§ 3.11 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter rose to call attention to the problems of Sunday trading and of the legal restrictions thereon and their enforcement; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is not a problem which will just go away. It is a problem which your Lordships' House, the Government, and most people in positions of responsibility have to face. I shall begin with a comment which I hope will be fairly generally acceptable. It is pretty generally agreed that the present law on Sunday trading is so riddled with ludicrous aspects and so riddled with uncertainties that it is unenforceable and very largely not enforced. I doubt whether any of your Lordships will dispute that proposition.
It is against that background that I suggest your Lordships should consider this matter. If the law is blatantly not enforced because it is ridiculous, that undermines general respect for the law. I am perhaps particularly sensitive to this because 1 began my adult life as a barrister and also because I had the interesting experience of going to the United States as a member of the Oxford Union debating team while prohibition was still the law in that country. In parenthesis, I may say that I drank more at that time than I ever have since. But I was shocked, in the way one is perhaps more easily shocked at a young age than one is when one gets older, by the way in which in one or two large houses on Long Island, where I was most kindly invited, I saw judges, senators, state governors and people in responsible positions drinking cocktails and full series of wines in complete defiance of what was the law of their land. They did not apparently even feel there was anything particularly odd about so doing.
It is a matter of history that that contempt for the prohibition law, which because of its unreasonable character was very widely felt in the United States, did much to undermine general respect for law in that country and contributed quite largely to the very considerable degree of lawlessness and disorder which followed in the years that came after. I suggest to your Lordships that we are concerned on this matter not only with the strict merits of Sunday trading, but also with something which may be even more important: that is, respect for our system of law, its enforcement and our law courts in this country. As 1560 I shall seek to suggest to your Lordships, the present state of the law on Sunday trading is such that it is not reasonable to expect efforts to be made to enforce it.
I give your Lordships, in support of that proposition, one or two examples of the absurdity of the present law. The classic one, of which your Lordships are, I believe, aware, is that on a Sunday it is lawful to sell a pornographic magazine but a criminal offence to sell a Bible. I see that two right reverend Prelates have put down their names to speak in this debate. I shall be interested to hear whether either of them seeks to defend that state of affairs or whether they are prepared to suggest that amendment of the law must therefore be necessary.
There are so many other examples, but I shall not weary your Lordships with them. There was the case, of which I think your Lordships are aware, of the monks of Buckfast who were informed that, although they were free to sell their excellent wine on a Sunday and might just escape the criminal law if they sold their honey, they would undoubtedly come into conflict with the law and its enforcement agencies if they sold a crucifix or a holy picture.
Case after case demonstrates this ludicrous state of the law. I shall reinforce that by quoting some part of the fifth schedule to the Shops Act 1950. That law still governs the position. The fifth schedule states what sales are lawful on a Sunday. Some of them are worth listening to. The schedule states that it is lawful to sell tobacco and:
intoxicating liquors; meals or refreshments … 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 … 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 schedule continues. It refers also incidentally to:
aircraft, motor, or cycle supplies".
A very important aspect of the legislation is that one can sell books, but they may only be sold from:
the bookstalls of such terminal and main line railway or omnibus stations, or at such aerodromes as may be approved by the Secretary of State".
That is the present law. Your Lordships must look at this problem against the background that approximately 5.5 million people in this country regularly work on Sundays. They work in the continuous process industries such as steel and cement. They also work in hotels, catering, transport, communications, the press, radio and television. The accepted figure is slightly more than 5.5 million people who work on a Sunday. If the only means of keeping Sunday special is to stop people working, it is quite plain from those figures that that battle is lost already.
Another aspect of the matter is that social conditions have changed very greatly since the 1950 Act. One obvious change is the number of wives who themselves work during the week. The consequence, of course, is that Sunday offers one of the major opportunities for husband and wife to go out shopping together—perhaps for household necessities—when the husband is very conveniently there to carry the purchases home. Or they may be indulging in some of the more entertaining aspects of 1561 shopping such as going to do-it-yourself stores, garden centres and other such places. That is a feature of our social life and it has changed since 1950.
Why is it suggested that to keep Sunday special one has to shut some of the shops, selected in the arbitrary way which I have ventured to describe to your Lordships? After all no one is compelled to go shopping who does not want to. I speak as one who will go to great lengths to avoid going shopping. However, I have the advantage of a highly efficient wife which frees me from that necessity.
If one is going by law to stop shopping in the interests of keeping Sunday special, why stop there? Why let five and a half million people work? Why allow television programmes, and why allow the railways to run? There is no logic in picking out shops, or some shops, for a restriction which is not applied by law in any other direction.
That point has been made by the National Consumer Council, a very responsible body which represents probably better than anyone the interests of consumers. As recently as the beginning of January it reported that Sunday shopping in general should be legalised and that the great majority of consumers whom they had consulted by way of a poll favoured doing so.
Now one comes to the point which I know will be taken in this debate—and rightly so. Although it may be in the interests of consumers to have the right and freedom to go shopping, is it fair to those who have to work in shops? Is it fair to shopworkers? The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has circulated a highly coloured document, I think to all of your Lordships. I want to refer to it because it contains two mis-statements which should be nailed at once. The first is headed:
Shopworkers. What 'open all hours' supporters want . No legal constraints on shop staff working excessive hours".
There is not the slightest justification for that statement. It is entirely invention. The document continues with a similar inaccuracy:
No double-time or extra payments for shopworkers who work on Sundays".
Again, there is not the slightest justification for that statement. One wonders why a responsible major trade union thinks it expedient to put out false statements of that kind.
Your Lordships will recall that the 1986 Bill, which your Lordships' House accepted although another place took a different view, specifically provided that all present shopworkers who refused to work on Sundays should be protected from any sanctions. It left open for the future the position of those who went into that trade or occupation afresh knowing the situation and knowing that they would be treated like everybody else. But those who had been working in an occupation in which Sunday trading was previously forbidden would be protected. That was indeed very proper.
It is quite obvious from experience of Sunday working in the other areas to which I have referred that higher rates of pay are regularly paid for Sunday working. It so happens that at one time I was chairman of a cement-making company. Cement, 1562 being a continuous process industry, is an industry which has to work on Sundays. Those working on Sundays received in some cases one and a half times and in others double rates of pay. As a consequence the only trouble I encountered as chairman took the form of complaints from workers who had not been rostered for Sunday work and who suggested that their not being rostered for that more profitable employment was due to some prejudice against them on the part of the foreman or assistant manager. The complaint concerned not being rostered. They were rostered for one Sunday in three or one Sunday in four and thereby received a very agreeable supplement to their earnings. It is perfectly obvious that in a very large number of trades—it would be the case with shopping if, against past custom, Sunday working were adopted—additional payments would be made to compensate.
Then there is the argument, which one must respect, about difficulty in going to church. However, if one considers the hours at which churches now conduct their services, from 7 o'clock Holy Communion to 6 o'clock or 6.30 Evensong, it is inconceivable that those working on Sunday who wish also to go to church would find much difficulty in doing so. If that is a problem, it is a problem for the five and a half million people—a far larger number than the shopworkers involved—who already work on Sundays.
I regard the suggestion that if people can go shopping they will not go to church as grossly offensive to the churches and to the great many of us who are regular churchgoers. I dismiss that argument as being almost beneath contempt.
If we want encouragement we can study the example of Scotland. Older Members of your Lordships' House may remember that the Scottish Sabbath—or "Sawbath" as it was often pronounced—was a formidable thing when we were young. Today, Scotland has free Sunday opening. Scotland had the advantage that it had no statutory restrictions such as the 1950 and previous Acts in England and Wales. Therefore, Sunday shopping did not depend on legislative change but simply on changing social conditions and demand.
I am told that some 22 per cent. of shops in Scotland now open on Sundays. Those are the ones which think it profitable and in their interests to do so. There is no ill-feeling or trouble about it. The Scottish example is a very good illustration of the way in which this matter can sort itself out if legislation is not imposed on the subject. I ask your Lordships to take a good look at Scotland. I am only sorry that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is not on the Woolsack to hear the tribute I am paying to the Scottish legal system.
Another aspect of the question is the tourist industry. Many tourists visit this country just for the weekend. If they cannot shop, their weekend is made duller and less attractive and our sales of foreign currency earning goods are by that amount diminished. I do not place undue weight on that aspect, but it is certainly a factor which your Lordships will wish to take into account.
In the light of what happened to the 1986 Bill it is obvious that most people who are considering this 1563 matter are looking to see whether compromises are possible by which an advance can be made without the measure conducting that advance suffering the same fate as the 1986 Bill in another place. There are various suggestions; they are not on the whole very attractive. The most popular is, I think, for limited Sunday opening hours, say six hours.
The problem is: which six hours? Newspaper shops want to open at 8 o'clock in the morning to sell their papers. Garden centres, on the other hand, particularly in the summer, expect most of their customers in late afternoon. Any particular six hours, if applied rigidly across the board, would be in some degree oppressive. It might be possible to allow any six hours to be chosen by the shop concerned, although again, I understand, there are thought to be difficulties about enforcement. However, it is an idea that some people find attractive.
Then there is the proposal that small shops—this is determined by square footage—should be allowed to open while large ones should not. I believe that to be a thoroughly irrational suggestion which opens itself up to every sort of fiddle. It would be perfectly possible for someone with a large shop to cut off a little and claim that it was a small shop.
If a compromise is necessary, the most sensible approach would be to do what your Lordships may recall was done in respect of the Bill to abolish capital punishment. We should carry deregulation into law in a Bill whose life was only five years and which would lapse at the end of that time unless renewed. That would enable those people with genuine apprehensions as to what Sunday opening might do to our Sundays to know that, if they were proved right, the Bill would not be renewed. If a compromise is required, that is a possibility.
I come finally to the opposition that appears to have been demonstrated from the episcopal Bench. I hope that such opposition will not be demonstrated this afternoon; but hope is sometimes frustrated. I wonder whether those right reverend Prelates, who on previous occasions have spoken against Sunday trading, are representative of their Church and of church people. I am particularly disposed to raise that question as a result of some interesting information that I have recently obtained about cathedral shops.
As your Lordships know, many of our cathedrals sensibly maintain a large shop which raises valuable funds for the support of those wonderful edifices. Last Sunday, 5th February, 15 Anglican cathedrals and one Roman Catholic cathedral were not only open but were selling specified articles of which I have particulars and the sale of which represented a breach of the criminal law. I shall not give the names of those 15 cathedrals or specify the articles unless pressed in case it might stimulate some busybody to prosecute.
Whatever right reverend Prelates may say, that example is indicative of the fact that the slightly lower level of the established Church—in one case it is, with proper ecumenism, a Roman Catholic cathedral that has done so—seems to adopt a much more practical approach. In all seriousness, if those cathedrals regarded it as wicked and as breaking the sabbath 1564 and spoiling Sunday, they would not do it. The fact that they do and that they have done so successfully for quite a time is indicative that, whatever might be said by right reverend Prelates, it is at least possible to doubt whether they are expressing the unanimous view of our own established Church.
I have taken too long, but I had a good deal of material. I shall conclude by quoting the last paragraph of a letter sent as recently as 4th January to the Government on behalf of the Consumers' Association, as it sums up the line that I suggest your Lordships should favour. It states:
The law on shop hours cannot be left to limp on into the 1990s. This issue should be addressed, and resolved in the very near future, and we urge the Government to take appropriate action.
§ I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has brought before us today a subject which is always controversial and of great concern not only to us in this House but to many people outside. It is appropriate that we should be considering this question again after the intervening years since 1986. There is no doubt that the subject attracts conflicting and passionate views, not least from my noble friends who sit behind me on these Benches. There are many divisions in thinking for or against changes in our Sunday trading law. The old and the young have different views and members of political parties have conflicting views, so we all have something to say on the subject.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, addressed his remarks directly to the Motion before us, commented on the current dilemmas and made much of all the anomalies regarding our Sunday trading law at present. He prefaced some of his remarks with the word "ludicrous". I did not agree totally with everything that he said and I hope that during my remarks I shall respond to what he said. I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments which will perhaps give us some idea of the Government's intentions on this subject. For my part, I should like to make some general remarks on the issue of Sunday trading and to comment on the different options for reform that appear to lie before us at present.
A great deal has been said about it being impossible to enforce the present law. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, gave some striking examples of that, but there have been conflicting accounts about the true extent of illegal trading on Sundays and some reports appear to have been exaggerated. The latest survey carried out by the Jubilee Centre—which in my experience produces accurate reports—for the period from November 1987 to June 1988 shows that large breaches of the law where shops are open and the sale of three-quarters or more of their goods is illegal took place in a mere 2.2 per cent. of the whole sample. Those occurred mainly in do-it-yourself chains which have increased enormously in number as a result of the increase in home ownership.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, suggested that contraventions were being carried out on a large scale, but I do not think that 2.2 per cent. could be described as a very large 1565 percentage. We should like to see no contraventions of any law, but given our motoring restrictions, which are contravened a great deal, perhaps 2.2 per cent. is not too bad.
Much play is also made of the anomalies which exist and date back to legislation which was introduced as early as the beginning of the century and was brought together under the 1950 Act. There is little doubt that some of the goods exempted seem quite incongruous in 1989, but they do not pose a very real problem. To use one example, nothing could be easier than to extend the power of trading to cover fish and chip shops which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and which, most absurdly, find themselves on the exempt list at present but could easily be removed if the law were reformed.
It is possible to bring the Shops Act 1950 up-to-date and in line with modern living without scrapping the whole thing and substituting total liberalisation. The proof that the general public believe that to be the case was only too apparent in 1986 when the Government's attempt to sweep away the 1950 Act was reversed in another place. However I am sure we would all agree that certainly much has changed on Sundays since then. Sunday has become a much more active day particularly in regard to sporting activities. Any reforms in the Sunday trading hours should take account of that change.
As the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, there is little doubt that retailers are very anxious that trading hours should be extended both on Sunday and weekday evenings. Yet they have never quite answered to my satisfaction the question of whether or not that measure would be inflationary. It is understandable that a small shop makes up for extra running costs by increased sales on a Sunday, but I should have thought that larger shops would find it difficult to make a profit on top of the additional costs that they would incur for wages, heating, etc., without increasing their prices. I am sure that other speakers will answer that question later in the debate.
Whether or not it is inflationary, those extra profits have to come from somewhere. One is constantly told that people do not spend more on their weekly shopping. Surely that means that weekday shopping will be much diminished and that would perhaps seem to be a bad reason to increase shopping on Sunday.
Another proof of the desperate wish of some retail concerns to trade on Sundays is shown by their attempt to interpret Article 30 of the EC treaty as ruling that the 1950 Shops Act contravenes the Treaty of Rome. Even at the moment there are some disputes outstanding before the European Court of Justice. I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on that aspect of the matter.
While speaking of the European Community, I should like to stress that our vision of a Continental Sunday where everything hums and everyone is out in the streets is something of a myth. It is true that on the Continent there are many more sporting fixtures on a Sunday than there are in this country but in fact every single EC country restricts Sunday trading. The arguments on what to do about changing Sunday 1566 trading laws are just as passionate there as they are here.
That should really put paid to the idea that they have no restrictions. For example, Denmark has a list of exempt goods as in this country; France and Belgium rely on labour legislation; and West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Greece have a list of exempt shops, as indeed is now proposed by the new REST proposals which they have issued in an attempt to reform the Shops Act 1950. In Spain and Portugal Sunday trading is controlled by local authorities. That was an idea which was put forward in our debate on this topic in 1986. In fact a consideration to bear in mind is that we should he moving out of line with the EC countries if we allow deregulation for all or part of the day.
As we have said, the retailers certainly want this measure. But what about the public? What about the consumer? Evidence from a spate of open polls—notably one carried out by the National Consumer Council on 27th January—shows that two-thirds of those questioned support more liberal Sunday trading laws. One should take notice of that finding. I am sure that it indicates a positive change from preceding years. It must also be noted that the phrasing of the question tended to exclude the adverse effect of Sunday trading. By way of illustration, if I were to be asked what I thought about liberalising the Sunday trading laws, I should certainly agree in principle. The fact that I live 100 yards from the King's Road would heavily influence my answer since the thought of having repeated on a Sunday the present activity that takes place on the King's Road on a Saturday would make for very disruptive living in that area at the weekend.
The many people to whom I spoke before this debate have all emphasised that it would seem right in principle because our present law is full of anomalies. But what about the stress, tension and noise with which we are surrounded in London at present and what about the additional services that will have to be brought in should a large number of shops respond to a liberalising of the law?
That leads to my last point about the two groups which are most vulnerable to a change in the law; namely, the local residents (and I have already spoken about them a little) and the shopworkers. My noble friend Lord Graham will speak particularly on the subject of shopworkers but I, too, should like to make a couple of points on this matter. USDAW is desperately against deregulation, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, but I do not think that he gave as one of the reasons the fact that the union has every right to be anxious about deregulation. It fears that if Part II of the Shops Act 1950 goes, then protection from exploitation for shopworkers will also go and Sunday will become a routine working day. There will be no safeguards for people who do not wish to work; there will be nothing to replace that protection. That is USDAW's concern.
It is difficult to see how low income vulnerable shopworkers would be adequately protected from being compelled to work on Sundays. I know it has been suggested that a voluntary code of practice should be incorporated into a contract of employment for shopworkers; but I did not think 1567 that many shopworkers had contracts. It would also mean that there would have to be agreement of the employers to the inclusion of that voluntary code, which again would not be entirely sure. It is quite impossible to protect a worker against preferment. I must remind your Lordships that three-quarters of the retail shopworkers are women and half of them—1.2 million—are married women. Many of them will find themselves unable to accept the job and the preferment of someone who can accept it will not in any way be prevented.
I should also like to remind noble Lords of some very relevant words spoken by the late Earl of Stockton during the Committee stage of the Shops Bill 1986 when he said:The Bill is meant to make it possible for people to trade freely on Sundays … It is not meant to make life more difficult for shop assistants. It is not meant to make the conditions of their labour worse. I am not talking now about the kind of shops that probably will not open on a Sunday anyway … But there are many small shops that will take advantage of this legislation. They will be just the kind of people who will try to exploit the weak and often transient population who are the kind of people likely to become shop assistants". [Official Report, 21/1/86; col. 159.]What he said then is still true today. As I said, many options and ideas have come before us about reform. There have been newspaper reports that the Government are considering a Home Office report which recommends that reforms should take the shape of allowing shops to open in the afternoon on Sundays and corner shops to stay open all day. The Shopping Hours Reform Council which was formed last year presented some ideas under the heading of "A consensus for reform", which suggested that shops should be free to open on Sundays but for limited hours. That seemed to provide the basis for the Government's reported preference. The hours suggested are from 12 to 6 p.m. which means that there will be disruption of the family midday meal on Sunday. I should think that the hours of 12 to 6 p.m. are so near deregulation as to make very little difference.
The Keep Sunday Special campaign has also produced proposals similar to the systems in West Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, which are based on exempt shops rather than, as at present, exempt goods. Those proposals are entitled the REST proposals. They show that this campaign has moved from the position it held in 1987. The consumer groups—notably the National Consumer Council, and the Consumers' Association—favour complete liberalisation. They put some powerful arguments to support their case.
There is certainly no shortage of ideas. However, the major problem that the Government face is that in making their decision they cannot please everybody. Many feel that Sunday's special character must be preserved and that in this era of stress it is becoming even more important that that should be so. But others would rather have some activity and find Sunday a lonely day. Perhaps I may suggest to the Minister that it seems right for the Government to consult with these different groups, who have all made some concessions, to try to bring them closer together in their ideas for a reform of the present trading system. 1568 We must always remember that the two very vulnerable groups who would be most affected are the residents and the shopworkers. Although I agree—because we each speak for ourselves—that the time has come to justify a reform and adjustment of the 1950 Act, we are convinced that before there is any major change in the law we must be satisfied that the interests of local residents and the rights of this very vulnerable group among our workforce; namely, our shopworkers, should be properly considered and safeguarded.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Lord Hampton
My Lords, on Monday, 23rd January, the Evening Standard published these words under the heading "The Right to shop":The outdated and bizarre law which prevents Sunday trading remains on the statute book, because a Government attempt at reform was defeated in the Commons last year by an unholy and canting alliance of puritans, Sabbatarians, trade unionists, busybodies and cranks".As one who opposed the Bill in your Lordships' House I think that I fit best into the categories of busybodies and cranks. I am quite unrepentant. The Government had no mandate for the procedure then and with the overconfidence—to use a euphemism—of a party with a large majority in the Commons they attempted to force the measure through with three-line Whips.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for this chance to air our views in a debate on a somewhat higher level than that editorial and to discuss the important issues involved. I was very interested in his suggestion of the possibility of a Bill limited to a five-year duration. I have also listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, with great interest and a great deal of agreement. I speak here for myself and not for my party. We consider this a matter of conscience and treat it as such.
What is the problem? In the words of the Queen's Speech, the problem is how to bring sense and consistency to our Sunday trading laws. It is no secret that the Government still favour total deregulation of Sunday trading or, failing that, half day deregulation if they can achieve it. Almost everyone accepts that the Shops Act is now outdated. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has made much of some of the more ridiculous parts of it. However, the difficulty is that the search for sense and consistency may suggest different solutions. To tear up the law on Sunday trading would make the situation totally consistent—no one would break the law—but for many of us this would not make sense because it would do much to wreck the special character of Sunday that is loved by so many.
I believe that a much better way to proceed would be along the lines of the REST proposals, a consultative document worked out by the Keep Sunday Special campaign (KSS) in an attempt to satisfy the Government's aim, and something that could properly be enforced. I am glad that its chairman, the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, is to speak. He will be able to explain the position much better than I can. REST stands for four categories of Sunday trading that would be allowed. They are concerned with recreation, emergencies, social 1569 gatherings and the travelling public. It would be the type of shop that would be regulated rather than the goods sold.
Such a line of approach is worth considering because these reforms draw heavily on the experience of Britain's EC partners. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, touched on this. West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and France strictly regulate Sunday trading. Most of these countries frame exceptions from the prohibition of shop opening by type of shop. With 1992 getting ever nearer, surely it would be good to have some harmony with our European colleagues.
We hear much about the position in deregulated Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, also mentioned this. I cannot pretend to have first-hand experience of the provisions there but perhaps I may quote from the REST proposals published last year. At page 20 they state:There is little doubt that the scene is rapidly evolving with many retailers in centres of high commercial activity being forced to open by competitors that are stealing a march on them. In a climate of cut and thrust competition cultural self-regulation quickly becomes impotent".It was significant to read in the Daily Telegraph of Thursday, 2nd February, that Marks & Spencer—which is against opening any of its branches on a Sunday—had done so in some cases in Scotland in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I think the conclusion is clear. I believe that Europe is a more important example than Scotland.
Briefly, the social implications of deregulation or even half-day deregulation are these. First, I believe that family gatherings on a Sunday would be more difficult. It cannot be disputed that if more people were working there would be fewer people at home. Secondly, shopworkers might well have to work on a Sunday against their will. This has also been touched on. Small shops would be likely to suffer against the powerful supermarkets. I know how hard it can be even at present for the small trader to compete against a supermarket. Thirdly, local shops might well go out of business to the inconvenience of those without cars. Fourthly, residents near shopping centres would lose their one day of peace and quiet. The noble Baroness mentioned this. They would be subjected to all the traffic and maintenance problems that apply on any other day of the week. Fifthly, alcohol, a major contributory factor in violent crimes and fatal accidents, could be more easily obtained.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that under the present law alcohol can be freely sold on Sundays? That is clear from Schedule 5 to the 1950 Act.
§ Lord Hampton
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comments. I was slightly doubtful when I raised the point. However, I read it in print and followed what I read.
It is said that the law is widely broken already, but, as the noble Baroness said, figures suggest that that is so in only a small percentage of cases. It would be much better to enforce the law with deterrent sentences and adapt the law sensibly rather than just change it to suit the law breakers.
1570 What kind of society do we want? In the summer I organised a petition in my home town in south Worcestershire on the terms laid down by the Keep Sunday Special campaign. The petition reads:The undersigned are concerned that any future legislation on Sunday trading and commercial activity should uphold the character of Sunday as a shared and special day for the enjoyment of family life, rest, community and worship".I was quite surprised how very few people, even High Tories, were not willing to sign. I should add that when I asked people whether they would like to shop freely on Sunday some said yes but very few were keen to work on Sunday, or thought Sunday should not be a different and special day.
In its booklet Making Sense of Sunday, the Shopping Hours Reform Council, which some people have dubbed SHARC, says this:We believe that each family should be free to spend Sunday as they choose and not as somebody else dictates",and,In a free society each family should have the right to decide how to make Sunday special for themselves".There are clearly conflicting interests. USDAW, the shopworkers' union, strongly opposes total deregulation, as we have heard. I know of a riding stable where the staff are worried about what may come out of the Sunday Sports Bill. Only this morning I had a note from the British Hardware Federation, with this conclusion, which bears out what I have said:Wider consumer choice is not dependent on greater Sunday trading facilities. For many groups of people, such as shop employees and family shops, and those working in service industries, the result could be the loss of the one day in seven when the family can now he together. In the longer term consumer choice in the hardware sector could be reduced through higher prices, fewer shops and less choice of goods".Lastly I come to the religious argument, which I believe is truly important. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has told me that he believes Church leaders should concentrate on getting people to church and cease campaigning against shops Bills. I still feel that that is their right, and it may be their duty, and we shall see what right reverend Prelates have to say. My diocesan Synod of Worcester put it well when almost unanimously on a large vote in 1985 it agreed that:this Synod believes that every society needs a publicly expressed day of rest and recreation, such as the Christian Sunday has provided, and that society also needs symbols which point beyond market forces as a determing aspect of our life in community".It then expressed concern about the proposed deregulation of shopping:whilst recognising that there are anomalies in the present Act that require reform, [we] would strongly deprecate any move to increase the commercialisation of Sunday by legislation".I forget who the wit was who said, with more than an element of truth, that this Government seem more concerned with "profits" than "prophets".
Writing this month in our diocesan newsletter the Bishop of Dudley said:The Government's view is that this matter should be thrown open to the forces of the market. What is profitable should be free to trade. Sunday then would become the same as any other day But something important to the quality of life in this country would be lost".I conclude by saying that I believe with all my heart that total deregulation of Sunday trading, or even 1571 half-day deregulation, would not be the answer. The special and vital nature of Sunday would best be protected, and sense and consistency balanced, with legislaton perhaps on the lines of the KSS proposals. If this debate helps to achieve a consensus as a way forward, we shall owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. In the meantime those of us who believe that Sundays should truly be a special day must fight on.
§ 4.3 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of St. Albans
My Lords, I first express my sincere apologies to your Lordships and to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, because I shall not be able to stay for the conclusion of the debate. I mean no discourtesy but, as noble Lords may have noticed, today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and Bishops normally have full diaries and diocesan duties on a day such as this. I am no exception. Indeed I am astonished that the Bishops' Bench is so well served today and I wonder what neglect of diocesan duties this represents.
The subject is one of immense importance and I am grateful that the House is prepared to hear the Church's voice on it. I do not dare to take up the challenge issued by the noble Lord in his well-known anomaly of pornography and Bibles. But I wonder whether he has much evidence as to how many people seeking to buy pornographic magazines on Sunday have found themselves thwarted in not being able to purchase a Bible to accompany those magazines; or indeed how many who are frustrated in not being able to buy a Bible seek alternative comfort in buying a pornographic magazine. If any noble Lord wishing to purchase a Bible on a Sunday were to keep his desire for 24 hours, he would not only satisfy the criminal law but earn merit in Heaven.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, can the right reverend Prelate tell me on what authority he states that one achieves merit in Heaven by not buying a Bible on Sunday? Which saint, which early Christian father, which Pope or which Council of Churches produces that load of rubbish?
The Lord Bishop of St. Albans
My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships and to the noble Lord for my inaccuracy. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London may be in a better position to answer that question.
I do not wish to deal with the debate on purely pragmatic grounds, which is the way in which it has been presented to us and the way in which we frequently face it. Instead I should like to give to your Lordships a small theological excursus on the basic issue behind it all, which is: what is Sunday all about? Where did it come from? What is it for?
It has been around for 3,000 years at least: a day of rest, one day in seven, a special day kept for God. A sociologist may be entitled to see it as a subdivision of the lunar calendar, marking the moon's four quarters and reflecting a society's absorption with the phases and rhythms of a moon-dominated life. But the Hebrew people who adopted the Sabbath principle saw in it much more than a social 1572 institution. To them it was a gift from God for all mankind. So in the earliest historical reference to the Sabbath day, which must date back to Moses in the 13th century before Christ, the Ten Commandments are insistent in saying that keeping the seventh day holy to God is as important as honouring parents and not committing murder or adultery. They are regulations given by God to a people who had been freed from slavery so that they could live well in the land to which they were going.
It was the genius of the Hebrew scriptures that they asserted that a people's well-being was achieved by the twin routes of upholding religious values, represented by respect for God and his institutions and his day, and abiding by ethical standards, symbolised by respect for life, for marriage, for property and for truth. The two were inseparable in the Ten Commandments and they should always remain so. The importance of this was reinforced in a number of ways.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, is the right reverend Prelate then saying, as I think he is, that not only should we not authorise Sunday shopping but we should withdraw authority from the 5.5 million people who work every Sunday in this country now?
The Lord Bishop of St. Albans
My Lords, if the noble Lord will hear me to the end of my speech he may find the answer to his question.
The Lord Bishop of St. Albans
My Lords, the importance of this was reinforced in a number of ways. First, when a Hebrew theologian wanted to write about the nature and origins of the universe around him, he described it in what we know as Genesis Chapters I and II in the framework of a six-day week with the seventh day representing God's cessation from the work of creation and His taking a rest. This gave further divine sanction to the Sabbath day as a day to be universally observed.
Secondly, although the day of rest was God's gift to His people, it nonetheless needed to be protected and enforced. Human nature being what it is, people would always be tempted to reject the gift and so deprive themselves and others of its benefits. So the individual's freedom had to be curbed in order that the whole community might benefit.
That theme was taken up by the prophets, who fulminated against those who wanted to trade on the Sabbath. Listen to Amos:Woe to those who say, 'When will the new moon be over that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale?".What he was saying, in effect, seven centuries before Christ was that when the profit motive or commercial values encroached upon this protected area the gift was destroyed, the benefits lost and the soul of the nation was in jeopardy. It was that serious.
Or, less negatively, in the prophecy of Isaiah there is this:If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from pursuing your business on my Holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the Holy day of the Lord honourable…then you shall take delight in the Lord and I shall make you ride upon the heights of the earth".1573 But although there was always the danger of encroachment by secular forces, there was an equal danger from over-strict legalism—a legalism which, to judge from the Gospels, occasionally would not allow even works of healing to be done on the Sabbath. It was that danger which met with the sharp criticisms of Our Lord with which we are familiar and the often-quoted saying that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. For by over-concentration on the institution, the gift element was lost to sight.
There is no point in denying the fact that nowhere in the New Testament is working on a Sunday or a day of rest condemned. That is partly because the Sabbath still remained a protected day in places where Jews were numerically strong and partly because the transition from the seventh day to the first day of the week was only just beginning and was strictly reserved for worship and to celebrate the resurrection. Moreover, the New Testament Church was trying to free itself from another form of slavery, a slavery to what it considered to be outworn rituals and institutions.
But while there is a real discontinuity between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sunday, the New Testament remains strong on the benefits of that day of rest. It was a day of contrast from the working week. It was a day which brought refreshment and enrichment of spirit for the religious and irreligious alike. It was a day that bore silent witness to the values in society, declaring that commerce or profit did not reign supreme but that contentment, worship and acts of mercy and care for one's neighbour were highly valued. All those aspects have been carried over from the past and they still apply in a Christian or post-Christian culture such as ours.
I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I appear to be preaching. I do not mean to do so. Nor am I unaware that the Judaeo-Christian tradition that I have tried to outline is not considered relevant to the debate by a number of Members of your Lordships' House. But I have said these things in order that noble Lords of all traditions and viewpoints may perhaps appreciate why it is that I and my fellow Bishops, and those who feel bound by Christian doctrines out of loyalty to Christ, cannot under any circumstances willingly go along with any proposal which will damage the health of the nation by rejecting what we believe to be God's gift—albeit already somewhat impaired to the tune of 5½ million people—of the Lord's Day, a day of rest.
I hope too that your Lordships will understand that nothing could be more abhorrent to the Christian conscience than to be faced with a campaign to remove restrictions on the character of Sunday which is prompted by the desire for commercial gain and financial exploitation, as so much of the literature and argumentation appears to imply. Of all motives, that must go down as the unworthiest of them all. No one who values the Hebrew prophets and the message of the Bible could countenance that form of latter-day prostitution.
I could accept the loss of Sunday and I should make the necessary adjustments if I found myself living in a totally secular or materialistic state where the only values acknowledged were those of self- 1574 interest or totalitarianism. But I cannot and could never accept an erosion of this special quality of the Sunday which I have tried to describe from the hands of any government who claimed to espouse spiritual values and are for ever calling upon the Church to reinforce Christian standards by its teaching and example. That is a contradiction which I should find totally unacceptable and incomprehensible.
Therefore, I urge the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who I believe shares these ideals, as he has just said, to urge his friends in Her Majesty's Government not again to put the Churches (for they all share these convictions) into the invidious position of resisting their proposals to the very last ditch. Sunday is too precious to be lost, for once lost it can never be recovered.
§ 4.17 p.m.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, it may be helpful to intervene at this point in order to try to set out the Government's present views on Sunday trading. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter has introduced an important debate. He said that the law as it now stands was unenforceable and unenforced. He said that if it was not enforceable it made everyone lose their respect for the law. I believe that most people will agree with that view.
I had expected that we should have a fascinating debate. However, it never occurred to me that we should find the death penalty used in an argument in a debate on Sunday trading. That shows how ingenious is my noble friend. It is always said that that particular prospect concentrates the mind fairly effectively and if it does so for your Lordships it does no bad thing.
I felt slightly sorry for the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans because when he tried to make a helpful remark to Bible seekers in order to keep them on the straight and narrow—both ecclesiastically and criminally—he received the somewhat ungracious intervention of my noble friend Lord Onslow. However, that indicates how interests and passions on the subject can flare.
We are all agreed that the law is in need of reform. It is anachronistic, anomalous and almost impossible to enforce. It is widely disregarded by the public. Local authorities which are charged with powers to enforce the law find it increasingly difficult to do so. There is not much to be said for the law as it stands at present. The only wry and somewhat unhelpful comment that I should like to make is that Sunday trading appears to be rather like your Lordships' House: everyone says that it ought to be reformed but when we come to consider how to do so there is a holocaust of disagreement.
The law was in dispute and not in accord with the reasonable needs of the public long before we introduced the unsuccessful Shops Bill in 1986. The restrictions on Sunday trading were originally designed to protect the Sabbath, as the right reverend Prelate told us. That was way back in the 15th century. They subsequently then feel into disrepute. There was a revivial of Sabattaranism at the end of the last century. At that time the Victorians became 1575 increasingly conscious of the need to protect employees. So the Sunday trading laws were adapted in order to achieve such protection.
In those days there were no refrigerators and deep freezers so it was necessary, as we were told, to exempt from the Sunday trading laws perishable goods such as fruit and vegetables in order to allow people to buy fresh food. Fresh food was exempt but not, of course, tinned or bottled food. As a result, there is the anomaly by which one is permitted to buy fresh fruit and vegetables but not bottled fruit and vegetables. There is then the even more absurd anomaly, which I explained to your Lordships the other day, where one is permitted to buy tinned or untinned clotted cream and untinned unclotted cream but not tinned unclotted cream. We all know of those absurdities, which were restrictions consolidated into the Shops Act 1950.
Since then, not only has retailing changed, giving much more choice and variety in any one shop, but public attitudes have changed. It was for these reasons that the Government accepted the recommendations of the Auld Committee, which were approved in another place by a large majority. Unfortunately, the Shops Bill, which embodied the Auld recommendations, was defeated there in April 1986.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, said, the Government still favour complete deregulation. It is, after all, the system which operates perfectly successfully in Scotland, where, according to the best estimates, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said, only about one shop in five actually opens, and the character of Sunday is preserved. We recognise though, that there is no certainty that a new Bill for complete deregulation would command the necessary support in another place. It did not do so in 1986 and there is really little point in the Government producing a Bill of this nature unless it is likely to have a reasonable chance of survival.
My honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office, Mr. Renton, has therefore been considering a variety of proposals for partial deregulation; that is, deregulation which is based on legitimising opening for part of the day, for particular sorts of shops or for particular sorts of goods. He has consulted a very large number of interested parties. Several have put forward proposals for reform. However, I am bound to tell your Lordships that, not very surprisingly, there is no one proposal which is attractive to all interest groups and there is no proposal which is not without its disadvantages. Therefore, the same uneasy condition continues.
I should make it clear that, contrary to some reports in the newspapers, the Government have not come to a settled view of how to reform the law. There are certainly attractions to many in the idea of complete deregulation for Sunday afternoon, but the difficulty then is how does one provide for the necessary exemptions for Sunday morning?
I thought that it might be helpful if I were to mention some of the more important proposals for change and to comment briefly upon each, but I am bound to stress that the Government have not, as yet, 1576 reached a decision, and we very much look forward to hearing your Lordships' views. If your Lordships were able to speak with one mind on this issue, I am bound to say that that at least would be helpful, but I fear that it is unlikely.
The Keep Sunday Special group has put forward the REST proposals. For those unfamiliar with this territory, I should explain, as did the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, that REST is an acronym for recreation, emergencies, social gathering and the travelling public. It proposes that certain goods which serve for recreation, emergencies, social gatherings and the travelling public should be exempt.
I think that there are two main difficulties with those proposals. The first is that it would mean having a system of registering some shops as ones which could open to sell all goods in stock, depending on whether 80 per cent. of their sales in the previous year were listed goods. This would be extremely complicated, very bureaucratic and very difficult to enforce. Secondly, the list of exempt goods seems merely to replace one set of anomalies with another. Why, for instance, should gardening be considered to be a leisure activity while do-it-yourself is not?—not, I am bound to say, that I have ever found it possible to describe do-it-yourself as a leisure activity.
The Shopping Hours Reform Council proposed complete afternoon deregulation with, in the morning, exemptions for small shops. This had the benefit of simplicity but, when one tries to decide on a limit for a small shop, problems arise. The council is, I understand, reconsidering this aspect of its proposal.
The organisation somewhat dramatically and impatiently called Sort Out Sunday, of which my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter is the distinguished president, as well as Open Shop and some other groups, has proposed flexible opening under which shops could open for, say, six hours on Sunday but those hours would be on their own choosing.
The main advantage of this is that it does away with the need for a schedule of exemptions because newspaper shops, for example, could elect to open on Sunday mornings, while other shops might elect to open on Sunday afternoons. Under that arrangement Sunday opening would be, as it were, all over the place. A difficulty with this option is, again, that of enforcement. And it may be seen as failing to preserve Sunday as a day apart.
There are, of course, many variations on these themes, but none is, I think, without flaws. That is no criticism of the authors of the proposals. The Auld Committee predicted that there was indeed no satisfactory halfway house to total deregulation.
I should just mention that any deregulatory proposals would have to have some protection for existing employees who did not wish to work on Sundays, and the Government will not lose sight of that point.
That is all I propose to say at this stage. I thought that it would be right, and I hope helpful, to explain early in the debate that the Government have not, as yet, taken a position on Sunday trading and to 1577 explain why. I shall therefore listen to your Lordships' deliberations with rapt attention.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for introducing the debate this afternoon. Perhaps I may say that he spoke with his usual vigour, clarity and wit and he introduced a subject which was very fully debated in your Lordships' House some two years ago. However, as everyone has made clear, the problem will not go away and, indeed, the interest in this matter is shown by the number of speakers tabled to speak this afternoon.
I believe that we all agree with what my noble friend said at the beginning, which has been repeated by all who have spoken: that the present law on Sunday trading is an ass. There is no need for me to add to the examples of its absurdities because everyone has cited them. Indeed, I believe that the situation has been made more difficult by the recent decision of the High Court that, while local authorities can prosecute retailers who open on Sundays and fine them, they cannot prevent them opening pending the outcome of a case in the European Court brought by B & Q and others which claims that the existing Shops Act breaches the Treaty of Rome by inhibiting international trade.
Indeed, listening to the Minister, I could not help but feel great sympathy for him, for the Government and in particular for my honourable friend Mr. Renton, because it is his ministerial responsibility to try to sort out this knotty problem. I am not absolutely sure how far the debate this afternoon will help him to reach a conclusion.
However, today I wish to speak in my capacity as a director of Marks & Spencer. It is one of the most interesting jobs that I could have been offered and, may I say in parenthesis, there can be no joy greater than walking round Marks & Spencer and telling everyone that I am working. Nevertheless, I seriously believe that it is important that the company's view should be made plain. I think I can describe Marks & Spencer as a British institution. However, I should make clear that I am not speaking only on behalf of Marks & Spencer. All those who support the Shopping Hours Reform Council do not in fact speak for all retailers. The views of Marks & Spencer are supported by Sears, which comprises 4,000 shops, including Selfridges, Saxone, Dolcis, Freeman, Hardy & Willis, Wallis, Mappin and Webb and many others. It is also supported by the John Lewis Partnership, which of course includes Waitrose.
All agree with Marks & Spencer that there is a need to reform the law on Sunday trading but they are not in fact in support of Sunday trading. Their grounds for saying that are not quite the same as those set out by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, or indeed the right reverend Prelate, to whose speech I listened with great interest; but perhaps I may put forward a more wordly point of view and make the argument quite plain. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, touched on some aspects, though I do not follow her on all her arguments.
It is consideration of commercial reasons that leads Marks & Spencer to be against Sunday trading. 1578 These reasons are based on the commercial judgment that Sunday trading would mean six days' trading spread over seven days. That view is supported by observation of practice in the United States, where Marks & Spencer has had a fact-finding team, that Sunday trading does not bring additional business. On the other hand, current experience shows that retail costs are rising and that Sunday trading would add further cost pressures to an already labour intensive industry.
Although my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter explained, if I understood him correctly, that in his experience workers in the cement company of which he was chairman vied with one another to work on a Sunday, I do not think that that situation pertains for shops. Already it is very difficult to obtain staff in London and the South-East generally. Indeed, I was surprised to hear it said that Sunday staffing would present no problems even for management staff. That is certainly not the view or experience of Marks & Spencer. Indeed, Sunday trading, coupled with the longer working day—shops are now open from 9 or 9.30 a.m. until 8 or 9 p.m.—would make it more difficult both to recruit and to retain staff.
The fact is that, in looking for good recruits in retailing, competition comes from the financial services sector. That point has often been made to me at a number of meetings I have attended. The financial services offer, on the whole, a nine-to-five working day. That is frequently a much more attractive proposition to women employees who, after all, make up the overwhelming majority of employees in retailing. Even if, as it is sometimes said, part-timers can be found to work on a Sunday the problem of securing full-time management staff on a Sunday would remain. The fact is that Sunday trading would further damage the image of retailing as a career that it is worth while to enter, to stay in and in which to progress.
A further consequence, of course is that the consumer would be faced with higher prices because clearly costs would rise. Almost certainly standards of service would fall. To a business like Marks & Spencer, which properly prides itself or standards of service, that would be an extremely unsatisfactory development and not one which in any way it wishes to see. Apart from total deregulation, even for some of the other proposals for limited opening—for example, noon until 6 p.m., or whatever the hours may be—the same arguments would apply. Indeed, it could be argued that the shorter hours of noon to 6 p.m. would involve the worst of all worlds for some stores.
I make one further point of my own, but I believe that it is important. The Government have stated on many occasions—in my view, quite rightly—the importance they attach to the improvement of the quality of life in the inner cities. To that end there has been a great deal of legislation and many policies introduced to encourage people to work in the cities and to provide more jobs. In this debate about Sunday trading it is important to look further than the immediate issues that confront us, important though they are, and ask what some of the long-term consequences of total deregulation might be. It is perhaps dangerous to speculate, but one 1579 consequence, I believe, would be the increasing development of out-of-town shopping centres. In much of the material which I have been sent by various organisations prior to this debate that point emerges as one factor about which people are concerned.
There are many arguments in favour of out-of-town shopping centres and this is not the place to develop them today. However, we should be concerned to ensure that city centres retain their attraction. Part of that attraction must be the shopping centre. Therefore, we must think carefully before we adopt policies which could have the effect in some cases of further driving shops out of the city centres into the out-of-town shopping centres. There are a great many ramifications to that argument which need to be considered to make absolutely sure that what the Government are doing, quite properly, to improve the quality of life in city centres is not inadvertently damaged by another policy adopted for quite different reasons.
To sum up, therefore, it is right on this occasion that all of those who have a direct interest in this matter should have the opportunity to put their point of view. I have been very glad to speak on behalf of a number of important retailers who are concerned. They recognise the importance of, and would like to see, some reform of the law; but they are not themselves in favour of Sunday trading.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, discussions on longer opening hours—despite the wording of the Motion, there may be something to be said for discussing longer opening hours generally rather than concentrating narrowly upon Sunday—tend to centre around such questions as the number of new jobs that might be created in consequence of liberalisation and whether commercial forecasts or public opinion polls show that there will be enough customers to go round in the event of extended opening hours. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, concentrated on that aspect.
With respect, I suggest that that is approaching the problem from the wrong direction. Of course the creation of new jobs is important, and polls and forecasts are useful in indicating preferences, but ultimately it will be the market which decides the degree to which longer opening hours are welcomed by the public collectively, and that is how it should be.
The acquisition of goods from another party, whether by purchase or by barter, is one of the oldest pleasures known to civilised man. An English housewife waiting in a long queue in Sainsbury's with her trolley stacked full of weekend purchases might not consider shopping to be a pleasurable activity, but to a housewife in Moscow, Upper Volta or Outer Mongolia it would be paradise. In ancient times, trade (for that is what we are talking about) enabled people to obtain their tools and utensils much more economically than if they had manufactured them themselves, as well as enabling them to vary what might otherwise have been a most monotonous diet. That is what economists term division of labour, 1580 which does so much to raise the general standard of living above subsistence level and thereby enrich people's lives.
One can think of so many forms of pleasurable activity—smoking a cigarette or a cigar, drinking wine, beer or whisky, driving a fast sports car, potholing, mountaineering, sailing out in a small boat in a Force 7 gale—which nevertheless can have adverse consequences, both direct and indirect, for other people. But where the activity of shopping is concerned the possible adverse side-effects are minimal and can be effectively dealt with. There is no possibility of actual harm whatsoever.
In a genuinely free society it follows therefore that the ability to buy and sell should not be treated as a dangerous activity to be strictly rationed by the government of the day, with extra hours graciously doled out now and again when the government judge that there might be some extra demand. On the contrary, there should be an automatic predisposition in favour of total freedom of choice, except in cases where such freedom of choice impinges upon the well-being of others.
One ought therefore to start from the proposition that people should be able if they so choose—and that is another story—to buy and sell 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and then circumscribe this to eliminate all elements of genuine nuisance, as opposed to merely trivial nuisance. This would meet the worries advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. In practice of course more than 95 per cent. of shops are sited within earshot of residential areas and so could not be allowed to open 24 hours a day. But that is no reason why the remaining 4 to 5 per cent. should not be allowed to open, provided that no other nuisances present themselves. However, this is all in the realms of theory, since in practice very few of the 4 to 5 per cent., apart from the shops in airports perhaps, would find it economically practical to avail themselves of such a freedom.
Let us deal now with a few delusions. The notion that the average British family sits down, all three or four generations of it, to a leisurely Sunday lunch of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings is a romantic delusion. The idea that at the moment practically nobody works on Sunday is a romantic delusion. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, pointed out, almost 24 per cent. do so. The idea that in the absence of Sunday opening the average English family spends most of its Sunday in church is a romantic delusion. I believe that only 13 per cent. of the English population are regular churchgoers and I would guess that less than 2 per cent. regularly attend Evensong. So much for the pubs not being allowed to open until 7 p.m. on Sunday in case they lure millions of English men and women away from church.
The notion that Sunday opening would lead to exploitation of women and young people is a nonromantic delusion. Anybody who has studied the alarming demographic projections published recently reflecting the sharp decline in the birth-rate during the 1960s and 1970s will know that within a very few years young people, single parents and so on will be virtually able to dictate their own terms to employers, such will be the labour shortage.
1581 Having said all that, I think there is a strong case for leaning over backwards to meet the fears, whether genuine or not—I think largely not—of those who are worried about the consequences of Sunday opening, and for possibly meeting them beyond the degree strictly necessary to eliminate genuine nuisances. I was originally in favour of total deregulation and in theory still am; but at some point between the Committee and Report stages of the Bill that came before us at the end of 1985 I happened to get 'flu, which was accompanied by a slight temperature. Sometimes with a slight fever one tends to see things with rather greater clarity than one can when one's temperature is normal, and it suddenly became clear to me that we were having much too easy a ride; we were behaving much too triumphantly; we were making virtually no concessions whatsoever of substance to the opposition. That is always a dangerous and undesirable thing, as the late Lord Stockton once pointed out. In general, we were behaving as if victory was in the bag.
So at Report stage, much to the annoyance of some of my noble colleagues, I ventured a compromise which, for the record, involved compulsory lunchtime closing for larger stores on Sundays, thus making it uneconomical for them to open for the entire day. Of course neither this nor any other of the compromise suggestions got anywhere. Then, lo and behold, the Bill was defeated on Second Reading in another place. I believe that, had we made some modest compromise at an early stage in our deliberations at the end of 1985, we should have an Act on the Statute Book today which would be a great deal more liberal than anything we are likely to end up with now that the opposition has the bit so much between its teeth. So let us try to compromise on slightly less than the libertarian ideal for an experimental five-year period, as has been suggested. When the English public sees the benefits and notes the absence of adverse consequences in the same way as the Scottish public has, we can perhaps go further.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, proposals for the reform of the Sunday trading laws have enjoyed massive support for the past 10 years and I believe it is truly time that this matter was redressed in law and time that our legislators recognised the consistent demand of the general public. In fact, until 1969 the policeman, the nurse, the power station worker and even the football referee broke the law when they turned out to work on Sunday. Those restrictions remained on the statute book until repealed as being obsolete and of "chiefly historical interest".
The present restrictions are unworkable and wholly discredited, and I think it is time to move on. Demands and tastes change. Surely it is wrong that the law of the land should be so easily ridiculed. Only last Sunday evening Miss Esther Rantzen on her consumers' television programme, "That's Life", highlighted the anomalies and stupidities of the Shops Act. Do-it-yourself stores, video shops, out-of-town shopping precincts and garden centres have all established themselves as part of our lifestyle since the 1950 Act. What the next 30 years may hold we can but speculate.
1582 Here I must declare an interest. I was a full-time working director of a garden centre for 19 years. My experience in this trade and the related leisure retailing industry confirms that it is the customer who has created and led the demand for the freedom to shop on Sunday. This is well illustrated by a recent case in the High Court. One borough authority did no more than the bare minimum by way of enforcing the Shops Act, enabling a number of stores to remain open and their trade to be well supported. The neighbouring borough was more enthusiastic and closed all its large stores and many of its smaller ones. An enterprising local coach operator saw his chance and ran a very profitable service taking the inhabitants of the zealous borough to its more relaxed neighbour. Understandably, the shopkeepers who had been forced to close complained to their council, which, after an unsuccessful court application—at considerable expense to the ratepayers of both districts, I may add—felt obliged to alter its policy.
This story shows the strength of demand for Sunday shopping and perhaps tells us why some sectors of retailing, particularly those in the leisure industry, are so keen on reform. The consumer, not the retailer, has created and maintained this momentum, and I think that Parliament would be unwise to ignore these calls. Successful retailers who now meet their customers' demands on a Sunday may find themselves cast as criminals. Indeed, for past transgression I myself appear in the dock; but I take comfort from the fact that I keep only the best company. I stand shoulder to shoulder with local authorities whose town halls host antiques fairs, whose sports centres sell T-shirts and whose car parks are used by Sunday markets. I stand with those noble Lords whose ancient homes support shops selling goods outside the narrowly defined exemptions. I keep good company with those right reverend Prelates whose cathedral shops retail on Sundays in contravention of the Shops Act and whose steeples are repaired from funds so raised.
I well remember an occasion when I was able to assist the local clergy in shedding light on problems spiritual. The rector had exhausted his supply of candles and was unable to replenish them on the Sunday from his usual suppliers. My garden centre was soundly blessed when he discovered that we were open and could provide the candles, and that they were less expensive than his usual source. While we may laugh and make fun of an absurd position, Sunday is crucial to most garden centres, corner shops and DIY stores. It is no laughing matter to those, whose business success requires Sunday opening.
With total deregulation said to be politically unobtainable, much thought has gone into alternatives. A number of qualities are clearly essential—fairness, simplicity and ease of enforcement. I propose a system that gives retailers control over the choice of hours that best suit their business. It also affords protection to employees against exploitation and simplifies enforcement. However, we must recognise the overwhelming consumer demand; if we do not, any new restriction 1583 will start with public disapproval, even resentment, and that may be fatal.
I believe that a limit on hours with exemptions may be a suitable way forward. Different trades need different hours on a Sunday. The failure of Schedule 5 of the Shops Act clearly demonstrates the difficulty of formulating exemptions by types of goods. While that may not be insuperable, it would surely be preferable to allowing traders the right to choose—say six consecutive trading hours on a Sunday, an idea already proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I suggest that they notify their choice to the local authority, and that the chosen hours be prominently displayed.
As has been said, that would allow the village shop, the corner shop and the newsagent to serve their customers from early on a Sunday morning as they do now, the garden centre and DIY shop to serve their customers from late morning to mid afternoon and the video libraries to open in the evenings. Other businesses would choose when to open if they wish to do so. I envisage, for example, that shops on the way to the coast might open in the morning and those on the route home in the afternoon. Having chosen their hours, traders could expect no mercy for breach of the law. I would support an enforcement system similar to that current for driving offences. Whether the business be large or small, repeat offenders against the law would risk disqualification from Sunday opening.
As I said earlier, who knows what changes may occur within society over the next 30 years. Therefore, should these proposals become the basis for a thorough rewrite of the Shops Act, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, I believe that it would be prudent to incorporate in any new legislation provision for a review to take place within a period of five years.
Ordinary folk now enjoy their Sunday shopping whether it be at a Sunday market, pottering around the garden centre, visiting a stately home or indeed at any type of shop. They do not regard this activity as unlawful. Until people are free to purchase their can of creosote on a Sunday, the Government are delaying its application by sitting on the fence.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, when my noble friend the Minister spoke earlier he expressed the hope, which I think he knew would not be realised, that your Lordships would come to some kind of consensus on this matter. So far the only consensus that has been shown to exist is the anomalous situation on Sunday trading that cannot continue for very much longer. Whether that is on the grounds that my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter so expressly put in his remarks on the law and order front or for any other reason is what the debate is all about although I must say that I subscribe to the view that he then expressed.
I wish to comment further on the unhappy position by suggesting that the present situation is unfair to consumers—I shall return to them in a moment—and it is certainly unfair to employees. Under the current 1584 regime, lawful or unlawful, practical or otherwise, some employees just do not know where they are; whether they will be in employment from one Sunday to the next. More importantly perhaps, I believe that it is unfair in that it stifles enterprise in the form of those activities of REST—recreation, emergency, sport and travel—that the non-working public want on Sundays. Whether it is to watch football, to go swimming, to go for a picnic or to go shopping I know not. Unless we can free the market place for those people who quite properly want to engage in such pursuits on a Sunday, I believe that those pursuits would be wrong.
All the surveys over the past weeks and months to which many noble Lords have referred I believe express one view. The Consumers' Association survey is pretty illustrative of all of them, except perhaps the Jubilee survey. The surveys show that most people do not realise quite what the law is save that it seems to be an ass. They read in a local newspaper that a store to which they have been in the habit of using has an injunction against it or a fine of £1,000, say, for opening on Sunday. The Consumers' Association survey showed that over 63 per cent. of respondents—the response was about 62 per cent. of those polled—wanted the freedom to go shopping on Sunday. Table 4 of the survey lists a wide variety of goods from garden centres to museums, china shops and food shops, 89 per cent. being at the top and 1.5 per cent. being at the bottom. People therefore want to do this. Should they be denied? I believe that they should not be denied unless, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said, the activity impinges upon the reasonable freedom of other people.
One danger that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, instanced when referring to Schedule 5—other noble Lords have done so also—is that one cannot list things because the tendency is to leave some off. Although Schedule 6 by regulation gives the local authority pretty wide discretionary powers to authorise the sale of other goods, lists always tend to add something that is not necessary or omit something that is necessary.
I quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, who believed that the REST proposal was the answer. Some noble Lords may recall that many years ago I operated retail petrol stations. At that time we could sell goods for the use of a bona fide traveller. Was a Thermos flask necessary for a bona fide traveller? Some courts said yes and some courts said no. The kind of proposals embodied in REST are equally as unworkable as Schedule 5 has proved to be. I do not believe that we can send this matter back to the local authorities to determine, in the light of views expressed in their areas, how and when and what kind of shops should open. Indeed it is my understanding that the Association of District Councils does not want that responsibility. It puts the ADC in a most invidious position and merely exacerbates the position whereby a shop on one side of the town can open while another on the other side cannot. A universal solution is needed across the country.
My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter described the position of the community shop. There are some 60,000 such shops up and down the country. I should declare an interest in that I advise on a number of 1585 issues a group called the Community Shop Group. The group comprises some 10,000 shops employing some 50,000 people. My noble friend said that it is irrational to identify such community shops by size. Three thousand square feet is the size the Community Shop Group believes is right for this kind of operation. Size is the simplest criterion. Modern building of this kind of store is such that 3,000 square feet, which is after all 50 ft. x 60 ft., is an economic unit to build in one. Therefore, the problem foreseen by my noble friend of closing off part—that happened many years ago—does not arise.
I accept that there may be special pleading by the Community Shop Group but at least these stores have the advantage of invariably employing within the community they serve and broadly speaking attracting no business from outside that community. Essentially, they satisfy the need for food items, emergency items and so on. Wherever we go there has to be an arrangement to ensure that these shops, many operated by families one-fifth of whose business is usually done on a Sunday between about 9 a.m. and 7 or 8 p.m., are allowed to remain open.
Perhaps I may say a few words about labour on Sundays. I do not agree with my noble friend Lady Young. I am advised by one of the larger DIY chains. We have no difficulty in filling Sunday job vacancies. They tend to be filled by people who do not work during the week. There is a need to satisfy young people, old people and single people by providing them with an opportunity to work and to maintain their self-respect; an opportunity to earn; and a further opportunity, which otherwise they would be denied, to take part in the community by talking to shoppers and to work colleagues. Whether we in the business, whether large or small, can find a consensus to satisfy my noble friend, my honourable friend Mr. Renton and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary remains to be seen. I believe, however, that it is fast becoming a responsibility which the Government cannot shrug off. They must grasp the various nettles which the different groups offer and find a solution that will be to the satisfaction of the majority of those whose working lives, trading lives and social lives will be affected by any change.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Soper
My Lords, the House will be grateful for this public airing of a most difficult and complicated topic. I am the more grateful, paradoxically, to the noble Lord who initiated the debate in that he demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt how stupid in many respects the present position is and how demanding it is of some renovation if it is to be a reasonable attitude of mind and to be incorporated into some kind of legal and administrative process.
I shall follow his fun and games, so to speak, with the anomalies by reminding myself, and I hope the House, that the sabbatical approach to this problem will not do. I was brought up in the non-conformity of the Methodist Church and I was sabbatically trained. I remember how early I found the proposition that there should be a day of rest. It was almost a masculine priority and had practically nothing to do with those who were working in the 1586 kitchen on a Sunday. I found that the idea of work being prohibited on a Sunday was difficult to reconcile with the fact that my father refused to purchase a Sunday newspaper on the assumption that its production had involved work on a Sunday. Of course it was the Monday newspaper that he should not have purchased. During the First World War we walked the long way round to church on Sunday morning. I later discovered why. He was able to read the placards, although he was not prepared to study the newspapers.
In principle it is impossible to stitch the Sunday on to the Sabbath. If one tries to do that one moves increasingly into a world not of reality but in some cases of compromise and in other cases a world completely inadequate to the problems with which we are confronted. I refer to the attitude that has sooner or later to be taken as to our corporate responsibility for the behaviour of people on Sunday and how legally it can be instructively pursued.
I want to profess two of the important issues which to me form a necessary part of any solution. They are only inferentially Christian, but in the general proposition I entirely agree with my ecclesiastical friend that speaking and wearing the collar I do I am primarily or fundamentally concerned with the prosecution of the best things that can happen on Sunday for the cultivation of the good life. However, I think I am right in saying that soon after 1789 the French revolutionaries abolished Sunday. They removed it by using a number of Latin words to describe other days which they thought would be suitable. How quickly it came back. In their early days our friends the Communists were rather loath to learn the lesson. They abolished Sunday as well. I receive a document from the Russian Orthodox Church every month. Now it is in English, so I can read it as well as look at the pictures. It is a record of the way in which Sunday has recaptured not only the interest of the authorities but a very great deal of enthusiasm on the part of ordinary people.
However, what is that inferential quality that belongs to Sunday? It is not the day of the week; it is not the seventh day—upon which the Good Lord, very properly, rested because he had been very busy on the previous six—and it is not, incidentally, anything to do with the Sabbatical confirmation of behaviour patterns: it is to celebrate the resurrection of our blessed Lord. That was how it began. But it began as the way in which you can incorporate in a Christian setting ideas which are first nurtured in a pagan environment. What the Christian Sunday really tried to do, and in some measure has been successful in doing, is to provide a rhythm in the continuity of daily life.
Perhaps the principal reason for my objection to the increasing taking away of the rhythm that Sunday provides, is that without that rhythm the continuity becomes dangerous and the ideas which prevail, probably on the other five or six days of the week, are assumed to be relevant to the completion of one's education on the seventh day, or the first day. I do not believe that for a moment. I believe that there is a great danger at present in the universality of behaviour patterns. Indeed, if this were another occasion, 1 should remind myself of how dangerous 1587 is the availability of almost innumerable channels which will attract people to the television sets. They will probably find themselves twiddling the knobs during the whole occasion, because they cannot find the opportunity to listen for any length of time to one particular programme. But, as I said, it is part of a continuity of behaviour patterns which I believe is initially and fundamentally hostile to that which can only be ours when we stop and stare.
I am not saying that many people do stop and stare on a Sunday. But I want the opportunity for them to be able to do so. I want the opportunity for them to see that life begins in various ways and is interpreted in various contexts. To assume that what is normal to the behaviour patterns of, shall we say, six days is necessarily an augury of what ought to be concerned with the seventh day is, I think, a grave mistake.
I believe that the essence of Sunday, though it is grievously mishandled, is to provide the opportunity for people to take a more reserved and a more constructive view of what life is all about. If they do not, there is no reason why they should not increasingly be given the opportunity.
That brings me to the second of these consequential effects. As I remember it, Sunday was very largely the day on which we were together as children. I must put into parenthesis the fact that I, as a working parson over the past 70 years, have not enjoyed that opportunity of family life because I have been at work on Sunday—or at what I assumed to be work. However the fact of the matter is—and it cannot be denied—that when you lose the sense of family life, you lose the most suitable vocabulary in which to express its meaning. It is the vocabulary of father, and of course of mother, of brother and sister congregating at the same table. I believe that that gives a point and significance to whatever we seek to do and however we seek to interpret it.
If you told me, as I am sure you would be able so to do, that family life has broken down—and I am sure that it has—I would deplore that fact. The cynical expression used by the American who said, "Home is where you hang around when somebody else has got the car", is not just a piece of cynicism; it is a piece of common sense. A great many people have lost the value of the family table for various reasons—not least of which, of course, is the whole sexual revolution. That which once belonged to a regular pattern of reverberating experience has now, in very large measure, become dispersed and, in some cases, almost lost.
That seems to me to be an argument not for saying, as one might say, "If there is a lot of truancy, close the school"; I believe that here there is a paramount need for the recovery of the one way in which in this extraordinary age we shall be able to recover the sense of balance and come to some idea of what life is all about. It is that which I cherish; it is that which I believe will be impaired by the non-application of any kind of discipline which will enable people—even if they are not disposed to do it now—to occupy their minds with things which ultimately belong to their peace.
In that context I really hope that the consequence of today's debate will be that the Government will 1588 refuse to go further along the road which will be, in my judgment, a perilous adventure in an increasingly unknown field. Indeed, those who make that journey will have very inadequate boots with which to tread its path.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
My Lords, it is pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and, if I remember right, I also followed him three years ago on the Second Reading debate. When I learnt that my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter was to initiate the debate—for which I thank him very much—on this vexed subject, I was immediately reminded of the film so aptly titled "Sunday, Bloody Sunday". It is tempting to think plus ça change. I am only sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, will not be speaking today because we shall miss her vast knowledge on the various aspects.
The existing law on shopping hours in England and Wales remains as out of date as ever. After seemingly interminable debate on the issue, we are all acutely aware of the more bizarre examples of what can and cannot be bought on Sundays. Other noble Lords have given examples. Indeed, I was amused to learn recently that on Sundays shops can sell fodder for mules. It strikes me that one of the most common charges laid against this Government is that they are mulish and stubborn. Therefore it would be quite uncharacteristic of them to allow the defeat they suffered on the Shops Bill during their last term in office to continue to prevent them from tackling a situation so clearly crying out for reform.
We could go on for ever debating the various options for reform. Surely we have reached the point where the desire and demonstrable need for reform are far greater than the desire to accomplish it in any particular way.
The Shopping Hours Reform Council, in response to a request from the Government, has come forward with what I hope your Lordships will agree are realistic and workable proposals to reform the outdated laws on shopping hours, while at the same time respecting the traditional Sunday. The proposals are that all shops should be free to open on Sundays but for limited hours; that small shops, family shops and community shops should be allowed to trade without restriction on Sunday; that legal safeguards should be provided for shop staff who do not wish to work on Sunday and that shops should be free to trade up to 10 p.m. between Monday and Saturday.
It seems to me that those proposals represent a considerable compromise by advocates of reform in order to meet the concerns of those who have opposed Sunday trading in the past. The fact that the proposals go against the recommendations of the Auld Report that all controls should be removed and that there should be complete deregulation of shopping hours seems to me to be clear proof, if proof were needed, that the supporters of reform have responded thoughtfully, sympathetically and practically to their critics. The proposal that all shops should be free to open on Sundays but for limited hours only has all the advantages of simplicity, clarity and enforceability.
1589 I therefore urge your Lordships to agree that these modest proposals provide the basis of real consensus for dealing with what otherwise threatens to become an even more Ruritanian political issue. The Minister responsible for this tangled subject is on record as saying that there must be reform; the status quo is not an option. Surely we now have a framework for reform that will enable the Government at last to honour their manifesto pledge and introduce legislation in the 1989 Queen's Speech.
Finally, I should like to pose a question to the Bishops and perhaps the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester can give me a reply. It seems to me and to others that the Church has moved the goalposts. What I mean is that in rural areas—I go away at weekends and I go to church—one no longer has one's village vicar with a Sunday service at 10.30 or 11.00 a.m. and matins at 6.00; now a vicar looks after two, three or four parishes so the 10.30 or 11.00 a.m. service is sometimes 8.30, 9.30, 10.30 or 11.00 a.m. It could be held anywhere within a radius of 20 miles. So if we the churchgoers have to conform to reform, surely the Church should conform to a reform that the churchgoers wish to have and allow us freedom of choice.
§ 5.21 p.m.
My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for having raised this topical matter. Before I express my views on it I should perhaps make my position clear. I am a member of the Anglican Church of Ireland, of a variety that feels that there is something wrong if one does not go to church on Sunday. It is rather like going to bed without brushing one's teeth. It feels uncomfortable. To avoid such discomfort I have attended Roman Catholic masses when in France or Italy and I have not yet been disciplined by my church for that misdemeanour—the noble and learned Lord is not on the Woolsack. I have subjected myself to services of the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches, of which of course I did not understand a word. They were great theatre. In the case of the Russian Orthodox Church I should say that it was marvellous opera with its 10[...] feet basses. Having stated my position, it is my belief that people should be able to do what they like on Sundays provided that it does not interfere with what other people want to do on Sundays.
I like to regard Sunday as a day of rest, a quiet day when I can be at home with my family. People who want to do that should have the privilege of so doing without being interrupted by other activities. For that reason, I am inclined to oppose activities such as motor racing on Sundays although I must admit that I have driven in races on Sunday. It went rather against the grain, but it was the only opportunity to get onto that circuit. It is something that can cause offence because of the noise and crowds that are generated, in the same way as professional football generates crowds and noise.
A village cricket match, on the other hand, is entirely different. The vicar probably changes quickly into his cricket gear after morning service, and goes out onto the village green to participate in the game. That is very different to professional sport. On that 1590 premise, the question is whether facilitating people to do what they want to do on Sunday will interfere with others who want to spend the day differently. Two other questions relevant to this topic arise from that. First, will Sunday trading cause such interference; and, secondly, will Sunday trading be objectionable on religious grounds?
There is already a considerable amount of Sunday trading. Some 4.5 to 5 million people now work on Sundays. That is a fact that must be accepted. I am not aware that at present the public is caused any inconvenience or nuisance by the trading that takes place. As the noble Lord pointed out, there are inconsistencies and illogical anomalies which would be far better removed.
There is obviously a demand from the public for better Sunday trading facilities. I have grave reservations about supermarkets opening on Sundays because of the traffic that would be generated and the general disruption. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, is not in her place at the moment, but she referred to the conditions as they would obtain in the Kings Road if it were the same on a Sunday as it is on a Saturday. I entirely understand that point of view.
Against that, I was once lobbied by a taxi driver. He said that he picked up foreign tourists who expressed astonishment that London seemed to be closed on Sundays. Those tourists were possibly only there for the weekend. They probably arrived on the Saturday evening and were going elsewhere on the Monday. They wanted to do some shopping in London on Sunday but they could find nowhere but cigarette shops and newsagents open. New revenue would be generated if shops, especially in tourist areas, were open on Sundays.
The point has been validly made that residents would do the same amount of shopping if shops were open on Sunday. It would merely mean that the same amount of money would be spent over seven days as would otherwise be spent over six days. That is probably different with tourists. I doubt whether Sunday trading would cause interference to the public, but that is a matter which Her Majesty's Government will obviously take into account when considering the matter as a whole.
Licensed premises also come under the heading of trading. When Her Majesty's Government were considering the revision of the licensing laws which enabled public houses to be open throughout the afternoon on weekdays, I am tempted to wonder why they did not think fit to allow public houses to be open during the afternoons on Sundays, a main leisure and recreation day. I am not aware of any argument that that would cause disruption to the public. Her Majesty's Government may have had in mind the fact that landlords and their staffs would have seven days a week of full-time working. They may have felt that they should be given a break during the afternoon on at least one day a week.
That point leads me to my main reservation, which has already been voiced by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and other noble Lords. Even if the public are facilitated by more shopping opportunities on Sundays, what about the staff and the management? What safeguards are there for them? 1591 When I was working full time, I greatly valued Sunday as being a day off when I could relax. I should feel very much in sympathy with shop staff, bar staff and management if they were denied that day off. It can be said that they can take another day off during the week, but will other members of their family have the same day off and be able to join their family, as the noble Lord, Lord Soper, said, at a family meal on Sundays? I doubt it. I think that there is much to be said for one day in the week when the entire family knows that they will be able to be at home and enjoy each other's company in peace and quiet.
As regards the religious point of view, quite honestly I think that the Sabbatarian argument can be dismissed. If one reads the Pentateuch one realises that many of the Commandments were addressed to a society which was quite different from that in which we live today. If we were going to take the Fourth Commandment to its logical conclusion, we would have no public transport on Sundays, the police would be off duty and there would be no fire service and no ambulance service. The hospitals might be able to keep going because our Lord Jesus Christ made a strong argument for healing on the Sabbath day, but all the other facilities would be withdrawn. Therefore I think it is illogical to use that argument.
I should be inclined to support Sunday trading, provided that no disruption is caused to those who genuinely want a day of rest and provided that employees are not unduly exploited or not exploited at all. Therefore I feel that complete deregulation is probably undesirable but rationalisation is most certainly needed.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I think we can be immensely grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for reopening today the parliamentary debate on Sunday trading and for giving us the first opportunity to see whether there have been any shifts of opinion since the Shops Bill was thrown out in another place in April 1986. As the debate recommences, I wish to say to the Government that I hope that they will not prematurely close any of their options. In particular I hope that they will not totally exclude the possibility of complete deregulation for all of Sunday unless and until they decide they finally have to.
I have considerable sympathy for the point of view of those who do not wish to see Sunday become like Saturday. I should be loth to see the end of the quiet or relatively quiet city centre on a Sunday. I also appreciate the argument which has been heard that there is and there needs to be a rhythm to weekly life and that we need Sunday to punctuate the constant bustle of the rest of the week.
However, despite the efforts of some to argue that the experience of Scotland is of less relevance than that of some other countries, I do not see why the outcome of deregulation in England should be any different from what it has been in Scotland. There, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter told us, less than 25 per cent. of the shops open on Sundays. Sunday opening is not at all contentious or divisive as an issue. The Scottish outcome would for me be an acceptable price to pay to be rid of the anomalies and 1592 the rampant and provocative illegalities of current practice, and especially if it spelt the end of the need for political time and energy to be periodically and hitherto quite fruitlessly devoted to the consideration of what improvements can be made to a discredited law.
I doubt whether partial deregulation would get rid of the problem. Partial deregulation, as tentatively proposed by the Shopping Hours Reform Council, would mean deregulation from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock. But to make everyone wait until 12 o'clock to buy what they can now buy in the corner shop, at the railway station and at the airport well before that time would be to exasperate the public. It would forfeit their support and pass their comprehension. A Bill trumpeted as a liberalising measure would for many simply mean added restriction.
In that case, how do we restrict opening hours before 12 o'clock? Would it be to shops below a certain size? As my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter pointed out, that would be illogical. It would probably be practicable but it would also legalise the opening of shops which could not legally open today—many clothes shops, for example. So on its own for many I think that might not be very acceptable.
On the other hand, to bring up to date the list of items which may be sold legally before 12 o'clock on a Sunday—to replace tripe with pet food and aircraft spares with videos—would be to leave the same problems of enforcement as we have today. Shops would sell unpermitted items along with permitted items. That problem would only get worse with time, as social patterns changed. It hardly needs saying that today in this country we are living in a period of immense and rapid social transformations. The list of unpermitted items sold would rapidly lengthen.
Perhaps that is why if I understand it right, the Shopping Hours Reform Council appears to be considering, in place of an itemised list of specific products which may legally be sold, a more general description covering a range of goods such as that used in Schedule 6 of the Shops Act 1950, which refers to:groceries and other provisions commonly sold in grocers' shops".I doubt whether any such attempted general description would enable one to escape the problems we have today any better. Indeed, it might make matters worse. Any attempt to give the list a general rather than a specific character would carry an additional risk of uncertainty. There would over time be argument as to what specific items fell under the general heading. The fault with the law today is not uncertainty; it is unenforceability. With such an approach—an attempt to give exempted products a general and not a specific description—the law could become both uncertain and unenforceable.
The proportion of goods sold illegally on a Sunday inevitably rises as shops adapt to demand, and stock and sell what their customers want. The law cannot possibly be expected to anticipate what the public is going to want tomorrow. The only way to keep the law up to date is to let the public buy what it wants. Therefore I prefer complete deregulation and normal shopping hours for Sunday. That is what the public, in a succession of opinion polls, has recently been 1593 shown to want by a majority of two to one. That is what pertains in Scotland; it is what increasingly pertains illegally in England.
Failing that, what sort of compromise should we have? I think probably full deregulation for a trial period would be the second best. Also interesting is the proposal for flexible hours, although that would be difficult to enforce and likely to be evaded. Ultimately perhaps I might support deregulation from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock, as proposed by the Shopping Hours Reform Council, together with a restriction based on shop size alone. Shop sizes are known to local authorities for rating purposes. The restriction would apply to shops opening before 12 o'clock.
However, opponents of full deregulation would have to appreciate that this would result in what they would probably regard as non-essential items being sold also before 12 o'clock, although from smaller premises only. As for the Keep Sunday Special REST proposals, they would plainly be very bureaucratic. Unless they are expected to result in more trading on Sunday than at present I do not see how they can be called a genuine compromise.
I should he in favour of the Government seeking to allay the fears of opponents of liberalisation on questions of employment. The right to refuse work on Sunday without being penalised for it should apply more widely than it did in the Shops Bill 1986. The Government are hound at least to make an attempt to bring some sense to the law on Sunday trading. If the Opposition felt disposed to assist the Government in this matter, they could take the Whips off. I cannot believe that opinion on the Benches opposite is monolithic, particularly if all reasonable safeguards as regards employment are provided.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, does the noble Lord mean that taking the Whips off applies to the Government side too?
§ Lord Gallacher
My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition I should tell the noble Lord that when the Shops Bill was going through both Houses of Parliament no Whip was applied in either place by the Opposition.
§ Lord Gallacher
My Lords, is the noble Lord saying that I have given him false information? If that is not his recollection, then his recollection is faulty. He might be kind enough to admit that.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, the vote in another place was a remarkably strong vote against the Shops Bill. It is particularly remarkable that the vote of the Scottish Members of Parliament, who after all were voting to deny to England what they freely enjoyed in Scotland, should have been unanimously against the Government's proposals.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, the noble Lord was fair enough to refer to the vote against the legislation in another place on Second Reading. But he must recall that Members in another place voted against their party Whip. There was a party Whip in another place on Second Reading. One of the problems for the Government was that more than 70 of their supporters defied a three-line Whip and many others abstained. That is simply a matter of record and it should not be used to confuse the issue.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. That will be a matter for the Government and the House of Commons. We in this House cannot assist the Government in making a judgment as to what kind of a compromise they will have to produce this time. That is a judgment which the Government will have to make on an assessment of what is likely to happen in another place. Here we can only make plain our individual preferences. I hope that the Government will bear firmly in mind that the indications are that the majority of the public want greater freedom to trade on Sunday. I hope that they will not let the wishes of the majority, for no good reason, be frustrated by the dictate of a minority.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Viscount Brentford
My Lords, I too want to thank my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for introducing the debate. This is an excellent opportunity for your Lordships to think afresh about this important subject on which there are of course strong feelings held by many people in many corners of the House. I speak as chairman of Keep Sunday Special which has produced the REST proposals as a flexible consultative document which is by no means hidebound but is open to change if improvements can be seen in it. I shall mention some of those later on.
The Keep Sunday Special campaign like other organisations which have been mentioned today, represents a very large number of retailers, trade organisations, Church bodies, trade unions and others who are concerned about the issue. Many people have fed into our campaign their feelings, reactions, and attitudes regarding what trading on Sunday should constitute.
I want to emphasise a number of reasons, some of which have already been mentioned, as to why a six-hour opening on Sunday is not sensible, or why a 12 noon to 6 p.m. opening would not be sensible. That would be not the thin edge of the wedge, but the thick end of the wedge. It would lead in a very short time to total deregulation, to which I am totally opposed for the many reasons that have already been expressed this afternoon.
A 12 noon to 6 p.m. opening would tear the heart out of Sunday for employees who have to work in shops on that day. That will not only be the case for shop employees, but also for the many other people who would have to work, probably without any choice in the matter, such as the police, those who would have to provide extra public transport, probably extra traffic wardens, and other such people. Many services would have to provide employees for Sunday working to contribute to Sunday trading.
1595 I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Monson, who declared it was a myth to say that many people sit down as a family to lunch on Sundays. A recent survey has shown that 80 per cent. of families sit down to a Sunday lunch together. That figure is greatly increased when the family comprises minor children. When that is the case, over 90 per cent. of people are found to sit down to Sunday lunch as a family.
Another factor that affects families is that currently about 20 per cent. of families regularly visit elderly relatives and others on Sundays. That, too, would be hit if the mother of a family had to go out on a Sunday to work in a retail shop. I suggest therefore that the 12 noon to 6 p.m. opening would tear the heart out of Sunday and make a gret deal of difference to family life in this country.
This leaves the anomalies argument—unchanged till noon—totally unaltered. My noble friend Lord Reay very clearly pointed out the nonsense that that would make. What size of shop would be allowed to open? What kind of product could be sold? How does one divide the lines? The present anomalies argument, which is quite rightly used to criticise the present law, would remain strong.
My next point concerns costs and prices. That point was aptly made by my noble friend Lady Young, with whose line of argument I strongly agree. If shops are open seven days instead of six, there will be a measure of increased overheads to be borne. There is no getting away from that fact. There is no suggestion that an extra one-sixth of income will be spent in shops on Sundays to reinstate those increased overheads. Therefore, increased prices would follow.
People have suggested that the increased sales from tourism would compensate for that. But we need to remember that sales from tourism are only 3 per cent. of total sales. That is a very small proportion of money spent in retail shops. Therefore, I do not think that will help. Undoubtedly there will be increased overheads and therefore increased prices.
I am not aware that any surveys to ask people whether they would like shops to be open totally freely on Sundays have ever made that point. If it were pointed out that free opening would mean some measure of increased prices, a very different answer would result. The questions in surveys guide the kind of answers that are given.
I wish to make another point from the point of view of consumers. I foresee a smaller choice for consumers in the event of total deregulation. Total deregulation will certainly help large supermarkets and discount warehouses. But those shops tend to stock popular brands and go for high turnover on low margins. Many of the smaller shops would go to the wall, and therefore the smaller specialist goods which the consumer wishes to buy at present may cease to be available. The choice of shops and the range of equipment available to the consumer will be reduced. I believe that that is a point which the National Consumer Council is not taking sufficiently into account in its arguments.
1596 I should like to make another point which has been touched on several times; namely, protection for the shop worker. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that the Auld committee saw very strong difficulties in protection for the shop worker if total deregulation were to come about.
I shall now leave the question of limited hours of opening and refer to the REST proposals which many noble Lords have discussed in this debate. They would permit Sunday trading by type of shop instead of by type of goods. That is the system which is used in West Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. We must remember that all our EC partners have some regulation of Sunday trading. That is the normal facet of life in Europe. There are different ways of approaching the issue and the REST proposals embody the system which applies in West Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. That seems to our way of thinking to be the best way forward.
Certain classes of shop would be open and have already been referred to. Those covered are restaurants, take-aways, off-licences, small general food shops, confectioners, tobacconists and newsagents, chemists for medical items, petrol stations, motor spares, historic houses, sports centres, garden centres and florists—to include the business of my noble friend Lord Norrie—and travel centre kiosks.
I turn now to the two points in our proposals in connection with which my noble friend on the Front Bench Lord Ferrers sees difficulties. We have suggested a system of regulation which would make enforcement extremely simple. I accept that there would be a measure of bureaucracy. However, we should bear in mind that the number of shops that would need to apply to the local authority for permission to open is very small indeed. Therefore the proposals would not lead to a major system of bureaucracy. I suggest tentatively that it would be a great deal less complicated than the bureaucracy engendered by the football ground licensing system which the Government are promoting. I do not wish to comment on that issue, but merely to point out that the system of regulation which we are putting forward in the REST proposals is much simpler.
Alternatively, it would be open to have no system of regulation at all and to leave the environmental officers who presently enforce the law to continue to do so. That would be much simpler, with a reformed legal system.
My noble friend on the Front Bench also asked why garden centres should be open and not DIY stores. The answer is that DIY centres today are enormous conurbations of stores. They do not sell only do-it-yourself goods, they are also furniture warehouses and supply a great deal of other goods. Garden centres supply garden equipment and plants. I agree with my noble friend that gardening is a relaxation, while in my view DIY work is not. That is the reason we have drawn the line between the two—because DIY stores are not limited to do-it-yourself goods.
I commend the REST proposals. We shall certainly take note of comments that have been made in this debate about those proposals and we are very 1597 happy to revise them. They are offered as a compromise. They would permit far more retail outlets to be open than is permitted by the law at present. I very much hope that my noble friend will bring forward some system along those lines for consideration at a later date.
§ 5.55 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, as a good churchman, undoubtedly looked at his ecclesiastical calendar and decided that Ash Wednesday would be a suitable day for penance and for us all to gather together and hear the arguments all over again. However, I think that there have already been many benefits in the debate. It has cut across the parties, which is always refreshing. That is one reason why I believe that if the matter should come to the vote again it should be on the basis of a free vote in the other place. We have also had some fascinating insights into how various noble Lords spend their Sundays.
I have the deepest sympathy with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, when he says that the Government's problem is that there seems to be no satisfactory halfway house to total deregulation. The trouble is that they draw the wrong conclusion from that. They conclude that inevitably one must go down that road because there will be inconsistencies or anomalies. I should like to begin by saying that it is to pursue a chimera or a fantasy to suppose that one can achieve complete consistency.
I shall make two points in that connection. First, any system of law and regulation of any kind in society is bound to produce some inconsistencies. I agree that we need to reduce those to the minimum. But as soon as, for example, one imposes a speed limit on traffic somebody who drives at 69 miles per hour is driving legally while someone who drives at 71 miles per hour is driving illegally. To define a limit inevitably produces that kind of problem. One could take the opening of public houses and the sale of alcoholic liquor. As soon as one regulates in that field without a doubt one creates inconsistencies and anomalies. I think that part of the problem that the Government face is of their own making. They have assumed that one can pursue the fantasy of devising something which has no inconsistencies at all.
The second point I should like to make about anomalies and inconsistencies is that the biggest anomaly of all is to claim that one stands for preserving Sunday as a special kind of day and then opt for complete deregulation. It is not possible for those two to go together. That is why the opposition of the Churches has been so strong and so consistent on this issue.
I do not say that all members of the Churches take that view. That would be quite wrong. Deeply committed churchmen from different sides of the House have taken different views on the subject. I shall refer further to the strength of opposition from the Churches in a moment.
I should like to say this to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—I knew that I should provoke him into standing up in a minute or two, so he must have his say.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I am much obliged to the right reverend Prelate for his habitual courtesy. When he says that the Churches are consistent in this matter, has he in mind the 15 cathedral shops which as recently as last Sunday all broke the law by selling goods prohibited by law? Is that consistency on the part of the deans and chapters of those cathedrals?
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me, but I think that that is irrelevant to the main argument.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, I was talking about the strength of opposition generally in this country to complete deregulation. The fact that at the moment some cathedrals are going down that path does not in any sense counter the argument completely. One may have different views as to the way in which they manage those shops.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord—and perhaps he will rise to his feet again—that it amazes me that a party which calls itself conservative is prepared to go down this particular road on this issue. Far be it from me, speaking from the Episcopal Cross Benches, to speak for either the Conservative or the Labour Party, but I always thought that the philosophy of conservatism meant conserving the best of the traditions in British society in face of change.
Am I wrong in this matter? We all know that we face enormous changes in society, but as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans said so movingly, the tradition of a special day in society—a day of rest—is deeply rooted in the British tradition and has spread to many parts of the world. For example, I was very moved when I was on sabbatical study leave in India to walk around cities on a Sunday and discover that the tradition of the day of rest and of the main shops not opening had been maintained in that very different culture.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, it was a bit of both, but it was without doubt enforced by law. New Delhi is a good example of this, as are other Indian cities where the practice is also taken into account in local regulations.
I said a moment ago that the opposition of the Churches on this point remains very stong. We must remember that when the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, inferred that the bishops were out of step with their flocks on this issue and trotted out the example of the cathedrals, he was forgetting the vote in General Synod on the main issue of deregulation. Perhaps I should remind your Lordships of those voting figures: 367 votes against total deregulation, one vote in favour and three abstentions. There is no indication that that feeling in the Churches has changed at all.
Perhaps I may quote from a letter that was sent a few weeks ago from Lambeth Palace, from 1599 Archbishop's House in Westminster on behalf of Cardinal Hume, from the Free Church Federal Council and from the Office of the Chief Rabbi, signed by the archbishops, the Moderator of the Free Church Federal Council and the Chief Rabbi. They believe that:every nation needs to have a nationally observed day in the week substantially set apart for activities which are other than commercial in nature. Such a nationally observed day helps to preserve and enhance many of our society's values".They point to the danger of going down any road of complete deregulation.
The reason that the Churches take this view is not because many of us wish to be Canute-like, opposing the waves of change that are coming in on our society, but because we believe that there is a halfway house between complete deregulation and the present chaotic Sunday law that we now have. I felt it was a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter spent so much of his precious time tilting at windmills with regard to the present law which we all agree needs changing.
Perhaps I may turn to the situation in Scotland. It was disappointing that other noble Lords again spent precious time trotting out the old arguments about what is or is not happening in Scotland. Things are changing in Scotland too. I have here a letter from the Convener of the Sunday Working Party of the Church and Nation Committee of the Church of Scotland which gives some interesting comments about the present state of thinking among the churches in Scotland. It states:with regard to the matter of de-regulation of Sunday trading it certainly is our conviction that were this to happen on a major scale in England and Wales, it could not but have a significant effect in the Scottish context. There would appear to be little doubt that Sunday trading is increasing steadily . It would, I think be fair to assume that shops which presently close on Sundays including larger department stores would open if Sunday trading became significantly de-regulated in England and Wales".The letter also says a few words about the official position of the Church of Scotland:The position of the Church of Scotland is that legal safeguards would indeed be desirable and should some degree of consensus emerge which exercises some measure of restraint on Sunday trading it would be our hope that this would apply throughout the United Kingdom".When noble Lords refer to Scotland, I hope that they will not treat it in this way which I think is insulting to our friends on the other side of the border and suggests that things simply remain static there and that the situation is not subject to change.
As regards the opposition of the Churches, we are not narrowly Sabbatarian. If noble Lords see the Lord's Day Observance Society weighing in behind the opposition of the Church to deregulation, I hope that noble Lords will not assume that this means that we go along with a very narrow view of the use of Sunday. The proposals of REST which have been so well outlined by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, show clearly that the Churches are prepared to move in the face of the changes. However, we do not believe that the compromises at present on offer are genuine compromises. I refer in particular to what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said at the start about a 1600 five-year trial. It would be absurd to go down that path. Does the noble Lord seriously consider that there could be any going back once deregulation were tried?
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, if the right reverend Prelate invites me to intervene, of course I accept. I merely suggest to him that even if half of what he is saying is true, at the end of the five-year period there would be such a revulsion that people would want to withdraw the practice. However, if what he is saying is not particularly convincing, he would be right and it would not be reversed.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, I do not think that that is possible. There is no doubt that, even if there were a great deal of revulsion after five years, it would be impossible to go back.
The case for the limited hours offer has been well answered by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford. It is not a real option because it would not preserve the special character of Sunday. The noble Lord, Lord Brougham wanted me to answer one question: if the Churches were imposing change on their flocks with a reduced number of clergy and having to change the times of services, why were they not prepared to move with the times? The answer is that many of us in the Churches—and there is a lively debate going on within the Churches—are prepared to move with the times, but to genuine compromise and not to something which is no compromise at all and involves virtual deregulation and the abolition of Sunday as a special day of rest. I believe that the right way in which we should move is to reform the present shops law along the lines of types of shops, as has been outlined.
Our Board for Social Responsibility in the Church of England has not yet considered this matter again, but it is,unanimous in its view that any proposed legislation should seek to preserve the unique character of Sunday, as a day of worship, rest and recreation, by recognising the essential primacy of 'freedom from work' over 'freedom to work' ".We are in favour of looking at a compromise along the lines of certain categories of shops being allowed to open on a specific hours basis.
I hope that the Government will look carefully at what has been said in this debate and that they will not go down the road of complete deregulation. Many people in this country would feel that that was to abandon something precious in our national life which comes from deep in the roots of our Christian traditions.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, I feel strongly on this issue, but am unable to speak as passionately as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. I wish that I could, but perhaps the passion is better coming from a man than from a woman. I was most impressed by and absolutely terrified of having to follow the right reverend Prelate.
I should like to agree with my noble friend and other Members of your Lordships' House in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, 1601 sincerely, for bringing this issue before us once again. I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for about 18 years. The subject seems to crop up roughly every alternate year or every three years. With the changing scene in this country, it is now about time that something was done. The noble Lord has drawn our attention to this matter by the particularly apt words:To call attention to the . legal restrictions . and their enforcement".I submit that there is much disquiet in the country about the anomalies that exist and the failure to implement what I think most people regard as the law.
I shall not speak for long. I have only three points to make. The law is violated in London in particular where, as we all know, borough boundaries often go down the middle of a street with shops on both sides of it. One borough will allow or take no notice of shops being open; on the other side of the street the shops are not permitted to open. This is grossly unfair to the shopkeepers. Families go out together having eaten their Sunday roast, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, said. Indeed, I wish there were more such family groups to do that and fewer one-parent families. They go out together to shop together when the shops are open. It seems to me to be very unfair to the shopkeeper when on one side of the street they are allowed to spend their money on Sundays but are forbidden to do so on the other side. Shopping on Sunday means that there is very little left to spend at the beginning of the following week at shops next door, which are just over the boundary.
I am sure that many noble Lords who, like me, receive the views of the great British public know very well that those who write, telephone or even march in order to contact Members of this House do so when they do not agree with some measure. They never approach us if they agree with it. In fact only very recently the media came out with the view that the majority of the British public definitely want shops to be open on Sundays. Last week a young couple from Yorkshire came to stay with me for two or three days. It so happened that they were able to spend two days together. They will be married in the summer. They bemoaned the fact that it was almost impossible for them to go out together and choose something for their future home. They both work on shifts and the only time that they have to shop together is on a Sunday. I may say rather quickly that they would like to shop at normal times on Sundays because regularly at 6.30 p.m. they attend their Catholic church. They would like to do both.
Some noble Lords have hinted that Sundays should be so special that one should not or certainly could not shop on that day. Except for a few anomalies, it is now a criminal offence for a shopkeeper to sell goods outside the hours laid down by law nearly 30 years ago. I am sure that that law needs to be reformed in line with the changing patterns of our lives.
I should like to see a fixed number of hours for trading, preferably six or eight hours, but, as one noble Lord said, those times should be left entirely to the shopkeeper. It must be remembered that it is not compulsory for a shopkeeper to open his shop. 1602 Indeed, as we have heard, in Scotland very few shops which are able to open do so.
I believe that in the foreseeable future we should be given the opportunity by law to he able to shop on Sunday. I hope that in the light of this debate the Government will take it upon themselves to ask the country and its representatives once more how they feel on this issue.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Ashbourne
My Lords, I too should like to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for originating today's debate and thereby giving us an opportunity to discuss this important issue. The debate is both relevant and timely. I trust that the Government will find themselves in a better position to make up their mind as a result of your Lordships' wise deliberations today.
First, I should like to consider the European scene. Sunday trading is the exception and not the rule in Europe. Deregulation of Sunday shop opening hours in Britain would put us out of step with EC practice—on the brink of the unification of its markets in 1992. Each country has laws whose basic premise is the unique character of Sunday as a shared day of rest. That has resulted in a series of general prohibitions against Sunday trading across Europe. Legitimate retail activity is governed largely by the needs of the sick and the travelling public a well as by the likelihood of immediate consumption.
Nowhere is unfettered consumer choice the primary principle controlling the law. Almost everywhere large retail chains are restrained from opening. Enforcement on an exempt product and exempt shop basis has not proved difficult.
The European experience should be an important consideration now that the Shops Act is up for review. It shows that Sunday trading restrictions are important, achievable and enforceable. Careful scrutiny of the European experience lends great support to the need to keep Sunday different, and indeed at present almost every country in the EC restricts Sunday trading. In Denmark they have a list of exempt goods, as we do. In France and Belgium they rely on labour legislation. West Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have a list of exempt shops. We shall be moving out of line with Europe if we allow deregulation for all or part of the day.
Secondly, there is the impact on family life. The Government should be concerned about the breakdown of the family in Britain. In economic terms strong families are crucial for a motivated and competent workforce and our ability to compete in international markets. Sunday is still an important family day for many. If shops open, there will be a need for more police, transport, traffic wardens and so on. Moreover, if shops open, why not banks, building societies, accountants, travel agents etc.? Sunday is a day when children are home from school and families can have time together. Surely we do not want to increase pressure unnecessarily in our already hectic lives.
The 12 noon to 6 p.m. option also attacks family life at its heart and would fragment families on the 1603 one day that most of them can be together. Shop staff would have to come in to work to prepare for opening an hour before noon and would be required to stay beyond 6 p.m. to close down. That could interfere with church life as well as family togetherness. There are 2.3 million people working in the retail sector, and many others in ancillary services for whom these activities would be a thing of the past under the 12 noon to 6 p.m. option.
Finally, some noble Lords will recall that we tried seven-day working during the war but soon found to our surprise that productivity and morale went down and not up. That of course was because we thought we knew better than our Maker. If we persist in ignoring the Maker's instructions are we not likely to get our fingers burnt? The Maker's instructions are of course contained in the Bible, as was argued so effectively by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans. I have tried to show that neither total deregulation nor partial deregulation—the 12 noon to 6 p.m. option—is acceptable to clear-sighted men of good will.
The Government would be well advised to consider very carefully whether total or partial deregulation of Sunday trading would not further aggravate the law and order malaise in this country. By this I mean that enabling people to shop freely on Sunday will further erode family life and many believe that family harmony is one of the keys to law and order. Indeed, total deregulation still apparently favoured, at least in some regards, by the Government would appear to be the classic case of taking a sledgehammer to crack a peanut. No, we would be much better advised to follow our European partners, in particular West Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, by preserving the essential characteristics of the traditional Sunday by exempting types of shops rather than types of goods. This works both simply and effectively.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester mentioned, in December of last year a letter was written to the Home Secretary by four leading churchmen. Referring to Sunday trading, they state this—I apologise for the length of the quotation but it is absolutely central to what we are discussing:The fundamental principle to be observed is that every nation needs to have a nationally observed day in the week substantially set apart for activities which are other than commercial in nature. Such a nationally observed day helps to preserve and enhance many of our society's values. It affirms that commerce and business are not the only things in our lives which really count. It provides, furthermore, an opportunity within society for people to engage in forms of community life and activity not the least of which is divine worship. To undermine the institution of a day shared together is to take a further step towards eroding the cherished spiritual traditions of British society".I can do no more than say how much I support this letter both for its balance and for the main thrust of its argument. I trust that the Government will give due weight to it when they are considering what action is to be taken.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Lord Robertson of Oakridge
My Lords, my starting point in considering both total deregulation of Sunday trading and the near total deregulation 1604 proposed by the Shopping Hours Reform Council is quite simple. I would not wish to be in a job where I would have to work regularly on Sundays even for six hours each Sunday. I therefore do not think it fair to inflict regular Sunday working on other people more than is necessary. In this connection we must remember that deregulation would affect not only those shops which willingly opt for Sunday trading but also those which feel obliged to open on Sundays in order not to lose trade to their competitors. Furthermore, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and others have said, widespread Sunday shopping would also mean Sunday working for the police, transport staff, traffic wardens and possibly bank employees. It would affect those who live in the neighbourhood of shopping centres.
What is wrong with unnecessary Sunday working? As the noble Lord, Lord Soper, said, it would endanger the one rest day per week that is needed to maintain the natural rhythm of life and to allow us to recharge our batteries physically, intellectually and spiritually. That rest day needs to be Sunday not only so that we can go to church and take part in corporate worship, but also because it is often the only day on which the family can be together. For example, it is no use offering parents a weekday off instead of Sunday when they have children who are at school. A survey last year showed that 80 per cent. of people have lunch with their families on Sunday. To lose the family Sunday would harm the million or so women who work in retailing.
The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, dismissed the religious argument that was expressed so brilliantly by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans. We ignore the Bible and what it says at our peril. Its constant theme is that to keep one day special is for man's benefit and brings him happiness. The REST proposals recognise these objections to unnecessary Sunday trading. The SHRC proposals would bear much more harshly on family life. Accordingly, the REST proposals would be a much better basis for future legislation than those of the SHRC, or total deregulation.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester was anxious that some of the remarks by noble Lords might insult the people of Scotland. I am a Scot. I live in Scotland. Nothing that has been said has been remotely insulting either to me or to anyone else in Scotland. However, I wish to take issue with the impression that some speakers in this debate have as to the likely effect south of the Border were shops and stores in England to have the freedom to open on Sundays that shops in Scotland have.
In Scotland this freedom is simply taken for granted. Shops are allowed to open and sell most items, although not absolutely everything. People know which shops are open. They use them if they want to. The effect is that shops take account of local opinion, the extent to which local people wish to go shopping for their particular wares, the extent to which people resent the extra traffic in certain areas of the city or town, and the ability to recruit staff to come in on Sundays. As has been said by a number 1605 of speakers, the result is that some 20 per cent. of shops currently choose to open on Sundays. The figure is higher in some areas and lower in others; it is higher at some times of the year, and lower at others. At the moment the average is 20 per cent. The figure may rise; it may be rising. However, that is the figure at the present time.
My noble friend Lady Young spoke about the big stores. There is nothing to force them to open if they do not wish to. They may not like the competition but they are not forced to open. Yes, the trading may spread over seven days instead of six. That may well be so but nobody is forcing anybody to do anything.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that when one says there is no pressure on the big stores to open in Scotland, the fact that some do automatically puts pressure on others? Is this not one factor in the truth that the number of stores opening, in particular in Edinburgh, is now rising?
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I agree with the right reverend Prelate to the extent that this may be the reason why there is a rise in shopping. But if one has a free market, that is what happens. If you do not believe in it, you dislike it. I do not think that the right reverend Prelate likes a free market very much.
With regard to the dastardly effect on England should England go the way of Scotland on Sunday opening, I do not think that people in Scotland slavishly follow what England does in shopping on Sundays any more than they do with regard to football hooliganism.
The effect of the present system in my part of Scotland is that family shopping outings are organised from time to time on a Sunday to the local garden centre to choose plants or seeds, or perhaps new tools, to the do-it-yourself store to choose one's new wallpaper or paint, and at Christmas time to buy presents. The Sunday meal is now taken at a different time to fit in.
A considerable and increasing number of people, especially those living alone and single parents whose work at times makes it difficult to shop for food, take advantage of the opening of our local supermarket on Sunday afternoons. All this is simply an accepted part of Scottish life. As far as I know, people who are in the habit of going to church or taking part in a broadcast service do not think of going shopping on a Sunday morning. Those who like to stay quiet on Sunday, or wash the car, or go for a walk, do so just as they do in the South. What makes Sundays special varies from family to family in Scotland as it does in England.
Some people prefer not to work on Sunday. Others are very glad indeed to have the chance to earn a bit extra in a shop. A number of married women are glad to have a job on Sunday when they cannot work during the rest of the week.
I have not been able to find any statistics on Sunday emplopyment in Scotland, but 186,000 people work in the retail trade in Scotland overall—nearly 10 per cent. of Scotland's workforce. Some 60 per cent. of these are women and 30 per cent. are part time. If the figures sent to me by the 1606 Community Shops Group are any indication, its 10,000 small local shops employing 60,000 staff make 20 per cent. of their turnover on Sundays. That may be significant.
I do not think that anyone should be forced to work in a shop on Sundays, but equally I do not see why people should be refused freedom to earn if they so desire. Some 5 million others can do work elsewhere, why not people who want to work in shops?
I believe that I understand the problem of the bishops and the Synod. Considerable numbers of people in English church pews see Sunday shopping as the thin end of the wedge for church attendance. Indeed, some feel that the pressure to change the present law is somehow the work of the devil. But surely the Churches, those in Scotland as well as in England, have to remember too that for very many churchgoing Christians today the freedom to open one's shop if one wishes, the freedom to shop and the freedom to earn if one wants to on a Sunday seems a more, not a less, Christian way. This is perhaps the developing effect of what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans called the discontinuity between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sunday.
Our Sundays in Scotland seem to be no less special than Sundays in England. Scottish Sundays simply have an extra possibility for those who want to take it. I believe that many of your Lordships' fears about what will happen if England follows in Scotland's footsteps (whether it be to a greater or lesser extent) are largely unfounded. I ask the Government not to rule out full deregulation, albeit with protection for those who do not want to work on Sundays.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, we are all indeed grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for introducing this important debate. He did so with his usual amiable eloquence, but I thought that his logic contained some things which I believe in his profession are called non sequiturs. He seemed to be arguing that because 5 million people have to work on Sundays it was of no consequence that more should have to work on Sundays following deregulation. Again my noble friend argued forcefully for deregulation on the grounds that the present law was unenforceable, which it is. No doubt my noble friend would agree that the speed limit of 70 mph on motorways is widely disregarded and is unenforceable. Perhaps even he himself occasionally exceeds 70 mph. Would he therefore argue that we should abandon all speed limits for that reason on motorways?
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I would say to him at once that I think that the speed limit on motorways should be enforced and that it is the fault—and I say this in the presence of the Minister—of the Home Office that there are insufficient motorway police.
§ Viscount Caldecote
The fact is, my Lords, that it cannot be enforced and therefore he argues on a false premise.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I do not know that it cannot be enforced. If my noble friend has ever travelled on United States' highways, where incidentally the speed limit is 55 mph, he will see that it is very rigidly and effectively enforced. If the Americans can enforce 55 mph I do not see why we, if we put in sufficient manpower, cannot enforce 70 mph.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, we agree to differ on the subject, but all in all my noble friend reminded me of the apocryphal civil servant who finished his speech to his Minister, after making a case, by saying "and those, Minister, are the opinions on which I base my facts".
I fully concur with my noble friend's view that the existing law should be changed. There is no disagreement that the present law is unenforceable and needs to be brought up to date to make it more effective and enforceable. But I do not believe that this issue is only or even primarily a religious issue. Important though that is to many of us as Christians, we believe that it is important to avoid impediments to worship on that one day a week and to provide time for spiritual refreshment.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans reminded us of Christ's statement that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. I interpret that as meaning that we should be sensible about Sunday observance and above all that we should avoid hypocrisy. The fact is that many must work on Sunday to provide essential services, but that is no argument for making more people work on Sunday by deregulation and so having to forgo the advantages of rest, refreshment and recreation which we advocate for others.
There seem to me to be three basic issues: freedom of choice, convenience, and health and happiness. They are all facets of the quality of life. It is a very knotty question as to where the balance of advantage lies. As regards freedom of choice, the Shopping Hours Reform Council makes much of this. I understand that the organisation was formed and is financed by big retailers, but was by no means unanimously supported, as my noble firend Lady Young has made clear. The Shopping Hours Reform Council was apparently formed in response to a challenge from the Minister of State in the Home Office to "get your act together and agree among yourselves". There has been no success yet in achieving that consensus, but there is consensus on the need for reform; the question is how.
The SHRC booklet, Making Sense of Sunday, makes interesting reading. It pays lip service to the special nature of Sunday. It says in that booklet that:there are considerable economic benefits to be gained from reform. It has been estimated that reform of shopping hours on Sunday would create approximately 125,000 new jobs and allow more effective use of substantial capital investment".I believe that is a revealing comment.
The job issue is a red herring. More jobs could be created in many other more desirable ways and in 1608 undesirable ways as well by, for instance, lower standards in advertising, by freedom to peddle drugs, or even perhaps a futures market in kidneys for transplant. They are all against the public interest and would never be countenanced. Again more jobs would cost money, especially, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter has indicated to us, if they are jobs paid on a premium basis. The extra cost could be recouped by retailers only by greater consumption or higher prices. Both are inflationary which is against government policy and the public interest.
A paragraph in SHRC's booklet The Special Nature of Sunday states:In a free society each family should have the right to decide how to make Sunday special for themselves".What high-sounding nonsense? Are they to be free to destroy the environment; to light fires in dry woods; to spread litter; to drive at excessive speed among holidaymakers; to cause disturbances in places of worship; to cause nuisance by noisy behaviour at pleasure resorts and so forth?
Our much cherished individual freedom must be curtailed in many ways for the benefit of the community. Planning controls limit where and how we may build our houses. Airports are regulated as to the hours in which aircraft can land and take off for the convenience and health of those living nearby. Wildlife species are protected and much more. They are all features of a civilised society. With freedom goes responsibility and concern for our neighbour, otherwise freedom degenerates into licence and selfishness.
Just as one person's pay rise is another person's price rise, so convenience and enjoyment for some is disturbance and unhappiness for others. Noisy motorcycles, though they may provide exciting enjoyment for the riders, are hell for the families seeking rest and relaxation after a hard week's work. The same comment applies to transistor radios which are frequently barred on many beaches and in public gardens. It would be economically convenient for owners of factories to dismantle the health and safety regulations because they could work faster and cheaper. We could convert our factories into the sweat shops which exist in less-developed countries and of which I have seen many. No one would be in favour of that. No, the pursuit of convenience is also a red herring. The convenience for some must be tempered by the concern for others. It is not a convincing argument for deregulation.
Thirdly, there is the health of the community. Recently the pace of life has greatly increased. The pressures are unbearable for many. Apart from pressures at work there are pressures at home, not least those brought about by pressurised selling from the avalanche of junk mail which arrives through our letter boxes. In the USA there has recently been identified a new mental disorder; "information anxiety". It is caused by the widening gap between what people understand and what they believe they should understand. One expert studying the problem commented:Americans will come to realise that happiness lies in working only on a few things and knowing how to relax and rest the rest of the timeHow true and relevant that is to the debate.
1609 I suggest that the prime objective of any government must be to create conditions where everyone living in this country can live happy and satisfying lives. The mental and spiritual health of people is probably the single most important contribution. It is also truly said that "variety is the spice of life". There is a strong prima facie practical and moral case for keeping one day a week different and special, set apart for as many as possible as a day for the enjoyment of rest, relaxation, recreation and refreshment.
Partly through the influence of television we have come to accept the fact that such enjoyment is fully achievable only if others work to provide the wherewithal for it. It is much more satisfying and considerate towards others to create our own amusement and activities, in sport, entertainment, crafts, hospitality, exercise, travel and a myriad of other things with the minimum of involvement of others on an employed basis who are thereby prevented from enjoying similar physical and mental refreshment.
With such considerations in mind—and which are so significant for life today—what is the optimum way to reform the present unsatisfactory laws as we agree them to be? Clearly, the proposals of the Shopping Hours Reform Council for complete deregulation of shop opening for half a day on Sunday are a thinly-veiled scheme paving the way towards total deregulation for the benefit of large companies through increased sales and profit under the guise of providing a public service.
I have worked in large organisations and in big business all my life. I am in no way averse to those businesses growing—infact I am in favour—provided that it is done without detriment to the community at large. There is no question that the half-day opening would soon be followed by arguments for whole-day opening. No doubt that would be provoked by the progressive, illegal, unchallenged early opening in response to customer convenience. Other activities in our life would soon follow the same pattern after the deregulation of shops. For instance, the Bills of Exchange Act 1882, (amended in 1971) lays down for financial institutions "non-business" days including Saturdays, which were added in 1971, and Sundays. The demand for deregulation here would follow the deregulation of shops leading to seven-day trading, as in Japan. Already there are terrible signs of the over-pressure on people working in financial institutions. Surely that is not the way we want to go.
There are alternatives which are practical, constructive, realistic and not damaging to the life of the community. The REST proposals—mentioned by my noble friend Lord Brentford and other noble Lords but not even referred to by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter—meet every essential need to enable people to enjoy Sunday for rest, recreation and the refreshment of mind and body, but employing the minimum number of other people. The REST proposals have been criticised for being too complex. Maybe they are a little bureaucratic and certainly they need further work to improve and refine them.
1610 The debate has been most valuable in clarifying important issues which affect the whole life of the community. I submit that we are fair from the consensus for which the Minister asks. It is too early to legislate. It is more important to get new laws right than to get them soon. We need to examine more carefully the details of all the proposals, as was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. We need to seek the best solution because there is no ideal solution acceptable to all. We need to beware of the arguments of big business, camouflaged by lip service to public interest, remembering that major deregulation, if found to be excessive, can never be reversed in practice. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester made that point clear.
I urge the Government to progress slowly in the sincere hope that finally we shall achieve greater concensus and the right and best answer.
§ 6.48 p.m.
Baroness Ryder of Warsaw
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for initiating the debate. My objection is to the slow erosion of Sunday and its relegation to being just another day of the week. That is the worst change of all.
Although we like to say that we are a multi-ethnic society, we are basically a Christian society and have been so for centuries. We greatly respect: our many Jewish friends for keeping to the Sabbath. It has been said that we shall be out of step with Europe. Yet there is proof that that is not true because every country in the EC restricts shops from opening on Sunday. Why therefore should we be different?
I must declare my interest in that the Sue Ryder Foundation has over 300 shops. They are all closed on Sunday with the exception of the coffee shops which are open only after staff volunteers have had time to attend whichever place of worship they wish, and have had an opportunity for rest, relaxation and a day off. I work voluntarily as founder of a foundation for several thousands caring for the sick and handicapped in Britain and overseas. I also live and work in the headquarters of the foundation and frequently live and nurse in our homes and hospitals where Catholic nurses of different orders are in charge. Naturally, we must cover all needs for full nursing care for 24 hours of the day. However, we try to follow a more relaxed rule on Sundays which, incidently, gives us dispensation for rising at six o'clock in the morning and not at 4.30 a.m.
What appals me particularly is that it is not we as mere mortals who have the right to decide on whether or not to keep the Sabbath holy, but our maker. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, helped to explain in the most clear and understanding way the feeling of many large firms who at present are not in favour of Sunday trading. However, to be frank, I Fear that if anyone fools himself into thinking that the big stores sooner or probably later will not follow the example of the other traders, then they are either misguided or, alas, living in cloud cuckoo land.
The nightmare of universal Sunday shopping, however, lies elsewhere; namely, in the destruction of keeping Sundays sacred. In February 1986 I stated that having worked in Marxist states where attempts 1611 are still made to obliterate the traditional Sunday and force people, including women and children, to attend political rallies, I realised more and more that we in Britain throw away, either by accident, legislation or otherwise, our tradition of worshipping God and keeping the Sabbath holy. That can have a devastating and demoralising effect on our people. What example do we give to the young, some of whom are perhaps searching for God, or are already disillusioned, undisciplined and unemployed, if they see materialism growing stronger and Sunday no different from any other day?
The vast majority of people in Poland and Ethiopia refuse to be bullied. They continue to worship God on a Sunday and their churches are overflowing. Thousands have died for their faith. In Poland they continue to build another 2,000 churches despite building constraints and shortage of materials. Moreover, they would be horrified to see shops doing business on a Sunday; but, as everyone knows, those countries are still so short of food that that does not apply to them.
Why do we think about keeping Sunday holy? First, it is a day of rest, relaxation and of children being with their parents. There is the opportunity to visit friends or relatives in hospital, to walk to places of beauty and to get away from the roar of traffic and general noise created by the public. Secondly, we wake up knowing that we are not being rushed and can consider that this is a calm and wholly different day.Thirdly, and most important, we remember God who declared that Sunday should be a day of worship and rest. The purpose and effect of all that is to make us better equipped for the coming week's work.
Alexander Tomsky, a Czech from Central Europe, comparing his experience, like mine, between Eastern and Western Europe, wrote the following in the Tablet on 21st February:Never, since I left Czechoslovakia in 1968, did I think I would see the day when shops in Britain opened on a Sunday. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that it would be a 'conservative' government that would attempt to do away with the fine traditions of our civilisation, to side instead with the Bolsheviks Lenin and Trostky, those who were the first to impose yet more work on the impoverished masses. For someone who has seen it, it is hard to forget the gloomy, tired faces in the overcrowded buses, trams and trains, the strange noise of the Sunday morning rush hour, the din of unnatural activity that seemed to shatter the natural rhythm of the weeks.Old traditions die hard. People felt guilty and oppressed as they went about their Sunday work. They saw it as a punishment that they should have to endure day after day of unremitting toil, seeming to stretch out to infinity. Once Sunday was lost, overtime had no meaning—undoubtedly this contributed to the general trend, in the Communist countries, of ever-declining productivity. For people will not produce more in seven days than in six. Eventually, for purely economic reasons, Sunday returned.The real problem goes much deeper, as many Czech poets point out: a society which leaves no room for mystery, no room for the sacred, is doomed. The Communists set themselves up as the engineers of human souls', and of man's happiness; but by imposing their order, they created chaos.In the West, things are just the other way round. It is not the imposition of abstract schemes that is destroying us, but the gradual withdrawal of the law which guides and guards our traditions. The Government has become morally neutral on almost every subject. So what sort of chance does poor Sunday have here?The nightmare of universal Sunday shopping, however, lies elsewhere: and I repeat in the destruction of our quality of life. As the supermarket opens to the shopper, so will every other shop in the high street, including the travel agent, the insurance broker, the estate 1612 agent and the rest—such is the logic of greed. Not that in seven days people will buy more than in six—but what trader could afford to shut, and leave the field clear for his rival? As salesmen and delivery vans enter the fray, the repair men are on hand: and soon the warehouses and suppliers follow. Before long, even the factories may open. Instead of holidays where a few sacrifice their leisure for the benefit of the majority, we are all at work.In his search for social order, the Home Secretary last year asked the Churches to teach religion and morality as/hey should be taught".To do that is to teach that God takes first place in our lives and that Sunday should be set apart as a special day. I suggest that the Home Secretary should see the contradiction in what he is preparing to do.
Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of this quotation from Sir Winston Churchill:Sunday is a Divine and priceless institution . the necessary pause in the national life and activity; it is the birthright of every British subject . and, above all, our great heritage, and one which is our responsibility, privilege and duty to hand on to posterity".
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I start with pleasure by thanking my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for introducing a constructive and interesting debate. I also apologise for missing the first 11½ minutes of his opening speech, which was a great sorrow to me, though I have a copious and, I hope, unbiased report of it in the hand of my noble friend Lord Brentford. I therefore feel that I am equipped to join this exchange on equal terms.
We are, I believe, all agreed that the law at present is often disregarded and has come into disrepute. This debate is therefore, in general terms, on how respect for the law should be restored and, in particular terms, between those who wish to see the restrictions in the present law as far as possible removed and those who would prefer to see the restrictions that do not work replaced by restrictions that do.
Before I join in that particular debate I should like to look for a moment at the two assumptions behind it from which flows the conclusion that the law must be brought swiftly up to date. The first assumption, that the law is ill-drafted and laughable, is well-founded and has given us a great deal of fun in the past; and I think I missed a little at the beginning of the debate this afternoon. I believe we all agree that the anomalies should be removed in any reform of the law that we undertake.
However, the fact that the law is laughable does not on its own mean that it ought to be changed. The late honourable Member for Oxford University, A. P. Herbert, made tremendous fun of the whole statute book and it was not repealed just because of that. The test one must apply to a statute before sentencing it to revision or repeal is not whether it is funny but whether it works. If it does not work, one needs to find out the extent to which it does not work. In making judgements on that one needs to be very much aware of the effects of the focusing of interest on the subject. The effect is very much like that of shining a pocket torch in the dusk—it throws everything in its beam into sharp prominence and plunges everything else into darkness.
That is important in this case because your Lordships' and the public's attention has been skilfully drawn to instances where the law is not 1613 working, to the extent that one might suppose that most of the commercial world is in breach of the law and that most of the public are in illegal receipt of goods. It is therefore worth mentioning that the actual proportion of shops breaking and keeping the law in this respect has been carefully reviewed twice in recent years. The work, some of which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, was done for the Jubilee Centre in Cambridge and has been published.
The report shows that 12,360 shops in 44 locations were checked in 1985 and 17,906 were checked in 68 locations in 1987–88. In both surveys almost 90 per cent. of all shops were shut on Sunday and of the remaining 10 per cent. more than half in each survey were open perfectly properly and legally to sell goods that the present law permits to be sold on Sundays. Those goods are of course exempt goods and the others are non-exempt goods.
If one takes the shops that were open in conformity with the law away from the 10 per cent. that were trading one is left with a relatively small number of shops. Even of those most were not open simply to sell non-exempt goods; they were selling both exempt and non-exempt goods. The proportions of exempt and non-exempt—or legally and illegally traded—goods in the mix give one a slightly clearer picture of what was going on. In neither survey did the proportion of non-exempt goods amount to as much as even one-quarter of the sales of half the shops open.
That brief digression into statistics was simply to emphasise that, while nobody doubts that the law needs revision, the extent to which it is being breached—the extent to which it is not working—is not, therefore on anything like the grand scale. It certainly does not constitute a crisis and my right honourable friend the Minister does not need to rush into a settled view of the situation, which would not begin to justify any change in the law that was not substantially for the better and which did not have very general and genuine support from the general public.
I return to the main debate and the general issue before us, which we can therefore afford to address in a temperate and thorough manner since we are not faced by anything approaching a crisis. It involves considerations of two kinds—secular and spiritual. As my noble friend—as has already been pointed out on a higher authority—has chosen Ash Wednesday to hold this debate, I shall take the spiritual first. The considerations are easily summarised. It is a stated and fundamental rule in the doctrines of both the Christian and the Jewish faiths that one day in seven should be set aside for rest and worship. I realise that these two faiths differ as to which day it should be. The Jewish Sabbath is on the last day of the week and, with the exception of the Seventh Day Advertists, Christians all celebrate the resurrection of our Lord by having moved their day of rest to the first day of the week. However, the principle is the same and it is very clear to me and to many other noble Lords.
I accept the scriptural authority quoted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans and followed by his colleague, but experience alone would 1614 in my view be enough to establish the principle laid before us so eloquently from the scriptures. It is very difficult for most of us to have any clear or stable idea of what our lives are for and where in the end they are taking us, of what our relationships with other people are and what we should be doing with them, if we spend the whole of every week pursuing our ordinary worldly tasks, consumed by ordinary worldly anxieties and in pursuit of ordinary worldly gains.
Human nature is such that if one does not set a stated proportion of time aside for the proper exercise of mind and spirit in religious activity as well as recreation one will in fact end up by setting none aside. If that time is not the same time, regularly recurring, it will at length be eroded or forgotten. That at least is my experience and I believe it is a common one.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. Surely no one is proposing that people should work seven days a week. Everybody will have at least two days off, though neither of them may be a Sunday.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, the huntsman always encourages the hounds to follow the scent but it is unwise to get ahead of the rest of the pack. I was following a very careful line and if the noble Lord will bear with me he will see the quarry come into view.
Religion is not just a two-way traffic. For all but hermits it is not just about the relationship between each of us and God: it is also about the powerful impact which that relationship ought to have on the relationships between each of us and everybody else as well. Religion is not practised in isolation and worship is a collective activity. The day that is set aside as special for religious purposes therefore needs to be the same day for all the people practising the same religion. Hence the current law.
I recognise of course, and it was emphasised by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, the extent to which the increasing complexity of the economic and physical services which sustain our society has led to breaches of this ideal; but it is as wrong in religion as it is in politics to say that, because some people cannot have something desirable, everybody else should do without it. The fact that the principle has been breached does not mean that it should be abandoned. If the matter ended there it could be argued, though I would resist it, that each man's conscience was his own concern and that the concern of the state and, therefore, of the Government was simply the mechanics of society and of the market economy. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary suggested something very like this in his letter of 4th January to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I believe that my noble friend followed him a little down that path.
However, it does not end there for a number of reasons. Chief among them, I believe, is the predicament of the family. The family is the foundation of society and the guardian of its standards of conduct. Fragmentation of the family does more to weaken society, and cohesion of the family can do more to secure it, than almost any other factor taken on its own. I do not doubt that this 1615 is as well recognised by the Government now as it was when the Conservative Party came to power in 1979 with that as a cornerstone of policy.
Family life is just as dependent on collective activity as religious life is dependent on collective worship. A family that cannot do things together can hardly be said to exist; and a family that cannot do things together regularly will not have half the strength of one that can. Any change in the law that results in more people working on Sundays will reduce the number of families that regularly meet together once a week. Inevitably that will reduce, first, the intimacy and then the strength of those families' ties. That must be damaging to the life of the family and I firmly believe it is damaging also to the life of the country, because where the family is damaged society suffers.
I say that with great conviction born of three-and-half years, during the first part of which I was the Minister responsible for the welfare of children, particularly very young offenders, at the DHSS. Secondly, I was Minister responsible for young offenders and the whole of the rest of the prison service at the Home Office. Incidentally, at the DHSS I was also responsible while I was there for mental health and mental illness. The whole of that experience endorses every syllable I have uttered about the need for a secure, stable and affectionate environment for people to grow up in, and indeed for adults to be supported by.
Those who in adult life can find comfort and support in their family and have had it in their youth will turn neither to society for succour nor on society for vengeance, as too many socially deprived people do, even today. So in this matter pounds, shillings and pence, morality, sentiment and common sense all point in the same direction. It ought to be a prime. social objective of any government to protect and strengthen the family; and the way we use Sunday nationally is at the centre of that.
Proposals for change in the present law come from many quarters but they come most loudly and most often, I believe, from those who want most or all shops to open for most or all of Sunday. They regard themselves as moderate, I think, if they restrict their demands to less than the whole day. For healthy survival the family needs one day a week which its members spend together. If they all lived in one house, if every family had one house for itself, I suppose it would be possible to argue (though again I would resist it) that three-quarters or even half of a day would reasonably do for that purpose. But very often they do not all live in the same house, and the need is not just for time to spend with fellow members of one household: time is also needed to get to meet them and for the various generations to travel to be together.
Therefore I do not accept that conversion of only six hours on Sunday into a sort of honorary weekday, as advocated by my noble friend Lord Reay in an excellent speech, with which I did not agree but on which I compliment him, somehow meets the difficulty of finding an acceptable reform. Even if I did accept it, which I do not, I cannot see which six 1616 hours within anything like civilised opening hours could be chosen which did not strike at the very heart of this Government's proper commitment to the family for the reasons I have given. I hope that my right honourable friend will have this very much in mind before he comes to his settled view.
As my noble friend Lord Brentford and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, have said, research by the Jubilee Trust has confirmed what many of us had already supposed: Sunday is the focal point of family life and lunch is the focal point of Sunday. Sunday dinner or Sunday lunch is not something that can be disposed of in a few minutes, and when I say that I do not mean just that it takes time to prepare and cook the meal and then to clear it away and wash up. I mean that for many families Sunday, with a main meal at its centre, is the principal or only chance for all its members to get together and carry out all those private businesses—some of them open and acknowledged, others implicit and almost unnoticed—that are essential to the identity, character and endurance of a family, on which our society is so heavily dependent for its own strength and character.
There is the exchange of experiences, the sharing of anxieties, the agreement of differences and indeed the agreements to differ, the establishment of standards and the confirmation of loyalties. No change in the law which reduces the time available for the those essential processes to a matter of a few hours a week ought therefore to be accepted by your Lordships in any future proposed legislation. You cannot compress an English, still less a Welsh, Sunday into a dinner break or even half a day. If you try to, you will damage the nation as well as the families of which it is composed.
I am not one of those who want to do away with all regulation; nor am I one of those who wish to compress what regulation we have into only part of a day. I am one of those who would like to swap regulations that do not work for those that do. I would commend to Her Majesty's Government therefore for a start the REST proposals, published and frequently referred to before as a basis of coming to a settled view. I hope that my right honourable friend will not not suffer from what I am delighted and fascinated to have at last diagnosed—a condition that I have suffered from for years, with no knowledge of what it was—information anxiety. I am most grateful for the definition. I think that most of us certainly suffer from it and Ministers must; so I hope that my noble friend will not become too acute a fellow sufferer.
As one who came late to your Lordships' debate, I have no right to expect you to listen longer. I hope that in the time I have spoken I have made it clear that this is an issue of greater importance even than the large economic interests involved. I for one would feel bound to judge any proposals for changes according to how they will affect the spiritual life and the family life of this country and to act on that judgment and not on any lesser loyalty.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I follow an excellent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and 1617 begin by declaring a lifelong interest in the cooperative movement and in the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. I intend to make reference to their views, although I shall not necessarily be speaking to their brief, while I am making my points.
First, may I say to your Lordships that we are deeply in the debt of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for providing us with this opportunity of a debate which we do not have to conclude tonight. This is an ongoing part of a saga which has been running for a long time and which will run and run and run. But it provides all of us, partisans of one kind or another, with an opportunity to listen to other points of view.
I want to begin by talking about the way in which the debate was balanced three years ago. It was quite crudely and simply put that it was all or nothing at all. Any argument that was devised—and I was the mover of some amendments which sought some compromise from many quarters, covering variations in the number of hours, the size of shops and the numbers of employees—was met by the response, certainly from the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and from many of his friends who spoke eloquently and passionately, that there was no way in which you could have less than complete deregulation.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, fairly referred to the passage of the Bill through this House and also to the protection for employees that he hoped would be enshrined in a future Bill. He referred to what in fact we had done on the last occasion. I would remind the noble Lord that that was a concession forced from the Government. When the Bill came before us there were three clauses and a schedule: there was no reference to protection for shopworkers. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who was always in his place, was certainly impressed by the speeches made on one occasion by the late Lord Stockton and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. They carried the House with them in their arguments to the extent that the Government conceded—the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, was the Minister—that a powerful case had been made out that at least existing shopworkers should be protected.
That formed part of the Bill when it left here for another place. When we seek to assess the views of the shopworkers' union—not shopworkers, because I recognise that there are 2 million people who are employed in some form of retailing and distribution and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers certainly does not claim to represent all of them because there are many more unorganised shopworkers than there are organised ones—we have to view with suspicion as they do, the protestations that all will be well and that the rights and protection of employees will be enshrined in a Bill.
I listened to a very knowledgeable gentleman last night in a committee room upstairs who spoke eloquently about what we would call the SHRC proposals. They rest part of their argument on the premise that a code of practice may possibly, although not enshrined in the law, be part of the law-making process. I recall many noble Lords in this 1618 Chamber viewing with some scepticism the standing and the right of a code of practice. The gentleman confirmed that all the major retailers would be party to signing a code of practice. This has to be sold to shopworkers so that they have protection enshrined in a code of practice as strong as legislation. They may well accept it then. Nothing will succeed in this matter unless we carry forward those who articulate on behalf of a number of groups.
I believe that there is a considerable job to be done by the Government in discovering from the representatives of the people working in retail and distribution what changes they are prepared to accept. I look the Minister in the eye when I say that he has a most unenviable task in seeking this consensus. I listened carefully when he said the Government's stance was that they were not prepared to move until they were satisfied there was something of broad agreement on the table. Up to now the protagonists in the argument have put their views before the Minister. He now has a job of work to do. Why not get the parties round the table? There is nothing like confronting the different parties with what has been put forward to find out what they are prepared to give on.
What about a referendum? The noble Lord, Lord Reay—I respect what he said and admired his speech—said that we should take off the party shackles and thought that a free vote on the issue might be the answer. I understand the Government's reluctance to do that because this is government business. However, if we believe, as some noble Lords have said, that the people are behind complete or substantial change, what about letting the people decide, if not in a referendum, in their local authorities and county councils? What is wrong with giving the decision to people who know better than we do nationally the local feelings about such changes?
I wish to refer to the point made by several noble Lords about the plight of the poor tourist coming to this country and being aghast at our Sunday trading laws. I wonder how this manifests itself in places like Vienna, Innsbruck or Salzburg, three places that I visited on a Saturday and Sunday last year. There was a great rush in Vienna between 11 o'clock and 12 o'clock because the shops closed at midday. I heard no agitation anywhere there for the tourists in Austria to be given some extra facility. I fail to see why the proponents of the argument—I do not agree with them but I respect them—maintain that tourists coming to Britain will expect to find our shops open when they cheerfully go to other capital cities and accept the local custom that the shops shall be closed. Other noble Lords have mentioned the practices in a range of countries, and I think that we should take these on board.
The point has been made that on Sunday there is already work for firemen, ambulancemen, police and transport workers in this country. It is indeed a fact of life. We are not arguing that they should not run their ambulances and fire brigades, but we do not want to see an extension of that. The total is already, 2, 3, 4 million—
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
Five million, thank you. My Lords, why make it possible to add to that number another 2 million? They would be—I shall not say forced, because I do not accept that they will have to work—put under pressure to work. Why do it?
My noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs put forward in my view one of the most powerful arguments in the debate. I can speak for Edmonton where I live. In parts of Edmonton people are sick of the conditions in which we live on a Saturday—on a Friday, all right, but it is worse on a Saturday when the car parks are full and there is noise, dirt and filth. If the proposed change in the law comes about, there will be even more people—because the name of the game is to increase the market share and to make more profit—and more competition.
If giving people choice leads to Sunday being the same as any other day, then I am against it. I am unrepentant in wanting to retain as much of what we now have as possible. I think that there are merits in the case argued for 12 to 6, but one must acknowledge that there may be other ways of going about it.
I say this to the Minister for nothing. To get it right, one needs more time than the manifesto allows. I for one say that more time is needed. In this first genuine round of trying to find a compromise, nothing of substance emerged. As the Minister knows, if a Bill were presented for Second Reading in another place now or at any other time the opponents of the compromise would be very busy in the constituencies among various groups, and the result would be a mess. I look forward to the Government proposing changes in the law of a nature that is acceptable to the majority of interests. I wish the Minister and his colleagues well in their attempt to find a solution to the problem.
§ 7.27 p.m
§ Viscount Montgomery of Alamein
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and today is no exception. On this occasion he made some important and useful suggestions, although I do not always agree with him. Nearly four hours ago my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter introduced the debate with his usual clarity and vigour. I am glad to speak in the debate and to say how much I agree with what he said.
Shortly after my noble friend Lord Ferrers posed a question and said that he hoped to have a clear message from your Lordships. In saying that he lost none of his cunning, for which I have known him for many years. He must have known—I certainly could have told him before the debate started—that there was no possibility of that happening in this kind of debate. Indeed, we have had wide-ranging views on all aspects of this fascinating and important subject.
Many different proposals have been made, as has been said. I am inclined to those produced by the Shopping Hours Reform Council. Although they are in themselves a compromise, and compromises are usually rather unsatisfactory, I liked them because I thought that half a loaf was better than no bread. I should declare that I am an unashamed and 1620 unrepentant deregulator. I happen also to like Sunday but I dislike shopping. With those two viewpoints, I hope that I can be considered objective in this matter, though I doubt that that will be agreed by others.
I always enjoy the speeches of my noble friend Lady Young. On this occasion she spoke on her own account and on behalf of a very powerful and successful group of retailers. What she said was interesting, although I did not entirely agree with her. I was especially interested when she said that Sunday trading might be a deterrent to a career in retailing. That is a significant aspect of the matter. I have been extensively involved in catering and have spoken in the House on the subject. Sunday trading has not proved to be a deterrent in the industry—quite the contrary. In the catering industry Sunday is a day of action. But people have plenty of time off and are able to have recreation as appropriate. It is not a deterrent and indeed has been one of the stimuli.
In fact the deregulation of the licensing trade, which was vigorously debated in the House, has not been taken up by everybody. Many public houses and restaurants do not take advantage of the new found freedom because it does not suit them. Retailing, like licensing and catering, is about choice.
I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester is not in his place. I missed the speech of his colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans as I had to chair a meeting upstairs. I listened with great interest to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. I find it surprising that he and other spokesmen for the Church are unable to reconcile Sunday with retailing. The two subjects are not irreconcilable. I do not suppose that because shops are open I shall desist from going to church, and the same will apply to many others. By the same token, the unit of the family, about which many noble Lords have spoken with feeling, is something we all respect and wish to support. The fact that shopping is now an important leisure activity does not detract from that feeling of getting together both on Sundays and on other days.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester referred to the Conservative Party. I am sorry that he is not in his place but I should like to take up one point. He said that the Conservative Party should conserve that which is good. He is quite right; that is what it must do. But the Conservative Party—I speak as an extremely junior member of it—is also a party of radical thinking. Its thinking has never been more radical than under the leadership of the present Prime Minister. The Government were elected on a programme of freedom to choose. This refreshing philosophy has begun to affect every walk of life. Indeed, who knows, it might even affect the Churches in due course. Somehow or other shopping hours have remained behind the barricades. Surely it is time to let some fresh air in and to let traders and consumers alike decide when they should shop, how they should shop and where they should shop.
Obviously it is necessary to have protection for employees. Even the 1986 Bill, which went through this House with such vigour, provided for that. Nobody wishes people to work unsocial hours if they do not wish to do so. All shops, wherever they may 1621 be, should have clearly established notices which say when they are open and when they are not.
I therefore hope that my noble friend Lord Ferrers will not be beguiled by the eloquence of his noble friend Lord Elton, who was in great form this afternoon, and will get off the fence and get on with it.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, first, I must apologise for being late in putting down my name to speak; in fact, so late that it was never printed upon the list. Secondly, I must thank my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter; and thirdly, I must declare an interest. I am the owner of a garden centre in which it is illegal to sell a spade upon a Sunday. I am also a farmer. It is perfectly legal for me to buy a ploughshare on a Sunday. Christian France shoots on a Sunday. I would not shoot on a Sunday. Catholic Ireland hunts on a Sunday. I would not choose —say I, hypocritically—to hunt on a Sunday except in Ireland. Calvinist Scotland does not allow fishing on a Sunday. I am quite happy to fish on a Sunday.
My noble friend Lord Ferrers said that my intervention in the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans was either unhelpful or ill-mannered—anyway, he was disparaging about it. He is totally capable of being disparaging and I do not take offence. It is possible that he was disparaging because the right reverend Prelate was totally incapable of giving an answer. The Churches, it appears, are happy to accept that garden centres and DIY shops should be open because that is is for the recreation of the population. But for some extraordinary reason the Churches are not happy that a bookshop should be open. No authority in the scriptures and no doctrine from the early councils and from the early Christian fathers says that it is perfectly all right to buy a chain-saw in a suburban garden centre in England but not to buy Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in Hatchard's in Piccadilly. In effect, that is what the Churches are saying.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, on the narrow point on which my noble friend interrupted the right reverend Prelate, I understood the right reverend Prelate to be saying that one could get merit in buying a Bible without breaking the criminal law by doing it on Monday. I did not understand him to say anything about the merits or otherwise of buying a Bible on a Sunday. I shall not go on because I am not the right reverend Prelate, but that is what I understood him to say.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, that is my point. It is odd that one should get merit for buying a Bible on Monday but not for buying a Bible on Sunday. There is no authority for that statement in scriptures or in the writings of the early Church or of the early councils.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, obviously, I have not made clear what the right reverend Prelate said. I understood him to say that one can obtain spiritual 1622 merit from buying a Bible at any time or at any place—that is, if one uses it and one follows what it says—but if one wishes to avoid committing a criminal offence under the present law one does not do it on a Sunday. I do not think the right reverend Prelate was addressing the merits of buying a Bible on Sunday other than in the criminal sense.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I have a terrible feeling that this discussion could go on for a long time. I do not want to detain your Lordships for too long except to point out how interesting it is to note that the Church of England is divided on the homosexuality of priests, on the Virgin Birth, on the Nicene creed and on the bodily assumption of Christ, but for some quite extraordinary reason it is absolutely rock solid on not changing the Sunday trading laws. I am sorry but I find that a method of moral teaching which lacks any form of substance.
Those of us who believe in deregulation are saying that it is not for the nanny state to boss us about and that it is not for the Church of England, by law established, to say that we need the law to do this and we need the law to do that. It is for us to be true to our own consciences in our own hearts. In the same way as I would not shoot a pheasant on a Sunday, it is absolutely right for those people who do not want to go shopping or who do not want to work in shops so to choose.
The Muslim sabbath is a Friday. The Jewish sabbath is a Saturday. If we protect all three days in this modern, multi-racial and multi-cultural society, we shall degenerate into a four-day week. That may be of great pleasure to the idler members of society; but it cannot be of any use to or anything other than an intolerable burden on the consciences of those who want to proceed with their normal lives.
Those of us who support deregulation are asking for the privilege and freedom to be able to do what we want. But—and this is a very important "but"—those whose consciences do not allow them to work on Sunday, or whose consciences say, "I will not do this, or that, on the Sabbath", must be respected and protected by law. The freedom to do what you want is a privilege and the freedom of respect of conscience is also a privilege. Indeed, those are the privileges of a great society in which I think we live and it is that which I am urging upon Her Majesty's Government at present.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, will he say whether he would wish to apply the principle that everyone must have complete freedom of choice against the nanny state to planning controls, for instance, so that everyone would be free to choose where and how they built their house?
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, that is a non sequitur which should not be applied by a chairman of very great companies. Indeed, it is so obviously a non sequitur that it does not deserve an answer.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Lord Gallacher
My Lords, perhaps I may join with other noble Lords in expressing my thanks to the 1623 noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important question at what I regard to be a decent interval after the defeat of the Shops Bill. Let me also say that I acted as an assessor to the committee of inquiry into proposals to amend the Shops Acts in respect of multiple shops and large stores.
When the Bill was going through your Lordships' House, I said, and I repeat it now, that I felt that the Government had acted perfectly honourably in the matter because they had followed to the letter the findings of the inquiry committee. It was a three-person committee and in my view, having read the evidence and summarised it, it reached the wrong verdict. I think that members of the committee were obsessed with the idea that if there were any restrictions at all on shopping in this country, they would be incapable of enforcement. That decision led them into the trap of recommending "open all hours". I think it was that provision which doomed the Shops Bill to the fate which it finally met in another place.
It is only fair to say that the evidence which the committee took—I still have a stack of it, about 3 feet high in my living room—was in favour of Sunday trading; but it was not in favour of unlimited Sunday trading, and the committee did not test the witnesses whom they saw on the vital question as to what their attitude would be to unrestricted Sunday trading as regards working hours.
Therefore, we are back where we started on the issue. The review which the Government are conducting at present is an appropriate one. Moreover, although the divergence of opinion expressed in your Lordships' House this evening may be somewhat disconcerting, I have found that there has been a movement from fixed positions by comparison with that which existed in 1985–86. In particular the two main protagonists, if one may so describe them—the Keep Sunday Special organisation, which has made its REST proposals, and the Shopping Hours Reform Council, which has made counter-proposals—have moved from the situation which they were in when the Auld Committee was sitting and taking evidence on the subject.
Many points are perhaps worthy of mention because they have not emerged sharply enough in the debate this evening. We cannot discuss in any detail shopping hours on the other six days of the week because that is not included in the Motion before us. However, it is legal for shops under present law to remain open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., and up to 9 p.m. on one week night.
A significant development in the past few years has been the extension of hours by many traders. That in part is to do with franchising in order to keep smaller shops open. But we now have a large number of shops open, as they call it, from eight till eight so that the working day for many shopworkers is now of 12 hours' duration and the old 5.30 p.m. to 6 p.m. closing has gone by the board.
In addition to that change there is a development which I think is not statistically capable of 1624 calculation. It concerns Saturdays and arises from the fact—this is a point which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, touched upon—that the management problems over a six-day week are considerable. If you go through the supermarket check-out on a Saturday it is possible to observe that a large proportion of the workers employed there are young persons. Moreover, if you talk to them, as I sometimes do, you-will find that they are still attending school. I am all in favour of the Saturday job. Indeed, I had one myself when I was that age. However we must ask ourselves this. If we had Sunday trading as well, would young people be encouraged to work by reason of the cash incentives held out to them on both Saturdays and Sundays? If that proved to be the case, what would happen to their homework? Further, if the homework went by the board, what would happen to school performance?
I mention that situation because sometimes even consumers are inclined to take the narrow view of what they want. They see in Schedule 5 a rare old opportunity for fun and games and they do not take into account what I call the social considerations. The family question which has featured largely in the debate this evening is very much one of those. There are many imponderable factors in this game and it is important that in any balanced view the whole subject should be looked at in the round, so to speak.
I turn now to Scotland, because I was interested to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, had to say by reason of the fact that, unlike me, she is a resident Scot. I shall start from the proposition that the Shops Act 1950 was a consolidation measure. Its purpose was to consolidate the Shops Acts from 1912 to 1938 and certain other enactments relating to shops.
Scotland was not excluded from shopping law. The reason why Scotland was able to open its shops on Sunday was that the draftsmen in bygone years assumed that Scotland, being a Presbyterian country, did not need the restrictions which they thought appropriate for England. That situation held good until about 10 years ago when certain major firms—I had better be specific here—most of which I regret to say were English based, decided that it was worthwhile to take advantage of the loophole in the law in Scotland. That was partly because of the intrinsic value of being able to open shops on Sunday, especially in the run-up to Christmas, but more particularly because they thought that the thin edge of the wedge of what they might subsequently achieve in England.
Consequently I do not believe that one can assume that, if comparable freedom were available in England, the shopping experience would be in any way similar to that which applies in Scotland. For example, if Oxford Street and the great shopping areas of London were legally open on a Sunday, perhaps even closing at, say, 6 p.m., is it not likely that the theatre movement in London would be saying, "It would be far better to play to full houses on a Sunday evening at an early performance than to empty houses on a Monday"?
Therefore we are talking again not in terms of something which is quantifiable but about a range of possibilities. I am not saying that the opportunity of 1625 going to a theatre on a Sunday is not highly desirable but, nevertheless, it is something to be considered. I advert again to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young: if management has a problem with supervision over six days, which it has, in my opinion it has an infinitely greater problem if it is to maintain effective control of its shops with a growing part-time labour force over seven days. That again leads one to say to oneself: "Well, in retailing terms it has been largely agreed that seven-day trading will not increase turnover all that much; but it will certainly increase expenses".
I should not be surprised if leading firms which had a great regard for their retailing standards decided that if they had to open on Sundays to protect their trade, Monday might be the day upon which they could properly close. At the end of the day, instead of having seven-day trading the consumer would still be stuck with six-day trading. There would still be shops open on Monday. I can recall that when Monday trading was tried by a large number of food retailers, some small food retailers opened and they lived together quite happily. Nevertheless, those wider possibilities must be taken account of. It is a factor which, as I say, consumer organisations should address when they are making up their minds.
The protection of workers has featured largely in our discussion, I believe quite properly. Had the previous Bill been enacted with the amendments to which my noble friend Lord Graham spoke, the protection for workers at that time would have been stronger than it currently is. Since 1985–86 the wages councils have been virtually neutered. Even what remains of the wages councils stands in real danger of being swept away if as a result of the inquiry which the Government are now conducting they decide to abolish wages councils.
Wages councils are vital for the retail trades. Food and non-food wages councils cover about 2 million workers. Consequently, protection for the workers is, as I say, much less. In addition, in legislation currently before another place the protection which young workers enjoy under the Shops Act 1950 is likely to be swept away. In addressing the question we must be certain that any replacement legislation looks at that issue. I do not regard codes of conduct as a satisfactory basis upon which to protect workers, having regard to the fragmentation and the general nature of employment in the retail trades.
Finally, a point which I believe has not been mentioned is the nature of the schedules. During the passage of the 1985–86 Bill we tried to persuade the Government that if schedules to the shops legislation were necessary, it was far better to avoid the rigidity of putting them into an Act of Parliament and to deal with them by supplementary legislation. That is especially true of Schedule 5. Irrespective of the outcome of the review which the Home Office currently has in hand, it would be as well for the Minister to have a look at the prospect of following the advice we gave him then; that is, if there have to be restrictions as to what may or may not be sold on Sundays as a result of the implementation of either of the two main proposals currently before us, it would be as well to make the Minister responsible for schedules and to allow him to proceed by way of 1626 statutory instrument after discussion with the national bodies which have a direct interest in these matters.
As I said at the outset, the position while not hopeful is not unhopeful. I agree with the suggestion made by my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs that there is some merit in bringing the parties together around the table, so to speak, under the skilful guidance of the Minister of State to see whether, having moved slightly in the matter, it is not possible for both sides to go that little bit further so that at some future time—in my opinion later rather than sooner—we can have before us a proposal for the revision of shopping hours in this country which the Government can truly say meets with the approval of the major interests concerned.
§ 7.54 p.m.
My Lords, it is always helpful if one has the understanding and comfort of some of your Lordships when one comes to make a speech. When the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said that he felt sorry for me, I appreciated that very much indeed. I notice that my name is put down as speaking again by leave of the House. If your Lordships were to wish to deny me that leave I should be quite content.
As we all expected, a variety of opinions have been expressed. I shot my bolt in giving the Government's point of view when I spoke on the first occasion. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Caldecote—he has vanished; that happens sometimes at this time of night—who said that there was an American disease called information anxiety. It is the difference between what you understand and what you think you ought to understand. Like my noble friend Lord Elton, who was a distinguished Minister of State in the position which I hold, I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Caldecote for letting me know from what I suffer. As one who is, in this position, bombarded by paper, problems and views, I am conscious of what I understand and of what I ought to understand. I rather fancy that the latter wins by a length.
We have heard this evening a complete variety of opinions—from those who are in favour of deregulation; from those who want partial regulation; and from those who seek to have no change. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester said that he thought that the Conservative Party was there to conserve and that we should conserve what now happens. When he said that, I thought how much change we have seen, especially on Sundays, over the past 20, 30 and 40 years. I remember my late mother telling me that when she was a child—she was born before the turn of the century—she was not allowed to look into the window of a toy shop on Sunday because it was supposed to be bad for her. When one thinks of the contrast between then and now I wondered whether, had the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester been alive at the turn of the century, he might not have said the same thing: we must conserve the status quo.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, perhaps the Minister will allow me to make the point that I thought it was absolutely clear that I said I had no desire to leave things exactly as they now are and nor did the Churches. The point was that conserving what is best means moving into a new situation and managing change instead of merely being driven by it.
My Lords, that is an intellectual point with which I find myself in considerable agreement. I was apprehensive about crossing swords with the right reverend Prelate because he made such a robust and fiery speech. He went like a boxer taking on all corners. I made a note not to provoke him too much. I provoked him on that occasion. I shall do my best to see that I do not go any further. I enjoyed the right reverend Prelate's speech. Perhaps I may say with humility that he put his case forcefully, strongly and clearly. It is a view which many people hold. It was good that your Lordships heard that view put forward in the way that it was.
We have had a number of bits of advice. My noble friend Lord Caldecote advised the Government to hasten slowly. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, on the same tack said that the Government should take time. My noble friend Lord Elton said, "Do not rush into a decision". No one could accuse us of having done anything other than hasten slowly, taken time and not rushed into a decision, because we have not yet come to a decision. On the other hand, my noble friend Lord Montgomery told the Government to get off the fence.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, perhaps I may tell my noble friend that my motto is festina lente—hasten slowly and perhaps he will not use it so frequently.
My Lords, I shall have to have time to work out not the translation from Latin into English but what my noble friend was saying.
My Lords, when my noble friend speaks from a sedentary position he is even less audible than when he is standing up.
I was merely trying to make the contrast between the advice I was given from behind, including that of my noble friend Lord Onslow, which I now understand is of a similar nature to that given by my noble friends Lord Caldecote and Lord Elton and the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and that of my noble friend Lord Montgomery, who said, "Get off the fence", and my noble friend Lord Lucas, who said, "The Government should grasp this nettle". The Government grasped the nettle once before and got stung by it. The Government are very anxious not to grasp a similar nettle without making fairly certain that it commands a reasonable consensus of opinion.
The debate today has illustrated that there is a desire for reform in some respects. Even the right 1628 reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester—and I say this with hesitation for fear that I provoke him—is in favour of some reform provided that it is at least reform as he wants it. There is considerable uncertainty about the best way in which to do this. Some of your Lordships do not want to see Sunday trading deregulated at all; others have proposed complete deregulation or deregulation of part of Sunday, or new lists of exemptions.
In my earlier intervention I suggested that no proposal, however carefully thought out, is without its flaws. I am bound to say that I think your Lordships have confirmed this—fortissimo, if I may say so. I said that if your Lordships spoke with one voice it would at least be helpful. I am surprised that my noble friend Lord Montgomery described that as being cunning. I am rather flattered by that. I should have thought it was fairly obvious that I did not expect that that would happen, and it has not happened. Your Lordships have run true to form. Your Lordships have had a debate which has been convulsed with courteous controversy.
If there is a change in the law, the change ought to be one that makes the law both practical and enforceable. The present law is neither, although we must avoid at all times merely replacing one unsatisfactory law with another which is equally unsatisfactory. A complete deregulation would be practicable. It would not raise a problem of enforcement, but of course, as we have all heard, it does not carry total support. The question is whether it carries enough support. Certainly it did not in 1986, and one wonders whether public opinion and parliamentary opinion has changed that much since then. If so, has it changed sufficiently?
We have heard eloquent pleas for deregulation of part of Sunday and although this has great advantages it does not solve the problem of what to do about the rest of Sunday. We have heard of the value to the community of small shops, garden centres and other stores but there does not seem to be agreement on these factors, let alone others.
My noble friend Lord Brentford said that do-it-yourself centres were usually vast. Maybe they are, but not all do-it-yourself centres are large and one wonders whether they should be incorporated or not. We must remember that if anomalies occur those shops which would not enjoy exemption under a reform of the law would be forced to close with the threat of a criminal sanction. I am not saying that we cannot live with flaws and anomalies. On occasion we pride ourselves as masters of compromise. But before we adopt a compromise we must ensure that it is practicable and enforceable.
My noble friend Lord Elton, in what I thought, if I may say so, was a highly intellectual and diagnostic speech, referred to family life as being important. He dwelt on that and I think that he was absolutely right to do so. However, relaxation does not necessarily act to the detriment of family life. Many people see Sundays as opportunities to go out together, to visit markets, to make purchases calling for family decisions. Many lonely single people would like to work on Sundays; some people already have to work on Sundays and their wives might like to work on Sundays too so as to enjoy time off together. Because 1629 I say that does not mean that I do not disparage my noble friend's observations about which he feels very strongly and for which he made a very strong case. If he is right—and I am sure he is—that family life is the essence and the basis of society and that anything that benefits family life benefits society, then we should be careful before we do anything which would spoil family life. I just say that I do not think that need necessarily be the case.
My noble friend Lady Young said—and I think it must have been a slip of the tongue—that she spoke on behalf of Marks and Spencers. As one who had the great privilege of occupying the position of Leader of your Lordships' House, I think that she meant that she had been advised by Marks and Spencers although the views she was giving were of course entirely her own. She spoke as if Sunday trading did not occur at all at the moment, whereas of course it does. I think she said that it would be difficult to find staff, but we discovered that there are reasons to think that there is competition to work. Shc said that prices would rise. I understand the arguments she put forward; I think that there is no evidence that in general this will happen, though in individual shops it may do so.
She said, I think, that standards would fall. I do not think that there is any evidence for that. She suggested that opening on Sunday was not commercially viable. That is perfectly true, it may not be commercially viable for Marks and Spencers but it may well he viable for other people. What she was really saying, in the nicest possible way, was that Sunday trading is not something with which Marks and Spencers themselves would be involved because it is not commercially acceptable to them. If that is so, it is perfectly understandable. But that does not mean that the same philosophy applies to everyone. That is why it is very likely that, should total deregulation come about, not all shops would open. Only those which found it worth while would do so.
The noble Lords, Lord Graham and Lord Gallacher, asked why we did not get the parties round the table. I should like to consider this. Your Lordships will be aware that all the different parties who are involved in this, have only recently got their views together. The whole purpose of what we are trying to do is to see whether there can be a concordance of view. I hope that will be possible in the end, not because the Government seek to take on something that is controversial, but simply because the law as it is at the moment is not working. It is not right and it ought to be altered. The difficulty is to find the consensus as to how to alter it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, asked whether the Shops Act contravened European law. I do not think it is for us to attempt to prejudge the decision of the European Court in Luxembourg. However, we do not believe that the Shops Act is contrary to the Treaty of Rome and there is no European requirement to standardise Sunday trading laws in the Community.
In conclusion, I support the concept of Sunday as a day apart. I personally am of the view that the majority of people wish Sunday to be a different day, whether for religious or other reasons. People may wish to garden rather than to go to the office and I see 1630 no reason why retailers should not sell them plants if they wish to do so. However that does riot mean that all shops will open. That has not happened in Scotland, where, without such shopping restrictions, Sunday remains a day that is different. I believe the same could happen in England.
I wish to thank your Lordships for the contributions which noble Lords have made to the debate. It is valuable for the Government to know what your Lordships feel. I can assure the House that the consultation process is continuing. I shall not take the advice of my noble friend Lord Montgomery to get off the fence until we are quite certain which side of the fence to get off.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, happily for me and your Lordships, it is the convention that in the last speech of this kind of debate the mover is not expected to make a serious or substantial attempt to reply to the points raised. If that were the convention then your Lordships would be in for a very late Sitting indeed. As it is, our main duty is to thank noble Lords of all points of view for taking part in the debate and for contributing to what I hope, from the point of view of your Lordships' House and of the Minister, has been a very useful exchange of views.
It remains a fact that sooner or later many of us think sooner rather than later—the Government of the day will have to take action on a situation which, as it was generally accepted throughout the debate, is very far from satisfactory. On that I should like to take up the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, that on this difficult and controversial issue the Government should consider getting the various parties round the table for discussion in order to discover whether a solution can be put forward reasonably quickly which at least would obtain majority support. That is a useful suggestion, and I hope that my noble friend and his right honourable friends will consider that.
The debate generally has covered a wide expression of view. I must admit that as a member of the Church of England I was a little depressed by the speeches of the two right reverend Prelates who took part. With very great respect and deference to them, they did not seem to be fully appreciative of the situation in this country today. They seemed to be hankering—understandably, no doubt—for an era, an approach and a philosophy which has been dead for a considerable number of years. However, I was encouraged—I shall say this to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester who remains in his place, (the other right reverend Prelate has fled to St. Albans no doubt)—
My Lords, to be fair to my noble friend, the right reverend Prelate said that he was going back to take a service.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I hope that it is a service in St. Albans. I was, however, a little reassured by the fact that I had the pleasure of bringing out the following to your Lordships. Whatever line the right reverend Prelates may take on this matter, the Deans and Chapters of at any rate a
1631 large number of their cathedrals seem to take a much more practical and contemporary view. Indeed, they not only have and operate large and effective shops which open on a Sunday, but as I ventured to inform your Lordships, they have carried—in 15 cases in the Church of England and in one in the Church of Rome—on that practice until as recently as last Sunday, to the point of transgressing the criminal law.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, I have a very quick intervention to make. The REST proposals would make what the Deans and Chapters are doing entirely legal. That is a point of view with which I am sure the noble Lord should agree.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, whatever the REST proposals or those of any other body may achieve, we exist at the moment under the present law. I was gathering reassurance from the fact that the present law is so manifestly silly that whatever approach the right reverend Prelates may make, the Deans and Chapters of a large number of cathedrals are far more practical. They are far more into the contemporary scene and the contemporary approach and are even prepared to carry their trading practices to the point of transgressing the criminal law. That is still the point. Whether one accepts the REST proposals—personally I do not, although I shall not waste time on that now—or those of any other organisation is irrelevant to that point.
This has been a most interesting debate. It showed the flow of opinion. It also showed how opinion does not appear to divide very much on party lines on this matter. It divides more according to personal approaches and philosophies and perhaps to some extent on religious beliefs. That may be a very important factor in the Government's calculations. We have taken up a considerable amount of your Lordships' time in discussing this matter. I hope the House will think the debate has been worthwhile. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.