I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for a shop's early closing day to be selected by its occupier; to abolish the power to change the closing time on early closing days and the power to extend early closing day requirements to exempted shops; to substitute the expression "early closing day" for the expression "weekly half-holiday" in the Shops Act 1950; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.
The purpose of my proposed Bill concerns the welfare of those men and women who work in shops. Section 1 of the Shops Act, 1950, requires that every retailer shall close his shop for the serving of customers at 1 p.m. on one weekday a week and the local authority is empowered to fix that day by order. Such an order may fix different days for different classes of shops. It may fix different days for different districts. It may fix different days for different periods of the year.
Schedule 1 of the Act exempts certain trades and businesses from the requirement to observe a weekly half holiday—for example, garages, shops that provide for refreshment and which sell perishable commodities, and those which sell newspapers, tobacco and medicines. All these are included in the list of exemptions. I mention them for the specific purpose of showing the background of the Shops Act.
It is becoming increasingly obvious, and is increasingly represented by those people who work in the shops and those who manage them, that amendments to the law are long overdue, if only to facilitate the introduction and the growth of the five-day week in the shops. For example, many stores would willingly give their employees the whole of Monday off so that they could have a long weekend, but they find it difficult to do so because of the orders of local authorities which create half-day holidays on other days of the week.
It is, therefore, difficult to arrive at agreement for the application of a five-day week when firms with branches in many districts have to comply with so many different half-day closings and so many different circumstances playing upon potential agreement on a five-day week. There are two ways to overcome this. One is by amending the law to retain the earlier closing day as it is at present, but to make Monday as the day preferred for the one day closing in the provinces an optional alternative, just as Saturday is at present an optional alternative within the meaning of the Shops Act. But there are difficulties in the application of such a principle.
There is a second way of dealing with this problem, which is to do away with the power, now given to local authorities, to make an order, thereby making it possible for each shopkeeper to fix his own early closing day. The Bill would give effect to that second suggestion and I believe, from my experience in the distribution industry, that it is the wisest course to follow.
Under the Bill a shopkeeper would be able to fix his own early closing day, but would, to conform with the law, have to display a notice stating the day on which the premises would be closed. My Bill would make provision for him to alter that early closing day, but such an alteration can be made at not more than three-monthly intervals. The Bill would also make provision to eliminate other, more minor, matters in the Shops Act, but which have fallen into desuetude. For example, local authorities are allowed to add trades to the Schedule, but they do not do so. Because many of the provisions which exist are no longer enforced, the Bill would abolish them.
I should perhaps mention that the words "early closing day" are substituted in the Bill for the words "early half day holiday" in the Shops Act. That is done not only to conform with the rest of the Bill, but to eliminate some of the confusion which has arisen in regard to negotiations about statutory half-day holidays.
Whatever views hon. Members may hold about the wisdom or otherwise of this or future legislation to cover shop life, my proposed Bill is widely supported by all sections of the retail distributive trade. It is supported, for example, by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, the Association of Local Authorities and the body which represents the inspectors who must apply the existing laws. It has the blessing of the National Chamber of Trade and of the Retail Distributive Association. These bodies are comprised of people who know distribution in all its aspects.
I ask the House to give me permission to introduce the Bill because it will be good for shop workers. It will apply to Scotland, but it will not alter the provisions of the existing Act relating to the main purposes of the Shops Acts. It will result in no charge on the Exchequer, so no Money Resolution is involved. With optimism, I seek the support of hon. Members on behalf of the shop assistants of the country.