I want to speak strongly against the Motion, because I believe that it will be a scandalous dereliction of the public duty of this House if it adjourns for twice the length of the customary Whitsun Recess when a Measure affecting the working conditions of more than 2 million people remains for the House to debate. No doubt the Leader of the House will say that there are precedents for a Whitsun Recess of this length, but I challenge him to quote a precedent where the Leader of the House has gone to the Dispatch Box to confirm a nearly three-week Whitsun Recess and, immediately afterwards, has stated that the Government have decided to drop a Measure which they themselves, in the Queen's Speech, described as a major Measure.
I want to refresh the memory of the House. The Gracious Speech described the Shops Bill in these terms:
My Ministers are resolved to maintain progress in improving social and working conditions, and you will be invited to approve a Bill to amend the law about the closing hours of shops and related matters."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November 1956; Vol. 560, c. 18.]
That item of legislation has a long history. In the middle of the night of 18th November, 1952, when the Government abandoned 6 o'clock closing under the war-time regulations, Lord Kilmuir—as he now is—who was then the Home Secretary, gave a pledge that there would be immediate consultations upon the Gowers Committee Report with a view to the introduction of legislation. In that speech the only point that he left open was the question whether the general closing hour should be 6 p.m., as advocated by the Trades Union Congress or 7 p.m., with the right for local authorities to bring the time forward to 6 p.m., as advocated in the Gowers Report.
In July, 1955, Sir Anthony Eden, the Prime Minister, gave a pledge to the Trades Union Congress—representing 9 million workers—that in the following Session, or the one after that, a new Shops Bill would be presented. Last week, the right hon. Gentleman said that there was not time in this Parliamentary Session. He referred to the prolonged discussions and the great deal of time taken in another place. I attended most of the discussions in the other place. It took eight days, really. The Second Reading took place on 29th November, and five days between 12th February and 26th March were taken up in Committee. The Bill was recommitted—