HL Deb 02 December 1985 vol 468 cc1063-76

3.5 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

It is only three years since your Lordships approved a very similar Bill, introduced by my noble friend Lady Trumpington. I am more than grateful, therefore, that my noble friend has been persuaded—without much difficulty, I must add, despite the large number of speakers—to wind up today's debate. She brings considerable knowledge and understanding as well as commitment to the subject. I hope that between us, and with the support of others, we shall persuade your Lordships to welcome this Bill as a liberalising but steady reforming measure to rescue the law from the disrepute into which it has fallen. The aim of the Bill is to bring the law on this matter into line with the realities of life, tastes and behaviour in the late twentieth century and to extend individual choice.

Of course, there are strong and conflicting views on the Bill's provisions, particularly about the removal of restrictions on Sunday trading. We respect the sincerity with which they are held. It would, in the face of such reservations, be all too attractive to do nothing and leave well alone, but I must tell your Lordships that that would be irresponsible. The law has decayed. It must be replaced, and in replacing it we must not create new anomalies which would lead us back before long to the present unsatisfactory state of affairs.

In presenting the case for change, I must briefly outline the background to the present restrictions on shop opening. The 1950 Shops Act, to which this Bill relates, was in fact only a consolidation of eight earlier Acts, covering such matters as weekday closing hours, the early closing day and Sunday trading. The regulation of weekday opening hours and conditions of work dates back to the end of the nineteenth century and arose from the excessively long hours worked in shops.

The first restrictions on Sunday trading date from 1448 but, in more recent times until 1936, the relevant statute was the Puritan influenced Sunday Observance Act 1677. But this had become a dead letter long before 1936 because the penalty for breach of the law had remained at five shillings. The Victorian Sunday was not a dead day and Charles Dickens was scathing when he wrote of the the attempts by Sabbatarianists to promote new legislation, You cannot make people religious by Act of Parliament or force them to church by constables". He did not accept that, after church, the Lord's Day should become a grim and gloomy day. Denying people recreation was, he considered, not a Christian tenet nor an English tradition. His advice to us is timely: Let Sunday legislators take for their motto the words which fell from the lips of that Master whose precepts they misconstrue, and whose lessons they pervert—'The Sabbath was made for man, and not man to serve the Sabbath' ". The Sunday Trading Act 1936 was promoted not by Sabbatarians but by the Early Closing Association to restrict widespread Sunday opening. The Act was soon criticised as being arbitrary and unworkable. In 1947 a committee of inquiry headed by Sir Edward Gowers found the various Shops Acts to be obscure and anomalous and to have formidable problems of enforcement. Nonetheless, the difficult issues were ducked and the 1950 Act merely consolidated the existing legislation and there was no attempt to correct the problems identified in the Gowers report.

Since that time there have been no fewer than 19 attempts to reform the law, including seven attempts by Members of your Lordships' House. The pressures for reform have mounted steadily both as the structure of retailing has evolved and as the structure and habits of our society have changed.

Changes in retailing have seen the emergence of many more mixed retail outlets—making the task of enforcing any law based on lists of products which can and cannot be sold on Sunday immensely difficult—an increase in self-service shops, the growth of out of town shopping centres, and the development of garden centres and DIY stores. Attitudes to retailing have changed too, and shopping has increasingly become both a family and a leisure activity. Important purchases in the lives of individuals, couples or families either have to be rushed in crowded shops on Saturday or undertaken from an illegal trader on a Sunday.

The proportion of married women below pensionable age in employment has doubled. Sadly, there has been a large growth in single parent families and also of single people living alone. These have naturally led to a demand for more opportunities to shop outside normal office and factory hours. As one retailer told the Auld Committee: The present position when we open the shops just when the customers go into the factories and offices and close them before they come out, is almost unbelievable". It is these factors which have led to a rise in consumer demand for the opportunity to shop at least occasionally on Sundays and a willingness on the part of many retailers to flout the law. Because of its unpopularity local authorities have proved reluctant to take proceedings against offending shopkeepers. The Association of District Councils have reached the conclusion that the removal of restrictions on Sunday opening is the only rational way forward. Nevertheless, 720 defendants were successfully prosecuted for illegal Sunday trading last year—an increase of about 330 per cent. since 1980. This is clearly only the tip of an iceberg. Things cannot be allowed to continue as they are. The choice is clear: there must either be substantial deregulation or much harder enforcement of the law. The latter would be highly unpopular, extremely difficult to do effectively and likely to cost a significant number of jobs.

Dunng the debate on the last such attempt at reform, introduced in another place by my honourable friend the Member for Wycombe, it was clear that there was hardly anyone who considered the present state of the law satisfactory. In response, my right honourable friend the then Home Secretary, in July 1983, appointed a committee of inquiry independent of government under the chairmanship of Mr. Robin Auld, QC, with the following terms of reference: To consider what changes are needed in the Shops Acts, having regard to the interests of consumers, employers and employees, and to the traditional character of Sunday, and to make recommendations as to how these should be achieved". The membership of the committee was small, but six assessors represented employees, consumers, the Churches, the local authorities and the employers, both large and small. Additionally, the Institute for Fiscal Studies was commissioned to conduct an independent economic assessment of the effects of the increased trading hours.

The Auld Committee started from the unchallengeable premise that, the law should not interfere in the conduct of human affairs unless it serves a justifiable purpose in doing so". The committee examined very carefully the various interests that could be claimed to be protected by, or to draw benefit from, the provisions in the 1950 Act. They took into account the evidence received from all quarters, including the comprehensive report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which recognised that the outcome of any change must be uncertain but was satisfied that the impact of change would not be great. The Auld Report came firmly to the conclusion that there was no interest or combination of interests that justified the continuation of statutory restriction of trading hours, and recommended that they be deregulated. That is the heart of the matter. We accept that basic recommendation, and Clause 1 of this Bill gives it effect by abolishing all restrictions on weekday and Sunday opening in England, Wales and Scotland.

Before I return to the central arguments I should like to say a little about shop workers. Conditions for them have changed enormously for the better over recent years. But there is a case for maintaining some updated statutory protection. Until we have had a chance to complete a review of the hours of work of young people across the board, we propose that the existing protection for young persons working in shops should be retained. Clause 2 achieves this, and with Schedule 2 amends the Shops Act so that provisions relating to weekly half-holidays, meal tunes, restrictions on hours of work and Sunday employment apply only to young shopworkers.

The committee recommended the retention of the wages councils system for shopworkers. Your Lordships will know that the Government have taken the general view that wages councils should be retained but reformed. My noble friend the Secretary of State for Employment will shortly publish details of the Government's proposals on this matter. This Bill will remove young people under 21 years from regulation and restrict the councils' powers to setting a basic minimum and overtime rate. In reaching its conclusion careful consideration was given to the Auld Committee's views and to the pattern of working in shops, and in particular to the effect of the wages councils on employment in the retail sector.

Clause 3 and Schedule 1 establish and qualify for shop workers who are in employment immediately before the commencement date a general right not to be dismissed for refusing shop work on a Sunday: and a right not to have other action, short of dismissal, taken against them by their employer because they have refused to work on a Sunday. We propose to offer this protection to all employees concerned with the operation of a shop, not just shop assistants; but not to those who already have a contract to work on a Sunday.

Many existing shopworkers may have entered retailing because they knew they would not have to work on a Sunday, so it is only reasonable to protect them from having to work on a Sunday. But similar considerations will not apply to new recruits. They will be in no way different from workers who have entered other industries and occupations where Sunday working is expected. Many employees expect and accept Sunday working as the norm, and new shopworkers will be fully aware of the possibilities of Sunday working before they enter the industry. A recent study indicates that four million people work regularly on a Sunday and another five million work occasionally on a Sunday. Sunday working is no longer to be found in a narrow range of industries: it has spread to nearly all sectors of the economy.

Established shop workers who are dismissed for refusing to work on Sundays will be able to claim unfair dismissal according to the provisions and procedures of the 1978 Employment Protection Act. The Act will come into force on Royal Assent.

There are, I think, three issues central to the debate on this measure: the threat, or otherwise, which it poses to the traditional Sunday; the position of small shopkeepers; and whether alternative controls should be applied in preference to substantial deregulation.

The character of our traditional Sunday was a matter which the committee of inquiry was specifically required to consider. The committee reported its view that, for most people Sunday has a different character from any other day of the week", but that its traditional character as a day on which very little outside activity takes place has long since gone. The special character of Sunday varies according to the family circumstances and lifestyle of each person. This is its strength and its value as 'a marker in the rhythm of everyday life'. The committee noted that for many, particularly those living alone, Sunday was not a day for traditional relaxation but a grey, lonely and rather miserable day. Equally it is relevent to note that many people already work on Sundays. The Government accept the committee's view that, it is wrong to legislate for uniformity in this one area of activity to reflect the views of some members of the community as to how Sunday should be spent, while disregarding the wishes and needs of others". We are convinced that all should have freedom of choice and that the views of some, however well-intentioned, should not lead to statutory restrictions on others.

We do not expect that Sunday trading will become anything like universal. Many shops in sectors like do-it-yourself and gardening are already open, legally or illegally, and we do not expect a very great increase in Sunday trading. A survey by the Polytechnic of London has suggested that 20 per cent. of shops might open regularly on Sundays, with more widescale opening near Christmas and on other special occasions. In Scotland, where there has been no operative prohibition of Sunday trading for many years, a survey of shopkeepers in April this year showed that only 16 per cent. currently open or intended to open on a Sunday. Indeed, I know from living there that in Scotland for the majority of people the traditional Sunday is alive and flourishing. And I find nothing inconsistent in going to church most Sundays, doing some necessary shopping on the way home, and observing all the traditional elements of Sunday—nothing inconsistent at all.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, the noble Lord must be a Catholic.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am not a Catholic—having heard that intervention. Our Sunday is changing. It will continue to change—at least for some of us—whether or not we pass legislation. But the legislation before your Lordships is for a change of degree, not for a change of principle.

The Government have every respect for those who wish to worship on Sundays. Indeed, there are a few people who believe it to be wrong to undertake any other activities. Their position is clear, and it is consistent. What we do not support is the concept that their views should be imposed on others. In a recent pamphlet the Jubilee Centre spoke of the need for Christians to persuade others of the correctness of their views—a position which I endorse—but they then went on to advocate not persuasion but the intervention of the criminal law to coerce others. What is by no means clear is the principle underlying the proposals of those who oppose the deregulation of shop opening hours on Sundays, but only for some shops or some shoppers or who believe, for example, that shops should be regulated while amusement arcades and restaurants are not. If icecream can be sold, what principle suggests that the criminal law should prevent bibles or postcards in a church from being sold? If plants can be sold, what principle suggests that plant pots or spades should not be? Many opponents of the Bill will concede that they are not concerned with moral principles, but it is difficult to see any logic or consistency attached to the alternatives which they offer.

Concern has also been expressed on behalf of the small shopkeeper. That is understandable. Since the war the number of small retailers has declined dramatically in this country, as in most western countries. But this trend is occurring regardless of legislation. Furthermore, the Institute for Fiscal Studies concluded that the changes produced by deregulation would be too small to be distinguished from changes already taking place in the structure of retailing. Indeed, there may be hope that, through encouraging a freer market, smaller, and sometimes specialist, shops will be able to use their greater flexibility and ply their strengths against their larger competitors. That would seem to be the experience in Sweden, where deregulation of retail hours in 1972 has benefited most the small retailers and halted their decline in numbers.

I know that there are some people who seek a middle way; who concede that the present law is indefensible but who shrink from deregulation. There are, for example, those who advocate the production of new lists of items permitted to be sold on Sundays. But on what principle should such lists be based? Adopting this view is certain to replace the present muddle with a new, and equally indefensible, shambles.

Then there are those who propose that local authorities should be given responsibility for determining opening hours. This is of course a perfect way for the Government to "pass the buck". But would it solve the problem? Of course not. It would just create new ones. There is something of the nature of being in favour of virtue and against sin in the notion of leaving the decision to "local people". But would they find it any easier to identify correct and consistent principles to govern their interventions? Would they be able to give appropriate weight to the views of local shopkeepers and chain stores and to the interests of consumers, or would one prevail? Is it reasonable for shopkeepers in one area to be forced to close while their competitors open in the next town? Would the local authorities concerned welcome the substantial new burden of administration and enforcement which would be placed upon them?

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham has tabled an amendment, and I should like briefly to refer to it. We have considered very carefully indeed whether there is any halfway house to meet the difficulties engendered by the Shops Act 1950, to meet the demands of society and to provide a fair system for retailers. Prior to that, the Auld Committee had given their detailed attention to the same question. Neither the Auld Committee nor the Government could find an acceptable compromise. Indeed, any compromise seems likely to fall into the trap of so many compromises—that of attracting the worst of both worlds.

I do not think your Lordships would expect the Government to agree on Second Reading that a Bill be amended in a way intended to weaken it but in a way which is not spelt out. The effect of the amendment would be to take us back to the time before the Auld Committee, when everyone agreed that the law required amendment; but, because no one could agree on how this should be done, the Government were urged to set up an independent committee. We have done so and have accepted their findings. But in addition to these technical arguments we come back to the issue of principle—and the Government's proposal is well founded in principle. The Government have introduced this Bill to remove the statutory restrictions on the hours shops may open because, like the Auld Committee, they are sceptical in the extreme about invoking the criminal law to control activities which are not inherently harmful. There is no consensus today that it is wrong to open a shop on Sunday. People want to be free to shop at times which fit in with the other demands in their lives, and many shopkeepers want to be free to provide the service their customers want and need. Is that really wrong?

Demand for longer opening hours is widespread. It is demonstrated in opinion polls; it is demonstrated in people's behaviour. Many retailers are breaking the law. They are doing so in the certain knowledge that they will meet with no disapproval from their customers, whose demand has led them to be open. Freedom to shop or open a shop does not mean compulsion to shop or open a shop. People may choose either on principle.

The present restrictions bring no obvious benefit to anyone. This Bill will sweep away these outdated and anomalous restrictions on ordinary freedom, and on those grounds I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Glenarthur.)

3.26 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Birmingham rose to move as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a second time at end to insert ("but that this House considers that the law should be amended so as to rationalise restrictions on trading hours without such extensive deregulation as the Bill proposes").

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord the Minister for the clarity and the force of conviction with which he has put the case for the total deregulation of Sunday trading. At least, that is what is in the Bill, although I notice that his actual words were "substantial deregulation". I am sure that we are all in his debt for this excellent exposition of the Bill, even if many of us—perhaps most of us—would wish that it had been drawn up differently.

It is of course common ground that there are many outdated and inappropriate anomalies in the Shops Act 1950. However, some of the objections to the more absurd prohibitions of the Act seem to me to be more rhetorical than realistic. Bibles may not be purchased on Sundays, but I doubt whether any noble Lord has heard of long queues of frustrated would-be purchasers. Nonetheless, there is an evident case, which we on this Bench recognise, for the reform of the Act. I hope that, with amendment, this Bill will meet that need.

It seems to me that the real question at issue is simple: should the present Shops Act be reformed or should the law be altered in such a way that we have total deregulation of Sunday trading hours? If we have that, with respect to what the noble Lord the Minister has said, it seems to me that we have a change of principle.

It gives me no pleasure to speak to the amendment standing in my name, but I am sure that your Lordships will agree that it is proper for me to explain the reasons for the amendment on both conscientious and other grounds. I would hope that everywhere—in this House and in another place—voting could be on grounds of conscience. In fact, the Churches in Britain are almost totally united in their opposition to complete deregulation of Sunday trading. It takes a very great deal to unite the Churches of England in this way, but this Bill has achieved it.

When a debate was held over the road in the General Synod earlier this year we were all but unanimous in opposition—only one person in the entire General Synod dissented. The Episcopal Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops in this country was of the same opinion as was the Free Church Federal Council; and earlier this month the British Council of Churches sent a delegation to see the Home Secretary to inform him of their views.

Opposition to total deregulation is not generally held on Sabbatarian grounds. For example, I am not a member of the Lord's Day Observance Society. Sunday is a different day of the week from Saturday, and it is not to be identified with the Jewish Sabbath of the Old Testament. It is not sinful to work on Sundays. Some people choose to work, and essential services have to be kept going. I am told that, as a result, between 1 and 2 million people rather than 4 million people have to be in permanent full-time Sunday employment. In any case the dreary Sunday is dreadful. I must say I find it odd to think that a Sunday is dreary unless you can go shopping; but I agree with the noble Lord the Minister that a dreary Sunday is dreadful. For Christians Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, and so it should be happy and enjoyable. One of the main reasons for my amendment is precisely because we fear that with total deregulation Sunday will become far more dreary for many people.

Let me venture to suggest at the outset why we need Sunday to be kept generally as a day apart so that as few people as possible have to work on it. Human beings cannot go on for ever working and working. They need a rhythm by which to live; a pattern which provides a day of recreation and rest every week, and a day with their families that is different. These rhythms of life are not optional extras, they are necessary for healthy living.

The pattern of one day in seven could be called, rightly, a divine ordinance. As I said in my evidence to the Auld Committee, which the noble Lord the Minister was kind enough to quote in part: It gives space in the midst of a busy week, and it acts as a marker in the rhythm of everyday life.

Interestingly enough, the Auld Report quoted this remark with approval, and then took no account of it in its conclusions; one instance, among many, that its conclusions are not well supported by its arguments. The committee was asked to pay due regard to the traditional character of Sunday, which it failed to do. Unless Sunday is for most people a special day, life is a plateau: it goes on endlessly, like days without sleep, or even perhaps life without death. If we are to keep our humanity, society must have reference points for living—which is another way of saying that to disregard a divine ordinance is to court disaster.

It will not do to say that each individual can keep his, or her, rest day. No man is an island. We are members of society, and we need public symbols for society as a whole and not just simply time off for individuals. If this were a predominantly Jewish country, the special day would be Saturday; if we were predominantly Moslem it would be Friday; but we are not. We are Christian by tradition, and so Sunday is the day, and Sunday is under threat for society as a whole. There are of course those who deny this. They point to Scotland for proof, where they say that Sunday trading hours have been deregulated for years. Indeed, I think that the noble Lord the Minister said that for many years Sunday trading had been deregulated in Scotland. In fact I am told that there never has been any law in Scotland against Sunday trading because it was never conceived possible that any shop in Scotland would open.

The Auld Committee agreed that other countries are no guide for England. There are special reasons why there has in the past been little Sunday opening in Scotland. The Calvinist tradition of Sabbatarianism dies hard so that there is a built-in Scottish tradition. A higher proportion of the people in Scotland belong to churches. The population is more scattered and rural and there is less car ownership.

The chairman of the Church and Nation Committee of the Scottish Kirk, which is presently investigating Sunday trading, writes to me as follows: Look at Scotland and beware!

He is referring of course to Sunday trading. He says: Look at Scotland and beware! In the last 10 years there has been accelerating change. In the great centres of population, supermarkets are opening more and more on Sundays, and High Street shops in November and December also are attracting custom.

I do not know where in Scotland the noble Lord the Minister lives. I know that provincial towns may still be quiet, but I am told that a shopping centre in Edinburgh is crammed with shoppers on Sunday.

What are the chances of shops opening in a big way in England? I find the evidence rather contradictory here. There are some people who say that there will not be any change in Sunday trading, and there are others who say that there is such a demand that we must meet it. Most small shops in fact, and many big chains, do not want to open. But shops will open if this is considered profitable, or they will open in reaction to competitive pressure or out of fear of a loss of market share. What will happen? The John Lewis Partnership believes that Sunday opening would be "progressive and irresistible". They write, In time Sunday would become in many places the second busiest shopping day of the week.

We should not suppose that only shops would be affected by this. There would obviously be a great demand for public transport to get to the shops. Lorries would have to bring in fresh supplies. More police would be required, and perhaps some Members of your Lordships' House heard the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London quoting the commissioner in London about the demands that would be made on his police force for Sundays. Streets would have to be cleaned; banks would open. I am told that the Trustee Savings Bank in Scotland already opens. It would be like the bustle of an ordinary working day.

I leave to other speakers—I know they will—to describe what I think would be the unfortunate economic effect of unrestricted opening, and I turn to look at the social effects. First, there will be, for those who live near shopping centres, a lot of noise and bedlam. Surveys show that people regard noise as one of today's major problems. I was visiting a large housing estate on the outskirts of Birmingham in June this year. The manager of the shopping centre there, which is privately owned, told me that if Sunday deregulation came in it would be a requirement of shop rental that there should be Sunday opening. This is what a housewife from Chertsey has written to me about small shopping precincts in residential housing estates. She writes: These may become focal points of traffic and industry, making life a misery on a day when there has been some respite from one's working life and a little peace. This peace will disappear.

Then there are the pensioners, and there is going to be a growing number of pensioners. Pensioners make use of local shops and they will find that many of these will not exist. The noble Lord the Minister said that this was a trend which was happening anyway, and that of course is undeniable. But this, my Lords, will hasten the trend. Many such small shops have not the resources for Sunday, seven-day opening. They have not the staff. They will tend to close, and old people will have to walk further for their essential supplies.

Then there are the shop workers. I am glad—I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House will be glad—that the position of established workers is guaranteed under the Bill, and we took note of what the noble Lord the Minister said about the future wage councils and their authority over minimum wages.

Of course even today there are great difficulties for many people working on Sundays. This is what someone writes to me from Croydon: Since May 1985 no member of staff has been taken on by my company unless they agree to work on Sundays. No members of staff have been given promotion unless they agree to work on Sundays".

This of course is against the law, but not against the law for future staff if the Bill is unamended. Future staff will have to work whether they like it or not.

It is not just a matter of people being prevented by Sunday work from attending church, although earlier this summer I attended a church meeting on an estate where a lady told me in tears that she had worshipped at that church on Sunday mornings ever since it had been built, but that as she works in the retail trade this would end with deregulation. She said that even if her position were safeguarded, as I see it will be, she could hardly allow others to work so that she could worship.

The question is much broader than just attendance at worship. As USDAW, the union of retail workers, puts it: Anyone who needs, or is required, to work on Sundays is bound to suffer socially". That, I fear, is what will happen if the Bill goes through unamended for all shop workers. They are bound to suffer socially.

Let us next consider the family. We find that over two million people are employed in the retail trade. If there is unrestricted Sunday opening, the Institute of Fiscal Studies reckons that 350,000 people would be working in shops every Sunday. I think that is a minimum figure. I would estimate it at half a million. When one thinks of the extra police, people driving buses, people driving transport lorries with perishable goods and so on, the figure will be greater. This means that people will be taken away from their families on Sunday. It is bad enough that one to two million have to work already on a Sunday. It seems to me to be intolerable to "coerce"—I use the word of the Minister—half a million more.

Many Sunday jobs will be part-time. Already young boys and young girls are often employed on Saturdays. Is it really good for them or for the country if they are removed from their family circle to be employed in the retail trade on Sundays as well? Worse still, nearly half the people employed in the retail trade are women, mostly married women. These women will be away from their families on Sundays for Sunday family life.

The Auld Report, which the Government have accepted, somewhat romantically speaks of happy Sunday family shopping expeditions. I suspect that its members were somewhat removed from the harsh reality of Sunday family life, where children, with reluctance, go family shopping and are often bored stiff. In fact, most families would be sundered and, at a time when divorce is hitting one in three marriages and when children are badly in need of the affection and discipline of their parents, I should have thought it desirable to strengthen family life not to bring in a Bill to weaken it. In any case, who really wants Sunday shopping? It is commonly said that this is what the majority want. I can find no clear evidence of this. Even the Auld Committee said there was no clamour for it. Weekend workers, in well-authenticated surveys, show how work interferes with their family life. Even the Russians today, like the French revolutionaries before them, have been compelled to reintroduce the Sunday rest day. Do we want it to go?

Polls are simplistic and misleading. Their evidence has been self-contradictory. More to the point, in 1981 only one person in 10 (according to the National Consumer Council) found the present shopping hours inconvenient. It would be ridiculous to alter the present law for that small minority. We in Birmingham found that longer opening on weekdays last Christmas helped to ease things a great deal. The public in general do not find the present shopping hours inconvenient. DIY centres and garden centres want Sunday opening and they have spent large sums propagating their case. Most large retail chains do not; small shopkeepers certainly do not want it; the unions do not. Who wants it? As the Institute of Fiscal Studies reports: The goods which people suggest they are likely to buy on Sunday are, in the main, those which are already available on Sundays."—

legally available, that is— This may be taken to indicate that the existing restrictions are not particularly irksome.

Many more people, if they realised what Sunday opening really meant, would then be clear that they do not want it, but by then it would be too late. If we take the action in this Bill unamended it would be irrevocable.

One particularly strange reason for the Bill is concern about the present flouting of the law, although I noticed that the noble Lord the Minister did not quote any really hard statistics about the percentage of shops that are said to break the law. The only statistic that I have seen is that 1.3 per cent. of shops surveyed were in flagrant breach of the law. I fear that in default of hard evidence the size of that problem is greatly exaggerated. I do not understand why the choice must be for the law either to be totally enforced or totally withdrawn without amendment. Perhaps I may take the case of the 30 mph speed limit in built up areas. No one in their senses would wish that to be withdrawn, but equally no one would claim that it is totally enforced. Indeed, my experience is that this particular law is broken by a far higher percentage than the 1.3 per cent. connected with Sunday trading. I regret that I must confess that I was fined for speeding this year and that I have now reformed myself. I now do not drive at more than 30 miles an hour in the city and I find that I am the slowest driver in Birmingham.

However, the analogy between Sunday trading and speeding is inexact, for it is impossible to prevent people from speeding, but it is possible to amend the law of Sunday trading so that it would be breached far less. If it were breached, then surely it should be enforced under the criminal law. It could hardly be enforced under the civil law: after all, if I park my car in a prohibited area, that is an offence under the criminal law. I cannot see how else an offence breaking the laws of the realm in this matter could be treated.

As for the argument that it is impracticable to reform Part IV of the Shops Act, I cannot believe it. Every other country in Europe except Sweden and Scotland has some restrictions. It is extraordinary that we cannot, as they have, devise a law which is fan and satisfactory. I will leave it to a later speaker from this Bench to expound the best options in amending the present law. None of us wants to leave it as it is. If there is a will, there can be a way. I am particularly struck by the Auld Report's objection that any alteration of the present law would be unfair to someone. Surely most law must be arbitrary to a certain extent. I am surprised at the extraordinary scrupulosity that is shown by those who want on other grounds to do away with Sunday trading.

What other grounds could there be? I can think of two theoretical grounds. One of these is the belief in the free market. That is the belief that things go best economically when the market is free. But in this case I do not think the principle holds. We should tend towards a monopolistic, less competitive situation, with the small shops gobbled up by the large. We should actually lose jobs, not gain them, at the present level of shopping demand. We have no evidence that there would be a greater volume of trade.

The free market theory is not so much an ideology as an economic theory which does not, I beg to suggest, apply to Sunday trading. But there certainly is an ideology—the belief that, on grounds of principle, there should be as much freedom for the individual as possible. Frances Cairncross, one of the three members of the Auld Committee—the committee had only three members—wrote in The Times this year: Why should not people shop on Sunday if they want to? The principle is that everyone should be free to do what he or she wants to do. That seems splendid, but one person's gain is another person's loss. Freedom to shop on Sunday would mean that people in shops had to work and would lose their freedom of recreation. It would be a form of coercion. Unrestricted freedom to buy and sell would become more important than other people's freedom to share a day's recreation with their families.

I have tried to give a modest and sober assessment of this Bill in terms of the needs of society for a special day each week. We have looked briefly at the various social factors involved and from the point of view of the law. I find little enthusiasm for it generally. May I remind your Lordships of the words of the Crathorne Committee in 1964: The special character of Sunday ought to be preserved as far as practicable as a day of leisure in which a person is not required to pursue his weekday work and is free to do as he chooses.

But under total deregulation he would be required to pursue his weekday work. The noble Lord the Minister quoted from the Auld Report the statement that the law should not interfere with what people want to do unless there are justifiable reasons for so doing. However, I hold that there are indeed very justifiable reasons.

The manifesto of the governing party said nothing about Sunday trading and there is no clear evidence that the majority of the English people want total deregulation. There is therefore no mandate from the people of this country. I am a comparative newcomer to this House, but I have always thought that one of its functions is to curb the excesses of those who wish to curtail the liberties of Her Majesty's subjects; and among those freedoms must be the enjoyment of Sunday peace at home with the family. I had always thought that it was in accordance with the Conservative ethos to conserve all that is best in our national life, to retain our "traditional values". Whatever good intentions people have—and, of course, I recognise that there are good intentions behind this Bill—I should have thought that it was undesirable, without a clear mandate from the people, to introduce far-ranging, fundamental and irrevocable changes into our national life.

As the noble Lord the Minister said, there have been Sunday restrictions on the statute book since 1448. Now it is proposed, according to the Bill, to sweep them away irrevocably, as though we had become a totally secular society. I venture to put to your Lordships that it would be a very sad day for our nation if that actually happened. That is why I look forward to moving the amendment standing in my name: I move it now.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a second time, at end to insert ("but that this House considers that the law should be amended so as to rationalise restrictions on trading hours without such extensive deregulation as the Bill proposes").—(The Lord Bishop of Birmingham.)

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My Lords, perhaps I may say that I understood from my noble friends on the Front Bench that they wish to insert the Statement at this time.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, I do not know whether I am in order, but before the right reverend Prelate permanently resumes his seat, may I ask him a Question? Is he aware——

Noble Lords


The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, I think I am interpreting the wish of the House as voiced that we should now proceed to the Statement, and then on with the debate, with a great many speakers.

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