HL Deb 27 March 1979 vol 399 cc1525-50

5.31 p.m.


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

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Lord Alport in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [General exception from Sunday closing]:

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


I beg to move the first starred Amendment standing in the names of the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, the noble Lords, Lord Blease and Lord Robertson of Oakridge, and myself; and, with the permission of your Lordships, I should like to speak to a number of related Amendments. At the Second Reading of this Bill the House was very sparsely attended, and only 32 noble Lords went into the Division Lobbies.




I will not argue about one. It was therefore not a great success for its promoters nor a disaster for its opponents. The series of Amendments which we propose seeks a compromise solution. There are, in addition to the first starred Amendment, Amendment No. 1, the second starred Amendment and Amendments Nos. 5, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. The first Amendment is the unnumbered one on the Marshalled List, which should be considered with the unnumbered starred Amendment on the second page and Amendment No. 11. These Amendments seek to remove Clause 1, and therefore Schedule 1 to the Bill, and thus restore the status quo in so far as Sunday trading in items listed in Schedule 5 to the Shops Act 1950 is concerned. Thus, shops may continue to sell those items—such as milk, fresh vegetables, medicines, tobacco and the others listed in Schedule 5—which it is lawful to sell at the moment.

However, Amendment No. 7 would widen the range of additional items which local authorities may by order permit to be sold on Sundays. In this way, the general restrictions on Sunday trading will remain, with the exceptions listed in Schedule 5, but it will be possible, by local action, to extend Sunday trading for particular ranges of items. The new Schedule 2 to the Bill as amended would be much more extensive than Schedules 6 and 7 to the principal Act, which it would replace. Deletion of subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 2 of the Bill by Amendment No. 1 on the Marshalled List means that Section 52 of the principal Act will remain unchanged; and, therefore, a local authority would make an order only after ascertaining by poll that a two-thirds majority of the shops or classes of shops to be affected by the order approve the order being made. We think it is important to retain the status quo in this respect in view of the very great number of additional types of goods for which exemption orders may be made.

Amendments Nos. 8 to 10 would leave Section 22(5) and Sections 60 to 65 in the principal Act. This would retain the exclusion of butchers' meat—"butchers' meat" means fresh, chilled, frozen or salted beef, mutton, veal, lamb or pork, and their offals—from the list of foods to be permitted to be sold under local authority order. This is not only because of the hostile attitude of the trade to Sunday opening, but also in relation to the number of people who could possibly be employed; and, thirdly, because it is hard to believe that any but a very small minority of people would want to buy their Sunday joint on a Sunday morning. The sale of kosher meat, under the provision of Section 62 of the principal Act, will of course continue to be permitted. This would also leave Section 56(1)(c) of the Act, which is a quaint provision relating to the cooking of customers' food. We believe these Amendments continue to protect the majority of shop employees from Sunday working, but do not totally obstruct the way to extending Sunday trading in areas where there is sufficient demand. We therefore commend them to your Lordships.

Viscount INGLEBY

In supporting these Amendments I should like to stress again—it seemed rather complicated, although I thought the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, explained it most clearly—that the effect would be that the extensions to Sunday trading proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, would be subject to the control of the local authority, which, in turn, before it could make an order, would have to have a two-thirds majority vote of the local shopkeepers. This is a very sensitive area, and we feel that local feelings should be consulted.

Indeed, I, myself, would like to see a referendum conducted among the people who would have to work on Sundays if this Bill was passed. This Amendment would not propose a total ban, as the noble Lord has said, on extensions to Sunday trading but it would limit it to areas where there is strong local support. We hope, as he said, that this Amendment would continue to protect the majority of shop employees from Sunday working.


I welcome the opportunity to join with my noble friend Lord Sainsbury and other noble Lords who support the Amendment standing in our names. Since it is the first time I have spoken in connection with this Bill, I should like to make it known that I am a member of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. I have no pecuniary interest other than as simply a paying member of that union. I have been employed in the shop trade and in the retail business for a number of years, and here I am putting forward personal viewpoints, of course, with the interest of shop workers very much in mind. In my view, the principal Act, the Shops Act 1950, is in need of review. The present legislation is unsatisfactory, complicated and gives rise to many anomalies. The Bill does little to remedy or rectify the position. In my view, as it stands, the Bill would create further complications and greater problems and would take away an important aspect of the quality of life of many citizens of the United Kingdom. I realise that this Bill is largely designed to meet the situation in England and Wales, but it does exclude Northern Ireland and Scotland; although I still have doubts about the reference to Scotland and perhaps we could deal with that matter later.

However, my participation is really because, from my experience, legislation of this kind has a tendency to start off in England and Wales and then goes on to apply to other places in the United Kingdom at a later stage. I want to say that Part IV of the 1950 Shops Act dealing with Sunday trading is the most important part of that Act. It has 20 sections, more than any other Part of the Act, and is designed to make general provisions for Sunday trading. The measures were intended to keep under review by local government and parliamentary control the excesses and abuses of Sunday trading.

I think that this Bill seeks to undermine and take away the spirit of that main Part IV of the Shops Act 1950. It opens wide the door to major extensions in Sunday trading. In my view, the Amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, redress and help to bring under some sort of rational control the social and economic problems that the Bill as it stands gives rise to and would impose. I support the Amendment in this general way. It tackles the Bill at the outset. At a later stage we can deal with the consequences and implications on the Schedules and other parts of the Bill caused by the deletion of Clause 1. I support this Amendment.


I have listened carefully to the Amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, and the noble Lord, Lord Blease. But I would admit to a great deal of confusion and I would also say that, having looked at these Amendments, I am not much further on than I was when I first looked at the Bill when we discussed it at Second Reading. I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, said, and many of us take his point. But I believe—and I think it is the view of many of us on these Benches—that we do not want to force any persons in any particular sector of trade to work on Sundays where there is an overwhelming desire to have that day free. One of my noble colleagues listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, defining butchers' meat. My colleague asked: "What about poultry meat?" I have not heard poultry meat discussed or defined at this or the earlier stage.

A noble Lord

It is not butchers' meat.


I heard a noble Lord say it is not butchers' meat; but whenever I buy poultry I buy it in the butcher's shop if not in a supermarket or elsewhere. But I am interested and I have not had any explanation from any of the three noble Lords who have put their names to the Amendment why they wish to remove Schedule 1 from the Bill. When I look at Schedule 1, under head (f)I find: newspapers, periodicals, magazines, books … The noble Lord, Lord Blease, pointed out that this particular Bill does not extend to Scotland or to Northern Ireland. Noble Lords may know I come from Scotland; yet in all my lifetime we have never had any bother about getting newspapers and periodicals et cetera as described at head (f).

I think we might consider the reality of Sunday trading from the consumer viewpoint. I do not speak as a member of any consumers' association. It certainly makes no sense at all in my mind; and I would suggest that it would not make a lot of sense in the minds of the public or, least of all, to the assistants in such establishments, shops or other places or localities where trading in the items mentioned in Schedule 1(1)(f) to the Bill is carried on. A person serving and selling such Sunday newspapers may be in a garage filling station; and, in many cases, certainly in Scotland (and, so far as I can discover, in England and Wales) such newspapers may be sold on a street corner but very often in a shop, a tobacconist's or newsagent's shop or a general shop. When I spend a weekend in London, the shop where I buy my newspapers sells not just newspapers, but is able to sell everything else which is on the shelves. Would I be right in thinking that the movers of this Amendment are of the opinion that shop staff should be able to sell only newspapers or one or two things which are in that shop, and not others, and that they should have to go round on Friday night putting up brown paper so that we cannot see the items they cannot sell on Sundays, or if we can see them, they would have to say, "No, you cannot buy that. It is against the law"?

I suggest that such anomalies have brought the Shops Act 1950 into disrepute and I believe they bring the law in general into disrepute. At the Second Reading debate we discussed how the 1950 Act goes back to 1677. Having listened to the Amendments proposed, I am not much further on from 1677. I will give way to the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury.


I think the noble Lord should read the last three lines in Amendment No. 7: *…in so far as such sales or transactions are not included amongst the sales or transactions mentioned in the Fifth Schedule to the principal Act.". I say this without discourtesy: Unless one studies the main Bill, the Amendments are very hard to understand. The point is that anything—newspapers or anything that is permitted under the main Act—remains, as now, permitted to be sold.


I accept what the noble Lord says regarding the last three lines; but, first, can he tell me what points in my argument fall foul of Schedule 5 to the principal Act? Secondly, if what he says is true, why did he and his fellow movers of the Amendment need to remove Schedule 1 to Schedule 2, which, so far as I understand it, allows sales to take place, but only with the approval of the local authority?


I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, will resist this series of Amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, claimed that the Second Reading was not a great success for those of us who approve and support the principles of this Bill. May I remind him that the Division took place late in the evening and that the majority in favour of the Bill was two to one. I do not believe that anybody nowadays can be compelled to work on Sundays if they do not wish to do so. I would guess that the majority of those who find themselves working in shops on Sundays, if this Bill becomes law, will be part-timers and will be paid Sunday rates. If not part-timers, they might well be Asians or others who come from societies where Sunday is not the traditional day of worship or rest. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, will stick to his guns on this issue.


May I briefly support the Amendment so ably and lucidly put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury. Obviously this is a very sensitive area. So far as I understand the noble Lord, in a particular area local opinion would be obtained about the sale of specific items. It is a very sensitive area, and I agree with the noble Lord who has just sat down that no employee should be forced to work on Sunday. There are a wide variety of people who would welcome this kind of reasonable Amendment to this Bill to enable a certain amount of trading on Sundays.

We from Wales have had a wealth of experience of trading on Sundays or regulated trading on Sundays so far as specific goods are concerned. Alcohol of all kinds was not allowed to be sold in an orthodox way on Sundays, but the local communities in the various areas were consulted, and although some areas differ in their views, there is local trading now regulated in so far as alcohol is concerned. Provided that the noble Lord can give me the assurance that there will be adequate consultation in the local areas, I support the Amendments that he has put forward.


The noble Lord made the point about consulting in local areas. He will recall—and he is probably talking about whether these districts should be "dry" —it was a slight difference to these Amendments because the whole of the population were consulted. In these Amendments, it would merely be the shopkeepers who would be consulted and presumably not the customers. I have listened to my noble friend Lord Ingleby, and I understand the reservations that my noble friend Lord Sainsbury has from the point of view of the workers, and other Peers may have these views.

However, I suspect that my noble friend speaks from the religious angle. What concerns me is that so far as I can recall no one in either House of Parliament has ever raised their voice about the fact that many shops are now open on Good Friday. To me as a Catholic from the religious standpoint that is a far greater affront than that any shop should be permitted to be opened on a Sunday. There is an element of hypocrisy, that we are now asked to believe that Sunday is put in a different category; but that always was a holy day and we are still a Christian community. One can buy any- thing now on Good Friday including this very wicked butcher's meat. I am not quite clear why that is so much worse than buying a newspaper. Perhaps a noble Lord who is moving these Amendments can explain it to me. I am sorry to say that there is an element of what I can only call dichotomy of thinking about this which I should like explained more fully.

5.54 p.m.


This series of Amendments to which Lord Sainsbury has spoken are ingenious and are trying to get over a particular problem. Noble Lords who looked at earlier Amendments submitted by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Blease, would have seen that the Amendments were differently framed and everything was automatically transferred to the category of local authority order, whereas the Amendment, as now phrased, effectively only transfers to local authority order those items which are not covered under the existing Act; that is, the proposals now are that there should be local authority orders and consultations in so far as additional items are to be sold on a Sunday which were not previously allowed under the Act. For example, take the case which the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, mentioned: under the present Act, the sale of paperback books in a newsagent's shop on a Sunday is prohibited. The Schedule now includes that matter and, presumably, under Lord Sainsbury's Amendment there would have to be a referendum of newsagents to see whether they wish to sell paperback books on a Sunday. That, as I see it, is the effect of this new Amendment which has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury. In speaking to Clause 1, he has covered the whole field of his Amendment. I do not intend to deal with some of the aspects that he raised, such as the question of the percentages of shops to be polled, because that can be more concisely debated under the particular Amendment concerned.

My worry about these Amendments is whether they will result in even more confusion than there is at the present time. I want to build into the Bill a requirement on local authorities to take action in the form of canvassing local shopkeepers, or when they were asked by local shopkeepers to canvass, in order that a number of the matters raised in the Schedule could be resolved fairly quickly. Otherwise there would be very great confusion from area to area as to what could be done. On the whole, I think this is the most ingenious Amendment which has been tabled to the Bill. I am not an absolute authority on the procedure of this House, but I hope that the noble Lord does not press the Amendment because there are a number of different Amendments to Schedule 1 which could not be discussed by the House if this first Amendment is pressed. Therefore, I hope that if the noble Lord wishes to press the matter to a Division, he will do so under the Amendment to leave out the Schedule, so that we may at least get the feeling of the Committee concerning the question of the flowers, garden plants, caravans and accessories, which are other items covered by Amendments to be moved by noble Lords.

6 p.m.


Like other Members of the Committee, I find myself in some difficulty in understanding where the pressure is coming from to alter the status quo. I see that there is an evident conflict of opinion within the Committee as to how far, if at all, the public—that is the general consumer—will benefit from any change. But it seems to me that the group of people whose views, perhaps more than any others, deserve to be considered are those employed in shops who stand most to be affected by the Bill. My understanding is gained more, I suppose, from reading the Official Report of the Second Reading debate on this Bill, which unfortunately I was not able to attend, and from the remarks of people such as the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, with all his experience of the retail trade, and the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Fallowfield—so many members of the union of which he is general secretary will be much affected. And my understanding is that that very important category of people do not want to see this change and, on the basis of the debate as it has proceeded so far in Committee, I feel inclined to support the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Boston of Faversham)

The Amendment we have before us moved by my noble friend Lord Sainsbury on behalf of himself and others, has been presented in a fairly comprehensive fashion. Indeed, in moving it he referred to the series of interrelated Amendments, and so it might be helpful if I were, if only briefly, to summarise the arguments on each side, as the Government see them. The question that we have to consider here is whether the transactions which are set out in Amendment No. 7 should be permitted on Sundays throughout England and Wales or only in those areas where the local authority has made an order under Clause 2 of the Bill allowing such transactions. If the Amendments were carried, then the only transactions permitted on Sundays without an order made by the local authority would be those already permitted by the present law, that is, by Schedule 5 to the Shops Act 1950: for example, the sale of "meals or refreshments", sweets and other confectionery, tobacco, and newspapers. The sale of other commodities, such as toilet requisites and films, would remain unlawful, except in so far as any of them was specifically authorised in any particular area by an order made by the local authority with the approval of a specified proportion of the shopkeepers affected.

Since these Amendments deal solely with items which cannot now be lawfully sold on a Sunday, I am content to leave entirely to your Lordships' judgment the question whether such items should appear in Schedule 1 or in Schedule 2. If your Lordships decide in favour of the latter course—that is, in favour of making any change in the existing law entirely a matter of local option—then I should remind the Committee that you will be preserving Schedule 5 to the Shops Act 1950, with all its obscurities, as a statement of the commodities which may lawfully be sold on Sundays throughout England and Wales. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede and I, and perhaps other noble Lords, drew your Lordships' attention on Second Reading to some of the anomalies and ambiguities which had arisen over the interpretation of that Schedule, particularly as regards what constitutes "meals or refreshments". I think it is also fair to say that these Amendments import a similar degree of obscurity into the Bill itself, in that Amendment No. 7 adds a long list of items to Schedule 2 but then, in the last few lines, subtracts those which are already covered by Schedule 5 to the 1950 Act. But we are concerned here with more than questions of drafting, and I would, if I may, leave it to your Lordships to decide whether there is a case for extending the list of articles which one can buy on Sunday anywhere in the country—broadly as the Crathorne Committee recommended—or whether any such extension must be a matter for the exercise of local discretion by local authorities.

Clause 1 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 1 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

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

6.7 p.m.

Lord ALLEN of FALLOWFIELD moved Amendment No. 2: Page 4, leave out lines 5 and 6 and insert— ("(a) intoxicating liquors; ( ) meals or refreshments whether or not for consumption at the shop at which they are sold, but not including the sale of fried fish and chips at a fried fish and chip shop; ( ) newly cooked provisions and cooked or partly cooked tripe; ( ) table waters, sweets, chocolates, sugar confectionery and ice-cream (including wafers and edible containers); ( ) flowers, fruit and vegetables (including mushrooms) other than tinned or bottled fruit or vegetables; ( ) milk and cream, not including tinned or dried milk or cream, but including clotted cream whether sold in tins or otherwise;").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name. In doing so I would say that those who were in this Chamber during Second Reading will appreciate that I opposed the Bill root and branch, and gave what I believed to be considered views on economic, social and other grounds for doing so, in the sense that one felt justified on Second Reading to speak in total opposition to it. Certainly neither then nor since has there been any proven case for substantiation of the Bill. Therefore in moving this Amendment I do so with a desire to replace subsection (1)(a) of Schedule 1 to the Shops (Sunday Trading) Bill with the provisions relating to food in Schedule 5 to the Shops Act 1950.

I hope I shall not weary the Committee by reminding your Lordships of the present law. Under the present law, shops generally are required to close for the serving of customers except for the transactions listed in Schedule 5 to the Shops Act 1950. Broadly, these exceptions cover the sale of food and drinks for immediate consumption, confectionery, medicines, tobacco, aircraft, motor or cycle supplies and accessories, newspapers, periodicals and magazines, sundry items concerned with specific activities, Post Office business and the business carried on by a funeral undertaker. Provision is also made, as your Lordships know, for certain shops in holiday resorts to remain open on Sundays, if the local authority makes the necessary order, up to a maximum of 18 Sundays in any one year; and traders of the Jewish religion can also apply for a special exemption after 2 p.m. on Sundays, provided they close on Saturdays.

Against that background, is it to be argued, as the supporters of the Bill have argued and will continue to argue, that people will starve or go without medical supplies or be deprived of news, tobacco or confectionery on Sundays? I do not think it can be so argued. It is against that backcloth that I submit the Amendment in my name. Its effect will be to restore the provision relating to the sale of food on Sunday. I readily acknowledge that this Amendment does not iron out anomalies—for example, fish and chips shops—nor is there any intention of doing so, and it does not deal with other minor changes. However, one feels that it is logically defensible, and the aim is to restore the position in the major area where change is proposed; that is, food. It does not attempt to deal with anything else.

I believe that it can be defended, if for no other reason, on the grounds of shortness of time, and possibly, the complexity of parliamentary drafting. I said in the Second Reading debate that those of us who were looking at the problems of Sunday trading and the Shops Act ought to look long and hard. It is complex legislation and I do not believe, with the shortness of time available to us and the manner in which the change to Schedule 1 has been suggested, that this in any way represents an in-depth examination, in order to deal with some of the problems which were referred to on Second Reading and again today.

This is a piece of legislation which requires an exhaustive, in-depth examination. In the absence of that—I say this with the utmost respect to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede—the only effect of what we are attempting to do will be to compound a number of the difficulties which one acknowledges exist. It is suggested that the United Kingdom as a whole is waiting for the moment when food shops in our country—in particular, butchers' shops, and this in the age of refrigeration—open on Sundays. But I hope that this Amendment, which is an attempt to maintain the status quo, will be accepted by those who looked sympathetically at the point during the Second Reading debate, and supported it. Having said that, I beg to move.


In rising to support my noble friend Lord Allen, may I say that I was slow off the mark. I intended to rise, but was hardly given time to do so, in order to explain that I had no intention of pressing my Amendment at this stage. I prefer to wait and hear the views on other Amendments. But I have every intention of bringing it back, perhaps in a slightly revised form, at Report stage.


I should like to apologise to the noble Lord, if I foreclosed on him rather earlier than I should have done.


May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Allen, to decipher one aspect of his Amendment, which he moved so well? I take his point that it covers a fairly narrow field, but I should like to refer to the third sub-paragraph which reads "table waters, sweets, chocolates". I presume that this refers to confectionery and ice cream. One or two of my colleagues and I were very interested in the last item "edible containers". Am I right in thinking that "edible containers" are what I referred to in my youth, and what I refer to in my relative youth today, as cornets, into which one drops a blob of ice cream? I think that they are referred to as comets, pastries, or something like that. I see that in the same sub-paragraph the Amendment refers to "wafers".


I am grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me of his youth. It reminds me of mine. If I answer his question by saying that the intention is to maintain the status quo, for the reason that I have given, then the answer is, Yes.


As my noble friend indicated, his Amendment reinserts into the Bill the words in Schedule 5 to the 1950 Act. In a sense, that Schedule is already out of date through legal decisions which have been taken since the passing of the 1950 Act. For example, the Amendment refers to "tinned or bottled fruit or vegetables", as being items which cannot be sold on a Sunday. But the courts have determined that "tinned or bottled fruit or vegetables" come within the category of "meals and refreshments". So that, in a sense, to go back entirely to the wording of Schedule 5 to the 1950 Act does not make any progress at all.

I am very much concerned that we should find a form of words for this Bill which will not invoke hostility from any section of the community. I have been most attracted by the ingenious suggestions put forward today by my noble friend Lord Sainsbury and his supporters, and it may be that we can find some means of making progress in that way. Therefore, I very much look forward to seeing my noble friend's Amendment, and I and my advisers will no doubt think about what amendments one can make in order to clarify the situation, and to introduce a legal option on a number of these matters. But this Amendment of my noble friend Lord Allen does not take us any further forward, and I suggest that it should be resisted.


I can understand the good intention of my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, not to give offence to any section of the community by this legislation. But I have to remind him, as I did on Second Reading, that close on half a million men and women were offended when he suggested that this land of ours would be a much better place to live in if all food shops were open on Sunday; in particular, butchery shops. I am not sure to what court judgment my noble friend referred. I remind him that we are dealing with this Bill as we see it, and the Amendment, for which I make no apology, is to maintain the status quo. Again, I repeat that to proceed in the way that my noble friend Lord Ponsonby is attempting is really tinkering with a piece of legislation, and I hope that he will see the matter in that way. One hopes, too, that there may well come a time in this House, or in the other place, when there will be a very long and careful look at the Shops Act itself. They will have to make a judgment upon it at that time.

I think that it would be an ill judgment on the part of this House to support the proposals we are now discussing in Committee which have been made by my noble friend. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, is not here, because she referred to what she described as "some hyprocrisy" among certain sections of the community regarding working on Good Friday. I share her apprehension about that, but I think that the noble Baroness knows, as do many other people, that the whole of the retail distributive force has opposed working on Good Friday for many, many years. They see this as the thin end of the wedge.

6.20 p.m.


Again I intervene only briefly on this Amendment, to say that I drew your Lordships' attention during Second Reading to the fact that paragraph 1(a) of Schedule 1 to the Bill goes further than the Crathorne Committee recommended, in so far as it would allow the sale of food or drink of any kind for consumption off the premises as well as on the premises without any restriction. The Amendment which has been put down by my noble friend Lord Allen of Fallowfield would also depart from the Crathorne Committee's recommendation, but in the opposite direction, and would simply preserve the existing law, as the noble Lord himself told the Committee in moving the Amendment.

In favour of the proposal contained in the Bill, it can be said that the existing law is vague and obscure and that it confronts the courts with questions about the precise status of raw kippers, cream buns and other delicacies. Some noble Lords might feel that this tends to make the law look rather ridiculous. Because of the difficulty which the courts have had in setting any logical limits to the meaning of the term "refreshments", a matter upon which your Lordships centred to some extent during the Second Reading debate, it seems that food shops can already sell a high proportion of their stocks without breaking the law. On the other hand, the more widespread opening of food shops, particularly supermarkets, on Sundays might not in all respects be a very welcome development, especially when one takes account of the effect on shop workers' conditions and the cost which might fall, as a result, on the consumer. I leave it to your Lordships to judge whether or not, in the light of the arguments which have been put forward, it is right to make any change to the existing law.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

6.23 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS moved Amendment No. 3: Page 4, line 19, at end insert— ("(d) parts of, or accessories to caravans or trailers.").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 3. This is a rather different subject. Under subparagraph (h) of Schedule 5 to the Shops Act 1950, premises may be open for the serving of customers on Sunday for the sale of aircraft, motor or cycle supplies or accessories. Under this provision, caravan dealers' premises, which include accessory shops, have been open on Sundays for such sales. The Bill which 'is now before your Lordships' House would prevent the application of this exemption. Any premises offering caravan parts or accessories for sale would require an order to be made by the local authority if they are to be open for business on Sundays. I suggest that this is rather unfortunate, because the position is likely to vary in different parts of the country.

May I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, that ideally the caravan industry would like to see the sale of caravans permitted on Sundays, because these are family leisure items. Frequently, it is only possible for the whole family to inspect caravans together on a Sunday when they, as a family, can make their choice. This is borne out in particular by the large attendances on Sundays at the caravan exhibitions organised by the National Caravan Council at Earl's Court in London and Kelvin Hall in Glasgow.

So far as the provisions of the Bill are concerned, a number of local authorities throughout the country have in recent years taken proceedings against caravan dealers for opening their premises on Sundays, on the ground that they were exceeding the exemption provided by Schedule 5 to the Shops Act 1950. Regrettably, this has led to a number of caravan traders having to close entirely on Sundays.

The application is piecemeal, and this can only result in unfair competition because premises on one side of an authority's boundary have to be closed while those on the other side of the boundary do not. I have no idea whether this happens, but if one tried to buy some of these accessories in Plymouth on Sundays and met with a refusal, one would cross the Tamar and get them on the other side of the river. Because of this, I feel that to make it a requirement of an order by a local authority to permit caravan parts and accessories to be sold on Sundays would result in fewer facilities being available to the public on Sundays when they are most likely to be travelling in their cars and caravans.

The proposed separation in the Bill of parts and accessories for caravans from the parts and accessories for cars would produce, I consider, the absurd situation that a motor garage which was open for the sale of parts and accessories under Schedule 1 to the Shops Act 1950 would be permitted to sell a caravan owner a new bulb for one of his car lamps but not if the bulb was to be used in the caravan that he was towing. Similarly, if a caravan owner had a tyre failure, he could buy a replacement tyre if it were for the motor car but not if it were for the caravan that he was towing.

If this Amendment is not accepted, it will produce a quite absurd situation. For this reason, I hope that the Bill can be altered so that if parts and accessories for caravans are to be specifically introduced into the shops legislation they are given equal status to that given to motor vehicle parts and accessories. The proposal in this Amendment is that caravan parts and accessories should be allowed to be sold on Sundays without a special order so as to retain the present status under the law. I beg to move.


The concern here relates to what could be included under the word "accessories". The whole purpose of the Bill is to try to define items more closely. Any furnishings required for the inside of a caravan might be claimed by some salesmen to be an accessory, and that would begin to open up the law as to the interpretation of the word "accessories". We feel that the needs of caravan owners are covered to a large extent by paragraph (c): that if something goes wrong with a caravan and the owner wishes to buy a tyre for it, it can be bought under this paragraph. It should be a question of local determination and control so that the whole situation does not become wide open for the sale of items which would otherwise be prohibited under Schedule 1. If the Amendment had not included the word "accessories", it would have been much more acceptable than it is.


Would it not be possible to get over that difficulty by saying "mechanical accessories"?


Certainly that is a form of drafting which I should like to look at very closely.

Baroness VICKERS

May I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Perhaps he would give me the opportunity to withdraw the Amendment for the time being with the idea of accepting the suggestion, or a suggestion similar to the one which has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, which I think was very helpful. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.30 p.m.

Lord NORRIE moved Amendment No. 4: Page 4, line 39, at end insert— ("(3) The sale of flowers, plants and gardening or garden leisure equipment supplies and accessories at any premises or place where the sale of these items represents the sole or principal activity of the business.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment I wish to explain some of the difficulties which face the horticultural trade. I should like to draw particular attention to nurseries and garden centres, in which I have previously declared an interest. The needs of the general public have changed since the Shops Act was passed in 1950. Quite new situations and conditions have arisen and it is a matter of chance as to whether they may be covered by the present Act. The entirely new existence of yacht marinas is a specific example, as these may sell a complete range of goods on Sundays, while nurseries and garden centres, which represent Britain's oldest and most popular leisure activity, may sell only a limited range of goods on that day. Over 78 per cent. of households in Britain have a private garden, which puts garden ownership in this country far above that of many other countries in Europe. It should come as no surprise that independent research shows that gardening is Britain's pre-eminent active leisure pursuit for both men and women. Even as long ago as 1970, 25 million people, including a significant proportion of those in retirement, were actively engaged in tending gardens or allotments. What these figures are today has not been estimated but we all know that there has been a huge increase in gardening during the intervening nine years.

Economically gardening is good for Britain and also it is a pursuit which tends to keep more and more families united and at home. The population recognises the need to aim at self-sufficiency and is now growing an increasing amount of the fruit and vegetables which it consumes. This was never borne out more clearly than during the recent transport difficulties when the price of vegetables, even if they could be obtained at all, reached heights which placed them out of reach of many. The majority of people pursue their leisure hobby at the weekends and Sunday is usually the day when their immediate needs become apparent. Consequently, a visit to a garden centre is often made a family outing where the gardening and leisure requirements may be satisfied on that day. It has been estimated that some 94.2 per cent. of nurseries and garden centres are open on Sundays. That day represents 30 to 40 per cent. of the total trade for the week and it has thus become regarded as the best trading day.

The Shops Act has always allowed some garden requisites to be sold and the present Bill constitutes a more modern and rational approach but still falls far short of what is now required. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to a few of the trivial anomalies which will continue to affect my trade if this Amendment is not accepted. Trees may be sold but not the stake or tie which is essential for their support: shrubs may be sold, but not the peat or compost in which they are grown; roses may be sold, but not the pesticides or fungicides or fertilisers needed for healthy growth; bedding plants may be sold, but not the seeds from which you may grow your own; house plants may be sold, but not the bulbs or the tubers from which some originate, nor the decorative pots or containers in which they are usually displayed; tomato plants may be sold, but not the liquid fertiliser required for successful crops.

I am even informed that one garden centre visited by an inspector last year was actually told that its staff could not talk to a customer about a product which was prohibited from sale on a Sunday. These are but a few of the irritating instances which my noble friend Lord Lyell so aptly described as "trivia" during his speech on Second Reading. Large numbers of people visit garden centres every Sunday and find the restrictions on what they can buy to be arbitrary, perplexing and annoying and there is no doubt that many businesses break the law to placate the customer. If a buyer cannot get what he wants at one garden centre he will proceed a short distance to the next, where he will probably be more fortunate. Strict interpretation and rigid enforcement of the Shops Act in its present form will probably cause very many garden centres to close on Sundays, with a consequent loss of trade which in time will force them to close down altogether or severely restrict their activities. This will result in a considerable number of people losing their jobs and the public being deprived of a service which it both appreciates and requires.

I should like to point out that nurseries and garden centres are usually located away from shopping centres or high streets, so that allowing them to trade legally on a Sunday does not, in my view, create unfair competition for any business located in a traditional shopping environment. I firmly believe that the shop in the town is visited by the shopper as part of his or her weekday shopping routine, whereas the visit to a nursery or garden centre on a Saturday or Sunday more often than not involves family participation. The importance of offering this week-end service to the family is fully recognised by the staff working in this type of business. Equally they recognise that the maintenance and daily care in horticulture, as with livestock for farmers, must continue at weekends. Therefore, in their contract of work they accept a staggered five-day week with an option to earn overtime according to their circumstances.

Finally, there may be those of your Lordships who believe that our trade is "money for old rope", but I would remind you that horticulture is seasonal and very dependent upon the weather. The trade has just suffered the worst winter since 1963. Not only have sales been practically non-existent but a great deal of nursery stock has not survived the recent spells of intense cold. The removal of the anomalies which exist in Sunday trading is therefore of paramount importance to the horticultural trade.

With the increasing amount of leisure time available, here is an example of a trade that has already responded by offering the service that people require at the time they want it. To do so, however, nurseries and garden centres in many cases have had to break an unenforceable law. I am convinced that the time has now come for your Lordships to remove the difficulties that face my trade and by supporting my Amendment you will be giving it the assistance it deserves. To those noble Lords who do not wish to support my Amendment, I can only say that I hope the disappointment registered by 25 million gardeners will not bring about a permanent blight of greenfly and blackspot on the roses in their gardens. I beg to move.


I do not wish to speak either for or against this Amendment, but I should like to point out to the Committee that if it is accepted it will mean that every nursery and garden centre in the country—and there are very many of them—will have to maintain a skeleton staff on Sundays, and although my noble friend Lord Monson pointed out that nobody is being forced to work on Sundays, in effect of course they are, purely from the point of view of competition. They will have to be there if there are other garden centres in the neighbourhood, and therefore I must leave the Committee to draw their own conclusions from that.


Has the noble Lord, Lord Somers, considered the views of farm workers and indeed everybody else who is running essential public services? I am a farmer when I am away from your Lordships' House and certainly when the weather is fine and the harvest is ripe I am afraid the noble Lord, Lord Somers, will find every combine harvester in my part of Scotland working on a Sunday, and the farm workers know, when they take employment as farm workers, that when the harvest is ready everything starts off and harvesting goes ahead. I suggest that the same argument might apply to workers in nurseries or similar establishments to those described by my noble friend Lord Norrie.

I was fascinated to listen to my noble friend Lord Norrie explaining the different requisites and supplies and accessories he spoke about. My mind is appalled at the thought of liquid manure being sold on a Sunday; apart from the nuisance of it, I am a little worried! I am also in some trepidation at the thought of motor mowers or other gardening and agricultural equipment, small diggers and tractors, being demonstrated! I would have thought that such things are demonstrated and are sold already on a Sunday. At the same time I do take Lord Somers' point of view that one should not force people to work. But I suggest that, in this industry, be it agriculture or horticulture, employees engaged in such activities know what is expected of them; that on certain occasions during the year, particularly on certain Sundays in the growing season or at harvest time, their work will have to go ahead, and they will not be left unrecompensed.


I can assure the noble Lord that I have enough farming blood in my veins to realise that. But I still feel that the sale of flowers to the public is rather a different thing.


In the Amendment the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, does not state whether paragraph 1(d) of Schedule 1 is to be included, or whether his Amendment is in addition to paragraph (d) which says the sale of flowers, plants, shrubs (other than artificial)". Does his Amendment include artificial?


If I may explain this, in fact because the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, introduced his own Amendment I had no alternative but to put my Amendment at the end of Schedule 1 as paragraph (3). It is my intention that my Amendment be substituted as a new paragraph 1(d) within Schedule 1. I hope that clarifies the situation.


As a horticulturalist, I should like, first, to congratulate my noble friend Lord Norrie on his excellent exposition of Sunday trading as it affects the horticultural industry, and indeed the situation in this country of the horticultural industry as a whole, especially as appertaining to non-edible productions. However, while I am a supporter of the Amendment in its major tenor, I would point out to the Committee that it does bring up something which, potentially, has very wide ramifications. The end of the Amendment reads, …where the sale of these items represents the sole or principal activity of the business". What you are going to do is to prevent one section of traders from having the same rights as other traders under this Schedule. I would have thought that the same words might with advantage be made general for all the trades and traders who are listed in this Schedule 1.


I think that the spirit behind Lord Norrie's Amendment is certainly a commendable one, in the sense that the suggestion is that, if one buys one's shrubs or roses, or whathave-you, on a Sunday, one should be able to buy the fertiliser and whatever is necessary for the cultivation of that article. However, the wording of the Amendment causes some considerable trouble because it refers to the sale of garden leisure equipment supplies and accessories at a place where the sale of these items represents the sole or principal activity of the business". In other words, it could be interpreted, as it stands, that a place whose sole or principal business is the sale of garden leisure equipment supplies, without the sale of flowers, plants, shrubs et cetera, would come within the ambit of this clause. I think it would be far better if the paragraph referred to the sale of flowers, plants, shrubs and horticultural equipment and supplies at a place where horticultural products are produced—in other words, some wording which tied it in with horticultural products, as most of the people who work in garden centres are under the horticultural wages Acts and not other Acts. The Amendment, as it stands, does have anomalies. The noble Lord has indicated that in any case he intends to come forward with a reworded Amendment at Report stage. I would hope that we could deal with it then, but, if not, I myself would be prepared to come forward with an Amendment roughly along those lines.


I thank the noble Lord for that. I think in that case I would rather have an opportunity to withdraw my Amendment and perhaps reword it in a way which your Lordships would approve. I feel that the general consensus of the Committee is that they would support an Amendment like this. I would, therefore, prefer to go away and think about it and produce an Amendment which would be acceptable. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

6.47 p.m.


May I seek some guidance from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, before we leave Schedule 1. I note that, in Schedule 2, paragraph 1 describes, Articles required for the purposes of bathing or fishing". My mind worked in a somewhat naughty frame. I looked at Schedule 1(1)(j). This sub-paragraph spells out, … the sale at any premises or place where a game or sport is … carried on of requisites for that game or sport". I have been given to understand that the sport of angling is one of the most widely-practised sports in England and Wales. I understand that more people practise the sport of angling, be it competitively, professionally or intensively, on any day of the week, and I would have thought especially on Saturday or Sunday, than go to either play or watch football, which fills the newspapers and media in the winter and autumn and part of the spring. That goes for angling.

What about swimming? I would suggest that bathing suits might be described as articles required for the purpose of bathing, except in certain delineated areas —I think they call themselves naturist parks. I wonder why paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 is necessary, since I understand that everything that might be required for bathing or fishing would be covered by sub-paragraph (j) of paragraph 1 in Schedule 1. I would suggest that most swimming and almost all angling is what might be described as a game or sport. For that reason, I wonder whether paragraph 1 of Schedule 2, which allows bathing suits and I suppose fishing rods, tackle, lines, bait and the rest, to be sold only with the concurrence of local authorities, is necessary. Yet if one took a slightly broader view of sub-paragraph (j), all these items would be sold, with or without the permission of local authorities, all over England and Wales. Could the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, set my mind at rest, if not tonight, at the next stage, or before the next stage?


I should like to ask about a number of accoutrements; what about skin-diving and other aqua sports? There is no end to it. I think it indicates that we are tinkering with something in this particular Schedule and the other legislation proposed here that requires a complete review of the whole situation.


I shall certainly come back to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. From briefly looking at the particular point which he mentioned, paragraph 1 (j) of Schedule 1 refers to the sale of specific items, at any premises or place where a game or sport is played or carried on". However paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 refers to the general sale of the items referred to. So, in the first case one can buy a bathing suit at swimming baths, but in the second case one can buy the bathing suit at a stall on the beach. Indeed, one might say that the beach was a swimming place in any event. I think that that is the distinction between the two paragraphs. However, I shall take advice on the matter and advise the noble Lord further.


I hesitate to intervene, but no doubt further advice can be given by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede on another occasion—if there is one. However, I think that he would also recall, turning to Schedule 2, that the articles mentioned in paragraphs 1 and 2 are already included in Schedule 7 to the 1950 Act although "souvenirs", I understand, have not been defined previously. The items in paragraphs 3 to 5 accord, I understand, with the Crathorne recommendations.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7 not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 10 and 11 not moved.]

Schedule 3 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.