Clause 15. — (Short title, citation, application and commencement.)

Orders of the Day — Shops (Sunday Trading Restriction) Bill. – in the House of Commons on 1st May 1936.

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2.40 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

I beg to move, in page 12, line 22, to leave out "thirty-seven," and to insert "thirty-eight."

This Amendment would have the effect of deferring until 1st January, 1938, the coming into operation of this Measure. It is not a wrecking Amendment, nor is it designed merely to waste time. I have followed the progress of this Bill with the closest interest for the past two or three months. It has changed its nature radically since its emergence from the Second Reading debate. Standing Committee have made important alterations in it—alterations which are much more important than people outside the House realise. I am certain that if this Bill, as amended in Committee, were referred back to the various associations who originally expressed approval of it, there would be a chorus of disapproval. We have had in our mails this week the first indication of the manner in which the Bill is being received in the few areas where the people concerned have had an opportunity of studying it. We have had from Blackpool, for example, an earnest circular stating: There is no mandate for the Act which represents an attempt by a small and highly organised minority to force their opinions on the overwhelming majority by Act of Parliament. I do not accept that as being accurate, but there is a small and highly organised minority of persons with great financial interests in shopkeeping, who regard the Bill with favour, while it is regarded with disfavour by a body which is, probably, numerically much greater. We have heard the promoters undertake that certain changes will be made in another place. Speaking for myself, I am mildly surprised that the promoters of a private Bill should feel so confident of the decisions that will be reached in another place in regard to their own particular proposals, upon a matter which has no party significance and on which, from the legislative point of view, there must be a great many different opinions. I do not like to hear another place referred to as if it were in the pockets of the promoters of a private Bill any more than I care to hear it referred to from the Front Bench as a place in which the wishes of any particular set of persons in this House will be accepted without demur.

Photo of Mr Ernest Thurtle Mr Ernest Thurtle , Shoreditch

But the hon. Member must realise that that is a mere statement of fact. The wishes of the present Front Bench are always respected in another place.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

I have sufficient acquaintance with English history in the past 30 years to realise that there have been some critical occasions when there has been a profound difference of opinion between the two Houses.

Photo of Mr Ernest Thurtle Mr Ernest Thurtle , Shoreditch

Not when there was a Conservative Government.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

If I am not to be called to Order, I must neglect further observations on that point. I wish to see the corning into operation of the Bill delayed for another 18 months instead of having it brought into force practically within six months, simply because I believe that when it comes to be examined by all the Departments concerned, by chambers of trade and commerce, by trade unions of shop assistants and other bodies, it will be found to bear a totally different complexion from that which those bodies now imagine it to bear. The radical difficulty in connection with the Bill is inherent in a private Member's Bill. In the first place it has not been drafted with the same expert technical knowledge and care as that which is lavished on a Government Bill. In the second place, it makes no attempt to abrogate any existing legislation. The earliest Acts of Parliament dealing with this matter are still on the Statute Book and they ought not to remain there. We are assured for example, in the Act of Geo. III of 1761: Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prevent any fish being bought and sold before and after Divine Service on Sunday. That Act is still in force and any policeman any prosecute any person who, under the Clause which we have just passed, sells fish on Sunday during hours of Divine Service. The existence of that Act will sooner or later be discovered by some ingenious chief constable, and we shall have once more what happens only too often, the Statute law of Great Britain being brought into disrepute by the fact that the House of Commons has not been sufficiently careful in drawing up its legislation and eliminating the differences between Acts passed in successive Sessions. I take another Act, an Act of Henry VI, which is still in force and which provides as to certain days wherein fairs and markets should not be kept considering the abominable injuries offered to Almighty God and Ins Saints … who are always singularly assisting us in our necessities, because of fairs and markets upon their high and principal feasts, as the Feasts of the Ascension, Corpus Christi, Whitsuntide, and Trinity Sunday. and it adds other Saints' days which I need not particularise. It goes on: …holden in the realm of England, on which principal and festive days for great earthly covetousness the people more willingly abandoned their bodily labour. I will not continue, but this is the Statute law of Great Britain, and I submit that we ought not to pass a Bill which leaves that on the Statute Book, open to any person to use as a basis for a prosecution. Before we pass a Bill on a matter like Sunday trading, which has been covered by the legislation of four centuries, we ought to consolidate or amend or, better still, completely abrogate all the mass of ancient legislation on the subject which remains on the Statute Book. I have given one case where there is a definite clash between the law of George III and the Bill which we are just passing. That was a case which I picked almost at random, and then there was the second case which I mentioned. Then you have the Sunday Observance Act of 1677, of Charles II's time, "for the better observance of the Lord's Day, commonly called Sunday"—a long Preamble and a long Act, the whole of which is on the Statute Book to-day and is enforceable except to the extent that it is abrogated or modified by this Bill. I suggest that that is absolutely wrong in principle. We ought to begin by taking Statutes as they are and either wiping them out by means of a schedule at the end of the Bill or else amalgamating them and producing an intelligible Act which any shopkeeper can buy for 6d., read and study, and then apply.

This Bill is a mine of industry for solicitors. It is a considerable source of wealth, I hope, to barristers, for it is certain that, these eases will come before the courts, and, the public mind about Sunday observance being what it is, the public will be offended and will take these cases higher and insist upon decisions. It is not reasonable to have, as we have now, an undertaking that seaside resorts shall do this and inland resorts shall not do this, that one particular category of His Majesty's subjects in a particular area, such as Bethnal Green or Shoreditch, shall have certain rights because they are old established, and those just outside shall not have those rights. If the House will agree to defer the operation of the Bill till 1938, they will have done what they fondly but erroneously imagine their constituents wish, which is to pass something or other about Sunday trading, more or less, and, having done that, there will be 18 months in which the Home Office, in whose legislative capacity I have, in spite of this Bill, undiminished confidence, will have time to work out a new Bill which will consolidate and amend, which will be intelligible, and which will act upon some known principle.

The reason why this Bill looks so bad on paper, and why it will act so badly in practice, is that there is no philosophy behind it, that the promoters have not made up their minds whether they wish to restrict trading on Sunday because it is Sunday, or whether they wish to restrict employment on Sunday because it is the weekly rest day. If this Amendment is accepted and the House agrees that the Bill should come into force not before the 1st January, 1938, it will give us at least a breathing space in which the Home Office and the others concerned, in consultation with traders and employés, who, by the way, will be badly hit under this Bill, can have an opportunity of producing a Measure which will be a credit to the House of Commons; and that cannot be said of this Bill.

2.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Pierse Loftus Mr Pierse Loftus , Lowestoft

We have heard a long and erudite speech from my hon. And gallant Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), a speech appropriate to a Second Reading or possibly a Third Reading debate, but having very little to do with the Amendment before the House. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said the promoters of the Bill had no concrete idea, no philosophy, but 1 made it clear on the Second Reading that this was not a sabbatarian Measure, but was a Measure put forward in response to the demand of tens of thousands of shopkeepers all over England who are forced' by increasing competition to open on Sunday and who appeal to this House to give them the opportunity of rest and healthy recreation on Sunday. It is the effort to do that, while not restricting the amenities of the people, that has made the Bill so difficult a problem. I believe the Bill, as amended by the Committee and during the Report stage, does fulfil the outline that I put forward on the Second Reading. I believe it is a good Bill and a workable Bill, and I beg the House not to agree to the Amendment to postpone its operation.

2.52 p.m.

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

I have followed the proceedings on this Bill from the very commencement, and I ask the House to reject the Amendment for two or three very obvious reasons. One is that the hon. and gallant Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) declares that the Bill has changed its nature since it received its Second Reading, but I can assure him that this is not the only Bill which has changed after being under consideration by a Standing Committee upstairs. The hon. and gallant Member think there will be a difference in the application of this law if it comes into operation at the beginning of 1938, and then he talks of the Government producing a new Bill in the meantime. Surely, it this House gives this Bill its Third Reading and it becomes an Act of Parliament, it will be the Act of Parliament for the time being. When the hon. and gallant Member talks of a small minority being in favour of the Bill, I am almost certain—nay, I am bold enough to venture lo predict—that if a plebiscite of the shopkeeping community of this country and of the shop assistants were taken on this issue, 98 per cent. of them would be in favour of closing all shops on Sunday.

With regard to the leaflet from the Blackpool association, when they say there is no mandate for this Bill, all that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has to do is to study what his own Government do without a mandate. They have done a great deal without a mandate, and if this were done without a mandate, it would not be anything new in the work of this Parliament. The hon. and gallant Gentleman tells us that this not a wrecking Amendment. Frankly, my experience of this House leads me to the conclusion that when an hon. Member gets up and says that his Motion is not a wrecking Amendment, I am compelled to believe that the very opposite is intended. This Bill has had a fairly rough passage, and the only criticism that I would be inclined to make of the promoters would be that they have been too ready to accept Amendments from all quarters. In the main, the principles of this Bill are still sound. There has been an unnecessary growth in this country of Sunday trading in retail shops. It is for Parliament to put a stop to it, and the sooner this Bill become an Act of Parliament and is implemented by the authorities, the better the shopkeepers will like it.

Amendment negatived.