HL Deb 16 March 1989 vol 505 cc333-5

3.12 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their estimate of the number of shops open on an average Sunday.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, I regret that there is insufficient information with which to give an informed estimate.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that singularly uninformative Answer. Is the ignorance which is shown by government of the situation in respect of Sunday shopping an indication of a vivid nature of the complete confusion which the present law creates?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend draws some peculiar conclusions. I realise that he thought my Answer was uninformative. I have a funny feeling that when he tabled the Question he knew that the Answer would be uninformative. The fact that we do not know how many shops are open on Sunday is no indication of the sense of direction in which the Government or the country should go in respect of Sunday trading.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, will the Minister take note of a survey carried out last year by the Jubilee Centre? Its survey of 18,000 shops indicated that 90 per cent. were closed and of those which were open, only 2 per cent. were acting flagrantly in violation of the law. Will the Minister recognise the fact that in a law-abiding country 98 per cent. of the shops are abiding by the law, unlike the large do-it-yourself centres, which have a bad record in that respect?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, for that information. It will be necessary to see the basis on which the information was requested in order to ensure that it covered all types of shops which are open on Sundays.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that his answer indicates that although the existing law needs clarification, it is effective in maintaining the special nature of Sunday as a day of rest and refreshment for as many people as possible; and that any future legislation should maintain that principle?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I could not agree more with my noble friend Lord Caldecote that the existing law needs clarification. It has always been the view of the Government that we should opt for deregulation on Sundays. However, if Parliament and others cannot agree on the matter, the Government have no intention of producing a Bill only to find that it is rejected by Parliament.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, will my noble friend consult with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and learn from him that Scotland achieves a higher degree of specialisation on Sunday with no anti-opening hours except in respect of hairdressing?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, we always come up against the problem of what the Scots do on Sundays. All I can tell your Lordships is that a sample survey of shops in Scotland in 1985 showed that 20 per cent. of shops are open on Sunday. I do not know what that proves, but it is a piece of interesting information.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the trend towards Sunday opening in Scotland is proceeding steadily and more shops are opening every year? Is he also aware that many responsible leaders of the Churches in Scotland are anxious that England should not go down that road which will, in the end, lead to the destruction of the special character of Sunday in Scotland as much as in this country?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my sympathies lie with the right reverend Prelate in so far as everyone wishes to see Sunday kept special. On the other hand, the law as it now stands is patently absurd and it is difficult for local authorities or anyone else to enforce it. We wish to ensure that there exists a law which can be respected and adhered to. The difficulty lies in finding agreement. I invite the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester to discuss the issue with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter in order to see whether they cannot find some accord which they can permeate through to their friends in both camps.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that suggestion. May I indicate to him that he should be aware that the right reverend Prelate is an inconvertible security?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I shall have to work that one out! It is all very well my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter persisting in asking Questions of me and the right reverend Prelate asking the same Questions. It would be much better if instead of trying to give the Government a bloody nose over this issue they gave each other one.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, might one way out of the difficulty be to opt for local preference as we did in respect of drinking on Sundays? Already we have Scotland on a different course to England. Already we have a number of units of local government enforcing the law according to their ideas. Would it not be better to let them continue to do so and go straight to a local preference?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, what happens in respect of drinking on Sundays is a peculiarly sensitive position so far as I am concerned. I recall that your Lordships and others are permitted to drink in a public house between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Sundays as a result of an aberration by a certain Government Minister. I do not say that that is a suitable precedent to follow.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the Government brought forward a Bill based on the REST proposals, which in a recent debate the majority of Members of your Lordships' House appeared to support, the anxiety expressed by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter about enforcement could be eased?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Brentford considers that the REST proposals have a majority of support in this House. I am not sure whether he can substantiate that. They are fairly bureaucratic and many problems will be associated with them. However, I should be happy to consider the suggestion and I make the same request of my noble friend: that he persuades some of his adversaries to agree with him.