§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill which is before your Lordships for its second reading today represents a fundamental effort to change a bad law, an unenforced and unenforceable law, and points the way for freedom for shops to open and close when they wish. It is always a pleasure to listen to a maiden speech, and I am particularly honoured that my noble friend Lord Mackintosh should have chosen my Bill as a starting point to what I know will be a distinguished career in this House. Perhaps I should declare some sort of interest, because it must be a unique occasion when both the maiden speaker and my noble friend the Minister happen to have been pupils of my husband—who is, no doubt, listening to all three of us in a highly critical way.
The fact that my Bill is the latest in a long series of attempts to rationalise these matters daunts me not at all. In fact, the history of attempted legislation in both Houses encourages me. It proves the gathering strength of feeling which exists among consumers and 114 shopkeepers to alter the extraordinary situation which exists at present.
I have no wish to bore your Lordships with the well-known examples of anomalies which exist under the law as it stands today. I should, however, like to make one exception on behalf of the National Federation of Fish Fryers. It seems scarcely credible that it is legal to buy delicious prawn balls and chips from Chinese "take-aways" but it is illegal to buy delicious fish and chips from a fish and chip shop, although fish and chip shops may legally sell other products. My Lords, what a ludicrous situation! Of course, the answer to that particular piece of lunacy is that fish and chip shops were the only kind of take-away establishments which existed in Britain when the Act was passed, so Chinese, Indian and other types of take-away escaped the net.
Let me turn to the reverse side of the coin. Presumably because it was believed that the Scots would not open their shops on a Sunday, Scotland was not included in the 1950 Shops Act. What has been the result? In Scotland some types of shops open on a fairly regular basis, others do not. Those which do open tend to be a certain type of operation—for example, large discount warehouses—or they are in a particular kind of location. The Co-op hypermarket in Glasgow opens legally and regularly. Its counter-parts in England cannot. Large-scale openings of shops on the three Sundays preceding Christmas also take place and are now well established events in the major towns and cities in Scotland.
There is an important trend towards diversification within stores in Scotland. As Sunday shopping has become popular, specialist shops such as garden centres have diversified, thereby encouraging the whole family to enjoy several hours of shopping on a Sunday. The National Consumer Council report comments that diversification of this nature is a recognition that many families like to shop together on a Sunday, the day which in this kind of shop is now their heaviest trading day. The phenomenon of the tourist departmental "stores is another aspect of diversification. As well as providing the usual range of tourist goods, the stores provide a wide range of clothing, books and related goods, a drinks section (which is closed on Sunday), food, plants and pot plants, et cetera. The majority of shops in the multiple chains (typical of high street shopping areas) are shut, although there are some exceptions.
Sunday shopping is widespread in areas on the edge of towns normally located on a large industrial site, close to major road connections. Some village shops in southern Scotland shut on Saturday afternoons but open on Sunday mornings. Most village shops selling confectionery, tobacco and newspapers open for the morning only but extend their opening hours should the occasion demand it. Small, usually family-owned, village groceries often open on Sunday mornings. Sunday shopping has also become a fixture of pre-Christmas trading, especially in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee and the smaller surrounding towns. In 1981 most of the major multiples such as British Home Stores, Woolworths, Menzies, the Co-op, Boots, Debenhams, W. H. Smith, Miss Selfridge and the House of Fraser took advantage in this way of their Scottish liberty. 115 A significant part of the National Consumer Council's document on trading in Scotland is taken up with reports made from interviews with members from the retail trade: Frasers, for instance, who opened for the three Sundays prior to Christmas, did not open on other Sundays as it had proved to be not commercially valid. They reported no difficulty in finding volunteer staff. In 1981, W. H. Smith opened their Princes Street, Edinburgh, store on one Sunday after Easter. It was not a commercial success. They opened again to benefit from the tourist trade from mid-June to the beginning of September, this time with good results. This again demonstrates the flexibility of the situation and the fact that commercial common sense prevails. Habitat Designs Limited, who are open at their three stores in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, close on Mondays. They do not advocate seven-day trading but merely, as I do, that shops should be allowed to select their own opening hours.
Habitat's trading policy in Scotland demonstrates the demand for this shopping facility by the fact that 25 per cent. of their sales are taken on a Sunday within the shorter opening period of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Staffing at Habitats on a Sunday presents no problems as a high proportion of weekend employees are part-timers who work eight hours on Saturday and 4½ hours on Sundays, for two days' salary. Full-time staff are on a flexible roster which, in effect, means that they work nine days out of 14 and are paid for working the full two weeks (10 days). Mr. Kerr, of the Glasgow Chamber of Trade and also representing the Association of Retail Distributors, points out that employees seem extremely happy with the way the Shops Act operates in Scotland without affecting prices, and the only long term change he envisages is that more shops might be tempted to close on Monday and Tuesday and open on Sunday.
Another important point—The Wages Council agreement is quite generous to the worker. If members of staff work 4 hours or more, they are paid for 16 hours. On average, shops are open for fewer hours on Sundays, so staff tend to be working between five and six hours, and they are automatically paid for 16 hours. If they work for less than 4½ hours—say four hours—then they are paid for eight hours. Before opening on Sunday, both the Co-op and House of Fraser invited the shop workers union, USDAW, to carry out a poll among staff. There was no compulsion about Sunday working. In both organisations the shop workers voted overwhelmingly in favour of Sunday opening.
It seems that the present Sunday trading position in Scotland is stable and causes no problems. Churchgoers go to church and then shop if they wish. Mothers prepare the Sunday lunch and can then shop with their husbands and children if they wish. Retailers seem quite content to let the demand for shops to be open find an appropriate level, and to let shops open as need be to meet that demand. There is no reason to suppose that the pattern of Sunday opening would be different in England and Wales if the law were altered in the manner proposed by this Bill.
I have dealt in depth with the Scottish experience because it bears out my belief, and the belief of those who support me, that allowing shops to open does not 116 mean that shops—or at least all shops—do open. The fact that nearly all shops in the United Kingdom do not open between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays, although they arc allowed to do so, is another case in point.
My Lords, let me now turn to another aspect; namely, surveys of attitudes. In 1974, Which? published a report which dealt only with late night shopping. In 1975 there was a Home Office survey, which is now out of date, but it is my understanding that the Home Office has been making a new survey, and that my noble friend Lord Belstead will be announcing its conclusions during today's debate. I greatly look forward to listening to what he will tell us.
In 1979 the National Consumer Council carried out a survey, Sunday Trading—the Consumers' View. In January 1982, a report for the National Consumer Council drew attention to the number of respondents' complaints concerned either with shops being shut when respondents left work or with the need for Sunday opening. These reports, interesting though they were, were difficult to assess usefully for my purpose today. However, a new poll, with a base of 2,005, carried out by MORI has produced strikingly new figures in favour both of extension of shop hours and of Sunday trading. Nearly two-thirds of the public favour a change in the law to allow more shops to remain open during the evening. The question put was:" Do you think the law should be changed to allow more shops to remain open during the evening or not? "The replies were: Should be allowed to remain open—64 per cent. Should not be allowed to remain open—32 per cent. Don't know—4 per cent.
The public appears equally in favour of a change in the Sunday trading laws. Nearly two-thirds of those interviewed supported such a move. The question was: "At present, only shops selling newspapers and certain types of food are allowed to open on Sundays. Do you think the law should be changed to allow other groups to open on Sundays or not? "The replies came as follows: Should be allowed to open—63 per cent. Should not be allowed to open—33 per cent. Don't know—4 per cent. Interviewing for the poll took place between 27th November and 1st December 1981, with a total of 160 sampling points. Interestingly, support for changes in the law is more strongly advocated in southern regions and, although support for the relaxation of the law concerning evening opening hours also increases with social class, in the case of Sunday opening there is no longer any simple correlation of demands to any particular social class.
The social conditions which led up to the 1950 Act have, in the past years, changed drastically. Shops are in business for their own good and a trader should be allowed to adapt his hours to circumstances and the local needs. While watching the television programme "Two Nations" on 31st January, I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State for Employment enthusiastically endorse a slogan which he had seen in a New York shop. He quoted: "We love our customers. They pay the wages". My Lords, I could not agree more.
These past two months, which have included Christmas and the January sales, have seen desperately 117 severe weather conditions throughout Britain. I have no doubt that in Wales, for instance, turnover in shops compared with 1980 must be down. If those shops were free to try to make up their losses by adjusting their opening hours, we might see fewer traders faced with bankruptcy in the coming months. Unemployment, which is the biggest national worry in this country today, could be helped if shops could employ more part-timers to work during more flexible shopping hours. Tourists would spend more, if they could shop on Sundays. The list of advantages to be gained is endless.
I am in no way advocating a compulsory seven-day week shop opening, or a compulsory seven-day week for shop workers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, asked during the short debate on the Shops Act last summer: "How do people get gas and electricity on a Sunday, without people working?" How indeed, my Lords! And I would add: How do we get our Monday newspapers or our Sunday broadcasts and television? People are working on Sundays. They work a five-day week, which may include Sundays. Factories may open when they please; airports, railways—sometimes—and buses operate on Sundays. Why not shops which, after all, are paying rents and rates on a seven-day basis?
We live in a pluralistic society. The Sabbath for a Christian is not the same day as that for the 1½ million Moslems who live in this country or for members of the Jewish faith. Nobody is surely suggesting that the Christians should spend the whole of Sunday in church. Why should a family not go as a family to buy those items, such as furniture, which involve a family decision? Such an outing is surely better for family life—not worse. I can see no reason for believing that the opening of a few shops or garden centres will result in the death of the family, as such, and a lot of people will not change their pattern of life, anyway. Quite apart from those who go to church or do not go to church, people who go to watch or play Sunday football or cricket will go. Those who watch TV, walk the dog or laze by the fire will go on doing just that. People who are good parents will not change and neither, alas! will the bad parents. And people will go shopping. If so, why not? I ask your Lordships to look at life in free Scotland; I ask you to heed the voice of the majority, and I ask you to look with favour at my Bill. My Lords, I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Trumpington.)
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, on the splendid way in which she has introduced this Bill. She was very clear, very succinct and very brief, which is always a plus in this House. If I may say so, it is the females who speak briefly and they probably put more points than the males.
I should like to make my own position clear. I was very intrigued to find that my Front Bench had elevated me to being the second speaker on this Bill, which I have always understood in my years in the House meant that one was virtually speaking on behalf of the Opposition. But I hasten to say that my noble friend Lord Jacques has already told one group that he will 118 be speaking officially on behalf of the Opposition, so I suppose that on this occasion I am speaking for myself.
§ Baroness Phillips
It is in the minutes of the all-party retail group. However, I shall not pursue that point. I would merely say that on this occasion I might be speaking as an independent. The noble Baroness has pointed out that this piece of legislation has been under discussion over a long period. I counted nine Bills that have gone through, each trying to deal piecemeal with this situation. I think your Lordships will agree that if an Act of Parliament is constantly under discussion, it must mean that there is some need for either reform or change.
The noble Baroness who introduced the Bill has had the courage to go the whole hog, if I may so put it. I have tried on two occasions to bring in amending legislation to deal with sections of the Act, so I compliment her on her honesty and courage. She has made the point which I made in the earlier debate and which I would repeat: who already works on Sunday? We should be very hypocritical if we suggested that the whole of society closed down on Friday evening at five o'clock. Of course, if one is unfortunate enough to he ill on a Saturday, one realises what great inconvenience is caused to the medical profession who all appear to have gone away for the weekend, leaving one at the mercy of emergency services which may or may not materialise.
But there are a whole host of workers who maintain our lifestyle during the weekend. We have heard of some—those who supply our energy, our gas and electricity, and our transport. There is the fact that we can put on our television sets or listen to our radios; the fact that if we need to go to hospital there are ambulance services waiting for us; the fact that if we have a fire there are firemen waiting to put out the blaze and so on. And, surely, the churches work on Sunday. Perhaps one of the reasons why they do not like this Bill is that they will be in competition for the customers. But there is no doubt that there are already many people who have to work, and we cannot run a sophisticated society, such as the one in which we live, from Monday to Friday—9 to 5. There is a great argument going on now concerning the marvellous word "roster"—in other words, flexible hours, or people having to work unsocial hours. We have probably made a great deal too much of this. I have found that workers are quite willing to work unsocial hours. Indeed, many do, provided that they have the proper recompense for doing so. This would have to be looked at if we were to change the situation in shops.
I am subjected to pressure from a number of groups with which I have the privilege to be connected. It might be a warning to your Lordships not to take on too many chairmanships because at some point in time the different groups you represent will all have different points of view and you will not be sure which one you are supposed to be following. I can only say that I have looked very carefully at them all. I have tried to consider the view of the traders, whom I have the privilege to represent. I have also tried to 119 consider the view of the Institute of Shops, Health and Safety Acts Administration who have to administer the Act. I have tried to consider, too, the view of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers who are great supporters of a particular trust, of which I have the privilege to be chairman. As I said once before to the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, and to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Fallowfield, I sincerely hope that if I oppose them they will not close the conference house which they have so generously supported. It is sufficient to the day to say that there are many points of view, all of which conflict with how one decides to deal with a Bill of this kind.
I would only say that the current law is in disrepute. It is possible, certainly in London, to buy anything that you want to buy on a Sunday, whether it is a large or a small article. It is possible to go to Sunday markets. It is possible to walk along Piccadilly and see that what was originally an artist's display is now offering everything for sale. It is possible to buy from street traders, and so on. So we can safely say that the law is in disrepute. This seems, therefore, to be the moment to look at the law to see whether or not it is serving the needs of the population.
The Institute of Shops inspectorate has the unenviable task of enforcing this law. They will bluntly tell you that it is virtually impossible to enforce it. That is another reason why we should look at the law. As the noble Baroness has said, we now have a different social pattern of living. Women work now. Many of the consumers who have said that they would like Sunday trading are the very people who are shop assistants. So they must have thought about it from their own point of view. And people come to this country who do not understand our laws. Once I tried to institute a debate upon a change of the licensing laws because tourists do not understand why everything closes down at two o'clock on a Sunday afternoon. Indeed, some of us do not understand it, but we have grown up with it. I found there, just as you find here, that the moment you try to change a particular pattern of behaviour certain people immediately appear on the scene. Those countries on the Continent which are mainly Roman Catholic do not, in my book, appear to be less godly because their shops are open on Sundays. The people still flock to mass in church before they open their shops. And the consumers want it.
I get the feeling in our modern society that the last to be considered are the passengers, the patients, the customers or anybody who pays for the privilege. The staff are considered, yes. The administrators are considered, yes. Even the laws are considered. But the person who is actually going to foot the bill comes very low in our consideration of priorities. We have seen very clearly that customers actually want this. The Retail Consortium carried out surveys through their membership and dealt with it rather neatly by saying that a clear picture emerged that there should be no immediate amendment of legislation but that it should be considered. This seems to have been the cry of politicians from the year dot: that we will have a look at it; that we will have a Royal Commission (that would take three years); that we will have a select committee. But this issue has been on the stocks for so 120 long that it seems to me one has to recognise that the law needs amending.
The all-party retail group agreed that they would look with interest at the Government's reaction to this Bill. Might I suggest that the Government should look with equal interest at the reaction to this Bill? One learns very early both in this House and in the other place that, no matter how good your Bill may be, if you present it as a private Member and the Government do not want it it will not go any further than discussion of the type we are having today. Therefore. we shall look with great interest at what the Government have to say.
We have tried several times to change certain aspects of the law. We have looked at the number of days shops can open in certain resorts. There was a curious definition of what was a holiday resort. It had to be by the sea, which cut out the Lake District and some of the other towns which now are certainly holiday resorts. We attempted to increase the number of days and to change the law on early closing. As noble Lords will know, in some towns there is not even six day opening because certain powers-that-be have made it necessary for shops to operate on the basis of opening for five and a half days each week.
Then we tried to amend the law regarding what can be sold on Sundays. The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, gave some examples and I shall not weary your Lordships with others. All I would say is that the Bill which is going through another place regarding garden centres highlights the nonsense that you can buy a plant on Sundays but that you cannot buy the spade which will enable you to put the plant in the earth. I am sure that that has some logic, but it defeats me at the moment. One needs my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry to apply her great logic to this matter. She would probably provide the answer. I notice that my noble friend Lord Jacques may suggest that shops should be able to open until one o'clock on Sundays and possibly until eight o'clock on weekdays. I think the noble Baroness might consider that she has almost got her point. But the very clear language in which she has couched this Bill—that shops should open when they think fit—seems in this day and age to be right. This Government believe in the entrepreneur, in freedom of choice and in freedom of operation. Surely, therefore, this Government are going to give a fair passage to the Bill.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, we on these Benches are also glad to see that this matter has been brought before your Lordships' House today. As the two other speakers have already said, it is long overdue that we should review the Shops Act 1950. In particular, the whole pattern of living of women has changed. A very large number of married women now go out to work. ft is extremely inconvenient and hard on them that shops should close as they stop work. Therefore, shopping has to be done at the most inconvenient times—at times when they would like to be at home catching up on the work that they would be doing at home if they were not out at work. The ability to do your shopping on the way home from work because the shops stay open would undoubtedly be of very considerable 121 assistance to the great majority of women. For this reason, if for no other, I very much hope that the Government will look favourably upon the proposals put forward in the noble Baroness's Bill.
It is also undoubtedly true that it is time that the extraordinary exceptions and permissions included in Schedule 5 were got rid of, except that it is rather a pity to let such a remarkable document disappear from the Statute Book. It really is a delight to read but a puzzle to understand why you should be forbidden to buy cream in a tin, unless it is clotted (unless this is the strength of the Cornish lobby) although you are allowed to buy fodder for mules, which does not seem to be one of the most urgent matters to deal with. The real gem which I would hate to see permanently lost is that you are allowed to buy cooked or partly cooked tripe. One is tempted to say half-baked tripe. Such a schedule and such regulations, surely underline how absurd it is to go on as we are at the present time.
On the other hand, I am not certain that the Bill as it stands is just quite what we want. I have made it clear that we want change and we want change along these lines. But the Bill states that it should come into force one month after it is passed, and that assumes that there are no questions to be dealt with as a consequence of removing existing regulations. Of that I am not entirely convinced. It is true that the Bill leaves in the protection for shop workers, and that protection needs to be maintained; it may even need to be extended if the proposal for completely free opening left to the decision of the shops goes through.
I recognise that, in the great majority of cases, especially in large towns and in the larger shops, a decision to open will be taken only after the employer has found out from the employees that they are willing to work on the new hours. But there are a very large number of small shops in which inspection of working conditions is very difficult indeed to undertake. In these days of unemployment and the desire of a great many women to get work if they possibly can—after all, the unemployment rates for women have been rising even faster than those for men—I can envisage that there could be a number of cases in smaller shops with inadequately organised labour forces in which this unlimited permission to work hours chosen by the employer might lead to a considerable amount of abuse. There can, I am sure, be ways of overcoming this, but they need to be examined and the position needs to be safeguarded, and I doubt if that can be done in so short a period as one month after the passing of the Act.
Although, like the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, I fully recognise that shop opening on the continent of Europe has long been the practice and has in many ways enhanced life in European countries, I am not absolutely convinced that we want to move to a fully commercial Sunday. I am not convinced that the population as a whole wants to do that. Yes, we need the ability to have more shops open on Sunday. Yes, it is hypocritical that a great many do in fact open today and a great deal of trading goes on. But is there any limit that we want to put on it? I am not convinced that I know the answer, and I am not convinced that we would have the answer and we would know what people really do want about the kind of Sunday they wish to 122 see if this Bill is brought into force one month after its passage through Parliament.
So I ask the Government to take the purpose of this Bill very seriously, to accept that a great many people want to see changes, that the existing legislation is ridiculous, that it is all too easy to make jokes at its expense, but that there are serious questions involved, particularly in relation to the safeguarding of employees' interests and as to the kind and quality of Sunday we have in this country in the future.
§ 4.44 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich
My Lords, your Lordships must be swayed and stunned by the seductive reasoning of the three siren voices we have just heard, and who am I to seek to follow that united word from three of the most persuasive noble ladies in the House? But we bishops have to live dangerously, and I would like to bring a few thoughts before your Lordships on this very important matter. I am sure that none of us has a desire narrowly to restrict everything that happens on Sunday, but the work and time spent in your Lordships' House in past years, and in another place, to put together the balance of prohibition and permission of the Shops Act 1950 I think should not be quite so easily swept aside by the very draconian suggestions of the noble Baroness.
Of course, I am at a disadvantage; temperamentally I feel drawn to follow her because her very title is precious to me. Years ago as a simple Cambridge undergraduate I was always taught to ride along the Trumpington Road on my bicycle. I thought we would probably have a quotation about the opportunity of buying food at Grantchester. I saw one of the noble Lords rising and saying:And stands the clock at ten to threeAnd is there Trumpington for tea"?So far no one has said that and it may in fact be irrelevant, so I will withdraw from following through that particular line. In fact, we have been swept along the Trumpington Road to Saturday night in Glasgow, or rather Sunday morning in Glasgow, of all places. I had never realised the things that took place in Glasgow on a Sunday before, but I am just an English bishop and so I keep my rather low profile in Scotland. I am in a rather weaker position here; owing to flexible rostering and the fact that I have an engagement in my diocese early tomorrow morning, and having had to come down by motor-car, I have to keep wide awake to drive it back again; so I have to leave at 7 o'clock. I make public apology to the noble Baroness, who has given us a marvellous speech, full of detail showing an immense amount of careful research; I apologise for not being able, as is our custom, to stay till the end, although, being a man of faith, I have no doubt about the end, and I look forward to hearing late tonight on the wireless that it went the right way, whatever that way may be.
I think I would like to try and put a balancing note or two to that remarkably fine speech of the noble Baroness. As your Lordships would expect, speaking from these Benches, it would be proper, I think, to say something about the religious aspect of the Shops Act and of this particular Private Member's Bill sweepingly amending that Act—what might be considered to be the religious view. By this I now carefully say the 123 English religious view, because I am sure there must be some noble Lords who will bring a picture of Scotland slightly different from the one which we have heard already. That we shall wait to see.
Your Lordships will remember that when the Crathorne Committee's Report was before us many years ago we also in the then Church Assembly of the Church of England, now called the General Synod, spent a good deal of time seeking to tease out the problems and the principles behind the issue of Sunday shops. I make no apology for speaking on this particular aspect of the Bill, because, as I see it, the noble Baroness wishes to sweep aside the whole of Section 4 of this Act, which has five parts, and Section 4 is taken up with Sunday trading. The Church Assembly gave this statement, which still, so far as I know, reflects the general view of the Church of this land:The Church Assembly is desirous of maintaining Sunday as a day of worship and recreation, and as far as possible Sunday should remain the normal day of rest ".It is not for me to say what the scurryings on the three Sundays before Christmas in Glasgow were likely to produce, but I would doubt whether they helped towards a day of rest. But I shall say no more about Scotland because I was once stopped in Scotland by a Scottish policeman and so I always keep quiet about Scotland.
However, I think it is true to say that the general religious view about Sunday shops has not changed all that much. But what has changed of course in our more multi-racial society in the past 22 years since our last look at this matter under the Shops Act 1950 has been that we now have quite a number of shops owned by Jewish firms or with Jewish owners and an increasing number of Moslem ones. Admittedly it may be necessary to bring in some form of amended legislation to help regulate the Moslem situation, but we must be very careful about positive discrimination here because, as in East Africa where the Indian shopkeepers were a vital part of the economy of Uganda, so in parts of our country the shops owned by Moslems are a vital part of our economy. Certainly Section 4 of the Act helped to care for and protect the Jewish element of the shopkeeping world as well as the Christian. I think that the detail of Section 4 is something that we would lose at our peril. Therefore, on the religious side—and other noble Lords may speak more fully on this matter—I think that we should be very hesitant to follow the noble Baroness in her sweeping Bill.
I am interested to note that very little so far—although no doubt a great deal will be said in later speeches—has been said about the people who actually have the task of being our shopkeepers and serving the nation. I am interested in the document that USDAW has sent to some people, and I personally was very glad to receive it. The paragraph which deals with religious convictions says:Religious convictions, sincerely held by many people, are opposed to what is regarded as a commercialisation of the Sabbath".Although attitudes range from an uncompromising objection to the whole idea of commercial activity of any sort on a Sunday, right through to a more general sense of needing some careful control, we must recognise the fact that there are strong religious 124 convictions among those who serve us in shops. It is not without note that USDAW speaks for 440,000 members, which is a very large section of the community who do need, here in this House, our concern and our sympathy because they serve us so well in shops large and small.
Therefore, I wish to make a few comments about family life to which the noble Baroness has already drawn attention. She has drawn us rather a beautiful picture of the family all shopping on Sunday. But again I notice that there has been very little mention so far in the three impressive speeches that we have heard, of the family life of the 440,000 members of USDAW who are themselves people working in shops. I believe that the pressure on family life today is already very great. Already such a large proportion of homes have both the father and the mother out to work that latch-key children are the order of the day in many parts of our country, and to have Sunday opening is to have one more nail in the coffin of family life as we have known it for a long time in England and as, I believe, we should continue to know it.
I should like to speak for a moment as a local bishop. One-fifth of the people that I confirm today are over 21 and I hardly ever confirm, throughout Norfolk, without confirming a father and a daughter or a mother and a daughter or sometimes three generations. Recently I confirmed together a daughter, her mother and her mother. There is a tremendous desire today to hold the family together and the sweeping generality of Clause 4 to be excised totally from the Shops Act—
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for giving way. The right reverend Prelate said that he would not be able to stay until the end of the debate. He spoke of husbands and wives both going out to work. Is he not aware that there are many husbands who are out of work and whose wives are bringing in the money if they are lucky enough to get part-time jobs? Is he against extra employment among the unemployed?
The Lord Bishop of Norwich
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that perceptive remark. I reckon that both the noble Baroness and myself—indeed all of us in this House—want to do all we can to care for families and especially those out of work. Therefore, I think it is relevant as regards that particular point to say that in a way this type of Bill, as I see it, could encourage a free-for-all in the retail and commercial sector which would bring a sharp escalation of prices, because we should have to pay for unsocial hours and also larger salaries to the people who were asked to work on Sunday. Therefore, in a way, those who are out of work or who are receiving assistance of one sort or another would in the long term—this is designed for the long term—not benefit, but even be harmed.
That brings me to the third area—upon which noble Lords will speak better than I—and that is the social implications of the Bill. In my view, they are too broad. There is the danger that we shall sweep away the whole of the careful fabric of freedom for those who desire to shop, and control and help for those who have to do the selling. In these days when, according to the social trends document—which I know costs £19.95, 125 but it is a useful document—there are millions of people who own refrigerators (to give one small illustration) most of us can afford to buy some food early in the week. We can afford to put something into the freezer cabinet of the fridge and therefore it should not be necessary for at least the impulsive buying of food suddenly on Sunday to take place.
I return to my first point. The social impact is to remind us that it is not a narrow religious regard which says that we do not want the Shops Act to make all Sunday opening possible because Christians would not like it, but to recognise that the whole creation ordinance of the rhythm of life in which our Creator has given us a rest day and work days, means that that rhythm, which is so important for the good social wellbeing of our nation, would be imperilled by this.
I have said enough and I shall come to a conclusion. However, I am in a difficulty. I had so hoped that I might have been able to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Mackintosh of Halifax, who is about to make his maiden speech, because he has such close links with our lovely City of Norwich. I know him and I know that we shall have a fascinating maiden speech from him. Therefore, I should like to be greatly daring and to welcome what he has to say before he says it under the general theme that when we go to a City dinner often the main course may be a bit heavy and a bit dull—and I have given your Lordships 14 minutes of the main course and spent the fifteenth minute welcoming the noble Viscount—but sometimes that heavy main course is made up for by a delightful sweet, and we look forward to hearing from the noble Viscount.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Viscount Mackintosh of Halifax
My Lords, I believe that there is a tradition in your Lordships' House to make one's maiden speech on a subject upon which one feels strongly. It may appear not at all surprising to your Lordships that, given my family background, I should have chosen to speak on the question of Sunday trading. Alternatively, it may seem extremely surprising, as the retailing of confectionery is already a perfectly legitimate activity on Sundays. What is surprising to me is why it should be legitimate to sell confectionery but not tea and coffee on a Sunday.
When a law is outdated, it is because the life-style for which it was conceived has altered; life in England and Wales in 1982 has certainly altered since 1950 when the Shops Act came into being. Just as our patterns of life change, so too does trade. The present situation results in an unfortunate restraint on free enterprise, undermines the incentive of small traders to increase their turnover and, as a result, diminishes competition.
Trading is a question of supply and demand; it is a question of response to the market—a consumer market and a market which is determined first and foremost by local market forces. These forces and conditions change from decade to decade and from region to region, and it would seem to me that, whereas the 1950 Act was the result of consolidation, one of the major attractions of this Bill—and one which we should, I feel, not lose sight of—is that it provides 126 the opportunity to have fresh legislation to meet the market forces in which we trade today. Trading and consuming walk hand in hand; when trading we must look to the demands of the consumer. I know that in the past, considerable opposition to piecemeal changes of the Shops Act has come from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. I was therefore delighted to read in their 1981 Executive Council policy statement that:It is vital, in considering the changing trends in hypermarkets and supermarkets where late-night closing has become operative, that the consumer response is taken note of, and the indications are that the consumer appreciates and takes advantage of the later shopping hours where these are made available on certain trading nights of the week".The statement goes on to say that:It is essential that we give consideration to the consumer aspect and gain the customer as an ally in fighting some of the unjust changes in shops legislation which a vociferous minority have consistently pursued in recent years".Unfortunately, the conference decision was not to take that initiative, and thereby to maintain the union's policy of opposition against any extension of Sunday trading. However—and I feel this to be extremely significant—the union took this decision because there was no "evidence" to justify the extension of Sunday trading hours. I would suggest that from the findings of the poll disclosed by my noble friend, Lady Trumpington, there is now substantial evidence; two-thirds of the public would seem to substantiate the claim that there is now evidence to justify the extension of Sunday trading beyond that currently permitted by the Shops Act 1950.
Of course, I respect the aim of the union to protect its members. However, in a time of great unemployment—not least among my own generation—this Bill, if enacted, would effectively create employment and benefit shopworkers, and yet with no additional cost to the Government. Thereby, not only would the consumer benefit from this Bill, but so too, would the shopworker. Indeed, in returning the right of the shopkeeper to open his shop when he wishes, we are pursuing declared Government ideals. We remove legislation which represents nannyish intrusion by centralised Government, and in its place restore the ethics of free enterprise and initiative.
Since the 1950 Shops Act, our whole way of life has changed, not least the hours and forms of work in which individuals engage. Nowadays, nearly 70 per cent. of married women go out to work; the pattern of our daily life is changing and, with that, the pattern of our shopping. The need for more flexible legislation to put the onus for deciding on trading hours on the shop owner and not the Government would seem in 1982 to be clear. Flexible shop hours would neither mean seven-day trading nor imply a return to 19th century working hours. They would mean that the individual shop owner was able to balance demand and supply according to the market, according to his locality. This is a Bill of liberalisation and freedom, which will stimulate the market. The Bill will enhance the quality of life, not undermine it. In the National Consumer Council's survey on shopping, one of the problem areas which were highlighted was the absence of local shops. The Bill would provide an incentive for a return to local trading—and I am glad to see 127 that this Bill has the support of the National Union of Small Shopkeepers—while also boosting the market of the high street retailer. This Bill helps to meet the demands of our modern society.
I am sure that many of your Lordships on both sides of the House already benefit from the infringements on the present Act made by the shopkeeper who remains open after eight o'clock at night. But, of course, the shopkeeper remains open for a wide cross-section of the community who regularly finish work after normal closing times. In the National Consumer Council's document, Consumer Concerns, the report records how many comments on shop opening hours came from people who worked, and therefore found it impossible to shop during the week; a substantial number of requests were made for late night opening. Weekend shopping at present is often a nightmare; it should be a pleasure. The family is compelled to shop in the supermarket on a Saturday only. There are many occasions when shopping could and should be a family experience, whether it be buying a new television or a three-piece suite. Our social patterns have changed in the last 50 years, and not least in our shopping habits, and the law should, I feel, respect rather than restrict this movement.
It has been felt that Sunday trading can only increase operation costs—costs which would, in turn, be passed on to the consumer—and, therefore, at the end of the day, will not be in the consumer's interest. In order to alleviate these fears, let me, too, like my noble friend Lady Trumpington, quote the existing situation in Scotland. In the few weeks before Christmas when the multiples open to meet trading demands, the cost of goods remains exactly the same north of the Border as south. There is, therefore, every reason to believe that the same situation would be the practice in England and Wales should this Bill be enacted.
I hope that this Bill will travel speedily through your Lordships' House, and I am most grateful to have had the opportunity to support it.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Lord Young of Dartington
My Lords, I have the great honour to be the first person to rise after the noble Viscount and the first who is able to congratulate him on a speech that he has actually made rather than the speech that he will make. I was particularly delighted in the matter of his speech because it happens to accord with my own views and with what I shall say in a moment. But even if I had not been, I should have wanted to congratulate him on his manner of delivering it. I am sure that the House has benefited from hearing him today and will benefit from his experience on future occasions over many years to come. Again, I should like to congratulate him on a most excellent maiden speech. I should also like to thank, as have other speakers, the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for having the temerity to introduce, once again, a Bill on this subject—this hoary subject by now—and for giving us all another chance of considering it. I should say that I have an interest in this matter in my capacity as president of the Consumers' Association and a former chairman of the National Consumer Council, but at least I think I can 128 speak for both these bodies and also all the other consumer bodies in the country that I know of who, on this question, if not on every question, are completely united. The consumer bodies in the country are in favour, and have been for many years, of giving freedom to shopkeepers to open and close when they wish. They have made their views clear on many occasions, and have done so in the interests of their own members, for whom they speak, and also other members of the public who are not their own members but who they believe would benefit from a freeing of shops in such a way as this Bill would bring about.
The noble Baroness has referred already, as have other noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, to the surveys made, and particularly those made recently, although the ones that have been made recently confirm in broad outline many other surveys that have been made in the last decades, all of which show a sizeable majority for the freedom which this Bill seeks to ensure. Unfortunately, the women, as shown by the most recent MORI survey, are not quite as much in favour of this freedom as the men are. One can only speculate on the reasons for that. But at least what applies for the generality of people in the country clearly does not apply, at least on the evidence we have had so far this afternoon, to the noble Baronesses who have spoken and have so excellently opened our debate today.
The general case is a straightforward one. It is the case for freedom of choice. Consumers should be able to buy what, where, and when they want if only they can make it worthwhile for suppliers to sell to them what, when, and where they want. The law should not prevent consumers exercising this basic freedom of choice. Because the law has got in the way of what people want to do, and would do on a bigger scale if only this law was not there, the law itself has become a kind of archaism which has, I fear, helped to bring all Governments into disrepute. It is fussy. Governments have appeared as though they want to set themselves up as knowing best, better than ordinary people, what their interests are, and doing this on matters on which people should make decisions for themselves rather than having them made for them by Governments.
As I, and those who have the same point of view as I do, see it, unfortunately for the country, all Governments, Labour and Conservative, so far have failed to act themselves on these matters or to support any of the, I think, 12 Private Member's Bills which have been introduced in one or other House on this subject since 1956. My noble friend Lady Phillips mentioned nine, but I have been able to count 12. Not that that matters. It just shows, whether it is nine or 12, how much continuous support there has been, and how much continuous initiative over the years has been shown by Members of this House and the other place in trying to rectify what to many of us seems an unfortunate anomaly in the law.
The argument of successive Governments has been that this issue is one too controversial on which to act. Unless there can be a greater measure of agreement between all the parties concerned, they are not prepared to take the initiative. This always has seemed to me an extremely weak position. If Governments acted only when an issue was completely 129 uncontroversial, then I cannot see what reason we would have for wanting to have Governments at all. Therefore, since Governments are not prepared to act—although we look forward very much to what the Minister is going to tell us at the end of today—it is left to us, irrespective of our party affiliation (and this is not a party matter) to make up our own minds and to express our views accordingly this afternoon.
The positive case for the Bill has been well put already. The anomalies in the present law, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said are perfectly ridiculous. A law with such anomalies to it helps again to bring the whole law into contempt, as does the wide and I fear growing disregard of the law by shopkeepers. I only hope—and I put this to the Minister who is to reply—that the Home Office is not going to be caught out on this issue as it was over the citizen's band radio, which it did not legalise until a large number of people had taken the law into their own hands. I hope, before much larger numbers of shopkeepers than even at present take the law into their own hands, the Government will bow to public opinion and economic necessity and take the necessary action. They, of course, have a chance to do that today, and let us hope they will do it by giving support, or indicating that they will give support, to the Bill which has been introduced by the noble Baroness.
Since the positive case has been well made, in the time I have I am going to try to deal with some of the main objections that have been advanced to the Bill, and try to show that they do not have as much weight to them as perhaps they might seem to have at first sight. They have been set out in the letter from USDAW, which I think has been sent to all Members of this House. No doubt there will be references to this document and the arguments contained in it in the speeches to be made by the noble Lord who is to follow me and by the noble Lord, Lord Allen. I hope, to some extent, to anticipate the objections which I believe will be made and, without being too ambitious about it, I hope that what I have to say might be taken into account by them and conceivably, one never knows, might even change the view they have on these matters.
The first objection is that if shopkeepers have the freedom to open and close whenever they like prices will go up against the consumer. There will be extra costs on wages, heating, lighting, and so on, for Sunday and evening opening, and these costs will only be covered if prices are raised. So goes the argument. This seems to me largely unfounded in so far as it rests upon the belief that shops would almost of necessity stay open longer hours than they do at the moment. That this would not necessarily be the case is shown by the fact that although shops at present are allowed to stay open until eight p.m. the numbers that do so are not at all substantial.
I do not believe that it would necessarily be the case that if Sunday opening were made more general, although many more shops would open, that the numbers would necessarily be so very large. But the vital point about the Bill, as has already been said, is that it will not force shops to open; it will allow them to. Obviously very few would choose to stay open seven days a week. Fortunately, as the noble Baroness said in opening this debate today, we have this valuable practical experimentation in Scotland which has been 130 made already, and upon which we can draw. We are not talking in the abstract. We can talk about real cases. As has been pointed out, Habitat shops, Asda shops and others have, by substituting Sunday opening for Monday opening, been able to do this without increasing their costs, according to them, by more than a very small amount, if any. In no case has there been a necessity, I gather, for prices to be increased as a result of Sunday opening. I have not heard any evidence from Scotland so far that where Sunday opening has been gone in for prices to the consumer have risen as a consequence. But one has to admit that costs might rise and in some cases they almost certainly would.
In such cases it would be up to consumers to decide whether the extra convenience of being able to buy at the times they want is an advantage they think it would be worth paying higher prices for. If it turned out that consumers did not buy enough at these higher prices, then of course there would have to be a cutback. Commercial common sense, as the noble Baroness said, would prevail. If people do not want a fully commercialised Sunday, then, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, it will not happen. But surely the people ought to be able to decide that for themselves. If they were allowed to, as the noble Viscount has just said, supply and demand will determine the final outcome.
The second main objection referred to in the USDAW letter is that shopworkers would be exploited by having to work longer hours if this Bill became law. That does not seem to me to follow either, partly because, as I have just said, just because shops are allowed to open for longer hours they would not necessarily do so. If it is a case of working unsocial hours and being paid for them, extra payments would become necessary and the remedy would lie with the shopworkers themselves. They have a strong and effective union; they can bargain collectively through that union or as individuals; and if any attempt were made to impose upon shop workers in general longer or more unsocial hours than they choose to work without proper compensation, then of course it would not happen.
However, once again, as has been mentioned already, Scotland is a case in point because when USDAW called a poll before the Co-op opened a hypermarket in Glasgow and also the House of Fraser stores, it turned out there was an overwhelming vote of USDAW members in favour of Sunday opening. If the same procedure were followed in other places, my expectation is that if proper compensation were paid to the workers concerned they would follow in England what has been done in Scotland. So, I would submit that the two main stock objections which have been raised time and time again to this Bill do not themselves have nearly so much force as might appear at first sight. If that is so, the positive case I mentioned at the beginning of my speech of allowing freedom to shopkeepers to open when they like seems to me overwhelming, and I very much hope it will turn out today to be the view of this House.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, I wonder whether I may crave the indulgence of this House and ask a question of my noble friend the Minister. It has come to my notice, and has since been confirmed, that at 16.21 it appeared on the tape that the Home Secretary in another place had made a Statement to the effect 131 that there will be no change in Sunday trading laws. Am I right to feel utterly amazed that this Statement should have been made before any Statement has come from my noble friend Lord Belstead as Minister in this House and while this debate is still in progress?
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, I will reply in a little more detail when I come to make my contribution to the debate. Contrary to what my noble friend Lady Trumpington has assumed from what she has gathered from the tape, the Home Office Ministers felt that it would be treating both Houses with proper respect for my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to make an Answer to a Question in another place at the same time as I was taking part in this debate in your Lordships' House.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Lord Jacques
My Lords, may I first congratulate the noble Viscount on his maiden speech and express the wish that he will be able to come here frequently and give us the point of view of the younger men. I should also like to congratulate the noble Baroness, first on her persistence, but more on the quality of her speech in introducing the Bill. However, I regret to say that, even if I accepted the objectives of the Bill, I could not agree that this Bill is the right way of doing it; and I will come to that in due course.
I would say that what this Bill is really about is Sunday trading, and I think the noble Baroness showed that by what she said in her speech. The other things are not so important; the real issue here is Sunday trading. I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, that there is a Consumer Co-operative Movement which is older than some of the consumer organisations to which he referred, and that that consumer organisation—the Co-operative Movement—has very great contacts with consumers. It meets them every day over the counter. It also has regular meetings of its members; it also has boards of directors who are elected by the members. It is therefore in a very strong position as regards stating the view of consumers.
It has found from its contacts with its members that there is a desire for some change and that by and large the consumers do not like the anomalies which this House is fully acquainted with and would like the Government or somebody else to have a real go and see if it is not possible to get rid of at least some of the anomalies. But we have no evidence from among our consumer members—none whatever—that there is a strong desire to commercialise Sunday. There is no evidence at all to support that.—
§ Lord Young of Dartington
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to ask him how he squares what he has just said with the evident success of the Co-op hyper- 132 market which has been opened in Glasgow? I gather that it has been a considerable success and has met the needs of the people of that city. Glasgow cannot be so unlike other cities: why should it not apply elsewhere as well?
§ Lord Jacques
My Lords, my reply to that is this: very often, in order to keep our market share, we are forced to do things we would rather not do and this is a point I shall be dealing with later in my speech. The Consumer Co-operative Movement is opposed to this Bill and to any Bill which gives complete freedom of trade on Sunday, for both economic and social reasons. We are firmly of the opinion that if there was a free-for-all on Sunday many traders who do not wish to have their shops open on Sundays would be forced to do so because they could not risk losing part of their market share. That is the real world. The real world is not this voluntary business where you can please yourself—that is the fairy world. The real world is: Can you afford to do what you want to do and lose part of your market share? The fact is that many cannot afford that and many traders would be forced to open on Sunday in order to avoid losing part of their market share because they wanted to keep their business viable.
The consumer purse is not elastic and consequently the spreading of shopkeeping over seven days instead of six will not by itself increase the amount of business that is available; it will merely spread it over. But there is no doubt whatever that costs would be increased, first because people would be working on some days when premium payments would have to be made to the staff whereas that would not be the case on other days. If there were longer shop hours, because they were spread over seven days—and I have no doubt there would be longer shop hours—there would be the additional costs of lighting and heating, and they would have to be borne in the end by the consumer. There would be a tendency on the part of the trader, as there always is, to avoid those additional costs, and to try to do that he might spread his staff more thinly over the seven days, and I am afraid that the standard of service given in the shops would suffer as a result.
We find it exceedingly difficult to get some of our staff to work on Saturdays, never mind Sundays. About 70 per cent. of shopworkers are women, almost one-half of them married. In the majority of cases their husbands are at home on Saturday afternoons and, because of that, Saturday afternoons are times for a family get-together; they want to be at home because their husbands are at home. So we have considerable difficulty getting adequate staff of the right quality for Saturday afternoons.
But if we then said to them, "We want you to work not only on Saturdays, when your husbands are at home, but on Sunday afternoons as well, when your husbands are at home as well", we should lose many of our best staff. Rather than accept that state of affairs, many of them would depart. However, many of them would be in the position of the trader; they would be forced to work on Sundays, even though they did not want to, because they could not take the risk of unemployment. So it is not just a question of choice; there are forces behind the scenes which affect the decision and which must be taken into account. 133 We believe that [...] have a fundamental effect on day opening would believe it would not be a good [...] life and we [...] Sundays. We have seen what has to commercialise [...]in other countries where, for examp[...] [...]appened in [...] start their sales not on a Saturday, departmental [...] afternoon. We say we can well do without on a Sunday [...] we should reserve Sunday as a day on [...] that and that least some measure of rest. Once the [...] we have at re opened and shoppings became general [...] we the public services would become [...] Sundays, [...] and Sunday would become just [...] [...].
I believe that in the end this [...] [...] on which there must be some [...] an [...] should be prepared to compromise by [...] and [...] to open to sell anything they wish to [...] [...] 1 p.m. on sundays. I believe that would be a until compromise which would get rid of many of the anomalies because, as I say, until one o'clock they could sell what they liked and that would automatically get rid of the anomalies until at least 1 p.m. I also believe—I say this especially to my noble friend Lord Allen—that the bigger shops would not be affected. I think it would be only the corner shops that would be affected if Sunday opening was limited till 1 p.m. That would, therefore, be a good solution both from the point of view of getting rid of anomalies and for the workers. And if the noble Baroness would accept that there should be a new Bill along lines such as those and she agreed to scrap the present measure, I would heartily go along with her.
I come to the Bill itself, and I suggest it would make very bad law in text. Let us consider what the Bill proposes. It repeals Parts 1, 3, 4 and Section 70 of the principal Act. In the parts of the Act left unrepealed there would remain numerous references to the parts being repealed. Nothing is said about those in the Bill and nobody, not even the noble Baroness in her speech, has referred to that, although it would leave a most unsatisfactory position. The Acts contain eight schedules and as one of them deals with the repeal of former legislation, we can forget that and say it leaves seven schedules. Of those seven, six would either be repealed or amended if this Bill became law, and nothing whatever is said about that in this measure.
This Bill is a completely unsatisfactory instrument for achieving its object, and it would be far too much to expect the Committee to deal with all the necessary amendments in order to get the Bill into proper shape. But supposing the Committee did that. I submit that the text of the law would then be in a very improper state, considering all the numerous amendments, with parts of the original Act having been repealed and detailed amendments all over the place. It would be a most unsatisfactory statement of law and that, I hope, will be taken into account when, or if, the House divides on the Second Reading.
Finally, I wish to give the view of the Retail Consortium, which represents more than 90 per cent. of retailers—large, small, multiples, Co-op, department stores, the lot—who have considered the Bill. They do not consider it is the right way to make changes in the law, although they believe that an attempt should be made to study the law with a view to some changes. They suggest there should be a departmental committee 134 of [...] at which all the parties concerned, including [...] should participate; that that should be followed by a consultative [...]; and that if, after that document, there [...] to be legislation, it should be legislation by the [...] of the day. That is the [...] to deal with the position we have arising out of the [...] Act 1950, [...] in the manner suggested by this Bill.
§ 5.38 p.m.
My Lords, I join in congratulating our maiden [...], the noble viscount, Lord Mackintosh, and [...] he will come here frequently to [...] the standard for competition and consumer choice which [...] did so well today. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, on bringing the Bill forward and on the way in which she moved the Second Reading. I recall that it was her Motion last May on the need to amend the Shops Act, and in particular a very remarkable sppech by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, on that occasion, which seemed to some of us to reveal a wider consensus about the possibility of getting agreement to repeal the 1950 Act outright rather than to go in to all of the contortions necessary to oblige the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, and others to amend and remove the acknowledged absurdities.
Indeed, a direct outcome of the debate was an informal association of some Cross-Bench Peers and others in a Repeal Group, of which I am the secretary, which has given some encouragement to the noble Baroness in moving her Private Member's Bill; though I must say that she did not need all that much encouragement.
It is in that context that I should like to advance some wider reasons why I think that noble Lords should open their minds to this rather radical approach of outright repeal, despite some possible deficiencies that we would need to put right at a later stage. One of the earlier outcomes of the Repeal Group's deliberations was a Question by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, on 15th October, in reply to which the Lord Chancellor reported that there were then in force 3,109 public general Acts, in addition to 12,897 general statutory instruments, and that in 1980 alone the statute book had increased by 2,866 pages. Even noble Lords who are not daily engaged in hunting and shooting might agree that there is some scope here for useful reduction.
I want to ask, how can we explain this flood of laws, for which "legislative incontinence" would not be too strong an expression? In 1965 no less a legal authority than the late Lord Radcliffe gave at the London School of Economics an oration with the title of the Dissolving Society, in which he quoted with approval one of the great founding fathers of the American revolution, who warned that what he called "the excessive use of legislative power" was one of the most dangerous diseases to which a Government were exposed. Lord Radcliffe went on to argue that the real art of political theory—an art, he thought, in which public life had become sadly deficient—lies inanalysing and expounding the circumstances and occasions upon which, whatever the wishes of a majority, they ought not to be given effect to at the expense of a minority ".135 How much worse it with the Shops Act, where the wishes of a minority are given effect at the expense of the majority that we have heard about from other speakers.
Many noble Lords will recall that last Wednesday we had a debate on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, about excessive reliance on market forces. Anyone who was present will recall the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, who gave a positively rollicking account of how successive Governments of bothe partie; had submerged the market beneath a deluge of laws and regulations.
I never tire of emphasising that a great deal of coercive law is necessary in a free society; for example, in order to maintain competition, to require honest disclosure, to enforce contracts, to guarantee accurate weights and measures, and, above all, to protect vulnerable minorities who are unable to stand on their own feet in a competitive market. But in this mature democracy, do we really need the full majesty of law to determine when a housewife can go shopping, on which days and at what hours she may take her shopping basket to the shop of her choice? Do we need an army of inspectors, informers, and magistrates to threaten penalties against willing buyers and willing sellers plying their mutually beneficial trade at hours which perhaps we happen not to favour? Above all, do we need a full-blown statute of 77 sections, in five parts, with eight schedules to distinguish between goods that can and cannot be sold, between the religious credentials of retailers whom we permit to open, or prohibit from opening, on Sundays, or between areas that may or may not legitimately be regarded as holiday resorts for which theological dispensations are pronounced?
In our debate last Wednesday the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, said, as reported at col. 1332 of the Official Report, that the obstacle to all our hopes was,that we are polarised, that sectional interests dominate rather than the interests of the community ".Is there really any doubt that the chief enemy of freedom to shop is the sectional, protective, if you like, ASLEF mentality represented by USDAW, which persists in confusing hours of opening with hours of work?
We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, about partly-cooked tripe, and it seems to me that there was a whiff of that in the USDAW memorandum, which was distributed on a strictly selective basis to some noble Lords. In the accompanying letter that I was shown the deputy general secretary of USDAW says of the Bill before us:It is the considered view of the unions' 440,000 members that there is no real or genuine demand for abolition ".To the fraud of claiming unanimity, they add the falsehood of denying the existence of evidence, which we have heard about today, of widespread public support for freedom to shop. For my money, even more objectionable is USDAW's claim to judge what it dares to call "adequate" shopping facilities, as though we would consult telephone operators about when we are free to ring our friends. USDAW then dresses up its special pleading as economic argumentation, which I was sorry to see took in the right reverend Prelate more perhaps than he should have been taken in, because much of that argumentation is 136 a repetition of what we heard in the bitter opposition to Mr. Heath's abolition he resale price maintenance in 1963. every kind of economic and social disaster and visitation was predicted by lobbies of retailers and producers rived of the power to dictate uniform as if they were deled goods from Land's End to John prices for branfrom Harrods to the corner store.
The proof of the pudsing was that free pricing opened the way of Groats and which were beneficial alike to consumers or changes and efficient retailers. No one would shopwork of going back on the repeal of resale price now which has brought above all wider within maintenance prices and services to match the changing variety in of shoppers' choice. Likewise, the ending requirement restrictions on shop opening would proof of the nore flexibility to spread further advantages wide ailing as part of the service economy, to which we must look for a growing proportion of our employment in the years ahead.
I conclude with a modest prediction that if enough of your Lordships have the candour and whatever courage it might require to vote for freedom and to see the Bill through, no one, not even USDAW, in 10 years' time would dream of restoring this cumbersome, inquisitorial, impertinent intervention between the housewife and her chosen time and form of shopping.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, what a wonderful speech to follow, with those splendid words at the end! I must start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Mackintosh of Halifax, whose speech I was fortunate enough just to be able to hear. If I may say so, it was a speech of great clarity of thought and of delivery, and one of which we can all be proud for a maiden speaker. I hope that we shall hear much of him in the future.
I should also very much like to congratulate my noble and doughty friend Lady Trumpington, who is again tackling the kind of Bill which people have been struggling to try to get onto the statute book, notwithstanding a fair degree of opposition and notwithstanding a very pusillanimous approach by Governments of all kinds and all parties over the years—an effort to ignore, as is clear from the statistics that my noble friend and others were able to give us, an overwhelming desire by most of the ordinary people of the country. Whether or not this is a good thing is another matter. The fact is that the principle of the Bill is certainly something that the country would like.
Whether it is the right Bill, I do not know; and I shall come in a minute to points I have that I do not like about it. When thinking about this I was attracted by the recommendations of the Retail Consortium, which were that there should be an inquiry. Then it occurred to me that, if that was to happen, then, in the first place, one could not be sure the Government would hold an inquiry and, in the second place, if they did, it would rumble on, come up with a recommendation and the Government would ignore it again. So, really, we have got to get on with this; and, though perhaps this Bill itself could be improved (and what is a Committee stage for except that?), the fact is 137 that it is succinct, it is to the point and it is 90 per cent. of the way there.
If I had any further doubts, the evidence from Scotland which I have gathered and which my noble friend Lady Trumpington spelled out to us would seem to me to be overwhelmingly in favour of the fact that if this Bill in roughly its present form were to become law there would not be a disastrous and unmanageable result, nor would all the workers throughout the retail trades be desperately overworked and made to do things which were unreasonable. There is all sorts of evidence that in Scotland it balances itself out. The USDAW paper to which reference has been made says that 70 per cent. of the shops employ less than four people, and from that they go on to deduce that those less than four people will be desperately over-worked. The answer is that they will not, because the practicalities of life, even in the case of shops that are entirely run by their owners' families, will ensure that they will adjust themselves to suit the circumstances.
I live in the Isle of Wight, where even under the 1950 Act we have a certain amount of latitude because we are in a holiday area. There is no evidence that, as a result, the shops stay open more than the people themselves want if they are the shoppers or that the shopkeepers are prepared to give of their service if they are the shopkeepers. It balances itself out very well; and the point about the 70 per cent. being in these very small shops is that, as your Lordships know, the growing efficiency of modern shopkeeping at the top level of the supermarkets is making it increasingly difficult for the small shopkeepers to stay in business.
Personally, I believe it to be a disaster that the supermarkets are getting more and more efficient all the time and that the small corner shop is therefore disappearing. I should have thought that, if we had this extra latitude, then, as we have heard is the case in Scotland, not all the big shops would find it practicable to take advantage of the lack of law and it would be the smaller ones which would get the benefit. I should have thought that this would redress the balance very nicely in the sort of direction which we would want, and would give that extra bit of freedom to the small trader to compete on level terms. It seems to me only fair to him, and a very reasonable approach altogether.
So I would say that this Bill, or something very like it, is highly desirable. I would add, also, that if we do not have a Bill like this, or an Act of Parliament based on this Bill, we shall go on stumbling along with the law in this area increasingly in disrepute in England and Wales. I think that any law which is in disrepute because it is not enforced properly is bad law, and it is up to us to make sure that that sort of law does not exist. Hence the need to repeal the relevant sections of the Act which we are dealing with now.
But clearly, my Lords, amendments will be necessary, as the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, said—I agree with him on this point—because, in the nature of things, leaving Part II in and, I think, Part V, and removing the others, there is cross-reference in the parts which are to remain to the parts that are coming out. So these will have to be rationalised; and I would have hoped that the Government would have given some help to my noble friend to produce in a professional 138 sort of way the minor adjustments that are necessary in order to make this work.
There is another area where it is relevant, and that is that I suspect that Part II—which, after all, was enacted in 1950—has in some respects been overtaken by various employment protection legislation, which all parties support, which has been put on the statute book since then. I should have thought that there was a technical need on the part of the Government to assist my noble friend in making this straightforward.
My Lords, perhaps I may wait for a moment. I am being terribly upset by this chattering going on on my starboard quarter. I must now come to my point, which is why I do not want to be distracted at this time. It is that, whatever my noble friend Lord Belstead is going to say to explain it away, I personally think it is a grave affront to this House that the Home Secretary should get up in the House of Commons in the middle of this debate—in fact, after it had only just started—and say flatly that the Government will not act to relax Sunday trading laws. I know this was raised by my noble friend Lady Trumpington immediately because it is a matter of concern, and my noble friend Lord Belstead said that he would deal with it when he came to speak at the end of the debate, but it really makes the debate rather pointless if a Minister in another place gets up and strikes at the very heart of the Bill that we are to discuss before this House has had a chance to discuss it. I think we will look to my noble friend at least to explain this clearly, and I hope he will give serious thought to a very careful apology for, I consider, an act of disrespect to this House by another place.
Because of this, my Lords, quite apart from the fact that I think this Bill needs to be given a push along (because if it is not given a push along by us it is not going to get any sort of help from other sources; and, as I said at the beginning of my speech, Governments have been very dilatory in this area), I would above everything hope that my noble friend, if it should be necessary for her so to do, will take this Bill to a Division, if only to make it clear to Ministers in another place that we are determined to have something and will not be put off by a ministerial Statement just as the debate starts. I hope very much that, whatever views your Lordships may have in general terms about this Bill, you will feel free and willing to come into the Lobby to push this Bill through in order to so show the other place that we mean business.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he is willing to give us statistics to support the remarkable statement that he made—that is, that there is, "an over-whelming desire of the people of this country for this Bill"?
§ Lord Mottistone
Yes, my Lords. The statistics were in fact quoted by my noble friend Lady Trumpington. She quoted various groups of questionnaires that had been answered, from which it emerged that the figures were, I think, something like 63 per cent. in favour and (was it?) 33 per cent. against, and that only 4 per cent. did not know. That is two-thirds, roughly. Or I think there were three sets of figures that my noble friend may have quoted. Perhaps when she winds up she may be able to clarify this. But all sets 139 of figures showed that two-thirds of those consulted were in favour of some sort of freeing of trading. It is not just Sunday trading—one must get that quite clear. One wants the sort of freedom to trade that in fact goes on in the back streets of London near where I live, with those splendid chaps who have come from our ex-colonies to do this for us, and who trade when we want them to. It is splendid. It is not only Sundays; it is all the days of the week. That is the sort of picture that we want for the small trader.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Fallowfield
My Lords, may I start by asking your Lordships to excuse the fact that I shall not be able to stay until the conclusion of the debate because of a long-standing appointment. I intend no discourtesy to the House or, particularly, to the noble Baroness in defence of her Bill and what she said about that Bill. Having said that, may I say that I, personally, hope that the Government do not look favourably on this Bill. I think that those who know me will regard my approach to this Bill and what I shall say in this debate as marginally different from what I have said previously. That I will explain in a moment.
Let me hasten to add that I am not persuaded in that thought by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, trying to anticipate what he thought I was going to say. He could not be more wrong, as I am sure he will agree in a moment, when he too was talking about not all of the shops opening. Here, he is putting up an answer to the USDAW paper (which I did not write) when he says that all the shops would not open. I think it shows, if I may say so, an abysmal ignorance of the competitive atmosphere of British retailing. The noble Lord, Lord Jacques, I think gave the answer. Is it to be assumed for one moment that a large multiple operator in the United Kingdom, in intense competition with others, will stand by and see his competitors open on Sunday while he is closed? Those who have been in retail distribution for many years know the answer to that. I must say that it is not the one that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, came up with.
§ Lord Young of Dartington
My Lords, may I ask a question on that point? If the noble Lord is right, how can he explain what has happened in Scotland, where the Sunday trading provisions do not apply and where only a minority of shops have taken advantage of the law? Why should Scotland be so different from what might happen in England?
§ Lord Allen of Fallowfield
My Lords, if I had time I would deal with it. I can deal with it privately with the noble Lord, if he wishes. It so happens that when that practice came into operation in Glasgow, it came into operation against a very difficult economic background. It came into being, too, with a type of agreement different from that at the present time. I know that because I sought an endorsement of it on behalf of those who negotiated it; so that I know a little background, not from what I have read in the papers but from practical experience of what took place at the time.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt. What the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington has said, seems to me to be a very important point. Surely the House should have the benefit of the reply and not just the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, in the bar afterwards.
§ Lord Allen of Fallowfield
My Lords, it may be an important point to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, but I do not feel it necessary for me to be distracted by attempting to give the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington the reply that he wishes, apart from that which I have already given.
I think that in looking at this debate one must look at retail distribution as an undertaking of great diversity. Those who have been directly associated with retailing for a large number of years have witnessed retailing making rapid strides in the last two decades. This process of change is quickening very much. I think it is acknowledged that the business of retailing is a highly competitive one, perhaps one of the most competitive in the United Kingdom. Figures have been bandied around: two-thirds of its labour force are women and 89 per cent. of the women are part-time workers, so that you have the picture of the labour force employed in retail distribution today. There is no other labour force in the United Kingdom comprising so many women and so many part-time women workers as in retail distribution. Therein lies a social problem, apart from any other considerations that previous speakers referred to in this debate.
Looking back on the past 20 years or so, there have been roughly 20 attempts in this House and in the other place to amend or vary the current legislation now under examination. All those attempts are no doubt well-meaning, are seen by the proponents of the suggested change as well-meaning and as such by those who support them. But they are seen by others, and particularly by those who have been directly involved in this business, as meddling and attempting to deal with legislation in a piecemeal fashion. I accept that the dramatic changes which have taken place throughout the past two decades bring with them a strong case for an exhaustive examination of the need for change in legislation. That is where I part company with the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, when he is critical of the Administration and their failure to look favourably at this Bill.
In saying what I have said, it is not to concede the case for the Bill made out by the noble Baroness today. I accept that the change calls for an examination in depth of the situation which is confronting this country at the present time. I must say that I prefer a change of that kind to the constant, almost one-a-year attempts spread over the last 20 years in a piecemeal fashion to change legislation. I do not believe, if the legislation is so irksome, that that is the way to make it satisfactory or sensible to all concerned in this business.
I think the arguments for and against changes in trading hours have been advanced, no doubt with conviction and, certainly, in unqualified terms. I have made my contribution in the past to the exchange of views in this House and outside; and it is for this reason that I do not intend in this debate to weary the House by going over the same, almost threadbare, arguments again—given the fact that so many arguments 141 for and against change have been put that one is left with the inescapable conclusion that the controversy that surrounds the subject serves to demonstrate the serious economic and social consequences which may follow any piecemeal attempt to change the legislation.
We have heard very little about the economic effects of the proposed change. In a trade so diverse and highly competitive as retailing, it is perhaps not so surprising that there are countless views on trading hours and also many vested interests. This debate raised many issues of vital concerns to those who are owners of retail businesses, to those who are employed and, last but not least, to the customers. I want to say here that I personally believe that the Government should look exhaustively at this problem on a tripartite basis.
Reference has been made to nearly half a million working people employed in the distributive business. I believe that facilities should be there for an input from that half-million workers into the problem confronting distribution. I believe that facilities should be there for an input from the employers in retailing in this country. Equally, I believe that the voice of the Government must be heard. I believe that on that tripartite basis, either by commission or inquiry, one can get to a stage of getting some sensible legislation apart from that which we have seen attempted here today, and of course in this House previously. I make an appeal to the Government to consider this very seriously and not to be persuaded to follow the path of piecemeal reform.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question before he resumes his seat? He mentioned that further consideration should be given to this matter on a tripartite basis of the union, the Government and the employers. Would he also suggest that the consumers may be represented in any discussion that may take place?
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, it is customary and correct that we congratulate maiden speeches in your Lordships' House. Would it be too bad a joke to say that we have had a very sweet speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Mackintosh, logical and persuasive in the extreme? There is an old saying that the law is an ass—incidentally, it is legal to buy ass fodder on a Sunday—and, being an admirer of the law and also one who asserts without irony that some of my best friends are lawyers, it is no comfort to have indestructible proof that in the case of Sunday opening the law is an ass and we all know the consequences of that lack of respect for an obedience of the law in general.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, noticed sonic of these oddities. It is not strictly true that it is illegal to buy uncooked tripe on a Sunday. You can buy it from a Jewish butcher who keepeth the Sabbath, but not from a Moslem butcher of equally devout frame of mind. When Your Lordships who yearn for tripe can actually get it cooked or partly cooked on a Sunday from any shop prepared to sell it. When it is legal to buy soft porn from a bookshop but not a Bible, except at a railway or bus station—but you cannot buy a 142 Bible at an airport—what man of religion would go to strike-bound Crewe to buy a Bible on a Sunday?
It is legal to buy fodder not only for asses but also for horses and mules. I am lucky enough to enjoy horses and move in the equestrian world. I also enjoy the possession of dogs. I cannot buy dog food on a Sunday, but I may by law buy fodder at shops and inns. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said that there is no clamour for Trust Houses Forte to start selling mule fodder. I agree, though, that there is a public demand for Sunday opening for less esoteric things than hard food for mules.
A large "out of town discount store "—as it is described—carried out an opinion poll. I suspect that it was very fair. The questionnaire posed the question quite simply: "Do you think shops should be allowed to open on a Sunday? "Of the 210 replies, 21 were against; the majority of them were on religious grounds. The remainder were in favour. The opinion polls carried out by MORI have been quoted by my noble friend Lady Trumpington and showed that 64 per cent. were in favour of a greater relaxation in the trading laws. Of course, both Dicky Dirt's and the other shop situated outside Maidstone have axes to grind; they want the shops to open. Incidentally, in the first in-shop poll a child gave his reason for wanting Sunday opening. He said:'Yes, only sweet shops are open on a Sunday and it will be a change from sweet shops ".Dare I say: "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings?"
The noble Lords, Lord Allen and Lord Jacques, have shown the objections of USDAW. I suggest that the noble Lords, Lord Young of Dartington and Lord Mottistone, have previously disproved them and also disproved the allegations of exploitation and price increases. There has been absolutely no evidence whatsoever of this in Scotland.
Incidentally, why is selling soft porn not exploiting the shop worker, when selling a razor is? Why does sitting at the check-out counter of a garage, receiving money for petrol and sweets, on a Sunday pose a greater physical or moral threat than sitting at the check-out counter of a grocery shop selling baked beans or tinned carrots? Of course, the same employee is entitled to be at the receipt of custom for fresh carrots.
This Bill does not say that shops have to open on a Sunday, any more than the present law says that shops must stay open until 8 p.m. on weekdays or 9 p.m. on Saturdays. My noble friend Lady Trumpington has shown that beyond doubt. This is no diktat or ukase. Only the permission of a free society is required. On the Continent all shops do not open. In Scotland all shops do not open. To be quite honest if you drive through Inverness on a Sunday you would not have the faintest idea that any shops were allowed to open at all. They just do not open. In other parts of Scotland some shops do and other shops do not. The need is proved.
The Lord's Day Observance Society will doubtless also object; but surely we in the late 20th century should not be bound by 17th century Sabbatarianism. Are France or Scotland any less godly than England, or more so for that matter? Those who believe it wrong to shop on a Sunday are not forced by this Bill 143 to buy on a Sunday. Certainly those whose religious conscience says they should not work on a Sunday should be protected. If we give the Bill a Second Reading I suggest that that aspect could be amended easily in Committee.
Having observed the present law, I am partially convinced that it had the same author as the ASLEF rule book. Both the law and the rule book show the same love of the past, the same devotion to outdated, restrictive practices. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, not only noticed that but has also pointed out the benefits of economy and scale which will occur as a result of the change of law. My noble friend Lady Trumpington has shown other benefits and has done us a service, as have the National Consumer Council in helping to promote this Bill.
I hope that the possibly archaic institution of your Lordships' House allied to a Quango can bring this well deserved change in the law. The idea of all being allowed to sell everything up until 1 p.m. on Sunday or nothing after that will have to be compromised, in that petrol and restaurants and all the other exceptions will soon raise their heads after 1 p.m. as they do now before it on a Sunday. There will still be pressure for change again. Let us do the whole change now and not mess about. As the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said, let us get on with it.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Lord Robertson of Oakridge
My Lords, what comes across to me clearly is that the present position as regards the existing law on Sunday trading is unsatisfactory and should not be allowed to continue. To this extent, the House, I am sure, is very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for having brought the subject up once again. Whether her answer is the right one is in my view a very different question. What is needed is a law that takes account of changes in society, that is practicable and enforceable but one that also preserves the character of Sunday so far as possible. It is on that aspect that I should like to address a few remarks to your Lordships. I have no argument against the Bill on the first two counts. On the third, I believe that it is far too drastic and would cause a certain amount of damage.
The idea that Sunday should be a special day of rest and recreation is not just a question of 17th century sabbatarianism but rather, as Christ himself said:The Sabbath was made for the good of man ".Incidentally, in saying that, I believe he carried forward the idea from the Old Testament to New Testament times—that there should be one day of rest per week. As I see it, the God who loves us realised that it was necessary for our welfare and for the good health of our body, mind and spirit that we should set one day apart.
In my view, this depends on three aspects of freedom for the individual. The first aspect of freedom is the freedom to have one day a week free from work, for rest and recreation. In the kind of free-for-all in the commercial sector that would be brought about by the Bill, there would be a cost. We have heard a lot of evidence given to your Lordships' House that in fact there would not be a question of higher prices, but I 144 should like to quote what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury—who unfortunately cannot be here today—on 13th March 1979, at column 587:As has already been said, the public purse is not elastic. Extending the purchasing period to seven days will not mean that the housewife suddenly has more money to spend ".He also said:the extension of Sunday opening is undesirable. It is bound to put up the cost of distribution because, as American experience has shown, total trade will not be increased but merely spread over a longer period of time, namely, seven days instead of six. This will lead to higher labour costs and to increased prices that inevitably will be paid by the customer on whatever day of the week she shops ".There is another point that I do not think has been mentioned so far, and that is the increased use of energy for the additional lighting and heating. The retail trade is a very heavy user of energy. But the greatest cost would fall in the form of human wear and tear on those who would have to work, and this would not be just the shop workers but also the police and transport employees and so on who would have to put in extra work if there were widespread opening on Sundays.
I believe our own personal experience shows that we were created with a rhythm of life, as the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Norwich said, that requires us to have one day a week quietly at rest or at recreation. It may be said that that day of rest can be on any day of the week and it does not matter which. In my view that ignores the family aspect, and therefore my next freedom is the freedom to enjoy one day a week with one's family. I think it has been stressed already that this is a particularly important factor in the retail industry; and the statistic that impresses me most is that, in the retail food trade, which is of course much affected by the Bill, nearly half the women employed are married. At a time when there are already far too many pressures militating against the family, let us not unnecessarily add one more.
My third freedom is the freedom to be able to set apart one day a week to worship God unhurriedly and with one's fellow Christians. This is a basic Christian requirement. The opportunity for a hurried visit to 8 o'clock Communion before a day's work may meet part of the requirement, but I do not believe it is adequate and meets everyone's needs. Also, may I remind your Lordships that this freedom is exercised by much more than a tiny majority? I believe that vastly more people go to church each Sunday than, for example, watch league football on Saturdays. I believe, therefore, that this Bill would impinge on those three aspects of our individual freedom and that for the sake of materialism we should be drastically impairing the quality of life in this country.
May I add my pleas to those of other noble Lords to the Government that they should step in to bring the situation back under control? There exists the Crathorne Report of 1964, which of course is now covered by 18 years of dust, or whatever else may cover it. The report recommended that the general requirement that shops should be closed on Sunday should remain, but that there should be clarification of the law and an extension of exemptions. But there is no easy solution to the problem raised by the noble 145 Baroness and it may well be that some wider consultation would be desirable. We should seek for a solution which protects Sunday as a day of rest in the interest of our own bodily, mental and spiritual welfare.
May I add one final note, which is that, if my post is anything to go by, there are an amazing number of people who are interested in the religious aspect of Sunday. I was looking at The Bible last night to see if I could find any particular word, and I did not until this morning, when I found the following passage from Isaiah. The Lord says:' If you treat the Sabbath as sacred and do not pursue your interests on that day … you will find the joy that comes from serving me ".
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with some of the things which the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, has just said although I am not a sabbatarian. However, before I get on to that I should first like to say a word of congratulation to the noble Viscount, Lord Mackintosh, for his maiden speech, which I thought was very well phrased, very lucid, very clear and frank—and although I disagreed with it, I disagreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, even more.
This Bill is to give freedom to shops to open at such times as they think fit. I believe that anybody who has been on the other side of the counter—and it is for those people that I speak today—knows that there is no such freedom. The restraint on shopkeepers is not just the weakly-administered or much neglected law which was passed by Parliament; it is the iron law of competition. The freedom of the shopkeeper is to open as early and to close as late as the next shop down the road which is engaged in the same business, and the hours of the next shop are in turn determined by his immediate rival. If you are a bigger concern and you want to lose your share of the market, choose freely when you will open and pay no regard to anybody else.
This is the age of the aggressive consumer—and I see their representative behind me—
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, I am sorry. The noble Lord, Lord Young, is the chairman of the Consumers' Council and the Consumers' Association. Consumers are now quite an aggressive body. They believe that their interests should come first, second and last. Perhaps it is a throwback to the era of shortages during and immediately after the war. In those days the customer had to behave as if the shopkeeper was always right, instead of vice versa. Of course, that is all long ago; but the result is that the good, kind, compassionate Lady Trumpington can come here with this Bill which takes very little account of the social and economic consequences of what is being proposed.
I admire the brevity, the lucidity, the sweeping nature and the timing of the Bill, but I warn the noble Baroness that she will have to be careful. I say that because the right honourable gentleman who sits for Bristol, South-East, might find that it is a very good model of the legislation which he has in mind to 146 abolish this Chamber. He wants to do it as swiftly as she wants to reform the Shops Acts.
Today, the problems of the shopkeeper and the customer are sharper, because we are no longer just a nation of shopkeepers. We are a nation of multiracial shopkeepers, and very fine shopkeepers most of them are. But they have, even now, to work hard and long, even within the permitted hours, to earn every penny that they need to meet their financial obligations. Somebody has spoken about shopkeepers not availing themselves of the eight o'clock limit, but they do in my district. In my suburb, practically all the grocers and newsagents are Indian and we have never had more courteous and efficient shopkeepers. But they have to be protected from themselves and from one another. All shopkeepers recognise their duty to serve the public, but they must be the servants of the public, and not their slaves.
I come from a large, extended family of intelligent thrifty, hardworking people, many of whom went into the retail trade, and we know what hard lives they led. A husband and wife could never go out together in shopping hours, and after the shop closed it was usually too late. Worse, they could never go on holiday together. This is still the position of the small shopkeeper. It came as a great relief to them when shopping hours were curtailed to the extent that they are curtailed today, and when the half-day closing became statutory.
My father did not have a retail shop. He was a shop assistant and, over a long lifetime, he was very much aware of what the law, as well as his trade union—which was that of the noble Lord, Lord Allen—had done to protect the standards of the shop worker. Of course, we shall not return to those terrible conditions which existed before the first war. Wells wrote in Kipps about the plight of the drapers who lived-in, but the plight of the people in the grocery trade who lived-in was even worse. In those days, their hours were long. They finished at midnight on Saturday, and the only reason they did not go on in his shop was that the slave driver, who owned it, was a very strict Christian and sabbatarian.
Somebody said that shop assistants have a strong trade union. They do have a very good trade union, but not enough of them are in it and never have been. They depend very much upon the protection of the law. There is not even full employment now to protect them from exploitation. I do not think that any Government will leave them and their employers the victims of pure competition. There is no need today for the late closing of food shops; the refrigerator and the deep freeze enable people to shop for a week or more. I should have thought that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, could go without wanting to buy dog food on Sundays.
Of course, there are always improvident shoppers. If you keep a shop, no matter how late you may stay open, there is always somebody who comes and rattles on the latch five minutes after you have closed. It has been said that most shoppers want late closing, and, of course, they do. If you ask them whether they want two posts on a Sunday, they will say that they would like that. If you ask them whether they would like the banks to be open on a Saturday, they would like that—
§ Several noble Lords: Yes!
§ Lord Ardwick
We should all like that, but, of course, there is a cost. You cannot judge the cost by the limited experience of a limited number of shops in a limited area; the eventual cost is not there. They may do very well, indeed, simply because the idea is fairly new—I think it has been going on for only three or four years—and they may attract a great deal of custom to themselves. But the moment that this becomes universal—and it will become universal—then I see no way in which just a few shops will open on Sunday. The whole dynamic of the retail trade will insist that most shops are open.
Of course, there is a very great desire on the part of some supermarkets to open on Sunday. It would be wonderful for them. People could come on a Sunday, without traffic and they could load up. It would be very easy for them. But it would be disastrous for every small shopkeeper if that happened. As the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, who was very well quoted today by the previous speaker said, this would inevitably add to the cost. Though I may deplore the way in which the Government have, apparently, made their announcement today in another place, I am delighted at the apparent content of it.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, I should like to add my voice to those of other noble Lords who have congratulated my noble friend Lord Mackintosh on his maiden speech. I had to leave the Bench once or twice, one reason being that I needed to go down and ask his former headmaster whether he was happy with his pupil's success this afternoon. His headmaster is sitting below the Bar, and I am delighted to say that, like noble Lords, he would like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Mackintosh.
I am very pleased to be able to support my noble friend Lady Trumpington. I shall be very brief. I put my name down only because I felt that I wanted to be counted, and wanted it to be known that I very much support this Bill which she has brought in today. There are one or two reasons which I should like to give to the House, but they will be short. I was very interested in the MORI poll which, as your Lordships have already heard, showed that two-thirds of the people canvassed were in favour of the Bill. But what was interesting to me was that 70 per cent. of those two-thirds were men. There must be a reason for that, and I presume it is that men who stay late at their work are rarely able to go out shopping.
Not only is the law not understood by either shopkeepers or consumers, but the ridiculous anomalies are making it almost a farce in some places. For instance, in London, where boroughs are coterminous, one side of the street will be part of a borough which enforces, or tries to enforce, the law, and the other side will be in a borough which does not even try. This must, surely, be very unfair. The Conservative Party and, therefore, the Government in power, believe in competition; and the position is very unfair, not only to the shopkeepers but also to the consumers, because the consumers want the benefit of competition as well as freedom of choice. I believe that the time has now come when there should be more flexibility in our laws and in our way of life. 148 There is already some flexibility, but, if it is not backed up by laws, then those people who wish to be more flexible will very often be breaking the law.
One other reason for the Bill is that, undoubtedly, it will create employment. As one or two noble Lords have suggested, nobody will work for seven days, or even for long hours, but more people will be employed. One noble Lord said that prices will inevitably go up, but that is not what has happened in Scotland. Prices have not gone up there. A great deal of notice must be taken of that point.
Families will be able to go out together. I very much believe in family life: in family life through worship at church, in family life through enjoying recreation or shopping together. I was able, some time ago now, to organise fêtes and bazaars in aid of various charities. I always found that those fêtes and bazaars which were open on Sunday afternoons were not only the best attended but also the ones which were supported by the whole family. Those who think that all shops will open late on Sundays are presumably unaware of the old maxim: "Trust the people ". The people should be asked and they should be trusted. I urge the Government not only to give this Bill a Second Reading but to ensure that in the fullness of time it is put safely on the Statute book.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, at the outset of my speech I, too, would like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Mackintosh of Halifax, on his excellent maiden speech. We welcome him to this House and look forward to his contributions on other subject matter in future.
Whereas so many Bills placed before your Lordships favour restrictions for the individual, this Bill, introduced by my noble friend Lady Trumpington, favours freedom of choice. To me it is a breath of fresh air. By removing ineffective, unnecessary and outdated legislation her Bill expresses this very principle. Surely, if there is a demand for Sunday opening hours in 1982 and the retailer is prepared to meet the needs of the local community, he should be able to do so freely and without breaking the law. So I congratulate the noble Baroness on her courage in introducing this Bill and on pursuing a course which I believe to be right at the present time.
It seems to me that noble Lords who oppose this step towards greater freedom envisage vast numbers of shoppers in towns on Sundays seemingly carrying out weekly bulk buying which, in their Lordships' view, could well have been done during existing shop hours. As your Lordships know, the present law affects England and Wales only and does not apply to shops in Scotland, other than to barbers and hairdressers. I make no apology in re-emphasising what the noble Baroness has already said: that we, too, can benefit from the Scottish experience and can see how a different trading pattern has emerged. It clearly shows that while there is a substantial consumer demand for some types of commodities on Sundays, traders have shown that they are quite capable of making up their own minds as to whether it is in their interests to open. Yet there is no evidence that Sunday trading has led to any price rises. The National Consumer Council study found prices in chain stores in Glasgow and Edinburgh 149 identical to their London counterparts. What has happened in Scotland is that a different pattern of trading has grown up in response to local demand. If legal restrictions on late night and Sunday trading were abolished in England and Wales, I believe that we would develop the type of trading that would be best suited to a particular area.
Let me now turn to the main body of opposition to the amendment of the law—the shopworkers' union, USDAW, which has always opposed the Sunday opening of shops. I fully expected an outburst of disapproval from the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Fallow-field, and I was not to be disappointed. I would remind the noble Lord of the results of the poll mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. The poll was conducted by the shopworkers' union in conjunction with the staff of the Co-op and the House of Fraser. The staff were not compelled to work on Sundays. In both organisations, the shopworkers voted overwhelmingly in favour of Sunday opening, which proves that when individual shopworkers are given the choice they find the option of working on Sundays attractive. Fears that USDAW members would be exploited to work on Sundays against their will are therefore not justified.
There are, of course, always religious objections. But there is no intention to force anyone to shop on Sundays or to open on Sundays if it is against their religious beliefs to do so. However, we do live in a society with a multitude of religious beliefs, and it is not fair that those who wish, perfectly properly, to keep Sunday as a day of rest for religious reasons, should prevent those who wish to trade on Sundays or shop on Sundays from doing so. There will always be people ready to find excuses for not attending a place of worship. Those who have a genuine desire will do so. Surely the value of worship should not be judged merely by the numbers participating but rather by the depth and quality of faith of those who do.
Personally, I was delighted that both the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, should pick on garden centres as an example of a place where families like to shop together on Sundays—first, because as an owner and full-time working director of a large garden centre I work every other Sunday and, second, because a Private Member's Bill relating to garden centres being allowed to trade on Sundays, introduced by my right honourable friend the Member for Stratford-upon-Avon, will receive its Second Reading in another place on Friday. That makes this evening's ministerial announcement in another place even more disgraceful.
In March 1979, when the Shops (Sunday Trading) Bill reached the Committee stage, I attempted to move an amendment which, in effect, would have allowed garden centres to open on Sundays without restriction. The spirit of this amendment was well received by your Lordships but the Bill, as noble Lords may remember, ran out of time. The garden centre trade is an example of a service offered to the public at weekends, which is the time when it is most wanted, and garden centres in England and Wales in many cases have had to break an unenforceable law. The trade is suffering from some of the worst winter conditions ever recorded. Not only have sales been practically non-existent but a great deal of nursery stock has not survived the recent spells of 150 intense cold. The survival of our trade is not aided by the stupid and trivial anomalies of Sunday trading.
The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, has already stolen my thunder. We may sell a tree but not the spade to dig the hole in which to plant it. We may sell a shrub but not the peat nor the bonemeal essential to its growth. We may sell a rose but not the pesticides or fungicides essential to its health. We may sell a house plant but not the decorative pot in which to display it. The removal of the anomalies which exist in Sunday trading is of paramount importance to the horticultural trade. Equally, the importance of offering a weekend service to the family is fully recognised by the staff working in garden centres. They recognise that the maintenance and daily care in horticulture, as with livestock for farmers, must continue at weekends. Therefore, in their contracts of work they already accept a staggered five-day week, with an option to earn overtime according to their circumstances.
In conclusion, I believe that a Bill made any more moderate will merely substitute one set of anomalies for another. I do not believe that it is right to dictate when shops open or close, nor do I think that it is right that shoppers should be told when to do their shopping. As my noble friend Lady Trumpington has indicated, she is not advocating the introduction of a compulsory seven-day week opening for shops, nor a seven-day week for shopworkers. She is asking that the customer be free to choose the most convenient shopping hours, and that the shopkeeper be free to open at times suitable for the locality of his trade. I fully support her Bill.
§ 6.49 p.m.
My Lords, other speakers in this debate have been so unanimous and anxious to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Mackintosh of Halifax, on his maiden speech that I am all the more sorry that I missed it. I do apologise to him. I was unavoidably absent from the Chamber during the short period which included his speech, but I look forward to the opportunity of hearing him and, I hope, of congratulating him on a future occasion.
It is almost every day that we in Parliament are confronted with a different and difficult aspect of the overall economic conundrum with which we are constantly wrestling. I am bold enough to suggest that there is a connecting thread running through them all. That is that we are perpetually seeking a fair balance between the interests of the producers of the goods and services on the one hand and the consumers of those things on the other. I suggest that that same broad issue is at stake in our consideration of the Bill now before the House which has been introduced by the noble Baroness.
Clearly she and many other speakers believe that the consumer is disadvantaged by the existing state of the law. On the other hand, it is clear that my noble friend Lord Allen of Fallowfield and my noble friend Lord Ardwick believe that any root and branch change in the shops law, such as is proposed by the noble Baroness, contains real dangers to the working conditions and standards of those who work in retail distribution. Bearing in mind, as my noble friend Lord Ardwick said, the long struggles in the history of 151 trade unionism in retailing, I suggest that we do well to pause before we thrust aside, as some other noble Lords have thrust aside, the point of view that is represented in your Lordships' House by Lord Allen of Fallowfield.
On the other hand, it is clear that many parts of the case that has been put forward in support of the Bill are impressive. The part of the speech by the noble Baroness, and particularly the part of the speech which she made last year in the short debate, which have impressed me most have been her description of the anomalies that abound in the present situation, and of course they are ridiculous; no one disputes that. It is clear, therefore, in my view, that there is a case that the shops Acts need to be revised. But I am opposed to this Bill because I do not believe that these shops Acts should be swept aside, as in practice they will be be swept aside by the sweeping proposals contained in this Bill. It is my belief that sweeping changes of this kind in any area of legislation, though they can be attractive in their simplicity, as the noble Baroness's Bill is, often create more anomalies by their very sweeping nature and their very simplicity than they seek to cure. My noble friend Lord Jacques pointed in drafting terms to some of the anomalies which would be created. Others have said, "Well, they can be taken care of in Committee", and that of course is true. But, even so, I believe that the situation in retailing that we confront is so complex, and there are so many different interests and points of view to be considered, that any approach based upon the noble Baroness's Bill will probably cause as many problems as it seeks to remove.
My noble friend Lady Phillips, who spoke early in the debate, congratulated the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, on what she called the "whole hog" approach of this Bill, and believed that was a better approach than has been taken by the many—some say a dozen; some say 20—various Private Members' Bills which over the years have been brought in to deal with this situation. I do not believe that either the whole hog approach or the piecemeal approach is the correct approach in this connection. What I favour rather is the approach that has been suggested by the Retail Consortium which was described by my noble friend Lord Jacques. That is that this whole question of the shop Acts is of sufficient importance and sufficient complexity to require to be examined carefully by Government inquiry, and that there should be produced a report which is a balanced and considered report which takes into account all the various points of view, and they are many and varied, that have been expressed in the debate so far. Then, we would have a proper basis for legislating in a constructive and responsible way. I do not believe that that constructive and responsible approach is contained in this present Bill. It is for those reasons that I believe that this Bill is ill-advised and should not be accepted by your Lordships.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, on the admirable way in which she presented her Bill. She made out an overwhelmingly convincing case for it, particularly when citing the Scottish experience. Pre 152 dictably we have heard siren voices urging us to hasten slowly. The noble Lord, Lord Jacques, told us that the Retail Consortium were against the Bill. What an unadventurous lot they must be compared to their Scottish cousins—traders who are none too keen on trading. Both Lord Jacques and the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Fallowfield, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Oram, just now, suggested instead a Royal Commission or departmental inquiries, consultative documents and the like. These, of course, are well-known methods of postponing difficult decisions indefinitely. One only has to think of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, which so many years ago made so many constructive suggestions and recommendations for the reform of the licensing laws: all that work to no avail.
My noble friend Lord Robertson of Oakridge was worried that Sunday would become a day like every other day. Sunday is not like any other day in Scotland, nor is Sunday like every other day in those many Continental countries where shops are free to open when they like. As for the traditional English Sunday, the traditional English Sunday will be preserved, in waterglass as it were, only to the extent that there is a genuine popular will for its conservation. If that will is absent, no amount of Government legislation will prevent change. Government can preserve the outward form, but not the content.
In a free society I think it is axiomatic that individuals should be permitted to buy and to sell when and where they will—so long as third parties are not harmed thereby. I do not think that opponents of the Bill have made out any convincing case in support of their contention that people will be harmed. A few will be irritated no doubt, but that is different, and these few will be greatly outnumbered by the many who will benefit from the greater opportunity and freedom that this Bill affords. I urge noble Lords to support the noble Baroness in the Division Lobby.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I would like to commence by congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Mackintosh of Halifax, on his maiden speech although I, as one of the dental members here, have, of course, been given great additional material as to why I would want other items to be sold on a Sunday rather than just confectionery. I wish to support the Bill most strongly because of the direct personal experience that I have had living in Bayswater in London. I moved recently, but I lived there and brought my children up there over many years. This was the area in which the very first department store in London opened its doors—Whiteleys was world famous and historic.
About 18 months ago Whiteleys applied for permission to open on Sundays and, of course, the permission was, quite correctly, refused; it would have been against the law to permit it. Whiteleys said that this was their one hope of remaining viable and continuing in business. Towards the end of last year Whiteleys closed its doors. If you go past that store now you see a very sad, boarded up building, and you realise that all those people who used to work there would have much preferred it to have the right to remain open on Sunday than to find themselves unemployed 153 today. Also, all the other small shops in Queensway are finding that they are badly affected by the loss of Whiteleys. People coming from the big department store would pop in and buy bread in the local bread shop. I am not speaking only about Sundays; I am speaking about every trading day of the week. If one big shop, or small shop, closes in an area the effect rubs off on the others.
However, Bayswater has become very much a Sunday trading area. You can buy your groceries there until 11 o'clock at night and, I believe now, until one or two any morning and there is no differentiation as regards Sundays. So what I think is so wrong about this is that the most reputable and respectable shop there was forced to close because it was abiding by the law. However, all the other shops are doing very well and working whatever hours they like and there is no enforcement whatever of the restrictions that should apply.
People do not realise when they say that consumers might be disadvantaged by no Sunday opening, that there is Sunday opening now pretty well over the whole of London. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, talk about the items that you could or could not buy in a garden centre. I have seen all those things sold in every garden centre that I have been to. There is no difficulty about getting them which means that this law is a nonsense. Even now the people who are the greatest losers, and will be more so as time goes by, are those in the shop-working unions who will find that other people are taking their business away, and sooner or later their own jobs will go. Whiteleys was perhaps the first outstanding example, but it is certainly one worth drawing to your Lordships' attention.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, mentioned in her speech that if this Bill was passed she thought that it would come into force rather too quickly. I should like to take up that point because the action that was needed to save a shop such as Whiteleys was needed very rapidly; there was no time for a long period to elapse before the law changed. I understand that Woolworths in that same street is now facing a court action for having opened on one Sunday. Woolworths is being prosecuted and made as the example in the street. Yet again, Woolworths has a good reputation and must have been pushed to extremes to have turned around and opened on a Sunday. Yet it did so at the end of last year.
Many speakers have asked: "Is there to be no limit on Sundays?" It is more important to appreciate that the whole matter will be self-limiting. I do not for one moment think that all these shops will be open on Sunday. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Fallowfield, who mentioned that all the big stores would be obliged to open. Let us consider the present Saturday pattern in London. John Lewis will not open on Saturday afternoon, and yet they are doing just as well as any other shop. They still work the hours that suit them. Because there is six days shopping they do not open for six days. So why should they suddenly go to seven days? I do not think that there is any proof in that point at all.
I respect the view of the right reverend Prelate that he would be concerned about the church-going pattern, and I also respect the other Sunday observance view 154 that was put forward. But while I am someone who goes to church every week, regularly, yet I strongly support the right to buy things on Sunday. In fact in many communities it is quite a practice now for people to go to church and then to go on to the local shop, or to go to a local shop and then go on to church. It is happening now. As regards country areas, the small church which is my parish church when I go to the country has a weekly collection of £3.60. That does not mean that it is being very strongly supported in church-going terms. If it had a few shops near it then some people might come to the shops and go to the church as well. One just cannot tell.
Repeatedly the point has been made that it will be hard on the women to have shops open on Sunday because women are the shopworkers. Evidently people are not very well informed on the fact that women are the ones who want to have part-time work and flexible hours. These are the very people who would be able to earn a small living for themselves, and frequently, if families have young children, they would rely upon the father to be there taking a turn with the children while the mother was out. I think that perhaps it is not appreciated here that this is one of the changing patterns in life now; child care has become very much a matter for both parents and not for just one. If the mother wishes to spend a great deal of time with the children it may suit her ideally to have a small-hour part-time job. We want to see a greater increase in part-time employment for both men and women.
I was interested in the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, that more men than women favour the change. I found that most surprising. But I do agree with the noble Lord most emphatically when he said that he hopes that the Home Office will act before a very large number of people take the law into their own hands. I consider that situation has already been reached in London, and it may well have been reached in many other parts of the country.
Certainly four speakers have been very much opposed to this Bill. Those four speakers have all brought out the point of this great discussion and meeting that should take place with the Government—a tripartite meeting. We have all heard it. But I should like to ask all those speakers who have made that point whether they have made the same point on the last 12 occasions that a Bill has been brought forward, or is this a new thing? If it is a new thing coming up, surely it should have come up years ago? It just means that they have been that slow and that far behind the times in thinking of what people really want.
I do not intend to speak for much longer because it is almost the end of the time which I allotted myself and I am the last Back-Bench speaker. Moreover, I am sure that everyone would be happy to have this debate summed up. It has been a very good debate and throughout most points have been made very well. I would again emphasise only the fact that this Bill would not force people to open on Sundays. There is a great tendency in this House for people to believe that any change in the law automatically obliges you to do something. That came over to me very clearly when I was asked whether I was for shooting curlews and redshanks. I really believed at one moment that the vote was on whether we were demanding that people shot them rather than whether we were just going to permit it. It 155 is rather the same with the Shops Bill. Everyone who has adopted this very anti attitude today has done so on the basis of, "Who wants to force every poor shopkeeper to be open on Sunday"?
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, I hope the noble Baroness will forgive me for interrupting. Nobody was saying that they would be forced to open on Sundays. Nobody was forcing them. There is a simple law of competition, which I am sure noble Lords and Baronesses on the other side of the House understand very well, and it is that which obliges people to open when they would not otherwise wish to open. It is not the law but the freedom that the law gives for free competition, and that obliges many, many shopkeepers to participate who would otherwise not wish to do so.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, for his remarks. The noble Lord, Lord Allen, who spoke earlier, said that all large shops will open on the basis that the noble Lord has suggested—namely, that they would simply be forced to do so on a competitive basis. I think that this point has been answered repeatedly. I have just answered it myself in terms of the fact that the John Lewis Partnership do not open on Saturday afternoons. So I think that it is quite untrue to think that they would all open. Even now, although there is six-day opening in the West-end of London, not every shop is open six days a week. If one looks at the shopping pattern on Saturdays one will see that not all shops are open. Therefore, I am afraid that I cannot accept the point made by the noble Lord that people would feel obliged to open because competition would insist that they did so.
It is time that the Government looked at this. I do not think that it would affect the pattern of family life; nor would it affect religious observance. In fact, it might enhance those things. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, used the phrase "If you want to go bankrupt, open when you choose". I do not think that many small shopkeepers would agree with that. The point that was made was that people said, "If you are a small shopkeeper, you can hope that some of that business that you would not get in other hours would come to you during different hours, perhaps Sundays". That is always very important. I found delightful his phrase "always improvident shoppers"; I think that that is true. No matter what hours you are open, there will always be someone whom you cannot satisfy. But the bulk of people would like the freedom of shopping when the shops are open, and the shopkeepers would like the right to open their shops within the law, instead of having to flout the law, as they do today. I hope that this Bill is passed.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Lord Bishopston
My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords are indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for her explanation of the Bill—a measure which I would suggest is of great importance for its effect and which, if passed, would give, as she says, freedom to shops to open at such time as they think fit, repealing, as it would, certain parts of the 156 Shops Act 1950 which, of course, would have a significant effect on present living standards.
As my noble friend Lord Allen of Fallowfield has said, and, indeed, as others have said, there have been many attempts to review and change the law in respect of trading, both during the week and on Sundays, but without success for those who have sought to reform measures which, as we know, and as various noble Lords have said, have a great deal of illogicality. So we are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for her initiative in this way and for affording us the opportunity of debating these issues.
I join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Mackintosh of Halifax, on his maiden speech. He certainly showed a specialist interest and a knowledge which I am sure will be of great help and assistance to your Lordships' House in the future. This is a Private Member's Bill and I am sure that my noble friends will carefully weigh the merits and the disadvantages of the Bill, and come to their own conclusions with a free vote. It may be consistent for me, seeking impartiality, to abstain if necessary on this occasion. But for my part, as spokesman for the Opposition, I shall seek to assess the pros and cons which I think ought to be taken into account, although I suspect that noble Lords will already have their own priorities.
As has already been said, Shops Acts legislation goes back a long way and the Act which the Bill would amend or repeal goes back over 30 years, during which time, of course, things have changed considerably. The pattern of life, customs and habits have also changed. So legislation controlling Sunday trading goes back as far as the Fairs and Markets Acts, 1448, and the 1950 Act consolidated measures, including those of 1912 and 1936. However, there have been more recent reviews as evidenced by the early closing legislation of 1965.
I think it is important on this occasion that we know what changes are likely to come about if the Bill gets a Second Reading and passes later stages. As the noble Baroness has stressed, provisions concerning general closing, early closing and Sunday trading already in legislation would be eliminated, leaving only provisions relating to the statutory half-day, working hours for young people and Sunday employment. I think that these are detailed in Part II of the 1950 measure. Indeed, Part II of the Act deals with conditions of employment and they would not be repealed. I think that this is important.
It is also important to question the value and, indeed, the workability of the present legislation if other parts of the 1950 Act are repealed, and whether this is the best way of making a comprehensive review. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, questioned whether this was the way to do the job which has to be done. At this stage we may have borne in mind certain aspects which may already have made us decide whether to accept or reject the Bill. I suggest that we should consider a number of issues before coming to a conclusion. There are many arguments, and some have been mentioned here today more than others. They include the needs of the consumer and the customer and, of course, that is the raison d'être for trading: to satisfy the needs of the public. 157 However, there is much more to it than that, for customers come in different forms, including holiday-makers both from home and abroad. Those who serve in shops and in commerce include not only the man and woman behind the counter, but also other trades and occupations who have to supply the services behind the worker who is behind the counter. Without making a Committee stage speech, I think it would be helpful if the noble Baroness could elucidate some of the definitions in the 1950 Act, because it mentions that:'Shop' includes any premises where any retail trade or business is carried on;'Shop assistant' means any person wholly or mainly employed in a shop in connection with the serving of customers or the receipt of orders or the despatch of goods ".There are other definitions which need clarification, because it seems that we are not only amending the Shops Act 1950, the Shops (Airports) Act and the legislation affecting early closing, but we shall also affect many other categories of employment at the same time. These may well come within the definitions mentioned here. For instance, I wonder whether public houses will be included in this kind of measure, which would, of course, involve other forms of legislation.
The National Consumer Council—and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, spoke on behalf of it today—a national body representing consumers, supported a Bill seeking to amend Sunday trading laws which came before the House in 1979. The NCC said that that Bill was a useful step forward in the liberalising of shop hours and shop laws. The NCC naturally criticises ineffective and unnecessary legislation, and laws flouted and not enforceable. It would be hard to defend present laws which are illogical and need changing. I presume that the Bill that we are now discussing would be a much more extensive Bill than the provisions of the 1979 measure, which came before us a couple of years ago. It would make everything available for sale on Sundays—so that all forms of food and drink for human consumption could be sold on Sunday and also other goods, including, I presume, furniture, carpets, domestic appliances and clothing; and transactions such as those of the Post Office and banks and, indeed, many other services. I am wondering whether the House is aware that many of these other services would have to supply the needs of the shops if they are to have longer hours of opening and be open all day on Sunday as well. Indeed, the 1979 Bill, which did not get very far in your Lordships' House, had schedules which restricted goods and services available on Sundays, whereas this very brief and commendably simple Bill which we are now discussing has no restrictions whatever.
In the National Consumer Council's survey the question was asked as to what other businesses should also stay open if shops could stay open later. Among the top of the list were banks (73 per cent.), post offices (52 per cent.), hairdressers (27 per cent.), followed by cafes, libraries, building societies, repair shops, dry cleaners and others. I wonder whether noble Lords are aware of the consequences if this Bill goes through unamended.
There is another aspect which is of some importance and which has not had a great deal of mention today, 158 and that includes tourism. I think we can appreciate the needs of those visiting Britain, and I believe they number about 12 million a year. The Bill would repeal those provisions already in the Shops Act 1950 which cater for tourism and it would make the sale of all kinds of goods available to British people and not just tourists, and all the year round in all circumstances. We have to bear in mind that this is one of the reasons for supporting the Bill, in so far as it gives people visiting this country the kind of facilities which they look for and indeed enjoy in other parts of the world. There is a need to some extent for consistency in this way.
I want to be fair to the noble Baroness by trying to take an impartial view, and I would want to help her if I may by posing a number of questions which would be to her advantage when she comes to wind up, and questions which may be in the minds of noble Lords. Several questions arise from the point of view of the employer and the employees in respect of the ending of restrictions on trading times. It would appear that seven-day trading and longer hours each day would lead to higher costs. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartington, the chairman of the NCC, also had similar fears about price increases if there were longer trading hours. Indeed, of course many shops would have to be competitive and extend their hours to those of their competitors if they were going to get their fair market share.
I wonder also how the high levels of unemployment affect shops opening longer hours and on Sundays, when three million unemployed people in the country have all the time in the week to do their shopping, albeit their spending capacity is sadly reduced in that situation. Accepting, as indeed we must, that the tourist trade needs to be catered for, one wonders in what way tourists would be helped by extending the shop hours now permitted. Would they wish to buy things which are not now available on Sundays from shops, such as furniture, household goods, and so on? If shops opened longer, then those who work in offices would also be affected, as would other businesses, as I indicated a moment ago, because they are all part of the commercial life of the nation. This is not a matter just for USDAW, or for the unions concerned and seeking to protect shop workers, but is for other unions as well. I wonder whether the noble Baroness can tell us whether she has been in touch with the TUC, the CBI and other unions whose interests will be affected by this legislation.
With regard to staffing, the unions and some traders are against any extension of the hours of trading. Sunday opening would bring problems, they say, for those not wishing to work because of religious and other convictions. A conscience provision, or the right given to those who do not wish to work on Sunday not to do so, could result in some form of pressure, or indeed, in these days, even in loss of a job in favour of those with no such inhibitions. I notice that there are no safeguards or restrictions in the Bill as it now stands.
Having a look at some of the pros and cons in some depth, one thinks that in some ways—and it might be so claimed—the arguments are evenly balanced. In favour of the Bill are such arguments as that the present laws are out of date, and I do not think that anyone would disagree there. They are certainly illogical. 159 Few can deny that. They certainly are difficult to enforce. They need review, and the question must be, as several noble Lords have posed it, is this the Bill we want, and is this the way to do it? The needs of the tourists are important if we are to encourage visitors from abroad and to give them the facilities which they have elsewhere. We cannot of course ignore the considerable benefit we derive from their being with us, and we have a duty to ensure that we accommodate their needs so far as possible. I am wondering whether any substantial changes are necessary in order to bring that about.
The other arguments—and some of them may be questionable—against the Bill are, as has been pointed out to us, that USDAW, with its 440,000 members, and other trade unions representing workers are opposed to relaxation in hours of work. But I noticed that my noble friend Lord Jacques has suggested a compromise which I thought got a ready response from the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, with regard to hours of work in the evenings and also the hours of work on Sunday. One wonders sometimes whether the trend towards longer hours is justified in a measure of this sort when, generally speaking, the country is suggesting that we have a shorter working life, that we have a shorter working week, and so on. The opponents of the Bill claim that working longer working days and a seven-day week would not result in higher sales, for of course there is a ceiling on the total amount which can be sold.
I believe that the noble Lords, Lord Jacques and Lord Allen of Fallowfield, and indeed others, have claimed that the trade employs a high level of female labour and that family and domestic responsibilities will suffer. In the retail trade it is claimed that nearly half the total of women employed are married. These are factors of domestic consequence. Regardless of those aspects of legislation protecting working conditions and not repealed by the Bill, it is claimed that longer hours would quite possibly lead to lower standards of work.
On the aspects of cost, some claim that higher costs would follow longer opening. The retail trade employs people in what I believe is the second largest industry in Britain, and one of the biggest users of energy. Therefore, it seems clear that heating and lighting costs would increase with premises being opened longer, when there was a totality of goods which could be sold in a shorter period at lower costs of energy and manpower. If shopworkers have to work longer hours, or be rewarded for working unsocial hours, then presumably overtime rates would apply. If staff were not rewarded for spreading their labour and working time over longer days and a seven-day week, then they would feel at a disadvantage and there would be discontent. If we say, as has been stressed on several occasions, that this legislation does not mean that shops have to open, or that workers have to work on a Sunday if they do not wish, then I think most people would appreciate that in these situations the traders and their employees really have no choice.
In conclusion, although we may all be influenced to some extent by certain factors, I think noble Lords would agree that it is the opinion we come to after taking all the factors into account which really matters. 160 It is not easy because of course some factors matter much more than others. The Bill could have a significant effect on our lives. There will be no limit to the hours of opening of shops and business premises, and I believe there is some doubt as to how many other occupations and trades would be involved in supplying the shopping area. The Bill really has little to say about these aspects and any other safeguards involved.
I suppose one could probably cynically summarise the misgivings of some noble Lords as declaring that the freedom to be with one's family on a Sunday is a more precious freedom than the right of the public to buy their bedding and purchase other goods on a Sunday, when of course these basic human rights could be satisfied on other days in the week. I believe that there is a case for a review of the legislation, and I believe that the noble Baroness has made an important contribution in bringing forward this Bill and giving us the opportunity to debate yet again some of these matters which are long overdue for debate and decision, and not least because we live in a rapidly changing society. There are other aspects, too, which are not directly concerned with the measure at this time, but they include the very difficult and important aspect of Sunday entertainment, which was the subject of the Crathorne Report of some years ago. One wonders whether this is not the time for the Government to initiate another, wider, look at the area of shops legislation having regard to the changes in shopping and trading patterns and the use of leisure, with a special look not only at working or opening hours but also at the working conditions of those affected.
The march of science and technology—the microchip and so on—are having a considerable effect on present and future work and leisure patterns and many changes will follow, with many people having much more time for shopping and other pursuits during the week, or alternatively wanting extended hours for shopping and leisure. And given some of the advances of science—deep freezes and other things by which food and other commodities can be kept—there may appear to be less need for a longer time to purchase.
Certain aspects which have been mentioned are of importance regarding the observance of Sunday, and it is clear that many of our rules are framed to protect those who wish to keep Sunday as a day apart from the working week, and it is not only of course just a matter of Sunday observance. As a churchman, I believe there was never a time when people were more anxious to have regard to spiritual, moral and other values. I believe too that most people would not wish one week to follow another unending with no natural break.
The pressures of life, even for those who have no job, are such that a break is vital to give people and their families a chance to stop, to cease their labours and to be together, and that point was made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich and other noble Lords. So, on the one hand, in our changing society there will be need for extended facilities for shopping and leisure activities spread throughout the week, and, on the other, it is essential that we have regard not only to our own personal needs but to those who have to cater for our needs, and their wellbeing and that of their families is also important.
Our society has undergone many changes in recent years in patterns of living and many more can be ex- 161 pected. The main question I would want to have answered concerns not only this Bill but those areas it would affect, including the use of Sundays or weekends and the effect on people and family life, and the question is whether this is really the way to do it. In my view, the opportunity enables us to say that there is need for review. Either way, the British way of life as we have known it, and as it has evolved, will go on changing and, as I say, this measure has given us a welcome opportunity to take a look at the whole issue. I hope the Government will respond to the call of various noble Lords in that direction. Finally, I repeat how grateful we are to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for giving us the opportunity of looking at this urgent and important issue.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, before commenting on behalf of the Government on my noble friend's Bill, I wish to refer to the reply to a Parliamentary Question which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made today in another place. For the last 18 months or so the Home Office has been conducting a review of the restrictions which are imposed by shops legislation. The regrettable conclusion we have drawn from that review, and from an analysis of conflicting views, is that there is not yet a sufficient basis of agreement between the various interests concerned for the Government to seek to introduce shops legislation now, though we are aware of the mounting pressure for reform.
That is really, in essence, what is in my right honourable friend's Statement—that and nothing more—except that there is an addition; namely, that my right honourable friend is aware that my noble friend Lady Trumpington has the Second Reading of her Bill today and the Government, the Statement says, can find no ground of principle for opposing the Bill.
I must apologise for any disrespect to your Lordships' House because obviously I knew that the reply was to be made and I am responsible to this House. But as the Government are responsible to both Houses, and as an undertaking had been given on more than one occasion to announce the conclusion of the review to another place, it was thought that it would be courteous to both Houses to make a Government Statement in both Houses as nearly simultaneously as possible.
As your Lordships will realise, something went wrong. It was assumed that I would be speaking near to the start of this debate, which would have achieved Statements near to the start of business in both Houses, whereas—as your Lordships would have been the first to have told me—it is not my business to speak near to the start of a debate on a Private Member's Bill, but to sit and listen to what others have to say and to speak very near to the end. Again, I apologise for not making that fact clear to those who were concerned and for, sadly, reaching a position which, I know, has annoyed your Lordships and which was meant to be dealing correctly with both Houses.
I wish to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Mackintosh on his maiden speech. It was to be expected that, with his family connections, my noble friend would wish to speak in a debate of this kind. Certainly he got off to a much better start with 162 his speech than I achieved with mine! He showed a really excellent grasp of all the main issues. He presented them clearly and persuasively and, speaking near the end of this quite long debate, I am sure it is the sense of the House that we all wish him to return to take part in our debates on future occasions.
I wish to thank my noble friend Lady Trumpington for her clear and concise description of the Bill's intentions. My noble friend is to be congratulated on her determination to solve a problem which a great many members of the general public wish to see solved. However, there is a real problem in how to move from the present legal provisions which create anomalies and which do not seem to correspond to modern patterns of living, and that problem is clearly illustrated by the history of previous attempts to change the law, and I will briefly refer to them.
From the 15th century there has been statute law about Sunday trading. But the law relating to trading on weekdays, together with many of the other provisions in the Shops Act 1950, is a product of the 19th century designed to provide shorter working hours for shop staff. But the real step in the story which affects us today—and perhaps why we are debating my noble friend's Bill—was the Shops (Sunday Trading Restrictions) Act 1936. Your Lordships will remember that the aim of that Act was to set limits to the considerable increase in Sunday trading and, within those limits, to make allowances for custom, to avoid hardship to poor people and to provide exemptions for articles which at that time were reckoned to be necessary.
The main points of difficulty—many of your Lordships will remember this much better than I do—in securing agreement for that measure proved, not surprisingly, to be the scope of provision required for people like street traders, and indeed Jewish people, who wanted to trade on Sundays for particular reasons; the special treatment of, for example, seaside resorts and the extended range of articles which were regarded to be necessary under prevailing social conditions. The debates showed general agreement that the object should not simply be to secure one day's rest in seven, but primarily to keep the character of Sunday, both for traders and consumers, distinct from ordinary working days.
The Act did not, however, extend to Scotland, and almost from the moment that Act came into force it became clear from its practical operation and judicial decisions that it contained many anomalies, to which my noble friend Lady Trumpington and many others have referred (actually with some restraint) in this debate.
By the end of the Second World War it was clear (was it not?) that the situation had become so unsatisfactory that a committee under Sir Ernest Gowers was appointed to examine the operation of the shops legislation is relation to closing hours. I think it worthwhile to mention briefly the committee's conclusions. First, while the Gowers Committee affirmed that the provisions for compulsory evening and halfday closing had been of great benefit in protecting the shop worker from exploitation, the committee said that the moment was approaching—and this was written 35 years ago—when it would have done all it could for the shop staff and it was now the public's turn for a little 163 consideration. Secondly, Gowers found, in 1947, that there were too many exemptions in the law, and, lastly, that because the law was contained in so many statutes it was obscure and complicated.
As a preliminary step the Government of the day consolidated the Acts of 1912 and 1936 in the Shops Act 1950. Then in 1956 a Government Bill to give effect, broadly speaking, to the Gowers' recommendations was introduced into your Lordships' House, where it excited much opposition from supporters of the retail trade and the shopworkers' unions. My noble friend Lord Mancroft—who I do not think has been able to be here today—mentioned that Bill in the debate initiated by my noble friend Lady Trumpington on 20th May last year, and explained the difficulties that he experienced on behalf of the Government in 1956 in piloting the Bill through your Lordships' House. When the Bill reached another place the Home Secretary of the day (the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, as he now is) had to announce that it would not be possible to proceed with it in that Session.
I think it fair to say that there was one more government attempt at reform, in 1965, when the Home Department circulated proposals based this time on consultations with interested bodies and on the recommendations of the departmental committee on the law of Sunday observance, which had been chaired by the late Lord Crathorne. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, in his speech this afternoon thought that the Crathorne Report might now be a basis for legislation, but I would remind the noble Lord that in 1965 the Government were reluctantly obliged to conclude that there was insufficient consensus to prepare legislation based on those recommendations.
The remainder of the story is very familiar to the House. Three more Bills have been introduced in this House, and four in another place. All have failed to make progress because of the combined opposition of certain representatives of the trade and those speaking on behalf of the shopworkers' unions. Most of those attempts have been modest attempts to iron out some of the more glaring anomalies, particularly in relation to the range of goods which may be sold on Sunday. A significant feature of the debates has been that all concerned have admitted readily that the law is totally inadequate and should be changed. But any constructive solutions have never commanded agreement.
The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Fallowfield, called for an exhaustive Government inquiry. I am sorry to do so in his absence, but I must point out that the facts are known, and what we need is not more information, but a greater measure of agreement. In the past debates successive Administrations have been criticised for having failed to give a lead in finding a solution to this perennial problem, and I thought that this afternoon I caught just a hint of that criticism repeated once again. The Home Office has completed the review to which I referred at the beginning of my speech. The review was undertaken primarily to try to ascertain whether, in the light of past unsuccessful attempts and present attitudes, there now exists among those concerned a sufficient degree of consensus in which a further attempt at legislation would stand a reasonable chance of success.
Despite the fact that the debate in another place 164 last February on the Bill of my honourable friend Sir Anthony Meyer indicated quite clearly that there has been very little shift in the attitudes of the opponents of change, we have tried hard to analyse the different attitudes which appear to exist at present in relation to this complex subject and to assess their validity. We have been able to identify six broad interest groups, three of which are opposed to change, and three of which are in favour of change. In addition, there are the local authorities who favour amendment, though for rather different reasons. Opposed to change there would appear to be the retail trade, USDAW, and the Lord's Day Observance Society. Their opposition is directed mainly against an extension of Sunday trading for the following reasons. First, it is claimed that any extension of Sunday trading is likely to lead to increased overheads for the retailer and to higher prices for the consumer. Secondly, it is claimed that Sunday trading would be injurious to family and social life Finally, people living in the immediate vicinity of shopping areas would be deprived of one day's relative peace and quiet.
On the other hand, those who are in favour of some change comprise sections of the retail trade, especially proprietors of garden centres and do-it-yourself shops, and other shopkeepers, incidentally, representing, not least, ethnic minorities, as well as consumer interests and the tourist authorities. We have heard the arguments in favour of change put very clearly by my noble friend and others of your Lordships. At this hour of the evening I shall not repeat the arguments, because they have been put so many times and so clearly. They are based on the point that the law does not correspond to changes which have taken place in society, and on the view that shopkeepers who are now opening in contravention of the law should no longer be hounded but should be allowed to serve the public as they think they should. The argument is also put forward that Sunday trading would give many families more, not less, opportunity.
From the point of view of the Home Office, we believe that the final group, the local authorities as a whole, favour change, but for a different reason. Local authorities are responsible for enforcement and find the existing law wholly unsatisfactory in this respect. Therefore their principal concern is to secure a law that is enforceable. To us a minority of authorities appear, in addition, to sympathise with some of the arguments of those who favour change on the merits.
The regrettable conclusion that we drew initially from that analysis of views was that a further Government initiative at this stage would be almost certain to fail. But—all this is most certainly not included in any reply to a parliamentary Question given by my right honourable friend—we have looked again, with the advice of Government economists, at the economic arguments put forward by those who oppose any change in the law and, in particular, at the assertion of the retail trade that in addition to depriving small shopkeepers and their assistants of free time with their families, the extension of Sunday trading was likely to lead to higher prices for consumers.
In considering those arguments we looked at experience in Scotland, where the Sunday trading provisions of the 1950 Act do not apply. That bore out the 165 conclusions of the recent inquiry conducted by the National Consumer Council; namely, that the current pattern of trading in Scotland is very similar to that of England and Wales, the only difference being that in Scotland it is being carried out within the law. I strongly agree with my noble friend Lady Trumpington that Scottish experience clearly shows that certain types of shops—especially large electrical discount warehouses, which she specifically mentioned, do-it-yourself-shops, and carpet and furniture retailers—find it worthwhile to open on Sundays, especially at peak seasons, such as the last few weeks before Christmas. However, in Scotland the majority of the shops in the multiple chains typical of High Street shopping areas remain closed.
Speaking on behalf of the Government and on behalf of the Home Office, based on what we think we have discovered from our review, that is what we would expect to find in England. In the longer term, we think that shops would open on Sunday only if they found it profitable to do so; that is, only if they were meeting the needs of consumers. Allowing shops to open on Sunday may thus be seen as a bonus in terms of individual freedom for both the consumer and the retailer. For all customers Sunday opening would increase their ability to seek out the best buy and the best service.
If I may push the argument a little further, more choice of course means more competition. The benefits of this increased competition could be significant. In the long term, liberalisation of the shopping hours, so I am advised by economists in the Government, should increase both the efficiency and the quality of retail service. Far from raising prices, therefore, Sunday shopping may well lead to greater competition, more choice for consumers and, therefore, lower prices in the shops. Also, the argument that shopworkers will suffer adversely again does not seem to be borne out by the situation in Scotland; and I must say that I must register my agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that if the Shops Acts were to be repealed in their entirety adequate provision would need to be made to continue to protect working conditions.
My Lords, from this account of our thinking, your Lordships may ask me, "Why have you not in fact introduced a Government Bill?" Very well; I will answer the question. If we thought that there was a good chance of securing a reasonable measure of agreement to reform week-day and Sunday trading laws, we should be prepared to consider—and I have to stress the word "consider"—allocating the resources needed to carry out the processes of consultation with a view to introducing legislation. But the beginning of my speech was aimed to show that we do not believe that this is the case. Having said that, we are certainly glad that my noble friend has introduced this Bill.
Your Lordships may ask me, "What is the use of the Bill, then? What is the value of it?" I think the great use of it is that it has given us on this Second Reading a chance to listen to what people have to say and to consider carefully the views expressed in today's debate. For instance, I listened very carefully, if I may say so on behalf of the Government, to what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich had to say, but I think it is worth reflecting that preserving 166 Sunday as a distinctive day does not necessarily mean that there can be no trading at all on Sunday. Indeed, I do not know that I gleaned from the speech of the right reverend Prelate that he believed that in its entirety, either.
The Government do not think that there is anything to fear from a measure of reform. It would certainly be welcomed, we think, by the shopping public, and would rid the statute book of legislation which has become, at best, an object of fun and, at worst, discredited because it is unenforceable.
The noble Lord, Lord Jacques, and my noble friend Lord Mottistone particularly put their fingers on the point that, because Parts I, III and IV of the 1950 Act are referred to in Part II in relation to shop-workers' conditions of service and Part II is to be retained, some drafting amendments would need to be made to that Part in Committee, and my noble friend Lord Mottistone said that he thought the Government should certainly give my noble friend Lady Trumpington help in drafting if my noble friend felt that she would wish for this. I should like to respond by saying that that is most certainly our intention. If your Lordships accord the Bill a Second Reading, as I hope, I shall discuss with my noble friend how it may suitably be amended in that respect.
My Lords, the Government are seriously concerned at the unsatisfactory state of shop legislation. I therefore genuinely thank my noble friend again for having giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue, which is of major social and commercial importance.
My Lords, before the noble Lord resumes his seat, can he say whether the Home Office review to which he has helpfully referred is likely to be published? It strikes me that it would be an extremely useful document for us to see in giving further consideration to this question, whether on the basis of Lady Trumpington's Bill or through some other means.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, I think that when noble Lords have had the opportunity to see the terms of my right honourable friend's reply to a Parliamentary Question it will be seen that the reply is literally confined simply to coming to the conclusion that there is not the possibility, in my right honourable friend's view, for the Government to seek to introduce legislation on this subject at the present time, though we are aware of the mounting pressure for reform. Therefore, I do not think that this review, which was an internal Home Office review, would add anything, even if we had a document to publish, which indeed I do not think we have. This has been a series of thoughts, discussions and consultations, ending up in the statement which has been made in another place and the statement which is embedded in my speech, both of which were supposed to be simultaneous—and for the fact that we did not succeed in achieving that I have already expressed my regret.
§ Lord Young of Dartington
My Lords, will the noble Lord answer one more question about the central thesis that he has so admirably set out, but still mystifyingly so? He has said that there cannot be Government action on this point because there is not general agree- 167 ment among the parties concerned. This has not been the attitude of the Government on, say, trade union legislation, or on any other matters. Why has it got to be the attitude of the Government on this question?
§ Lord Belstead
Because, my Lords, there is a long history on this question which leads the Government to believe that to introduce legislation in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Young, would wish us to do at the present time would not be desirable.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, by now I feel a rather battered Baroness. I hope your Lordships will agree that we have enjoyed a long, thorough and stimulating debate. I should like to thank most warmly all those who have taken part; and most particularly I should like to add my congratulations to those expressed by other noble Lords who have commended my noble friend Lord Mackintosh on his elegant and eloquent maiden speech. It was good to hear the voice of youth expressing sensible and well-thought-out convictions.
The hour is late. I have made long and copious notes, but, despite my desire to reply to the queries which have arisen during today's debate, I shall for the time being content myself with the information contained in Hansard from speeches made today. I shall look forward to the Committee stage of my Bill. What else is a Committee stage for except to amend and seek to reach the right amalgam? It was surprising to me to hear Lord Ardwick foretell the demise of small shops, because I have received tremendous support from the National Union of Small Shopkeepers. However, I must wait for another occasion to reply to Lord Bishopston's queries. It would quite frankly be counter-productive of me to detain your Lordships for the time it would take me to do so this evening.
I think, quite honestly, that I had a right to feel bitter concerning the statement which was made this afternoon in another place. I believe that every Member of this House, if faced with such a situation, would have felt the same way. However, what is done is done, and I am grateful for, and of course accept, what my noble friend said without reservation and without any hindsight. I listened to my noble friend with the utmost interest. I look forward to further conversations of a drafting nature with him. We obviously have much in common, and a few differences. I would ask your Lordships to give me a strong vote in favour of my Bill in order to show the Government the strength of feeling, and to make sure that this necessary reform to change the law succeeds. I end by asking this House to give my Bill a Second Reading.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords may I ask the noble Baroness, before she resumes her seat, whether, if today she gets approval of the principle which is contained in her Bill, she will consider remitting it to a Select Committee of this House to take evidence from interested parties with a view to getting some greater agreement on this matter?
§ On Question, Whether the Bill shall be read a second time?
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Wells-Pestell)
My Lords, Tellers for the Not-Contents have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 50. A Division therefore cannot take place, and I declare that the Contents have it.
Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.