportion of those so engaged are married women, and Sunday is the day on which the family, as my noble friend Lord Allen of Fallowfield has said, can be together, both young and old.
So far as young people are concerned, Saturday working is a handicap in recruitment. If Sunday trading is added, recruitment will become more difficult. When it comes to the small family-owned shop, some may be driven out of business or may have to sacrifice more of their already restricted and hard-earned leisure time. I note that the National Chamber of Trade, which represents a large number of small shopkeepers concerned with all commodities, food and non-food, is very much opposed to the present Bill. Quite apart from religious considerations, I do not believe that the community has the right to expect more shopworkers and more small shop-owners to forego their Sunday rest.
Coming now to economic considerations, the extension of Sunday opening is undesirable. It is bound to put up the cost of distribution because, as American experience has shown, total trade will not be increased but merely spread over a longer period of time, namely, seven days instead of six. This will lead to higher labour costs and to increased prices that inevitably will be paid by the customer on whatever day of the week she shops. As has already been said, the public purse is not elastic. Extending the purchasing period to seven days will not mean that the housewife suddenly has more money to spend, and increased prices are no help in the battle against inflation to which both Government and Opposition parties are committed.
Who wants Sunday trading extended? It is claimed that a majority of British families want Sunday shopping; but I suggest, as the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, did in his excellent maiden speech, that if they were told it would lead to higher prices the answer would be very different. 588 The workers, whose views were so powerfully stated by my noble friend Lord Allen of Fallowfield, are vehemently opposed to the extension of Sunday trade. The small shopkeepers are opposed and so are many of the bigger chains, and also the meat trade. In fact the large number of people actually involved in the business of retailing and who understand the economics of that business are opposed.
I am in no way suggesting that our present law is satisfactory, as I have already said; but this Bill goes far beyond tidying up anomalies and would lead, in my opinion, to a very major extension of Sunday trading, resulting in far-reaching social and economic consequences for this country. Therefore, if it goes to a Division, I shall feel obliged to vote against the Bill.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Baroness HORNSBY-SMITH
My Lords, first, may I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on his courage in introducing this Bill. If I may say so, I do not think I have ever heard a Member being more offensive to another than was the noble Lord, Lord Allen, to his noble friend—and I have been in this House for four and half years, and was in the other place for 20 years. So I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on pursuing a course which he believes in this day and age to be right.
I speak with two hats: first, I am very proud to be a vice-president of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which supports the Bill. I am also a member of the Parliamentary group of the Retail Consortium which, as the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, said, when he so vehemently expressed his own views, opposes the Bill. So that my brief comments will be entirely my own. Also, my father was a very small one-man shop-keeper.
Universally and statutorily, if this Bill was applied by Parliament throughout the country I would oppose it. But this Bill is selective, and it recognises the immense diversity between different areas of the country. If St. Albans or other central areas wish to remain closed they will do so, because the demand is not there. That is why I welcome the fact that under this Bill the local authorities, who, as my 589 noble friend Lord Lyell has said, know their areas intimately and are on the spot to assess demand and to effect an order where there is a demand by a majority of those with premises which would be affected by the provisions, can make the decision.
I accept and sympathise with the views of the great chains and stores, of which the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, is a great pioneer, who oppose on the grounds that it would be costly for them. I also accept the fact that the Bill is firmly opposed by USDAW. This is where local demand and trading requirements should be the criterion, and that is why I support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby.
Legislation already exists to help holiday areas, and when the Bill was brought in many years ago it was centred on seaside resorts. Today, tourism is so immensely bigger and has become lucrative business. It has shifted to many inland points of focus. The EEC has produced huge numbers of daily shoppers who take advantage of cheaper prices in the United Kingdom, with no customs and duty-free goods, and, in effect, this has boosted our United Kingdom export sales quite enormously, as is frequently published not only by the Tourist Board but also by Ministers of the Government.
As a one-time Kent Member, I never expected to see the day when a proud cathedral city like Canterbury would become an overseas shoppers' target but so much so, within range of the Channel ports, has this proud city developed, that, quite rightly, the great firms and chains have gone there in the last 10 years in order to get their share of this valuable trade. In season, many of those great chains advertise in the Canterbury and Kent newspapers, begging the locals to shop in comfort from Monday to Thursday, as loads of European shoppers would be flooding in at the weekend. Sometimes, they say that over those three days there will be 50 coaches or 50 ferries coming in with shoppers from France and Belgium; so, too, in both Dover and Folkestone. I also understand, though I have not myself seen them—I have seen the trippers in Kent—that weekend trippers from Scandinavian countries flock into Newcastle.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, I deplore people making an ass of the law 590 and, as he rightly said, many local authorities have given up the unequal struggle. I invite any of your Lordships to go to Oxford Street, Kensington or Victoria on a Sunday and see how they honour the nine o'clock closing, six days a week and one late night. About a year ago, at a purely social function, I ran into four very small local shopkeepers whose premises were in the Victoria area. They harangued me fairly vehemently about the fact that they had either got to break the law or go bust. They pointed out to me not one but dozens of immigrant-owned shops.
They argued, "We employ two staff. It costs £4 in insurance when they come across the threshold, and then we have their wages to pay. We cannot afford six staff. On a crowded Saturday, people will leave the shop and go opposite where six members of the family, of whom only two are registered employees, are working. Any night of the week you can see several children of the family sticking little price labels on all the tins, and then on Sunday they make a killing. We keep the law because if we open seven days a week, if we blatantly advertise in the local paper, or on our plastic bags which customers can buy if they have nothing in which to transport their goods, that we keep open every day of the week from 8 o'clock in the morning till 10.30 at night—and I have seen one shop open at night hundreds of times—then we should be before the "beak" next week. Either insist that the Shops Acts and the Wages Council arrangements are kept, or change the law".
I took up their protest with the local authority and I received a long, detailed and, with great sympathy I say, pained reply from the chief officer. He pointed out to me that it had taken him and his staff, who were dealing with such legislation, four months to get a blatant and excessive offender before the courts. He was then fined £10, but what it had cost the ratepayers in time and money was far greater than that. We all know that shopkeepers are blatantly breaking the laws where there is a demand, and where there is good and lucrative business to be done. So either we enforce the law as it is and do not penalise the law-abiding, or we face the facts of new customs, new and enormously increased and more penetrating tourism, and let each local 591 area of shopkeepers choose for themselves where they believe there is a demand, because they are the people who will have to operate this new legislation and open their shops.
Recently I went on a Sunday morning to my local newsagent to get a certain Sunday paper which I do not normally have. The shop was packed to the doors with French tourists, buying like crazy. After waiting 10 minutes, I found that the shop did not have the paper I wanted, so off I went to Victoria Station and then I walked around. I could have purchased food, alcohol, toys, handbags, luggage, tights, dresses, coats and sweaters and, if I had gone North of Hyde Park, a suite of furniture or an exotic oriental carpet and, like the old song, ivories, apes and old tin trays.
I believe that we have to deal with the circumstances as they are today, and where the majority of shopkeepers in a given area think that there is a reasonable demand—and they will not open, unless it is worth their while—then we should leave it to the wisdom and common sense of the duly elected local authorities to make that decision in the interests of their own locality. For that reason I shall support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Lord ROBERTSON of OAKRIDGE
My Lords, I should first like to join those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, on his maiden speech. He had obviously given considerable thought and study to the subject. He was able to draw on his personal experience and, as a result, was able to pose a number of relevant questions for our consideration. One of the chief things I have learned about this subject is what a difficult subject it is. It is only too easy to say what should not be done, but once one tries to find a way forward one finds oneself in a minefield. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, deserves great credit for venturing into that minefield. I say this, even though I have reservations about the solution which he has put before your Lordships' House today.
I should like to offer an assessment of the proposed Bill against what I believe to be its effect on the quality of our life, 592 and in particular on family life. I hope to do this in the light of what I feel to be Christian teaching. First, however, may I say a few words on the thorny question of anomalies.
Much has been said in this debate, and outside your Lordships' House, about anomalies—and rightly so, for they bring the law into disrepute. However, I believe that when we look at the Bill in Committee, if it goes that far, we shall need to look very closely at the changes proposed by it to see whether such significant changes are indeed necessary and appropriate for dealing with the specific anomalies that there are. Furthermore, that there would still be anomalies if the Bill were to become law can scarcely be open to doubt.
For example, supermarkets would be allowed to sell food on Sundays but not hardware, and there would surely be a grey area in between. Then one can take the case of such a mundane article as a flowerpot. Paragraph 1(d) of Schedule 1 allows the sale on Sundays of flowers, plants and shrubs but not garden equipment. Therefore, I imagine that if you want to buy a flowerpot under the new arrangements you will need to buy a flower to put in it before what you are doing is legal. I say this not in any way to be clever but to foreshadow debates in 10 or 20 years' time in your Lordships' House which base the need for further change on the anomalies in the law that we might or might not be about to pass. On this subject of anomalies, I believe that the proposal in the Crathorne Report—that a shop, if allowed to open on a Sunday, could sell any of its goods—seems possibly to be a more effective way to deal with anomalies.
In assessing the effect of the Bill on the quality of life, I took as my starting point the two main points of Christian teaching. I think it is worth remembering that when our Lord spoke about the Sabbath He set His seal of authority upon it and emphasised that the day of rest was made for our benefit but that of course things should be kept in proportion. The two points, as I see them, are, first, that one day a week should be set apart by society for worship, rest and relaxation and, secondly, that so far as is reasonably possible no employee should be obliged to work on the day of rest.
593 In my own life, I find that it is sometimes difficult to put these two points into practice, but if one can apply them to present-day conditions I would draw three main conclusions. First, the law should protect the right of people, so far as is practical, to take part in worship and church fellowship on one day a week. In this respect, the opportunity to go into a service on the way to work or on the way back from work is not necessarily enough, because most churches have their main service and, indeed, their main fellowship in the middle of the morning.
Furthermore, I think it is worth mentioning that we are considering the rights of a sizable number of people. In 1976, the average number of people attending Anglican services each week in England and Wales was 1¼ million. I have had more difficulty in obtaining the figures for other denominations, but I think that, at a conservative estimate, they are about the same again, giving a figure of upward of 2½ million a week. To put this into perspective, the attendances last Saturday at the four FA Cup Ties and 40 League matches were 559,917.
The second conclusion that I draw is that Sunday work should be limited to essential or urgent business, including, of course, the provision of recreational facilities. Otherwise, we should be allowed the chance to rest, or at least to do something different from our normal work. For our own welfare, I feel that we all agree that we want to avoid extending the stress of working life to seven days a week.
My third conclusion is that the day of rest must, so far as possible, be the same one for everybody. It is not enough for people to be given another day in lieu of Sunday. In general, Sunday is the one day which offers the opportunity of a common rest day with one's family and friends. This applies in particular to parents and their children.
The effects of these three conclusions as they would apply to the retail trade have been dealt with by noble Lords who have much more experience than I, but I really feel that we must accept the judgment of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, that, as it stands, the Bill would eventually bring about a major 594 extension of Sunday trading. I know that initially the Bill only permits Sunday trading, but can one really doubt that competition would not in due course oblige more shops to open and, therefore, more shopkeepers and more employees to work on Sundays?
The particular ways in which these considerations bear on the retail trade have been very well covered by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Fallowfield. He emphasised that for many people in the retail trade Saturday was not possible as a day of leisure. He emphasised the problem that 70 per cent. of the distribution trade employees are women. Therefore it is not surprising that there is such opposition to the Bill from those who work in shops and from those who run them and also from a considerable proportion of the major retailing chains. We should think very carefully before we ignore this opposition, or override it.
Finally, in assessing this Bill, I believe that we need to consider carefully the priorities upon which our quality of life is based. The British Sunday, which is part of our heritage, is not perfect, but I feel that we must think twice before making such a substantial inroad into an institution that has worked for our welfare over a long period. Also, I believe that we have to ask ourselves whether or not, if we made the changes to the British Sunday that are proposed, we should be taking a step nearer to a society where expediency and commerce were allowed to take precedence over people and, if I may say so, over our duty to God.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord SOPER
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to others which have been voiced in the appreciation I felt of the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie; the cogency of his arguments and the dispassionate characteristics of the arguments themselves, and we very much hope that on many future occasions we shall have the privilege of hearing him again. I should like especially to thank him for mistaking me for the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich in the couloir of this Chamber and now that the Bishop has arrived he will notice what a particularly spiritual look he has.
The arguments which have been deployed this afternoon and this evening, 595 until the immediately preceding speech, to which I have listened with great approval, of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, have contained within themselves a reference to the spiritual (or shall we say the religious?) issue that lies behind this particular debate and I will presume to say something about it. We do not regard Sabbatarianism as an expression of the Christian spirit—or we should not. It is of course true that Jesus revered the Sabbath as a practising Jew, but he also said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath and if it is necessary to refute the argument that we associate the Sabbath with the Sunday it is only necessary to point to the 15th chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles to realise that converts to Christianity were not involved in the celebration of the Sabbath. The only two things they had to do as Jews were to avoid eating meat which had been dedicated to idols and not to commit fornication; and that is fair enough. But the fact remains that the Sabbatarian spirit has, I think, contaminated a great deal of Christian thinking about this particular issue as to what should and should not be done on Sunday.
I was brought up in that area. I very soon learned that my father's objection to buying a Sunday newspaper should have been an objection to buying a Monday one, and I also remember that during the days of the First World War when we bought no Sunday newspapers my father took the precaution of walking the long way round to church in order to read the placards about the various events that were going forward. That only demonstrates the difficulty—the impossibility—of fulfilling the Sabbath in a modern world and, in any case, the Christian celebrates the Lord's resurrection and not the Jewish background of law and circumstance.
Secondly, I believe there is great danger in the puritanical view of Sunday. The idea was expressed so well by Bertrand Russell: he thought it peculiar that because the Jews were prohibited from working on Saturday the Christians should be prevented from playing on Sunday; and I have to tell you that the best of evidence demonstrates that John Knox did in fact play bowls—a very austere game, I know—on Sunday morning 596 before going to church. The idea that people should not enjoy themselves on Sunday but should spend their time in religious exercises is not only in many cases a work of supererogation, but also has been largely relegated in the kind of community in which we live today.
Because I believe that revealed religion fundamentally is built on a fundation of natural religion, I will presume to delay your Lordships by trying to say something about what is the ultimate purpose that lies behind the correct use of Sunday, and in that to endeavour to formulate a conviction which I have that this Bill is pernicious and should not go forward. We cannot ordain in the name of Christianity that everybody should go to church, but I believe we should make it possible for the largest majority of people who wish to spend Sunday in a different way from the rest of the week to be free so to do. We regard this as an element of democratic freedom which is of imperishable worth.
It is incontestable that for various reasons and in various religious cults one day has become different from others. I believe it to be a very important philosophical fact that unless life contains the rhythm of a periodic changeover from the curriculum of everyday life, then life loses a great deal of its savour and indeed may lose a great deal of its significance. And whether it be the Christian Sunday or the Jewish Sabbath, the rhythm of one day in the week which is separable from the others and on which people are encouraged to think of other matters and to pursue other pursuits, and in particular the pursuits of rest and worship—I believe this is not something which is imposed by revealed religion but a discovery which is quite fundamental to the best interests of the human species.
Furthermore, although I find it difficult to accept that the Christian Sunday is still the family coming together—I regret that in many respects over my life it seems to me that that kind of family life has tended to diminish in its significance—yet I believe it is of very great importance. I agree so heartily with the last speaker that it is no good saying, "You can have Wednesday or Thursday as your day of rest". Who knows better than a parson, who has at least been engaged in some kind of trading on Sunday for the last 597 50 years, that you cannot compensate in the week for that opportunity which only conies to you at the weekend to share a family life with your family when they, too, are in the spirit and have the opportunity of leisure.
It is against that kind of backcloth that I look at this Bill and I do not like it a bit. In the first instance, I am persuaded that it will make Sunday much more like every other day and will tend to destroy that rhythm to which I have referred. In the second place, I am equally persuaded that a great many people who will claim to be free to do what they want to do on Sunday—to purchase and so forth—will in fact be under the servitude of economic requirements so that instead of being able to enjoy that freedom they will be compelled increasingly to contribute to the freedom of others, which implies a servitude for them. That contradicts a principle which I believe to be sacred, that the maximum number of people should have made available for them the opportunity of spending Sunday as a different day. These seem to me to be basic principles and principles against which this Bill will operate thoroughly unfairly and thoroughly badly.
From what little research I have been able to do I subscribe entirely to the proposition that, once this door is further opened, many people will pass through it and if this proposition should be agreed then there will be an increasing price to be paid for it, not only in terms of money but in terms of social convenience and, worse still, in terms of social benefit. I am equally persuaded that if this particular Bill goes through we shall not destroy the various anomalies which now persist, but that is no reason for putting into the place of one Bill another which may create—and I believe must necessarily create—even more anomalies and in the process will also destroy some of those virtues and some of those capacities for wellbeing which I believe should be enshrined within ally civilised society.
The hour is late and I will not delay any longer to present or to re-present what has been said so cogently by other speakers on the economic and, I think, social defects which are explicit in this Bill. I suppose that, normally speaking, a peroration for a parson might include a hymn. I would prefer a sonnet: 598The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending we lay waste our powers".I believe that if this Bill goes through it will further emasculate those spiritual and social powers which are necessary for a truly civilised life. Therefore, I do not wish to see it succeed, and if it is put to the vote I shall vote against it.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Viscount INGLEBY
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Soper, on his excellent speech. I do not always agree with him but I very much share with him what he has been saying tonight. I, too, would also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, on his maiden speech which, if I may say so, was the best that I have been privileged to hear since I took my seat in 1970. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Fallowfield, on the very powerful speech which he made and I find myself much in agreement with my noble friend Lord Robertson of Oakridge. I share his view that Sunday is a divinely ordained day, divinely ordained for rest, for worship and to spend with one's family. A day when buying and selling should be kept at a minimum for those things which arc proven necessities, because any extension of this means that some people will have to work on Sundays.
The thing that strikes me most about this Bill, however, is that it is strongly opposed by those people who will be most affected by it, by the people who may have to work on Sundays as a consequence of this Bill. We have heard that there are half a million people who are represented by the union for which Lord Allen has spoken today, and that it is also opposed by the National Chambers of Trade. Those people already have to work on Saturdays, and, understandably, they do not want to work on Sundays, too. Seventy per cent. of them are women and half of those are married; so think what the effect would be on Sunday for them as a day to spend with their families. Lord Allen very clearly made the point that Sunday trading is inflationary, and, of course, the housewife pays the increased prices not only on Sunday but on all other days too.
We have heard that this Bill would hear particularly hardly on small shops and that 70 per cent. of our shops are small 599 shops employing four people or less. I believe Sunday trading should be closely controlled in the interests of those who might have to work on Sundays in consequence, and I would just ask your Lordships to think what the effect on us might be if another place passed a Bill that we should work on Sundays.
§ 8.3 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of NORWICH
My Lords, I wonder whether your Lordships will allow me to make my apologies for not being in my place when I should have spoken. My apologies are, first, to the noble Lord moving this Bill for not hearing his speech in support of the Bill; secondly, to Lord Norrie for not being able to hear his maiden speech, which according to the noble Viscount is the best since 1970, so I look forward to Hansard very much; and, thirdly, to your Lordships generally for the fact that the road from Norwich to London is beset with difficulties and takes time. I was not able to drive as fast as I would like to, but well within those limits provided by another place for Bishops, however fast they should drive; so I am here without further trouble.
If I might, therefore, be allowed in a very short truncated way to take part in the debate, I should like to do so, because I have tried to do a little research on what might be called the general Church view. The Church Assembly, the precursor of the General Synod, looked fairly closely at the issues concerning the type of points being made in this Bill by the noble Lord, and, although in the time of the Crathorne Committee's Report it showed some cautious support for some of the suggestions in that report, the resolution of the Synod did say:This Assembly is desirous of maintaining Sunday as a day of worship and recreation, and as far as possible Sunday should remain the normal day of rest".I will not, therefore, weary the House at this late date with some of the further statements, though right reverend Prelates from this Bench spoke in similar terms.
I should only like simply to summarise the two other major points I would like to have mentioned more fully. That is the religious consideration. When I heard the acting Prelate of Norwich, Lord 600 Soper—and it shows how ecumenical we are getting when such a distinguished and marvellous Christian orator as Lord Soper should be mistaken for me; it is very nice to know and I am much heartened to think that he was taken for the Bishop of Norwich, but I do not intend to let him have my See if I can help it—speaking about Sabbatarians and puritans I had a terrible feeling that he was describing me, but as he went on I found, No, all was well. I particularly want to underline his point on the broad religious consideration of the rhythm of life. I believe that this Bill does strike, admittedly a fairly small blow but quite a real one, against this rhythm of life.
I believe that the day of rest was a creation ordinance for all mankind and for man and beast, not only a religious ordinance, though it became one, that the rhythm of rest and work, of perhaps furious energy and then complete relaxation, the rhythm of night and day, winter and summer, is part of the beneficent plan of the Creator for all mankind, not only for those of religious outlook. Therefore, the religious consideration is a very real one in relation to this particular Bill. I believe that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, but I also believe that the Christian Sunday is a continuation of this one day's rest in seven, with the extra privileges of worship and refreshment as well. Therefore, on the broadly religious ground I believe that we should not give ourselves in support of this Bill.
The second point I will summarise is that I think on social grounds we should not, because the impact and the attacks on family life are increasing today. More families are now going to church on Sunday than even five years ago. Family life is becoming more precious just because it is under greater attack. And the simple fact of the Sunday lunch is, I believe, a vitally important social factor in our lives. If the family does not hold together, the nation cannot hold together. The nation is really a lot of families and the family writ small is the nation writ large. As the interesting figures that Lord Allen of Fallowfield has sent to some of us very clearly show that many married women are concerned in the distributive trades, it seems to me that Sunday lunch in all its homely significance is going to be severely attacked by this Bill, and I believe it to be an important social occasion. 601 It did strike me, though, as I was thinking about this, that on humanitarian grounds, with tinned goods and foil wrapping and refrigerators, let alone deep freezes, there is less and less need for little shops to be constantly open just to suit the selfish whims of lazy buyers. Why should we pander to impulsive shopping on our national day of rest? So you see, my Lords, I began to be carried away with my speech, and that is the shortest summary I can do. On general Christian grounds, on broad religious grounds and on humanitarian social grounds, I hope that we shall not feel that we should support this Bill.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Lord BOSTON of FAVERSHAM
My Lords, I intervene mainly to offer your Lordships a brief statement of the Government's attitude to the principles underlying the Bill and to mention particular provisions in the Bill to which the House might wish to give special attention. But right at the outset I should like to offer my congratulations, together with those of other noble Lords who have already spoken, to the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for his excellent maiden speech. He spoke, if I may say so, with great clarity, and he had the courage to speak on a controversial matter, but he did it in an unprovocative way in accordance with the best traditions of your Lordships' House. We are clearly going to hear from him in the future making a most valuable contribution to our proceedings.
I am sure that we would all like also to thank my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede for giving the House another opportunity to debate the present state of the law on Sunday trading. Perhaps I could offer to him my apologies for having missed about the first 45 or 60 seconds of his speech, a speech which, I must add, he also delivered in a very clear and indeed in an entertaining way.
There has, I understand, been no Bill of similar scope on this subject before your Lordships' House since that which was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, in 1970. The subject is one which, as we have seen, arouses controversy of a non-party political kind and a number of opposing views and interests are involved. Whatever the fate of the Bill it will have served, I think, a very 602 useful purpose if it enables us to assess the extent to which opinion may have changed in the intervening years since the subject was last discussed and also the likelihood of any consensus of opinion emerging on this subject.
As my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede has explained, the present law on Sunday trading is contained in Part IV of the Shops Act 1950. That was a consolidating Act and it reflects the wording of Statutes going back to 1936, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, indicated in his speech. Before then, the Sunday opening of shops in England and Wales was nominally regulated by the Sunday Observance Act 1677—another date to which the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, referred—but in practice I think that it was widely disregarded.
Over the years there has been a considerable amount of criticism of the present law and I agree with those noble Lords who have made that point. It has been regarded as out of date, confusing in its effect and difficult to enforce. The Crathorne Committee on the Law on Sunday Observance, which has already been referred to during the debate, and which reported in 1964, reached the conclusion that many of those criticisms were justified. While the Committee recommend that shops generally should still be closed on Sundays, it urged that the law should be clarified and the list of exemptions extended. The Bill seeks to implement certain of the recommendations of the Crathorne Report but, as I shall seek to explain, in some respects it goes rather further.
The Government accept that the present legislation has given rise to anomalies and that there is much to be said for a clearer and more rational system of law controlling Sunday trading. However, past exprience has shown how difficult it is to reach agreement on how best the law should be amended to achieve this aim and, in the absence of such agreement, successive Governments have been unwilling to take any initiative themselves. Like other apsects of the law of Sunday observance, the restrictions on retail trade raise, at least for some of us, issues of conscience which are best left to the judgement of individual Members of both Houses. Accordingly, the attitude of the Government towards the Bill before your 603 Lordships tonight is one of neutrality. We shall do nothing to obstruct the progress of the Bill, and we shall follow its progress with great interest, and take note of reactions to it both inside and outside Parliament.
Turning to some of the details of the Bill's provisions, I shall deal first with Clause 1 and Schedule 1, which, I think, contain the most controversial proposals in the Bill. As other noble Lords have pointed out, these provisions have the effect of substituting for the Fifth Schedule to the Act of 1950 a new list of transactions for which shops may be permitted to be open on Sunday. The first transaction on the list, and the one which may perhaps cause most concern among your Lordships, is the sale of food and drink, and of ingredients for the preparation of food and drink. This proposal goes further than the corresponding Crathorne recommendation that shops should be allowed to open on Sunday for the sale of all food and drink for consumption on the premises, but only in special circumstances off the premises.
I would not attempt to deny that it is in the area of food and drink that many of the anomalies complained of have arisen, and I think that most noble Lords will recognise that a need exists for some clarification of the present law. Particular difficulty centres on the question of what constitutes "meals or refreshments" which under the 1950 Act can be sold for consumption on or off the premises. This has certainly been the cause of much litigation, as my noble friend Lord Ponsonby has said. As a matter of fact I must let your Lordship into a secret. I was going to serve up to your Lordships precisely the same tasty dishes as my noble friend Lord Ponsonby has already served up. I must confess that I was completely shattered to find that he did so. However, that being so, as your Lordships have already had one plate of raw kippers I shall be sparing your Lordships a second plate, at least tonight!
The effect of this fairly wide interpretation, to which attention has been drawn, of the term "refreshments" seems to have been that food shops can already sell a high proportion of their stocks without breaking the law.
604 Nevertheless I appreciate that some may view with anxiety the complete removal of restrictions on the sale of food and drink on Sunday. They see this as encouraging the widespread opening of retail outlets, particularly supermarkets, without a corresponding increase in trade. This could result in increased overheads and less favourable working conditions for shop-workers. Whether or not those fears are justified is not for me to say; my concern is simply to help, like other noble Lords, to ensure that the House is aware of them.
I shall not delay your Lordships by dealing with all the other transactions listed in Schedule 1, many of which are non-controversial and are the subject of some of the minor recommendations in the Crathorne Report. However, I should join in drawing the attention of the House to the proposed removal of the restrictions on the sale of toilet requisites at chemists' shops. This differs from the recommendation in the Crathorne Report that a dispensing chemist be allowed to sell any goods in his shop on Sunday but only for a two-hour period. It will be for the House to consider which proposal it prefers; the main objection to that in the Bill seems to be that it would perpetuate a situation in which chemists' shops can open on Sunday, but are not permitted to sell the full range of their stock.
In Clause 2 and Schedule 2 the Bill seeks to implement a further recommendation by the Crathorne Committee. That would empower a local authority to make an order specifying any number of Sundays upon which shops situated in its area may be open for the sale of items of the kind which are usually associated with the holiday trade—another aspect of trade which has been mentioned during the debate. This provision will undoubtedly be welcomed by those concerned in the development of tourism in this country. I note that it goes further than the Bill introduced in 1976 by my noble friend Lady Phillips.
As regards the remaining provisions of the Bill, I do not think I need comment on them at this stage. I simply hope that these few observations about the Government's position will be of some help in pinpointing some of the main considerations as we see them.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
My Lords, I think that it is right to say at the outset that our debate has certainly proved that this matter is no less controversial than when it was first discussed some years ago. Before I begin to reply to the various points made in the debate, I should like to join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, on a very thoughtful maiden speech. He had obviously given considerable attention to the problems which the Bill faces and I thought that he made a speech which left us all with very useful thoughts as to what we should do about Sunday trading.
I should like briefly to go through the various comments which were made. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for his support and for underlining the further trivia which exist. The noble Earl, Lord Grey, mentioned the sale of flowers, but not artificial flowers. The thinking here is that garden centres should be able to sell horticulural products, but not ironmongery, which is properly the purview of the ironmongery trade, for if what can be sold at garden centres were extended in that way there would be cause for concern by the ironmongery trade. Therefore, that was the cut-off point which was suggested.
Having listened to those two reasonably calm speeches from the noble Lords, there was then a blockbusting attack on me by my noble friend Lord Allen of Fallow-field. The interesting thing was that having made his attack, my noble friend then reverted to some of the earlier documentation, to which I had referred, which recommended that some modification was necessary. That, of course, is the whole point of the exercise today: that there is a necessity for modification. However, he did not deal at all with the problems currently raised by the fact that we have an Act on our Statute Book which is quite unenforceable, a fact which has been underlined by a great many of your Lordships this evening, no less than by my noble friend Lord Boston of Faversham in summing up. It seems to me that whatever views there may be about the particular Schedules and clauses of the Bill, your Lordships must face the problem that there should be an amendment to the existing legislation.
606 Inevitably, in framing the Bill the Institute has steered a middle course. On the one hand, it has wanted to preserve Sunday as a special day; on the other hand, it has wanted to ensure that there is no free-for-all. That thought underlines the thinking behind the Bill. There is no intention behind the Bill to suggest that Sunday should simply become another trading day. In his speech my noble friend Lord Allen referred to the question of higher prices resulting from seven-day trading, and suggested that if the Bill were passed shops would be opening for longer hours than they do at present. However, I would remind my noble friend that if they wanted to shops could open a great deal earlier than they do at present, but they do not because it is uneconomic for them to do so. I suggest to him that, in fact, widespread further opening will not be an effect of the Bill.
My noble friend also quoted the British Tourist Authority figures, saying—I hope commendingly in a way—that we are doing quite nicely in tourism. Our fear in the tourist industry is that there is increasing competition. When the figures for 1978 are published we shall find that we have not done very much better than we did in 1977; we must be aware of the fact that we are in a competitive market. What I should like to have heard from my noble friend—and which I did not hear—are ways in which present legislation can be tidied up.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Monson, for his support. My noble friend, Lord Sainsbury, was against the Bill, but I was very pleased to hear him admit that the present regulations were unsatisfactory, arbitrary and difficult to enforce. He felt that the Bill went beyond tidying up anomalies. If that is so, these are matters with which we can deal in Committee in order to find some form of legislation which has general support. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, for her support.
The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, rightly said that I was entering a minefield. It has certainly proved to be the case that the question of Sunday trading is a minefield. Subsequent speakers spoke of the Christian aspect of Sunday. As I have said before—and I would direct this also to the noble Viscount, 607 Lord Ingleby, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich and my noble friend, Lord Soper—there is no intention here to stop Sunday being a different day. The intention is to keep Sunday as a different day, as a special day in the week. This is an attempt to ensure that the legislation which is on the Statute Book is understandable by the shopkeeper, the shopper and the shopworker. It is for that reason that the Bill has been introduced. It is bad to have bad law on the Statute Book and we should do all we can to ensure that that bad law is cleared up.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion for Second Reading agreed to accordingly: Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.