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Sunday Trading Laws

Volume 987: debated on Wednesday 25 June 1980

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3.32 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the laws pertaining to Sunday trading; and for connected purposes.
Three years ago I proposed a similar Bill to this, seeking to amend the Sunday trading laws. Although my argument was heard with courtesy and interest, a mass lobby from the Members' Tea Room defeated me on the vote. Since that date, people have continued to engage in Sunday trading. It continues to be largely illegal, and local authorities continue, when they have nothing better to do, to bring selective prosecutions against the traders.

My contention in bringing forward a Bill to amend the Sunday trading laws is that individual consumers are perfectly capable of deciding whether they want to shop on a Sunday. Shopkeepers can determine for themselves whether they want to open and there is no need for the State to act like an interfering, mollycoddling nanny, intervening in this process.

I suggest that the House looks at the current state of play. Since 1464 there has been concern about Sunday trading from two sources. Originally it was the Church. Later it was the unions. As a result, England and Wales had a no-trading law, which has been relaxed over the years in respect of perishable goods, chemists' prescriptions, souvenirs and momentoes, newspapers and magazines—though not Bibles—and refreshments. With local authority consent, shops in seaside resorts may be licenced to open on 18 Sundays a year. There is also exemption for shops owned by people practising a religion for which the day of worship falls on a day other than a Sunday. Those shopkeepers close on their traditional days of worship.

The abuses are legion and the prosecutions are selective. Hon. Members may say "Thank heavens for that", because if they were not selective no one could open on a Sunday and survive. The House has heard on many occasions what can and cannot be done. A law that allows anyone to enter a shop and buy a bicycle wheel, a bicycle frame, brakes, handlebars and gears, but not a bicycle has to be pretty bad. A law that allows a motorist to buy a tyre, but stops a pedestrian from buying a shoe is one that the House would rightly view with suspicion.

I have a selection of letters in support of my contention that the Sunday trading laws should be amended. These letters are so numerous that I shall keep them for a Committee, when they may be used to while away a half hour or so. However, the National Consumer Council and Woman magazine have done the most careful research into what people want. One of the first questions in a survey asked on which day the bulk of household shopping was done. Monday came out with 2 per cent. and Wednesday with 4 per cent. That shows that shops could close on at least two days when the shopworkers would have the benefit of a day off and the business would hardly suffer.

Another question asked which shops would be visited if they opened on a Sunday. Food shops featured in 43 per cent. of the replies and furniture shops in 37 per cent. It is important to remember that when there is a major purchase it is only right that the whole family should be involved in the choice. Sunday opening allows people who work and kids who go to school to go together to make such a major purchase. The same would apply in the case of a motor car. It is currently legal to go to a garage and sit in a car with a view to buying it on another day. It has been ruled illegal to start the engine and take a test drive on a Sunday.

My Bill does not seek to permit here what happens currently in Scotland, where anyone may open anything on a Sunday, except a hairdresser—unless he is Jewish.

I share the concern of USDAW that widespread Sunday opening, introduced suddenly, with shopworkers offered two or three times their normal pay, would make it difficult for them to refuse to work on Sundays, and this could lead to misery and break-up among families.

My Bill is a simple one. It would seek to exempt garden centres from Sunday trading laws. There is a strong case in favour of that.

The Bill would regularise Sunday markets, so that when local authority criteria are met the market can operate weekly instead of having to move on, like a Dickensian vagrant, every three months.

The Bill would allow shops that open for the legal sale of some goods to sell such other goods as they normally stock. That would mean that chemists' shops would not have to lock up the talcum powder and the razors while being allowed to sell razor blades and dispense prescriptions.

The Bill would allow a fish and chip shop to sell fish and chips on a Sunday. You will know, Mr. Speaker, that at the moment a Chinese take-away can sell fish and chips while a fish and chip shop cannot. The fish and chip shop, on the other hand, may sell Chinese take-away goods on a Sunday.

The Bill would give local authorities the right to license Sunday opening of shops in other than seaside towns. Currently, the only way in which an abuse of the law can be sanctioned is for the enforcing authority to turn a blind eye, and that is unsatisfactory.

The four points will be seen as a modest though significant move to keep up with the times. I wish to make clear that I am in no way interfering with people's rights to have a quiet, contemplative Sunday at home. I query the right of the unions, the Lord's Day Observance Society and the Government to impose a dismal day on those who do not wish to have one.

When a law is archaic, in that the lifestyle for which it was conceived has changed; when it is complex to the point of being unenforceable; when it is counter to public order and being steadily flouted, there is, in my contention, a good case for changing it.

There is a Government in power who promised to support free enterprise, to encourage small business, and to cease to interfere in our daily lives; one would suppose that it would not have taken them 14 months to make noises in the direction of liberalising Sunday trading. After these 14 months of silence, I beg leave to bring forward this legislation, and I ask the House to agree to give the Bill a Second Reading.

I should like to declare an interest. I am sponsored in this House by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, whose members obviously have a real interest in the possibility of Sunday trading. I should like to make clear to the House that shop workers—many years ago I was a shop worker—are deeply concerned about this matter, and over the years they have been a very hard-pressed group in the distributive industry. Their conditions have been poor, and their wages have been low. This proposal will restrict their leisure time, despite the fact that they will be paid overtime, and so on. If the law is changed, many shop workers will feel compelled to work on Sundays, and the mass of the union membership and shop workers in general—those outside the union, also—do not wish to work on Sundays.

I want to emphasise the economic side of the problem. It is no use the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) telling us that those shopkeepers who wish to open can open and those who wish to close can close. We all know that in this hard world of High Street commercialism, when one shopkeeper opens his shop, the others think that they are losing business and they open their shops.

In these days, when there is a need to control inflation, the argument about inflation also comes into the picture. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that we are giving greater freedom to the consumer to buy at any time he wishes. When I worked in a shop there was an old saying that if we closed at midnight there would always be a customer knocking at the door at one minute past midnight, wishing to buy something when the shop had closed. If we pander to the general public in this

Division No. 371]AYES[3.45 pm
Adley, RobertDunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Aitken, JonathanElliott, Sir WilliamLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Ashton, JoeEnnals, Rt Hon DavidLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)
Banks, RobertFisher, Sir NigelLyell, Nicholas
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyFookes, Miss JanetMcCrindle, Robert
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Forman, NigelMcKay, Allen (Penistone)
Bevan, David GilroyFry, PeterMadel, David
Bowden, AndrewGilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMagee, Bryan
Brinton, TimGorst, JohnMawby, Ray
Butcher, JohnGrieve, PercyMaynard, Miss Joan
Canavan, DennisGrimond, Rt Hon J.Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Chapman, SydneyHamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm & Ew'll)Montgomery, Fergus
Colvin, MichaelHawksley, WarrenMorrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)
Crouch, DavidHeddle, JohnMorton, George
Cunningham, George (Islington S)Holland, Philip (Carlton)Murphy, Christopher
Deakins, EricHordern, PeterPage, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
Dewar, DonaldHughes, Mark (Durham)Penhaligon, David
Dubs, AlfredIrving, Charles (Cheltenham)Price, David (Eastleigh)

way, by giving them so-called greater freedom, we are, in effect, making the position worse for the shopkeepers and for the general public.

Service has to be paid for by someone, and ultimately it has to be paid for in the commodity that a person buys in the shop. In other words, there is only so much business to be done, and there are only so many goods to be purchased by the consumer. If we spread that over 20 hours instead of eight or 10 hours, the trade is spread out but the overheads continue. The electricity, gas, general overheads, wages, and so on, must be increased. Who will pay for them? The increase will be passed down to the consumer in the price of the commodity that he purchases. So we are acting against the Government's declared pleas to cut inflation by agreeing to a Bill that will ultimately increase the opening hours of a shop. It may give greater freedom to the consumer but there will be an increase in costs and a worsening of conditions for those people who work in shops.

I know that the trade union of which I am a member and that sponsors me in this House bitterly opposes a worsening of the hours of shop workers on Sundays. Therefore, I hope that the House will oppose any move to change the Sunday trading laws in the way that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely suggests. I propose to divide the House on the issue.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at the commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 79, Noes 121.

Proctor, K. HarveySteen, AnthonyWatson, John
Rees-Davies, W. R.Stevens, MartinWheeler, John
Richardson, JoStokes, JohnWilliams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)Thompson, DonaldWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Robertson, GeorgeThornton, MalcolmWolfson, Mark
Rost, PeterTownend, John (Bridlington)
Shepherd, Richard(Aldridge-Br'hills)Trippier, DavidTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Shersby, MichaelWalker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)Mr. Clement Freud and
Soley, CliveWaller, GaryMr. Harry Greenway.
Speller, Tony

Archer, Rt Hon PeterFoster, DerekMorris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Neubert, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldNewens, Stanley
Beith, A. J.Garrett, John (Norwich S)O'Halloran, Michael
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodGarrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Park, George
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)George, BrucePavitt, Laurie
Bidwell, SydneyGolding, JohnPowell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)
Biggs-Davison, JohnGraham, TedPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Blackburn, JohnGrant, George (Morpeth)Prescott, John
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertHamilton, James (Bothwell)Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Hardy, PeterRhodes James, Robert
Campbell-Savours, DaleHeffer, Eric S.Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Cant, R. BHomewood, WilliamRoss, Ernest (Dundee West)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Huckfield, LesRoss, Wm. (Londonderry)
Coleman, DonaldHughes, Roy (Newport)Sheerman, Barry
Conlan, BernardJohn, BrynmorSkinner, Dennis
Cook, Robin F.Johnson, James (Hull West)Spence, John
Cowans, HarryJohnson, Walter (Derby South)Stanbrook, Ivor
Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)Jones, Barry (East Flint)Stoddart, David
Crowther, J. S.Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldStrang, Gavin
Cunliffe, LawrenceKerr, RussellStraw, Jack
Dalyell, TamKimball, MarcusThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)Lamble, DavidThomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)Lamborn, HarryThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Dempsey, JamesLamond, JamesTorney, Tom
Dixon, DonaldLewis, Arthur (Newham North West)Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Dormand, JackLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Douglas, DickMabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonWalker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Dover, DenshoreMcNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Wells, John (Maidstone)
Duffy, A. E. P.McNamara, KevinWhite, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)McQuarrie, AlbertWigley, Dafydd
Eastham, KenMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Wilkinson, John
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)Winnick, David
English, MichaelMason, Rt Hon RoyWoodall, Alec
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Mikardo, IanYoung, David (Bolton East)
Evans, John (Newton)Mills, Peter (West Devon)
Fitt, GerardMitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Molyneaux, JamesMr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMorgan, GeraintMr. Bob Cryer.
Forrester, John

Question accordingly negatived.