HL Deb 01 November 1988 vol 501 cc80-3

2.55 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What consultations they are carrying out on possible changes in the law in England and Wales on Sunday trading.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, Home Office Ministers have met representatives or groups with widely different views on 18 occasions since 1st January 1988 to discuss Sunday trading. Consultations are continuing.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he agree that change is needed because the law is not being observed, is difficult to enforce and is falling into disrepute, while in Scotland the law for many years has given complete discretion to shops to open, if they wish to, without damage to the Christian sabbath or to keeping Sunday special? Indeed, statistics show that a larger proportion of the population in Scotland goes to church on Sunday than in England.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with my noble friend. The Government favour complete deregulation. I am aware of the points which he makes about Scotland, but the fact of the matter is that it is necessary to get these proposals through Parliament. The last time the Government did that, another place decided not to accept them. Until those of my noble friend's disposition can persuade a sufficient number of people of a different way of thinking in another place to vote for such proposals, it is difficult to see how any great change can come about.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are quite different interpretations of the figures on Scottish churchgoing as just given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy? Moreover, very many people in this country believe that there is a halfway house between the chaotic situation of Sunday laws as we have them at present and the complete deregulation now being advocated in some quarters.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I knew that we would run into this trouble with this kind of Question. The views of the right reverend Prelate accentuate the problem which faces not only the Government but also Parliament. People have different views on the interpretation of Sundays, as they have different views on the interpretation of statistics. I can only hope that somehow, at some time, we shall be able to resolve the problem.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, will the Minister undertake to give serious consideration to the REST proposals from the Keep Sunday Special Campaign? When he and his colleagues have come to a conclusion, which I sincerely hope will not be complete deregulation, will it be their intention to issue their views in the form of a White Paper so that they can be considered, rather than simply to slip them through in one line in a future Queen's Speech?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I doubt whether at the moment a White Paper or a Green Paper is needed. The main object at the moment is to get people to crystallise their views. Until that happens the Government will not be able to put forward any proposals.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, did my noble friend notice that the right reverend Prelate stated that the present situation of the law on Sunday trading was chaotic? In the light of that, is it not for the Government to give a lead to remedy a situation which puts the prosecuting authorities throughout the country in enormous difficulty?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I noticed what the right reverend Prelate said. In answer to my noble friend I am bound to say that the Government in fact gave a lead but Parliament rejected that lead. I accept that it is very difficult to know what one is allowed to do or not allowed to do. It is not for me to interpret the law. However, I did a little homework to find out the position on Sunday trading. As I understand it, one can sell on Sunday a pornographic magazine but not a Bible, unless the Bible happens to be sold at a designated airport or at a railway station. One can sell fried fish and chips at a restaurant but not at a fish and chip shop, where however one can sell any meal apart from fried fish and chips. One can sell tinned or untinned clotted cream and untinned unclotted cream, but not tinned unclotted cream.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is the view of the right reverend Prelate that there is a halfway house between sense and nonsense due to simple faith or honest doubt?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, far be it from me to suggest what the right reverend Prelate has in mind. However, I have no doubt that over matters which deeply concern the right reverend Prelate he will have no difficulty in going the right course.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the fact that shops may be allowed to open on Sundays does not mean that they will all be open? Does he agree that the question of choice, which is so rightly favoured by this Government, should apply both to traders and consumers alike?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Montgomery is entirely correct. If there were permission to open all day on Sunday it does not mean that all shops would be open all day on Sunday, or even at any time on Sunday. On the other hand, if consumers have the right to choose it may also be thought that some people who work in shops should have the right not to work on Sunday. Once again, one enters the dilemma.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, when the noble Earl mentioned that various parties were being consulted with regard to a change in Sunday trading laws, did he include in that number the interests of employees and trade unions who might be involved? If he did not, will he do so?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, so far as I know, we have not had any, direct consultations with unions. If I am wrong on that point, I shall inform the noble Lord. Obviously consideration of their interests is a matter which will be taken into account very seriously in any proposals.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, the Minister quoted a great number of anomalies in the existing laws. Will he include in that list the fact that the Catholic Church relies on Sunday trading for sales of its rosaries and Bibles?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I think that that issue is—if I may say so—a bit "hot". I would rather not reply to that question.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, against the zealous background for change, would my noble friend agree that small community shops selling essentially food are a benefit to the community generally, and that the community would be greatly disadvantaged were the hours of trading of such shops on Sundays reduced?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. Small shops selling food have a very important part to play. I can tell him that he may not be able to buy cat food anywhere on a Sunday, but he can buy fodder for mules at an inn.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that any of your Lordships will be welcome to a consultation that I am holding here today week? Secondly, is he aware that when I was in Scotland last week I found in talking to many residents that they agreed with the Auld Committee that Scotland is not on a par with England?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for informing me of that position. I do not think that I shall enter into a discourse with him as to whether his information is right or wrong.