HL Deb 26 June 1990 vol 520 cc1431-3

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to take in the light of the High Court decision quashing a conviction of two companies for a breach of the Shops Act 1950 in proceedings brought by Peterborough City Council; and what has been the cost to public funds imposed by the proceedings in this case.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Government are prepared to consider reform of the Shops Act 1950, short of total deregulation, if a solution can be found which is widely accepted, enforceable, practicable and likely to command a parliamentary majority. No such solution has yet emerged. It is not possible to give a precise figure for the costs of proceedings in Peterborough. It is estimated, however, that the magistrates' Crown and and divisional courts' costs were £1,100, £3,300 and £7,600 respectively. The legal costs of the appellants have not yet been notified but they will be paid out of central funds in accordance with the judgment.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Are the Government aware that the law on Sunday trading is now in a state of hopeless confusion which is unfair both to individual retailers and to the local authorities which have responsibility for enforcing it? Are the Government—unless they obtain some formula for agreement—content to leave the law like that?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Government's position is that they continue to regard the law on Sunday trading as outdated, full of anomalies and in need of reform. Following the defeat of the Shops Bill in 1986, however, and despite extensive consultations and discussions, no proposal to reform the law has yet been put forward which would command widespread agreement. Discussions are continuing but unless a wider measure of agreement on reform of the law can be achieved, there is little prospect of early legislation.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, would not the Government consider following the example of that god-fearing country, Scotland? I am sure that there would be unanimous agreement to following the Scots, who are famous for their religion.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. The position in Scotland is entirely different. In 1986 that argument was prayed in aid as support for the Shops Bill, but the legislation failed.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, does the Minister accept, as Lord Justice Mustill put the matter in the case in question, that things that can be sold on Sunday are, a strange miscellany of goods now ossified in the fifth schedule in the 1950 Act"?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the fifth schedule is the only one which allows goods to be sold or lists the goods that can be sold. That is the part of the Act which the Government feel is outdated.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, in the light of the chaos which the Minister informs the House exists, and in view of his pessimism as to agreement being reached on new legislation, what does he advise the country, and especially local authorities, to do regarding the present law? Will he comment on the great number of areas which are now surprisingly claiming to be holiday resorts?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, in response to the noble Lord's final point, it is the holiday resorts which claim another exemption from Section 47 of the Act. That is perhaps a means whereby holiday resorts have quite properly sought to achieve their objective.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, does my noble friend recall the Auld Report which gave rise to the earlier Bill and nine days of debate in your Lordships' House? Can he say whether that report still forms the basis of Her Majesty's Government's consideration of the problem?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, my noble friend is right. The Government have the Auld Report in front of them, but the current law remains the law. It is up to local authorities to prosecute if they think fit.

Viscount Tonypandy

My Lords, everyone is aware of the anomalies linked with Sunday trading. Are the Government of the opinion that Sundays should always be a special day or have they decided to amend the Commandments?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I do not believe that the Government have an opinion on that matter. However, I confirm that the Government believe that the Shops Act 1950 is outdated.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, although I agree that the law needs to be reformed, is my noble friend aware that a special meeting of about 40 local authority senior officers and councillors who were attending the annual conference of the Institute of Trading Standards Administration on 20th June condemned the small group of large retailers and very highly-paid lobby groups for their attitude to this issue? Is he further aware that, since November 1989 when the European Court upheld our Sunday laws, over 250 enforcement prosecutions have been instituted all over the country, culminating recently in the Torfaen prosecution of B&Q? Will he take that into account?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I shall certainly take that into account. But I do not think that any of your Lordships would expect me to comment on the Torfaen case, which is subject to appeal.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, if unfortunately it is impossible to change this rather surprising law and a great deal of the trouble lies in its schedule, is it possible to amend the schedule?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, that route has been considered. It was felt that the law itself needed reform rather than just tinkering with the schedule.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, does my noble friend regard it as proper for a responsible government to accept that the present state of the law is confused, unenforceable and unfair to all concerned and yet say that they propose to do nothing about it?

Viscount Ullswater

No, my Lords, I sought not to give that impression. I was trying to give the impression that consultations were still taking place in order that some measure of agreement can be achieved before further practical details are arrived at.

Back to