Sunday observance

Part of Petitions – in the House of Commons at 1:36 pm on 17th February 1989.

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Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 1:36 pm, 17th February 1989

The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) spoke for an hour and a quarter. I hope that he will forgive me if I say that he could have compressed his arguments into 15 minutes. They would have been better for that. As a consequence of his speech, hon. Members on both sides of the House who know a lot about this issue will be excluded from the debate, and I regret that.

I want to consider the Government's attitude about Sunday sports. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) on bringing forward this Bill. As the debate has clearly shown, a range of questions must be answered about Sunday sport in general and Sunday racing in particular. The Bill plainly gives the House an opportunity to express a view, and it perhaps offers some answers to those questions.

It may be helpful if I start by stating the Government's view. In broad terms, the Government support the Bill. That will not surprise hon. Members because we have supported two previous Bills on this matter. We will be happy to see the Bill make progress for a variety of reasons which I propose to outline concisely.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) said in a most impressive speech, a variety of sporting events already take place on Sundays. My hon. Friend itemised them and they include tennis, cricket, golf, soccer, motor racing, athletics, badminton, hockey and no doubt many other activities. For the life of me, I can see no reason in principle why we should not make it easier for Sunday racing to do likewise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley explained that a number of sporting organisations which hold events on Sundays resort to a variety of strategems to avoid the Sunday Observance Act 1780. I do not like strategems to be used for that purpose. I should be much happier to bring clarity to the law, which is the effect of clause 1.

I question whether the right hon. and hon. Members who passed the 1780 Act had in mind the holding of sporting events in general or of racing in particular. The House may be interested to learn the preamble to that Act, which explains what was in the minds of those legislators 200 years ago. The preamble, which I have edited slightly to avoid repetition, states: Whereas certain houses, rooms or places within the cities of London or Westminster … have of late frequently been opened for public entertainment or amusement upon the evening of the Lord's day, commonly called Sunday … under pretence of inquiring into religious doctrines, and explaining texts of Holy Scripture, debates have frequently been held on the evening of the Lord's day concerning divers texts of Holy Scripture, by persons unlearned and incompetent to explain the same, to the corruption of good morals, and to the great encouragement of irreligion and profaneness; be it enacted. In other words, that statute had nothing to do with kicking a ball or riding a horse; it had everything to do with the publication of false doctrine. That is to say, it had to do with practices of the kind in which some right hon. and hon. Members, but particularly Opposition Members, engage on most week days.