Sunday Observance Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12 June 1964.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

1.26 p.m.

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Middleton and Prestwich

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The variety of Private Members' Bills which can come before this House on a Friday is remarkable. Today we have an excellent illustration of the opportunity to private Members to bring forward very useful Bills. My object today is to introduce a small Bill which is essentially non-political and which I hope will introduce a small measure of common sense by bringing a very ancient law a little more up-to-date.

This Bill seeks to amend the Sunday Observance Act, 1625. It may be said that it is a very controversial Bill. I have had a number of letters about it, both for and against. As I shall try to explain it, it is quite clear that the vast majority of people in the country do not realise what the law on this matter is. For that reason I have investigated the matter and am bringing forward this Bill today.

At present it is illegal to play games or to permit assemblies of people outside their own parish on a Sunday. I assume that the modern interpretation of this would include not only all sports and games as we know them, but political meetings, trade union meetings, coach tours and a vast number of other asemblies which one could not easily enumerate. The penalty for breaking this ancient law is 3s. 4d., to be used for the benefit of the people of the parish, or distraint on those persons breaking the law, or three hours in the stocks. If any prosecutions of this kind were undertaken it might be difficult in case of necessity to find stocks in many parts of the country, although I believe that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Sir W. Bromley-Davenport) still has some stocks in his constituency.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

Would it be a collective fine of 3s. 4d. or an individual fine of that amount

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Middleton and Prestwich

I think it would be an individual fine of 3s. 4d. It would appear so from the Act which I have studied. The object of that Act was to encourage church attendance and the practice of archery. I have not consulted the Minister of Defence about whether he wants to continue this provision or not. Also, the object was to prevent drunkenness, rowdyism and hooligans making a nuisance of themselves in those days.

Photo of Mr Charles Doughty Mr Charles Doughty , East Surrey

My hon. Friend says "in those days"; is he suggesting that there is any change today?

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Middleton and Prestwich

I suggest that there are some changes in some ways.

Photo of Mr Charles Doughty Mr Charles Doughty , East Surrey

They have motor cars now.

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Middleton and Prestwich

And scooters.

I have a rather interesting letter from the historian, Sir Arthur Bryant, who tells me that the Act of 1625 was a Laudian attempt to impose discipline on the rather chaotic Church of the early seventeenth century—when both the Puritan ferment and rural paganism were the Episcopal reformers' target. He also goes on to quote from the famous Shakerley Papers in Cheshire, which he uses in many of his books, when he says that the Shackerley Papers show a considerable number of references to the Mayor of Congleton and the neighbouring country gentry playing bowls at one another's houses during the reign of Charles I. It would appear that in those days bowls was the equivalent of tennis, cricket, golf and many other pastimes of today.

Probably the most famous game of bowls ever played was that on the eve of the Armada. The British Fleet was lying up and revictualling and had been a week at Plymouth waiting for a favourable wind to bring the Spanish ships. After dinner one night, Captain Flemyng, who had been out spying in the Channel, came in and reported the appearance of the Spanish Armada. To his astonishment, Captain Flemyng found Drake and his other captains playing bowls after dinner. There seems to be a difference of opinon about the actual words of Drake at this time, but the most authentic quotation seems to be: There is plenty of time to win this game and thrash the Spaniards too. This seems to illustrate the unflappable spirit, which I am glad to say still exists among some of our leaders today.

For many years, there has been no prosecution under the 1625 Act for playing games outside the parish in which people live. Indeed, it has been regarded as largely obsolete, but the matter took a more serious turn last autumn when an incident occurred in my constituency. In my constituency in South Lancashire there exists an ancient bowling club at Whitefield, which is reputed to have been formed more than 270 years ago and which has occupied an important place in the sporting and social life of the area. The original club was formed by local wealthy men who played on land which at that time was owned by the Earl of Derby of the day.

In those days, apparently, this bowling club was very exclusive and it was only the rural gentry who were accepted as members. The present club, however, was built well over a century ago and the bowls house is considerably older. The present crown green was laid in the late 1700s on a sand and clinker base covered with the best Cumberland turf. The green is still recognised as one of the best of its kind in Lancashire. This small Lancashire club, which has existed over the centuries, is typical of a vast number of small sporting clubs of all kinds all over the country.

Like most clubs as old as this, it has experienced many vicissitudes. Only since the last war it has had to consider the possibility of winding up because it was so impoverished. Fortunately, it was able to attract a number of enthusiastic bowlers of all classes, especially many working men, who by their dedicated devotion set the club on its feet again. I am glad to say that it is now enjoying considerable prosperity. I wish in every way to encourage this type of innocent amateur sport which the whole House will think to be good for the people of this country.

This happy state of affairs was altered when on 9th August, last year, Chief Inspector Leach of the Whitefield police requested an interview with the club's committee. He told the club's representatives that he had been informed that a bowling match was to take place on the following Sunday, and, judging by previous matches, he warned them that they would be contravening the law if they charged for a programme of admission, allowed betting and, thirdly, allowed to play people who did not live in the parish. The officials undertook not to charge for entrance and to prevent betting, but said that they were obviously quite unable to meet the third requirement.

Subsequently, the matter was brought to my attention and I took it up with the Home Office which drew my attention to the Sunday Observance Act, 1625, indicating that it had no authority in this matter and that the enforcement of the law was a matter for the police in the area concerned. In the interview between the inspector and the club officials he indicated that he acted on information given, but, of course, he would not say by whom. As a result of this warning, the match on the following Sunday had to be cancelled, causing great inconvenience and loss. I believe that few, if any, further Sunday matches were held at the club last autumn.

In view of this, surrounding bowling and cricket clubs were all rather worried about the possibility of a prosecution, and many other local clubs cancelled matches. Although the penalties involved may be small, people in Lancashire do not wish to break the law knowingly, especially when they have been warned by the police. For this reason I decided to bring forward the Bill.

The suggestion that the law is obsolete and that no one takes any notice of it is simply not in accordance with the facts, as I have tried to show. Some ancient Acts have not been used for a considerable time, but it is well to remember that it was the Treason Act, 1351, which was invoked in the case of Joyce when he was tried and paid the ultimate penalty in recent years.

This raises another issue. What authority have the police to decide whether a law is obsolete? If a law remains in being, it is the responsibility of the authorities to enforce it. If the power of enforcement is optional, the police are given a very great power to which most hon. Members would take great exception.

This matter has been discussed in the House periodically. On 30th January, 1953, a Bill was introduced by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). The gist of that Bill was very much wider than my Bill. The object of the hon. Member's Bill was to legalise the playing of all games and the carrying on of all sports on Sundays which are legal on weekdays. It is interesting to note that on that day, which was a Friday, there were two Divisions at the end of the day, when apparently there were more than 300 Members here, which shows the interest which was taken in the matter eleven years ago.

I have read most of that debate with great interest. I should like to quote a few words from it which, generally speaking, describe very well the views of many of my hon. Friends and myself. They were spoken by the present Minister of Pensions and National Insurance. My right hon. Friend said this: I believe that it is only we ourselves who can consider these matters and decide them, and I hope we shall get the choice of deciding them this afternoon. I do not want the major changes proposed in this Bill, and if I am given the chance I shall vote against it. But I should like to see the existing law on the subject made more comprehensible and fair, and certain in its application and, that being so, I believe that on those lines a commission, were it set up, could give very valuable advice."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1953; Vol. 510, c. 1365.] Nothing happened for a long time after that.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

To complete the record, would the hon. Gentleman remind the House that, whereas that Bill was defeated by an overwhelming majority, the Amendment I moved to the effect that a commission should be set up to examine the whole law of Sunday Observance was only narrowly defeated by 172 votes to 164?

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Middleton and Prestwich

I am very glad the hon. Gentleman has said that. I should probably have made it clearer than I did, but I did not wish to take too long. The hon. Gentleman will probably agree that that was a very memorable debate for a Friday. Undoubtedly the feeling in the House was that a commission should be appointed, but nothing was done for a very long time. There was another debate at the suggestion of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman). He suggested—in this he was strongly supported—that a commission should be appointed. That has all taken a very long time. So little has happened.

It will be remembered that this broad and controversial issue of Sunday observance was also debated in March, 1958. At that time Members on both sides discussed the problem in its widest sense. It was not till July, 1961, that a Departmental Committee was appointed with pretty wide terms to discuss the whole matter. These were its terms of reference laid down by the Home Secretary: to review the law (other than the Licensing Acts) relating to Sunday entertainments, sports, pastimes and trading in England and Wales and to make recommendations. That Committee has been sitting for about three years. I understand that it has done a very great deal of useful work. I also understand that it is not likely to report till some time in the autumn. My contention is that this Act, which has been more or less obsolete for so long but has now been brought to the surface again, cannot wait perhaps another three or four years until a Bill is introduced by the Government of the day, possibly carrying out the recommendations of the Crathorne Committee.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macmillan Mr Malcolm Macmillan , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

Was the hon. Gentleman a supporter of the setting up of the Committee? Did he support the Motions to that effect before then?

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Middleton and Prestwich

As far as I can remember, I was not here for that debate. That would have been my general idea. It was undoubtedly the commonsense thing to do. Many people have urged me to wait for the findings of the Committee. I have considered that advice most carefully, but in view of the length of time to which I have referred, I think that it is preferable to introduce the Bill, which I now do, on this very narrow issue permitting people to gather together and play games outside their parish. It is not only playing games. It is assemblies or, as they called it in those days, a concourse of people.

Whilst only the matter of bowls has been raised by me, I ask hon. Members to think of the other sports involved—cricket, tennis, golf, football, probably sailing, and many other pastimes. I should like to encourage amateur sports in every way, so long as they do not harm the susceptibilities of those wishing for a quiet Sunday.

Photo of Mr Charles Doughty Mr Charles Doughty , East Surrey

On a point of order. Are people allowed to disturb the debates in this Chamber by making noises outside it?

Photo of Sir William Anstruther-Gray Sir William Anstruther-Gray , Berwickshire and East Lothian

I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for raising the point. I, too, have heard what is going on.

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Middleton and Prestwich

One must also consider the rapidly changing conditions in the world and the country today. When this Act was originally passed, there were few ways of moving from one parish to another other than by walking or possibly horse transport. I need not elaborate on all the tremendous changes which have taken place. It boils down to this, very largely. Do we wish to live reasonably and legally, or do we wish to hide our heads in the clouds and hope that certain laws will not be enforced? I do not wish to encourage in any way large-scale organised sport, which might easily become the playground of profiteers. If the Bill is passed, organised games for which payment had to be made for entry would still be illegal, and betting would likewise be illegal, so it will be seen how small and narrow the issue of my Bill is.

As it stands, the 1625 Act is a complete anachronism and does not in any way meet the wishes and way of life of the present generation. At present, the vast majority of people completely ignore the law and probably do not know about it. Those who do know about it hope for the best. Both sides of the House, I think, are anxious to modernise Britain, although we may differ in our methods of doing it and in exactly what we wish to accomplish. It seems to me to be utterly wrong to allow an ancient Act which is only partially accepted law to remain on the Statute Book.

Another aspect of the 1625 Act has been pointed out to me by local authorities in my area and by the National Association of Parish Councils. The National Association has pointed out that it represents between 7,000 and 8,000 parish councils many of which have playing fields, some of which are being used on Sundays. Some of the councils which do not allow games on Sundays do not do so because of the threat of the law against them. Incidentally, the National Association has among its objects the promotion and development of social, cultural and recreational life in parishes and villages. It will be readily seen that in modern times, unless councils allow reasonable use of their playing fields and recreational facilities, they cannot carry out the object which the Association seeks to promote.

I have likewise consulted the Lord's Day Observance Society. As far as possible, I tried to go along with the Society to see if we could agree on a Bill together. It eventually transpired that it was quite impossible for us to agree on a Bill. In fact the Society would agree only to further restriction as regards playing in one's parish, which I could not accept.

Let me turn to the Bill itself. I am afraid that it is not easy to follow unless hon. Members have looked at the original Act. The words that I propose to leave out at present read: there shall be no meetings assemblies or concourse of people out of their owne parishs on the Lord's day within the realme of England, or any of the dominions thereof, for any sports or pastimes whatsoever… I intend to eliminate the words "meetings" and "assemblies" so that such pastimes, sports, meetings, assemblies and concourses will be lawful for people outside their own parish. But I leave in these words. It will read: there shall be no bearbaiting, bullbaiting enterludes, common plays or other unlawful exercises or pastimes used by any person or persons… Then are added the words in my Bill: on the Lord's day within this realm of England. It is a very simple change to a very ancient Act and to my way of thinking it would be a very great improvement.

I should be greatly opposed to changing all our Lord's Day Observance Acts, and there are many sports, so as to permit what is commonly or loosely called a Continental Sunday. Most people wish the Sabbath to be something different from weekdays. No doubt recommendations will be made by the Crathorne Committee and then we shall have an opportunity of making up our minds when we see what wider suggestions and issues are involved. I wish to emphasise that this small, neat Bill merely recognises and sanctions what the vast majority of people is doing and which is part of our English way of life.

1.53 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Doughty Mr Charles Doughty , East Surrey

I rise to oppose this Bill. In so doing I am not critising at any rate a large part of what my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) has said and the particular reason that I am opposing the Bill I shall leave to the last. May I point out several reasons, some of which my hon. Friend touched upon himself, why this Bill is totally unnecessary.

In the first place the principal Act of 1625 to which he has referred for has long been obsolete in practice and there has not been a prosecution brought under it, certainly, I think I am right in saying, in the lifetime of anyone in this Parliament. It therefore ill becomes this House to start amending an Act which in fact is a dead letter.

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Middleton and Prestwich

How does that measure up with the serious warning of the police to a particular club?

Photo of Mr Charles Doughty Mr Charles Doughty , East Surrey

My hon. Friend will, of course, wait for what I have to say. I shall naturally refer to the bowling club in his constituency. In fact there has not been a prosecution within the lifetime of anyone in this Parliament under this Act and therefore we are being asked to amend an Act which is dead. In so doing, presumably, we give it a fresh lease of life and probably the net result of what my hon. Friend proposes would be to make the position, so far as he and his wishes are concerned, worse and not better. It does not necessarily follow that the inspector referred to in the interview concerning this very worthy bowling club would have taken the necessary action.

There were three matters which he raised. One was betting and another was charges for admission. That is on a different footing altogether and it does not come within this Act in any way at all. It could well have been that had these matters been raised under different Sections of different Acts a prosecution could have followed. Having satisfied those two important points, I am sure that if the bowling club had sought advice and said politely to the inspector, "This Act is a dead letter and if you choose to bring a prosecution we shall point that out to the bench.''—to paraphrase the words of the Duke of Wellington" Prosecute and be damned to you "—that would have been sufficient.

I am sure that the Lancashire benches, which have good sound common sense, would have said, "We are not going to pay attention to these summonses at all. To bring people before this court just because they played a friendly, amateur bowling match in another parish on a Sunday is not a matter we are going to allow the time of the court to be wasted on." I have put the preposition at the end of the sentence but probably they would have put it in better English. My hon. Friend in coming to the House and taking up its time in discussing this matter, which is dead from the start, is using a steamroller to crack a very small nut—indeed, there is no nut at all.

If we pass this Bill just think of the things to which one is opening the door. First, we could have a cup final at Wembley on a Sunday, because all the people would come from another parish. Special trains would be run, coaches would come and all the crowd of attendants would be there to provide service for perhaps 20,000 or 30,000.

Because a very worthy bowling club in my hon. Friend's constituency wants to play a match against a rival team in the next parish, the whole position would be changed and up and down the country there would be these friendly matches and rivalry would be taking place just because a few words had not been spoken to an inspector by a bowling club in Lancashire.

I said at the beginning that I would leave the most important point until the end of my speech. Admittedly, we all agree that a lot of Sunday observance practices want bringing up to date. I deliberately use that netural expression because I know that strong views are held on this subject by hon. Members on both sides of the House as well as by many people outside, regardless of their political views. This matter cuts right across party politics and this is certainly not a party Bill.

We start with the 17th century Puritan who was chided for hanging his cat on a Tuesday for killing a mouse on a Sunday. We have had not one but several debates on this subject in this House, generally on a Friday, on Measures which have been introduced in an effort to amend the Sunday observance legislation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwick pointed out, we had the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), which was overwhelmingly defeated at the time, and many of us will remember how that Bill tried, in one small Private Member's Measure, to do far too much.

To attempt to amend the whole Sunday observance law in a Private Member's Bill, remembering that this is a difficult and controversial subject, is quite a task, to say the least. I will not express a view one way or the other as to whether the law on this subject should be widely amended. That is a question the House will have to consider, certainly not on a private Members' day, for, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich, that will have to be done with many more hon. Members present than are on the benches today.

I recall the Amendment which the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) moved and which was only narrowly defeated. It was an excellent Amendment and if I voted against it I am sorry, because in the interim I have changed my mind. If I voted for it—I forget which I did—I certainly did the right thing. Following that, the Government set up the Crathorne Committee and although I was not appointed to it when it was originally founded—and I understand that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is a founder-member—I was added to the Committee in October, 1962.

The Crathorne Committee's terms of reference were correctly given by my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich and it would be wrong—indeed, it would be improper—of me to state any views which that Committee may have provisionally formed. I can, however, lift the corner, as it were, to the extent of saying that the deliberations which I have attended since being appointed have been amicable, friendly, sensible and of a straightforward nature.

Hon. Members on all sides of the House and people from outside representing a wide divergence of opinion are members of the Committee, which has heard a large number of witnesses representing every form of view—religious, Lord's Day Observance Society, trades, industries and everything else. With the greatest possible respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich, by reason of the evidence which that Committee had received it must have a wider knowledge of these matters than he can possibly have gained from speaking to the members of his bowling society, the Lord's Day Observance Society and others. I say that meaning no discourtesy to him, because he must agree that he does not have the facilities, time or powers to, if not compel, then to see the sort and number of witnesses the Committee has interviewed.

In due course that Committee will issue its report. My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich suggested that it would report in the autumn and I will not disagree with him about that. We will see. It is clear that when it reports the Committee will have complied with the order of reference which the Home Secretary of the day gave. It will not only report but make recommendations. At that time it will be for Parliament, when in full session and not on a Private Members' day, to debate not merely the question of games on a Sunday but the whole matter from start to finish. The Government of the day will be bound to provide time for a full debate on the subject and, it being a non-political question, hon. Members will either agree or disagree with the Committee's report.

As a member of that Committee, I hope that our views, when they are put forward, will be unanimously accepted by the House. Indeed, would it not be wrong for the House to reject the recommendations of such an important Committee, particularly on questions which cut right across political lines? We shall see and hon. Members will bring differing views to what will undoubtedly be a full debate on the whole subject. When that debate has been held the Government of the day must bring in legislation, and I hope that it will be on the lines of the report.

One matter on which the Crathorne Committee must report, apart from Sunday entertainments, must be the whole question of sports and pastimes as well as my hon. Friend's bowling club. That sort of thing is bound to come within the Committee's terms of reference. To try to alter the law, and to jump the gun, is, I say with the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, a wrong thing to attempt to do in respect of a small bowling club in Lancashire. We are concerned with vitally important matters an amendment of the 1625 Act. which has been on the Statute Book for over 300 years, can hardly be called something of dire and immediate urgency.

A great many other Acts dealing with Sunday observance have been passed since then. When the time comes all of those Measures will have to be dealt with. The Bill which the Government of the day introduces in due course may contain a Schedule of repealed Acts. Perhaps they will repeal the whole lot and pass one Measure to deal with the question. That, in my view, would be the best way to proceed.

At that time the position of my hon. Friend's bowling club will, no doubt, be dealt with, along with all other forms of sport, pastimes and games played on Sunday. I urge the House to wait until the Crathorne Report is available, until hon. Members can debate the subject in full and until we see the Bill the Government of the day introduce to deal with this problem before taking any steps—and certainly not to support my hon. Friend's effort to deal with a small fraction of this matter which does not require to be dealt with because the attempt to deal with it is by way of an entirely obsolete Act. I urge hon. Members to say," Not today, thank you very much".

2.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

The hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) mentioned that he and I are serving on a Committee which was appointed by the present Foreign Secretary when he was Home Secretary to discuss the whole of this matter in its widest form. Since that Committee has been sitting for a considerable time, it would be unwise for Parliament to pass this Bill today. It would be even more foolish to get such a Measure on the Statute Book, for if the Committee is to conduct a comprehensive review, it is better that that review should take place without being hampered by a recent small Measure dealing with a small and relatively unimportant facet of the subjects being considered.

I will not do more than say that I agree with the description given by the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East of the; way in which the Committee has been construing its terms of reference and the spirit in which the matter has been discussed. I hope that when the report is received by the Secretary of State there may be speedy legislation to put at rest that public opinion which has been disturbed for far too long; and a Measure dealing with the needs of the twentieth century placed upon the Statute Book.

I was somewhat perturbed to hear it said that there had been no recent prosecutions. Of course, when one uses a word like "recent", and one is getting on in years oneself, what is recent is a very vaguely defined term but, undoubtedly, during the last 20 years, certain police officers have on occasion, when incited to do it, used this Act to harass people who were merely carrying out one of the customs of the day.

I was invited to go on the Committee by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Foreign Secretary. Knowing, from past association with him, that he might be associating me with particular views, I said that on this issue I must not be taken as holding the views of orthodox Nonconformity. That is all I want to say about my attitude towards this matter, but I think that to give this Bill a Second Reading, and so start it on a Parliamentary career that might result in its getting on the Statute Book, would not be a public service at the present moment.

I do not know whether the Joint Under-Secretary of State can tell us whether it is the intention of the present Home Secretary to consider the report, when he receives it, with a view to early legislation, but if the hon. Gentleman could give an affirmative reply to a question on those lines it would give considerable satisfaction to the people who have been engaged now for some length of time in considering the terms of reference that were given to us.

2.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Bidgood Mr John Bidgood , Bury and Radcliffe

I must say, with due deference to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty), that I was appalled to hear his arguments against this Bill. Without being discourteous, I have rarely heard a worse argument put in this House. One of his reasons for opposing it was that we were being asked to amend an Act that is a dead letter. I cannot think of a more unconvincing argument than that.

The next thing that appalled me was my hon. and learned Friend's almost open invitation to the members of the bowling club, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) is so concerned, flagrantly to break the law. My hon. and learned Friend said, in effect, that they should have carried on with their arrangements, as he was quite sure that the bench would have taken a lenient view. In such hypothetical circumstances how does he know what view the bench would have taken? I do not feel very strongly either way about this Bill, but I felt compelled to put my view, particularly having regard to the bad argument advanced by my hon. and learned Friend—

Photo of Mr Charles Doughty Mr Charles Doughty , East Surrey

My hon. Friend has not the confidence in the Lancashire benches that I have.

Photo of Mr John Bidgood Mr John Bidgood , Bury and Radcliffe

I do not think that any of us has any right to anticipate the decisions any bench would take, whether in Lancashire or any other part of the country. A bench is there to administer the law. In this particular instance, it is a law of 1625, and a bench would be failing in its duty if it did not administer that law.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich on bringing forward this Bill. He has told us that the members of this bowling club were advised not to play bowls in the next parish on Sunday. My constituency happens to be in the next parish to that of my hon. Friend.

We have already heard of the way in which transport has been speeded up. As I see it, in these days of modern transport there can be no conceivable argument that the playing of games on a Sunday afternoon can be the means of stopping people from attending church on Sunday morning or evening What tends to worry me is that, in common with millions of other people, I was not aware of the 1625 Act until the incident to which my hon. Friend has referred occurred in Lancashire last year. Now that I have had that Act brought to my attention, I must take a serious view of what I do on a Sunday afternoon.

For example, if I decide to take my children to the seaside on a Sunday, I presume that I cannot play ball with them on the sands, as that would be a gathering of people indulging in sport on a Sunday afternoon in another parish. It is no argument to say that I should not be at any risk, because nobody takes any notice of a law that is over 300 years old. Those of us who have any conscience in these matters do not knowingly want to break the law, however old it may be. I am therefore most grateful to my hon. Friend.

I cannot believe it possible that this House of Commons would think it desirable to encourage the view that some laws exist that need not be kept. That would be a serious abdication of our responsibilities. We have another controversial matter on the stocks at present with regard to the wearing of vestments. I should be out of order were I to pursue that subject too far now, but the fact remains that people are being encouraged to ask so to amend the law in that regard as to make permissible what is already happening. But in this case of games on Sunday outside one's own parish we have, I believe, a clear responsibility—whether or not the Crathorne Committee is sitting—to make it legal for people to do what they wish to do on a Sunday afternoon in the way of organised sport as long as we do not allow anything with a commercial aspect about it to creep in.

I must, therefore, refer to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East. It is no argument to say that if the Bill were passed we might be seeing the Cup Final played at Wembley on a Sunday. It is no purpose of the Bill to allow commercialised sport on a Sunday, and what could be more commercialised anyway than people buying Cup Final tickets for Wembley on a Sunday? I do not think, therefore, that the case against the Bill has been put forward with sufficient clarity on this occasion.

I do not believe that devout Christians will oppose the Bill. All of us know that in these modern times it is not always easy to find opportunities to indulge in sport, and most of the sporting events take place at the weekends. I see nothing wrong with this as long as no commercial aspect is brought into it, but surely now that the position has been brought to the notice of hon. Members and we all know that it is illegal for us to go out next Sunday and play golf on the golf course in the next parish, it is up to us to see that some order is brought into this matter.

I hope that when the Crathorne Committee reports it will make it quite clear and will define which activities are unlawful on a Sunday and which are not, because that will help the Government to introduce legislation in due course. As for this Bill, we do not need the Crathorne Committee to tell us whether playing bowls on a Sunday in the next parish is lawful or unlawful. We know that it is unlawful. No committee can help us in that and, therefore, I see no possible validity in the argument that we should wait for the Crathorne Committee to report before we do something about the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich.

I believe that this modest Bill is sensible and that it will offend no practising Christian. It will have the effect of bringing order into the chaos now surrounding an Act which is over 300 years old. As a practising Christian I give this little Bill full support and I hope that the specious arguments which we have heard today against the Bill will not be taken seriously by hon. Members.

2.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macmillan Mr Malcolm Macmillan , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

I listened with interest to the strictures with which the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Bidgood) began his speech in opposition to the excellent speech of the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty). My own feeling was one of reassurance that the deliberations of the Crathorne Committee will be enriched by the mature experience of the hon. and learned Member opposite who has spoken in the debate and of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) who has had experience in the Home Office and in other spheres. I think that we can look forward to the Committee's report with considerable confidence that the whole matter will be dealt with from every aspect that has been discussed in the House over the years through private enterprise and otherwise.

The hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe seems to have a curious dislike of antiquity. His arguments could be applied against many statutes. The mere antiquity of a law is not an argument for its abolition. I can well visualise the situation which he visualised of a man—in this case, himself—innocently going to a seashore with his family and having a customary ball game with his children on a Sunday and being arrested under an Act of great antiquity. But I can also equally imagine the hon Member, if he fell foul of the law and was kept too long under restraint without being charged with a particular offence, calling in his aid Acts of great antiquity and invoking the right of habeas corpus.

Antiquity, therefore, is not of itself a condemnation of an Act of Parliament. I would suggest that it merely means that experience has shown that the Act has been underlined by the approval of most people through generations and possibly centuries. I appreciate that there are now changed conditions, and I am sure that that is just what the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe, who appears to want to intervene, will say.

Photo of Mr John Bidgood Mr John Bidgood , Bury and Radcliffe

May we take it that the hon. Member is encouraging my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East when he tells the House that we are entitled to break the law with impunity?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macmillan Mr Malcolm Macmillan , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

No, I did not have that in mind at all. I know perfectly well what the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East had in mind. Many cases go to court which simply never get anywhere because the magistrates decide that certain conditions, which of course will be applicable to each individual case, do not justify the full rigours of the law being applied to the person concerned. The hon. and learned Member was depending upon the common sense of the bench to deal with a case not entirely as a matter of law and its interpretation but having regard to the facts as well, as the courts always do, and should do.

Photo of Dr Alan Glyn Dr Alan Glyn , Wandsworth Clapham

Does the hon. Member bear in mind that a prosecution can perfectly well be brought by a private individual as well as by the police and that the bench is bound to take cognisance, and that even though the bench may dismiss the case, this is a complete waste of time?

Photo of Mr Charles Doughty Mr Charles Doughty , East Surrey

That is all wrong. A prosecution cannot be brought by a private individual unless the bench grants the issue of a summons, and I think that in Lancashire, at any rate, a bench is most unlikely to grant an application under this Act.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macmillan Mr Malcolm Macmillan , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

The hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe said that he was a practising Christian. We all, at best, are only practising Christians, and apprentice Christians at that, and, incidentally, if the hon Member uses antiquity as an argument against Acts of this kind he might as well use antiquity as an argument against Christianity itself, of which he is such a proud practitioner. I hope that antiquity will not be argued any further in relation to this Bill.

There is a curious contradiction, and it may well be that I am now being contradictory, in the reference to the fact that conditions have changed. The Act of 1625 was worried apparently that people were moving from parish to parish for the purpose of bull-baiting or bear-baiting and so on on various unlawful occasions. But nowadays there is far more movement and there is far more transport available and, thus, more possible cause of trouble. I am not saying that I am greatly concerned about the words "in their own parish". I think that we can readily do without that phrase and I do not think that opposition to the Bill has been based on that ground. I should say incidentally that I have been asked to offer the apology for unavoidable absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) who would have wished to be here for this debate but has a prior engagement.

The hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich said that the House had debated this issue on previous occasions as "a broad and controversial issue". I would ask, therefore, whether it is appropriate that what has always been debated on those terms should now be debated within the context of what the hon. Member himself called the "narrow issue" raised by his Bill. Inevitably there are ramifications and extensions from these apparently simple amendments which will impinge upon other Acts and later Acts of Parliament, including the whole of this Sabbath observance legislation. The hon. Gentleman wants it both ways. He supported the setting up of a Committee with the widest terms of reference to go into the whole position. I asked him a question some minutes ago and he said that this was "the commonsense thing to do"—those were his words—to set up a Committee to go into the whole matter. I would imagine that he would have taken it for granted that this Committee will comprehend the very things he has in mind in its deliberations and in making recommendations upon these and other issues when it has had time to complete its report and submit it to Parliament.

Furthermore, I would have thought the hon. Gentleman would have wanted Parliament to have another look at these questions, among others, in the context of the report when it comes along—in other words, in the wider and more comprehensive context of the Committee's report. I feel that it is showing scant respect to the Committee to introduce a Private Member's Bill at this time in order to bring about changes in the law which, in turn, will have their own effect upon other Acts of Parliament all of them relating to the considerations of this matter which are before the Committee.

Photo of Mr William Rees-Davies Mr William Rees-Davies , Isle of Thanet

Would the hon. Gentleman think again about that point, in this way? It is quite clear, is it not, that bull-baiting and bear-baiting were commercial pastimes of earlier days? As I understand it, my hon. Friend is not for one moment asking that we should canvass the controversy as to whether commercial sport should be permitted on Sunday or not. Therefore, is my hon. Friend not right in saying that here is a change where cricket and bowling, if not commercial, ought to be able to be played outside one's own parish? Does that really contravene the principle for which the Crathorne Committee was set up? Does the hon. Gentleman think so on reflection?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macmillan Mr Malcolm Macmillan , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I indulged in some reflection before I said what I have already said. I am not concerned with the words "in their own parish ". I do not think anybody is, and I hope that those words will not be made an issue today. As to the commercial character of the sports and games proposed to be engaged in outside parishes, or anywhere else, I do not think the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill could guarantee that they will not become commercialised. What game today is not commercialised if sufficient people take part in it?

I should imagine that one of the hon. Gentleman's reasons for his Bill today is that he believes very large numbers of people want this Bill in order to go out and engage in these activities. Yet once they are engaged in by large numbers of people, nobody can say that they will not become commercialised. There is commercialisation on a small scale as well as on a big scale. Many clubs—perhaps not every club—for all practical purposes have a commercial aspect to their activities, even on a small scale—perhaps not the club to which the hon. Gentleman referred; although even it was prepared to charge fees and to allow betting before the police came. If that applies to such a decent club as the club with which I am sure the hon. Member was dealing, it can apply to other clubs as well.

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Middleton and Prestwich

I should make it clear that this Bill would not allow commercialism to enter into it in the ordinary sense of the word. Payment for admission and betting would still be absolutely illegal under subsequent laws.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macmillan Mr Malcolm Macmillan , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

It might still be illegal, but the hon. Gentleman has no means under a Bill of this kind of preventing commercialism developing.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman said that it was impossible for the police to know where their duty began and ended with regard to prosecutions under old Acts of Parliament—Acts which he regarded as obsolete. That surely applies equally to the police in considering whether a particular activity such as is contemplated under this Bill is on a large or small scale. What is large-scale? What is small-scale? It is impossible to define, and that is the trouble. It is extremely difficult for the police to decide what is large or small scale, so that the issue of scale comes into this matter just as the issue of duty under old Acts comes into the comments that the hon. Gentleman made earlier on.

The police have to have regard to an Act of Parliament on the Statute Book. But when the hon. Member says that what it allows is to be only on a small scale, the police cannot have regard to that. There can be commercialism on a small scale or a large scale; but nobody can define it. Therefore, I do not think that, he can make much of a point on that issue.

The hon. Gentleman gave us one example when there nearly was a prosecution or there might have been a prosecution, so the whole thing remains hypothetical. Beyond that particular hypothesis is the point mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman as to the action which a court might or might not have taken. That again must remain very much in the air for all time. Thus, the one example which was given was of only a possible prosecution relating to the possibility of a club having allowed betting, and charging for admission. All that makes the case much more complicated and makes far less effective the single example which the hon. Gentleman has given us of even a threatened prosecution under the 1625 Act.

Photo of Mr John Bidgood Mr John Bidgood , Bury and Radcliffe

I was under the impression that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) referred to a prosecution in recent times.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macmillan Mr Malcolm Macmillan , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

My right hon. Friend must remain answerable for what he said. I am not greatly concerned with that case. The Bill has as its main purpose to omit certain words which would have the effect by their omission of allowing meetings assemblies or concourse of people out of their owne parishes on the Lord's day within this realme of England, or any the dominions thereof, for any sports or pastimes whatsoever…". That is fairly wide. That is a lot wider than the hon. Gentleman may have wanted us to observe. The words any sports or pastimes whatsoever", constitute an extremely wide and far-reaching amendment of the Act. How, within that wide comprehensive range, can he then decide what is small scale and what is large scale, and control what is commercial? This is something on which we would need a great deal more information and convincing argument.

The other point is that in practice—and this is extremely important—the Act has for many years not been enforced. It may have come within reach of being enforced in the one single example which has been given, but there is no experience of actual enforcement for many years. Therefore, there obviously has been no hardship arising from its enforcement, so that nobody has a direct complaint that he has suffered hardship of any kind as a result of the continuation of the Act on the Statute Book.

I do not quarrel with the other provision in the Bill which brings in the words within this Realme of England in relation to prohibition of bear-baiting and other activities. I do not think anybody has suspected the hon. Gentleman of being addicted to bull-baiting or bear-baiting, or even less savage sports—if they are sports. On the other hand, I do not think the Bill would cause any great unemployment in the field of bear-baiting or bull-baiting which it is sought to make completely illegal. On that part we have no quarrel with him.

It still remains the fact that there is a Committee going into the whole subject, including the very questions with which the Bill deals. There remains the further fact that amendment of this particular Act would have an effect on other and later Acts of Parliament.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torquay

Before the hon. Gentleman goes to his next point, will he help me on this? He has been speaking about the effect of the proposed amendment of the Act. Like many other hon. Members, I have received representations from the Lord's Day Observance Society, to which I shall refer later if I am fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair. In the meantime, I should like to have the hon. Gentleman's guidance. I notice that there is a postscript to the communication from the Society to the effect that it would be happy to give its blessing to the Bill if the Act were to be amended only by the omission of the words "out of their owne parishes". The hon. Gentleman has obviously made a far closer study of the matter than I have been able to do. Could he explain the effect of that limited amendment?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macmillan Mr Malcolm Macmillan , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

I have said already—perhaps the hon. Gentleman had not then come in—that I, for my part, would go with the promoter of the Bill in the omission of those particular words.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torquay

I did hear the hon. Gentleman say that, but that was not quite my point. Will he explain exactly what would be the effect of that omission in the context of the complaint which my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) made about what happened in his constituency?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macmillan Mr Malcolm Macmillan , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

I should have to study the matter for a much longer time before I could make a speech on that.

As far as I am concerned, I am happy about the effect on the Act, as I see it, of the removal of those words, but I am certainly not happy to accept the whole argument or the effects which would flow from the removal of those words along with the other Amendments in the wider context. Perhaps we come back to that at a later stage. I have taken part in many of these debates over the years.

One thing which has emerged from them is that nobody has yet been able—not even the hon. Gentleman with his one-legged example today which leaves the question entirely in a hypothetical state—to produce any argument to show that anyone has suffered actual hardship as a result of observance of these Sunday Observance Acts of Parliament from 1625 onwards. No one has ever been able to prove hardship from Sunday observance. On the other hand, in the broadest sense, millions of people not only in this country but in other countries have greatly benefited from the pro- tection which these Acts have afforded. I am thinking particularly of working people. These Acts have afforded an extremely good background to our early social legislation and later industrial legislation.

If there had not been the Sunday Observance Acts, the trade unions, the Labour Party and the party opposite, no doubt, in its more enlightened days would have been shouting for them, vying with each other to push them through this House of Commons. I am talking about the time before the five-day week, of course. Had it not been for the respite afforded in past centuries by the protection of the seventh day, ten more years of every worker's life would have been devoted to work. To put it in another way, because of this protection, in place of which there was nothing else until 150 years ago, the worker escaped ten more years of his life being subject to exploitation by people without a social conscience.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Malcolm Macmillan Mr Malcolm Macmillan , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

Obviously, this is a most unpopular speech, but I want to finish soon and I do not think that I can have any more interruptions.

There is no great doubt that, if the hon. Gentleman's Bill is accepted unamended, there will be a great danger of quite large-scale commercialisation. The greater the support the promoter of the Bill claims he has behind him in the demand for this change, the greater is the likelihood that millions of people, not just thousands, will be participating in a serious breach of provisions which have never done hardship to anyone and which have afforded great protection over the years to many millions of people, particularly working people, in this country and elsewhere. Commercialisation is bound to follow.

The lobby behind pressure for change in our Sunday observance legislation has been a powerful commercial lobby interested in sport, entertainment, transport and all the rest. These are not shadows; they are realities. These interests have put immense pressure upon Members of Parliament and others to have the Sunday laws changed, and they have done it not in the service of the individual or individual liberty but simply because they wish to exploit the changes in order to make money.

I have some sympathy with the personal position of the hon. Member for Middle-ton and Prestwich now. Many years ago, in 1938, I introduced a Bill for holidays with pay. It was opposed by hon. Members opposite, notably by the present Foreign Secretary who was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. It was pointed out that there was a Committee sitting and that I should, perhaps, in view of that fact, have had the grace to withdraw my Bill. It was urged upon me that, as there was a Committee sitting, it would be discourteous—I was most inexperienced at that time—to press the Second Reading to a vote. In fact, however, we took the matter to a vote and I lost by only one. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will show greater wisdom than I, in my Parliamentary immaturity, then showed and consider withdrawing his Bill rather than put it to the test while a Committee is considering these problems.

A vote today would involve us all in a very odd situation. One would either, by implication, be giving a vote of confidence to the Committee which is sitting on the whole matter, including the points which the hon. Gentleman's Bill has raised, or, by voting the other way, would express a contrary opinion. The whole situation would be extremely difficult.

We have no objection to the omission of the words, "within their owne parishes", and we have no objection to the hon. Gentleman's intention in the provision he has made with regard to banning bear-baiting and all the other things, in the whole realm, instead of only inside the parishes. These provisions are perfectly good in themselves, but the effect of the rest of his Bill is not by any means as narrow as he thinks it is. It would affect all these other Acts of Parliament and would complicate or frustrate the actions of this Parliament or future Parliaments in acting upon the forthcoming report of the Committee, the members of which we all respect, which is now looking into the very matters we are discussing.

2.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Harvey Mr John Harvey , Walthamstow East

Several issues arise on the Bill before us. I believe in, and would like to see even more greatly encouraged, acts of religious observance, but I believe also that religious teaching itself leads us to the conclusion, or should lead us to the conclusion, that religious observance must be encouraged and cannot be enforced. The whole tenor of the 1625 Act is to enforce religious observance. Plainly, it is a very long time since religious observance has been enforced effectively. I do not believe that it can be effectively enforced ever again. Therefore, my own wish in this respect would be to see ever greater encouragement of religious observance, but I do not believe that we should do that by shirking changes in the law because we are unduly afraid of the effects which we think that such changes might have in certain circumstances.

Moreover—here I suffer the disadvantage of not being a lawyer and not properly understanding the law—I am not particularly impressed by the argument that, because something which is on the Statute Book has not been enforced for a very long time, we need, therefore, do nothing about legal provisions which we regard as something of an anachronism as they now stand.

I left the House late last night, as did many other hon. Members, and arrived home just in time to see the end of a television programme in which Lord Gardiner, introduced by an interviewer as a possible Labour Lord Chancellor—if, by any unfortunate consequence of the next election, the party opposite was to find itself in office—was advocating the revision of the whole hotch-potch of outdated British law.

This Statute makes remarkable reading, because it begins by suggesting that Sunday observance hath been and now is profaned and neglected by a disorderly sort of people, in exercising and frequenting bearbaiting, bullbaiting, interludes, common plays, and other unlawful exercises and pastimes upon the Lord's day; and for that many quarrels bloodsheds and other great inconveniences have grown by the resort and concourse of people going out of their own parishes to such disordered and unlawful exercises and pastimes… That sounds a little more like a football match in South America than the sort of thing that in practice happens in this country today.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macmillan Mr Malcolm Macmillan , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

I still stand by my agreement with the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) about the removal of the words "within their own parishes", but does not the hon. Member see some similarity between the activities mentioned in the Act and those that took place at Clacton not many weeks ago, when two rival gangs on motorcycles, organised in a big way, just about wrecked the place? There was plenty of disorderly concourse about that.

Photo of Mr John Harvey Mr John Harvey , Walthamstow East

But as I understand it, one of the complaints of these young hooligans at Clacton was that because there were no sports or pastimes for them to indulge in—I do not say that this was a valid or a good excuse, but nevertheless it was the excuse put forward—they got into all this mischief.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torquay

Am I not right in thinking that the recent disturbances which have been referred to would not be covered by the Bill? Unless breaking deckchairs and knocking old ladies over is a sport or pastime, it would not be covered by the Bill.

Photo of Mr John Harvey Mr John Harvey , Walthamstow East

All this is going rather wide of the remarks that I wanted to make.

I want to continue to consider what the Statute says. The Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend would still make bear-baiting and bull-baiting illegal, and even interludes or common playing. But, as has already been suggested, if we play with a ball on the beach, with our families, or if we play golf on a Sunday, or pay 6d. to play on the putting green or bowling green—and I believe that the case which has been referred to arose in connection with a bowling green—we are breaking the law. We have all been doing this sort of thing for a long time, in one way or another. Is it good enough to say that because we have been doing it and nobody has sought to prevent our doing it there is no need to change the law?

People could seek to prevent our doing it, and dire consequences might follow. I do not know whether hon. Members have considered the part of the Statute which says that every person and persons offending in any the premises, shall forfeit for every offence three shillings four pence, the same to be employed and converted to the use of the poor of the parish where such offence shall be committed and, furthermore, that in order to get the 3s. 4d. from us, the chief officer or officers shall be able to sell all our goods, provided they give us back such money as they get for our goods in excess of 3s. 4d.

I have listened with interest and understanding to the points put forward by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan), but I do not think that we can defend keeping statutes such as this on the Statute Book indefinitely, especially when circumstances have been brought to our notice which seem to suggest that we should be a little more realistic. But I share the concern expressed by the hon. Member about the commercialisation of sports or pastimes on Sundays. Up to a point, let it be faced that the collection of 6d.—or perhaps it is more today—in return for our being allowed to go putting is already the commercialising of a pastime.

But our real concern must be lest football matches or professional sports of any sort should result from anything that, with better intentions in mind, we enact in this House. If we were to give the Bill a Second Reading today I would hope to see something much more explicit emerge in Committee, in order to make quite sure that what we really have in mind are amateurish and friendly gatherings, and not professional sport given carte blanche to do as it likes on Sundays.

To that extent I feel some sympathy for the point of view that if there is at present a Committee sitting to examine the question of Sunday observance on a very much wider scale than is covered by this small Bill we might be well advised, after ventilating our views today, to seek to go no further. There could be something in the argument made by the hon. Member for the Western Isles, that having discussed the matter today we should not necessarily press this Bill through Parliament but should wait until we have the report of the Committee which is carrying out a more far-reaching investigation not into this Statute alone but into the whole complex of laws that are woven around Sunday observance.

I have said all that I wanted to say about my own point of view. I do not want to see anything done that would further weaken the fundamental interest that all Christians ought to have in Sunday observance. Nor do I believe that we can compel any sort of religious observance. Religions have to achieve their observance by the example they set. But when we consider the wording of a Statute such as this it is a little irresponsible to suggest that it can be cheerfully left on the Statute Book, and that nothing should be done about it. As I have said, however, I would be prepared to wait until the Committee has reported, so that we can consider the whole complicated subject in a little more detail, than we are seeking to do today.

2.58 p.m.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I hope that at the end of this debate the House will come to the conclusion that it would be a mistake to give a Second Reading to the Bill presented by the hon. Baronet the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow). I have reached this conclusion for a variety of reasons, some of which have been expressed earlier in the debate. At the same time, I have heard a good many observations during the debate with which I do not agree and which seem to me to be highly difficult to defend.

We are faced both with the narrow issue of whether the Bill should be passed to deal with the problem in the hon. Baronet's constituency which gave rise to the controversy and also with the much wider question of Sunday observance. Some hon. Members have said that we cannot defend keeping on the Statute Book indefinitely a statute like the Act of 1625, which, as other hon. Members have said, has not caused hardship to anybody for a very long time.

It does not seem to me that it is possible to argue that every statute that is on the Statute Book must always and continuously be enforced in every detail and that for that reason the statutes must be changed. That is a completely untenable proposition, but it seemed to be the argument of the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Bidgood). The hon. Member seemed to be arguing that as he now learned that it was contrary to the law to have a bowling match out of his parish or to play golf elsewhere on Sunday, or even to play a game of ball with his children on the sands, the law must be altered. I do not take that view.

At the same time, we in the House of Commons have for a long time recognised that the Act of 1625 is quite anomalous and archaic and out of accord with modern conditions. As the hon. Baronet reminded us, however, we had a full debate on the subject as comparatively recently as 1952, also on a Friday, when there was a full House and when my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) introduced a Bill the object of which was, in effect, to repeal the whole of the laws relating to Sunday observance. That Bill was rejected by an overwhelming vote of 281 to 57.

Photo of Mr Martin Maddan Mr Martin Maddan , Hitchin

I apologise for being a comparatively new arrival, but will the hon. Member go on to explain what Statutes relating to Sunday observance it was proposed to repeal in 1952? That is relevant to the whole context of the Bill today.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I cannot respond to that invitation, because it would mean embarking on a long digression and it would not be convenient to the House. Broadly, however, the case put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham was that the existing statutory provisions with regard to the observance of Sunday, based on the 1625 Act, were now completely out of date and largely disregarded, inconsistent with modern ideas and difficult to enforce and, therefore, should be changed. That proposal was overwhelmingly defeated.

Photo of Mr Martin Maddan Mr Martin Maddan , Hitchin

Does the hon. Member agree with the view that those enactments are out of date or with the view that they should be retained?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

On that occasion, I moved an Amendment urging the setting up of a Royal Commission to investigate the whole question of the laws concerning Sunday observance. As the hon. Member may have heard, my Amendment was narrowly defeated by 172 votes to 164.

I have always been of opinion that this whole subject merits the most careful and authoritative review so that comprehensive changes may be made in the law. One of the most compelling reasons which I urge the House to adopt in rejecting the Bill is that a distinguished Committee is examining the question and that we shall shortly receive the result of its deliberations and will then have definite guidance about what is required. It is almost an abuse of private Members' time in these circumstances to try to deal with this vast subject in this piecemeal way.

Nobody could pretend that if this Bill were passed it would do anything beyond merely tinkering with a small part of the field. I share the view which has been expressed in other quarters that if this Bill were passed it would not merely meet the specific grievance of the hon. Baronet and would thereby legalise friendly games of bowls in his constituency, and in other constituencies, but it would also open the door to commerical sport on Sunday on a large scale.

After all, there is nothing whatever in the Act of 1625 which distinguishes between commercialised sport and other sport. The Act was designed to encourage churchgoing. It may or may not have succeeded in that object, but it was intended to prohibit, except within very small limits, all games of any kind on Sundays, and therefore, if that prohibition were swept away, it would seem to me we should be legalising commercial football, horse racing, and other kinds of commercial sport on Sunday.

Of course, it may be that that is what the nation wants, but I would have thought that was a very debatable proposition. I think we must await the report of this Committee, and I think the House must well appreciate that there will be very divided views as to what this nation really needs in 1965 by way of a substitution for the Act of 1625. Conditions, after all, then were very different indeed. It would have been true in those days, I suppose, to say that this was a Christian country in which the majority of citizens recognised some obligation to attend a place of worship on Sunday, and that was part of the national ethos, and that was an object of national life which Parliament supported. I cannot say what view will be taken—and I doubt whether any of us can say what view will be taken—in the next Parliament as to the duty of the State to support Christianity by upholding ideas about Sunday observance and which do not appear to be necessary for the due recognition of the Christian religion, and which at the same time apparently do not find acceptance by large numbers of the community.

We live in a day, compared with 1625, the seventeenth century, when greater opportunities for transport, greater opportunities for recreation of all kinds, have produced a totally different outlook on life, and, in so far as Christian observance is concerned, it is difficult today to argue that the playing of games on Sundays is inconsistent with the profession of the Christian religion. Indeed, it is difficult to argue that attendance at church services is a necessary part of Christian duty when, for example, one bears in mind that there is a growing audience for listening to and participating in religious services on television on Sunday. The whole pattern of life in this country is changing so much that I sometimes doubt whether in 1965 it will be very easy for the Parliament of that day to introduce legislation with regard to Sunday observance which will be acceptable, shall we say, in 1975 or 1985.

After all, this Act has now lasted for over 300 years, and, although it is not enforced, one has to recollect that that does correspond to what has for a long time been regarded as part of our national idea of the English Sunday as distinct from the Continental Sunday, that it should be observed differently. I think that notion is acceptable today on the part of both those who profess the Christian religion and a great many who do not. Therefore, there must be many conflicting views when we approach our consideration of what should be the right way to deal with these problems.

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Middleton and Prestwich

A little while ago the hon. Gentleman made great play of the fact that my Bill would allow the introduction of commercialised sport. I cannot see that in any way. I think it would be quite impossible. My Bill does one small thing; it allows people to play a game outside their own parish. There are other laws which prevent any charges being made or any betting taking place, and those laws will still be in force and will prevent any large-scale commercial sport.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman says that—it could be so argued—but, as he will have heard during the debate, that view is not shared by hon. Members, nor is it shared by me. I think we must also recognise that if the Bill were passed it might well be interpreted as having the contrary effect to what the hon. Member suggests.

Personally, I do not think it aids the case of the hon. Member and those who have spoken in support of him to say that this law cannot be enforced or is not enforced. We must all recognise as legislators that no law can be enforced if it runs counter to the general weight of public opinion. All laws, particularly laws passed 300 years ago, must have the support and backing of public opinion to carry any weight behind them. That is the reason why there would be an outcry and ridicule if any attempt were made to enforce this law against everybody who infringes it Sunday after Sunday. But that in itself is not an argument for introducing this change, though it may be an argument for examining the whole case of Sunday observance.

Photo of Mr Martin Maddan Mr Martin Maddan , Hitchin

Does the hon. Gentleman really suggest that there was an overwhelming majority of opinion against a ballet in Coventry Cathedral a year or two ago for a charitable purpose which was frustrated by these laws?

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

I do not know whether there was or was not. I should think that there probably was not. There may be isolated cases in which because of the existence of this law attention has to be paid to it, but they are few and far between, and they are justified on the ground that broadly the principles of Sunday observance still obtain recognition. While it is recognised that the law must be changed, there will be many conflicting views as to how it should be changed.

I conclude as I began, by saying that in my view the compelling reason for rejecting the Bill is that it deals with a very tiny segment of a very large problem on which we are still awaiting authoritative guidance from the Committee that has been set up.

3.15 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. C. M. Wood-house):

My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) is to be congratulated on his courage in bringing before the House a Bill to amend a Statute which has remained on the Statute Book virtually unchanged for nearly three and a half centuries. My hon. Friend will now be aware that he has perhaps stirred up even more controversy than he expected to when he introduced it.

My hon. Friend has given hon. Members an opportunity for a most interesting debate, and a debate which I think I can fairly call characteristic of the better sort of Fridays in this House. Like all such debates, it has been noticeable for the absolute sincerity—and indeed absolutely equal sincerity—and moderation with which diametrically opposite opinions have been expressed and urged on the House.

First, I should like to say a little about the effect of the Sunday Observance Act, 1625 and its present place in the corpus or our legislation. It is one of the Statutes which is under review by the Crathorne Committee set up in 1961 by the then Home Secretary whose terms of reference I need not repeat. It is the Government's view that it would be both discourteous and improper for them to take up a definitive attitude towards Sunday observance generally, and therefore also towards this Bill, in advance of the Committee's report. My right hon. Friend told the House recently that he expected to receive the report before the end of this year.

The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) asked me if I could tell the House whether my right hon. Friend intended to introduce early legislation based on the report. I think that it would be rash for me to go so far as to predict legislation at this moment when we have neither seen the report nor do we have the advantage which the right hon. Member for South Shields and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) have of having some idea of the lines on which the Committee is thinking. We therefore prefer at this stage not to enter upon a commitment in this highly complex and controversial field, and to maintain the traditional position of neutrality affecting Sunday observance until the Committee has reported.

Hon. Members will naturally wish to decide for themselves in the light of what is said in this debate whether to support the Measure now, or whether to await the report of the Crathorne Committee. For the benefit of those hon. Members who have not had an opportunity of consulting the ancient Statute which it is proposed to amend, I should like to add a few words to those which have been uttered about its effect.

The preamble, which is couched in eloquent and unequivocal terms, has already been substantially quoted to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey), and I shall not repeat it. The Act goes on to prohibit two separate types of activity on Sunday. First, assemblies or concourses of people outside their own parishes for any sport or pastime whatsoever are forbidden. Secondly, bear-baiting, bull-baiting, interludes, common plays or other unlawful exercises or pastimes within their own parishes are forbidden.

Photo of Mr Martin Maddan Mr Martin Maddan , Hitchin

Does the prohibition of any concourse for any purpose include meetings in Trafalgar Square?

Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford

I think that I should have to study the text, which is in somewhat ancient English, and take legal advice, before giving a definite answer to that question. If I had to answer off the cuff, I should say that it might make meetings in Trafalgar Square difficult, but more difficult for people who live outside the parish in which Trafalgar Square is situated than for those who live inside it.

I confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich said when introducing the Bill, that the money penalty would be per head and not a collective payment. The amount of the penalty was fixed at 3s. 4d. That is a slightly odd amount, but I am told that at the time of the passing of the Act penalties were commonly fixed by reference to the value of a mark and a mark was worth 13s. 4d., so this penalty was a quarter of a mark. I have not pursued my studies to the extent of ascertaining the modern equivalent of this penalty.

There is further reference to punishment by the stocks. This appears in the side-heading of the Section of the Act although, curiously enough, there is no reference to stocks in the modern text of the Act. I have with me a copy of the Act in its original form. There I see it required that a person who could not meet the penalty of 3s. 4d. should be set publicly in the stocks by the space of three hours. I cannot say at what precise date that provision was repealed. I can assure the House, however, that at least that provision of the Act is no longer in force.

Photo of Mr Anthony Kershaw Mr Anthony Kershaw , Stroud

In my copy of the Act it appears that the provision is in force. Could my hon. Friend say whether it is or is not?

Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford

Like myself my hon. Friend has a copy of the seventeenth century text of the Act, but in modern texts those words do not appear. The last sentence of the original Act is also an interesting one which may lead hon. Members to speculate. It reads: This Act to continue until the end of the First Session of the next Parliament and no longer. That sentence was not finally repealed until 1863, so we have the curious situation that the Act was treated as a temporary Measure for 240 years. One must wonder whether the quarrels and bloodsheds of 1625 were equivalent to those of our "Mods" and "Rockers" and were in fact repeated annually for nearly two and half centuries. I hope that this was not the case because 240 years later the problem appears to have been accepted as permanent and the Act no longer required annual renewal.

I think it reasonable to pursue perhaps slightly more far-reaching speculation about the motives behind the Act in order to assess the desirability of continuing such legislation in the different circumstances of today. Undoubtedly the ostensible object of the Act, as several hon. Members have said, was to prevent the profaning of the Lord's Day, but I find it difficult not to believe that another consideration which the authorities had in mind was simply to maintain a proper discipline among the largely rural and almost entirely illiterate population.

This was a time in the early 17th century when the ordinary labouring man expected to work from very early in the morning to late in the evening on Saturdays as well as all other weekdays, and Sunday was the only day he had for recreation. Therefore, in regulating his behaviour on Sundays, the authorities were regulating virtually the whole of his leisure hours. This point was made by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) and I feel confident that he was right. Because of their illiteracy, the rural population had very few distractions other than spectacles, games and sports, all of which were liable to lead to trouble if high spirits got out of hand and turned to rioting. It is permissible to suspect that this legislation sprang from the profound distrust by the authorities of the uninstructed public.

It is also relevant to consider, especially by way of contrast with modern conditions, the question of mobility referred to by my hon. Friend in introducing the Bill. The "concourses" which concern the authorities today are those of young men and women concentrating from a large area of the country on a few selected places, a few seaside resorts such as Clacton, Margate and Brighton. The disturbances recently caused are a pale shadow of what the 17th century could produce. At that time, the lack of transport and the foul state of the roads meant that the activities of the more boisterous sections of the public were confined to their own, or at any rate the neighbouring, parishes.

Rivalries in sport and games were also localised. It is also well known what strength of feeling these can produce, but in the 17th century these were on a parochial and not a national scale. Indeed, it was only towards the end of the 18th century that even county rivalries in games such as cricket began to emerge, and then only in the narrow confines of a few neighbouring counties in the south-east of England.

Sometimes this had fatal results. Last year, there; was a dispute between Kent and Essex about a catch over the boundary, but it is also on record that in the year 1776 the Kentish cricket team took to arms and shot one of the Essex players. So we see that at the time of this enactment, and even for more than a century afterwards, parochial or inter-parochial rivalries over sporting events could very easily lead to serious disturbances of the peace.

In using the word "parochial", I deliberately intend to emphasise the important part played by the parish in seventeenth century England, and this is the reason for the form of words in which the Act is couched. Outside the corporate towns, at that time there was no structure of local government as we recognise it today, and in particular there were no rural or urban districts. Instead there was a medley of overlapping judicial and manorial jurisdictions, for instance, the hundred courts, the courts baron and the courts leet, added to which there was the further complications of the liberties and certain special and traditional jurisdictions, such as the Kentish lathes or the Sussex rapes, some dating from the time of the Heptarchy. In this welter, the parish was the one true unit of local government whose activities intimately affected the lives of ordinary men and women in rural England, and no doubt in Scotland, too.

The jurisdiction of the parish was much wider than today, and the various parochial functionaries, such as the church wardens, constables, beadles, borsholders and others, were men of real authority in their own spheres. For instance, church wardens could collect fines of 1s. for absence from church on Sundays and they could spend public money on a wide variety of functions ranging from the destruction of vermin to the removal of undesirable aliens, "aliens" at that time meaning people from the next parish. It was around the parish and the manor that the life of the agricultural worker revolved, and it was therefore only natural that a social measure of this kind should be enacted within that parochial framework.

To come back from speculation about the past to the practical effects of the Act today, I can only confirm, as has been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East and by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher), that the Act has been generally regarded as a dead letter, and it is by no means the only one. The prohibition of bear-baiting and bull-baiting and common plays has been superseded by later legislation dealing with cruelty to animals and Sunday entertainments. The meetings, assemblies and concourses of people out of their parishes on the Lord's Day for sports and pastimes certainly take place regularly all over the country without interference. There is no record of any recent conviction known to me and it is very doubtful whether proceedings under this ancient machinery would have any prospect of making any progress in the courts.

As I have said, this is by no means an unparalleled situation. If the Bill became law, it might lead to attempts to enforce not only the residual provisions of the 1625 Act, but also other obsolete laws.

Perhaps I may remind hon. Members that there are a number of obsolete Acts on the Statute Book which are not enforced and which cause no difficulties and which periodically give rise to amusement and entertainment in the Press and in the House. There is, for instance, an Act to prevent profane cursing and swearing dating from 1745 which is still on the Statute Book and which says this: Forasmuch as the horrid impious and execrable Vices of profane Cursing and Swearing (so highly displeasing to Almight God, and loathsome and offensive to very Christian) are become so frequent and notorious that, unless speedily and effectually punished, they may justly provoke the Divine Vengeance to increase the many Calamities these Nations now labour under: And whereas the Laws now in being for punishing those Crimes, have now answered the Intents for which they were designed, by means of Difficulties attending the putting such laws in execution.… The penalties were then laid down in terms which still stand on the Statute Book but which would land the courts in some difficulties if they were enforced today, because it appears that a day labourer, common soldier, common sailor or common seaman forfeits 1s., every other person under the degree of gentleman 2s., and every person of or above the degree of gentleman, 5s. Double and even treble penalties are provided for repeated offences. I could add other examples, as no doubt other hon. Members could, of legislation which is still on the Statute Book which is similarly out of date.

I will now make a few general comments on the Bill. My hon. Friend explained very clearly his reasons for introducing the Measure. He told us that in his constituency a bowling club which is of ancient foundation, though not quite so ancient as the Act itself, was warned that by allowing persons outside the parish to play on Sundays they were offending against this Act. It appears that complaint was made to the police by a private individual who wished to remain anonymous. One can only speculate on his motives for anonymity.

The police passed on the complaint to the club without making any attempt to enforce the Act. I think that my hon. Friend was guilty of a mild exaggeration when he spoke of this as a serious warning. It is certainly not for me to comment on the actions of the police in enforcing legislation, whether active or defunct. In this case the chief inspector to whom my hon. Friend referred appeared to behave in a very reasonable manner.

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Middleton and Prestwich

This warning had to be taken in a responsible way. It was made in a serious way. The chief inspector apparently knew that it would mean a cancellation of matches. They discussed the three points. The committee said that they could stop charging for admission and betting. The chief inspector said, "But you are still allowing people to play outside their parish and allowing matches in that club and surrounding clubs to be cancelled because of that." That had to be taken seriously. The club has not great riches. It could not afford to go to court to fight the case, so it came to me.

Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford

I will not quarrel with my hon. Friend about adjectives. I wanted to suggest only that the police officer in this case did not act in any way oppressively or threateningly. I think that even my hon. Friend would agree that that is so. Naturally the bowling club felt that it was at risk of prosecution and was anxious to put the matter right. Everyone must sympathise with the club and with my hon. Friend's efforts on its behalf. Indeed, there must be very few of us who have not also offended against this Act.

I hope that bowling clubs in Lancashire and elsewhere will forgive me if I mention that bowling has not always been regarded as a respectable game. In this respect, perhaps Lancashire differs from Plymouth. There is a book published by King James I known as the "King's Book of Sports" which enjoined that

for his good people's recreation after the end of Divine Service they should not be discouraged from lawful recreations but—here I quote the words of the book— at all times, in the meaner sort of people by law prohibited bowling. If my hon. Friend were successful in getting the Bill on to the Statute Book—he knows:, and said so himself, that it is a small and narrow Bill—I must advise him that it would not follow that all games would be lawful on Sunday, still less political meetings, but I am not sure to what extent he is right in thinking that is covered by the Act.

The operative Act today in relation to games, entertainments and amusements of all sorts on Sunday is the Sunday Observance Act, 1780, which would not, of course, be touched by my hon. Friend's Bill. That Act prohibits the opening on Sunday of any house, room or other place for public entertainment or amusement to which persons are admitted on payment. I understand that the bowling club in my hon. Friend's constituency at one time made a charge for admission and allowed betting, but these practices have now stopped and therefore it would appear that it is not in breach of the 1780 Act.

The Act of 1780 was amended in 1932 chiefly to allow cinemas and musical concerts on Sunday, but all other public entertainments for which an admission charge is made are still prohibited. These include theatres, dancing, football, cricket, horse-racing and motor-racing. I think, therefore, that I must tell my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East that the passage of this Bill would not make it possible by itself for the Cup Final to be held at Wembley on a Sunday unless the organisers were prepared to let the public in free of charge. I think also, for the same reason, that the points so eloquently and sincerely made, and which had a good deal of sympathy, about the commercialisation of entertainment on Sunday are beside the point at any rate concerning this Bill because it would not affect the Sunday Observance Act.

I hope that such information as I have been able to give hon. Members about the origin and effect of the Act of 1625 will be of help to them in deciding whether to give this Bill a Second Reading. Some hon. Members, following the very weighty advice of the right hon. non-conforming and nonconformist Member for South Shields and other hon. Members who have spoken may feel that this is a matter that could safely be left until the Crathorne Committee has reported and its recommendations on the whole question of Sunday observance can be studied. Others, following the advice of the promoter of the Bill, supported as he was by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Bidgood), may prefer to take this opportunity of removing an undeniably potential source of irritation and criticism. I would only say that, speaking for the Government, it appears to be a matter of conscience and private judgment in which it is for each Member to decide for himself and on which, speaking for this side of the House, the one assurance I can most usefully give is that however hon. Members may choose to vote, none will be required to forfeit 3s. 4d. to the Whips—still less will the Patronage Secretary seek to divide them into those above and those below the degree of gentlemen.

3.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torquay

Any criticism that I and some of my hon. Friends may make of the Bill is made with due regard to the Bill itself and to the possibility of getting on with other business. I point this out to show that our views are genuine. Indeed, some of us have deliberately stayed behind from our constituencies in order to express our views on the Bill and I understand that the intervention of the Minister and the Opposition Front Bench spokesman came when it did only to assist hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate, including some Opposition hon. Members whom also may wish to get away and with whom I have some sympathy.

The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) made an interesting speech. I interrupted him because I realised that he is an expert on the subject. He made only one point with which I would really quarrel; when he referred to strong pressures which existed in commercial quarters to get this sort of legislation amended. I regret he did not elaborate that point for I think I am speaking for all my hon. Friends in saying that I have been subjected to no pressure from that source, now or at any time. In fact, the only pressures I have suffered have arisen from those who adopt the hon. Member's point of view.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macmillan Mr Malcolm Macmillan , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

If I did not speak at length on the occasion in my speech to which the hon. Member referred, I assure him that it was with the object of not defeating his purpose of taking part, along with other hon. Members, in the debate. I would not do any injustice to the hon. Member or the hon. Baronet for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow); but I am sure that the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) will agree that on the question of Sunday observance generally there has been a considerable lobby from various interests, both inside and outside the House.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torquay

As I have just said, the hon. Member for the Western Isles is much more of an expert then I am and he obviously knows more about what has happened in the past on these matters than I do. It is fair, however, to say that no pressures or approaches have been made to me, even from those who support his point of view.

Although Torquay is a sophisticated part of the West Country, it is still more nonconformist than many other parts of Britain. Certainly the part of the country which is my family home, North Wales, is one of the most strongly entrenched nonconformist parts. I refer, of course, to Montgomeryshire, which would match even the fervency of the hon. Gentleman's constituency. In one village there the people not only voted overwhelmingly against Sunday opening but when on one occasion a publican tried to open a pub for ordinary middle-of-the-week drinking, the wives of the village threw so many stones at the publican's windows that he gave up the struggle and retired. It is from that area and places similar to it that any representations I have received have come.

One of the difficulties in which one finds oneself in these circumstances is that I have felt bound to come here today to make a contribution to the debate, although I admit that I am not very convinced by the representations made to me on the subject. Although not feeling so strongly as my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow), I will, while commenting on the views that have been expressed to me about the Bill, try to explain why I consider that the Bill should be given a run.

I have considerable sympathy with those who say that we should get rid of anachronistic legislation and that the only meaning such legislation has, if it has any at all, is that of a nuisance value. Most people agree that once the effectiveness of legislation has gone, that legislation should no longer clutter up the Statute Book.

We hear that a part of the Labour Party's programme is a quite massive cleaning up operation and I understand that the laws of this country are to be sorted out, so to speak, and put in order by the Party opposite. I should have thought, therefore, that there should have been some intrinsic sympathy on the benches opposite for getting rid not only of some of the contradictions in legislation generally but also on the question of Sunday observance. I still think, for instance, that a law at present fines a gentleman 5s. for swearing and a labourer only 1s. 6d. That seems to be the most naked form of class distinction that any party ought to seek to remedy.

I do not think that it is fair to argue that because there have not been many recent prosecutions launched or threatened the law has fallen into disuse. It does not necessarily mean that there would not have been many more if people had not thought that it was not worth while going on with their plans in view of possible action being taken. We cannot tell how many hundreds of times there may have been little committee meetings of clubs, and the like, at which a project has been put forward only to be abandoned because someone has said that they would have to be careful lest they contravened the provisions of this or another Act. The Act may, therefore, be more serious in its impact than we can gauge just from investigating known cases, such as the bowling club one mentioned by the hon. Baronet.

Now that the commercial aspect has been cleared out of the way by my hon. Friend the Minister, the only strong and convincing argument there seems to be against the Bill is that a committee is at present considering the whole question. I do not think that it is correct to speak of disrespect to the committee, but it does not seem to be sensible, when we have a fairly high-powered Committee sitting, to try to anticipate one particular facet of its work.

I have one fear in that respect. Assuming that the distinguished gentlemen comprising this Committee produce an absolutely first-class report, can we be sure that any Government will pick up what will undoubtedly be a very hot potato? I think that the more first-class the report is the less likely will any Government be to dream of taking it out of its pigeon-hole. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), with his years of experience, knows that the Departments are full of dusty Reports of inestimable value which one Government after another have decided it not necessary to implement.

Even this small private Member's Bill has raised much argument outside, and many hon. Members have been present today to speak on it. If that can produce so much fire, what will happen when the full report is before the House? Is; any Government likely to say, "In addition to all the other difficulties, let us now have a real blazing row that raises almost every possible religious issue"? The religious issue would be involved, because a first-class report will have to go deeply into all aspects.

So although I think we ought, perhaps, to leave the matter until the report is in our hands, I had hoped that both the Opposition spokesman and the Minister would have been a little firmer in saying what they will do when the report is published. If we could have had a joint declaration that after the report was published some action would be taken on it, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich would have had no hesitation in withdrawing his Bill. But we have had nothing like that and, as I say, my case is that the better the report the less likely it is that early action will be taken on it, because of the commotion it would cause.

During the day I have tried to clear up one or two points in coming to a decision on what we should do with this present Measure. I have had a long communication from the Lord's Day Observance Society, and other details have been given to me today by a member of that Society. Many hon. Members have probably had this document, which I have read with considerable care. I shall not read it in its entirety, but there are one or two paragraphs that need clarification either from my hon. Friend or, perhaps from the Minister, if he is given a chance to make a second speech. I should have liked to have been able to speak before my hon. Friend because I could then have put some points to him to clear my own mind without asking him necessarily to express the Government's view on them.

The first paragraph of the letter says: The stated purpose of the Bill is to remove restrictions placed by the Act upon persons playing games, etc, outside their own parish. There can be no argument about the fact that the reference to parishes, although suited to community life of the 17th century, is entirely unrelated to present-day life in large centres of population. It seems to me that that paragraph indicates that the Lord's Day Observance Society agrees in principle that some change is necessary, otherwise it would not have included in the paragraph that concluding sentence.

The next paragraph of the letter says: It appears that Sir John Barlow was prompted to introduce his Bill by reason of an incident which occurred in 1963 in Lancashire, where police authorities warned certain bowling clubs that they would infringe this Act if they held a tournament on Sunday, entailing the participation of other clubs. Although the Lord's Day Observance Society had no connection of any kind with this particular incident, we understand that the police approached these bowling clubs at the same time on other and more serious legal grounds, so that the 1625 Act was by no means the main obstacle to these tournaments any more than to similar tournaments which have been held in other parts of the country from time to time. I therefore think that this disposes of the argument that this was one of the features which prevented this exercise taking place at all. The Society seems to think that this is a minor aspect. Do I now understand from what my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich has said that the club, having cleared itself on this point, was nevertheless prevented from proceeding?

Photo of Sir John Barlow Sir John Barlow , Middleton and Prestwich

I should like to make it quite clear that there were objections on three counts. Two of the counts were done away with. The police inspector pointed out that the third remained and the club would still be contravening the law if it played the match on the following Sunday.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torquay

I thank my hon. Friend. It is useful to have that on the record.

Photo of Dr Alan Glyn Dr Alan Glyn , Wandsworth Clapham

Would my hon. Friend agree that, unless the Bill is passed, if I visited the Balham Club in my constituency and played in a bowls match on a Sunday I would be committing an offence?

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torquay

I do not think that I can give free advice to my hon. Friend, but I am sure that, as always, he is right.

Paragraph 3 of the letter from the Society says that The 1625 Act acknowledges important principles concerning the observance of the Lord's Day, the removal of which from the Statute Book would be regrettable and a gesture which would cause deep concern to those who value our Christian constitution. We understand these will not be touched by the Bill but the Amendment as proposed will result in a contradiction of them. That second sentence seems to me to be self-contradictory, but again perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Middle-ton and Prestwich will be able to clear my mind on the point, if not now then when the Bill goes to Committee.

I am so keen not to waste time unnecessarily that I will refer only to two other small points among the many which I had hoped to raise.

Paragraph 6 of the letter says that It should be noted that no one is inconvenienced or made to suffer hardship by reason of the 1625 Act and that no general public demand exists for its repeal or revision. I am not sure how much inconvenience is caused, for the reason which I stated earlier that we do not always know the cases where people have been stopped from doing things simply because they knew of the Act. It is, therefore, not absolutely fair to put the matter like that.

Another point which I have raised twice in the debate by intervention is contained in a postscript to the letter, which says that …if the Bill were only to amend the Act by omitting the words 'out of their own parishes', we would not object. I do not know whether that would meet the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich but it appears that the biggest objections to the Bill fall away if it is only amended in this limited form.

In this matter one always has to be very careful not to offend people's consciences by changes in the law if one can possibly avoid doing so, because the fact that a voice is small and limited is no argument for disregarding it. In fact, it is an argument for taking rather more notice of it if it is not quite so powerful a voice as other sections of the community. Equally, however, there is a duty on minorities to be tolerant towards the attitude of mind of other people. Therefore, on balance I think it would be better if my hon. Friend were not to press his Bill today, provided that the effect of this debate were to make it much more certain than it now is that when the report is forthcoming some definite action will be taken by whichever political party then happens to be in power.

3.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Kershaw Mr Anthony Kershaw , Stroud

I have had a certain amount of difficulty in following the argument which has been put by the Lord's Day Observance Society, which has been voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) and which was put so eloquently also by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) that this Act could be left unamended on the Statute Book because it is not observed, does nobody any harm and causes no hardship.

I was, I confess, slightly shocked when my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary seemed also to lend his weight to that proposition that this Act, amongst others, is one which we can safely disregard because nobody ever takes any notice of it and it is never enforced. It seems to me that whilst this may be a position which some who disagree with the Act are content to accept, it should hardly lie in the mouth of the Home Office representative to come to the House on a nice afternoon like this and tell us not to bother because we can go on breaking the law with impunity so far as the Home Office is concerned. The question whether or not the law is enforced is not a matter for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. That is a point which I should like to take up later. The point, besides having a certain lack of logic, is a wholly bad one in the context of this Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) who introduced the Bill did so—and was able to say so in one or two interventions to hon. Members—because the bowls club in his constituency had been warned that it would get into trouble if it persisted with its project of having men from another parish come to play bowls against the club on Sunday.

It is not enough to say that it ought to have taken legal advice or that it ought to have had more courage. One has to live with one's inspector of police in a small town. If one disregards him one finds that one does not get an extension of one's licence next Christmas. One has to buy far more tickets for the Police Ball, which nobody wants to attend anyway. There are very real inconveniences if one does not in a small community collaborate with the inspector of police, who, after all, has his responsibilities. I think, therefore, that that is not a good point. A warning was given by that inspector who was, no doubt, justified, but it is up to this House to see whether there is any possibility of altering the law or making it more sensible.

There is another point about whether the inspector is the proper person to have issued this warning. No doubt, he has a position to fill, but there is nothing in the Act to say that the police ought to do anything about it. That is easily understood when one reflects on the fact that there were no police in the days when the Act was introduced. Nevertheless, there is nothing to say that the police should play any rôle whatever in this matter. The people who have the rôle to play are the justices of the peace for the counties, the people in the towns such as the burgesses. Upon them lies an inescapable duty to enforce the law. If they do not make sure that everyone who crosses a parish boundary on Sunday—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.