Skip to main content

Sunday Trading Law: Enforcement

Volume 490: debated on Tuesday 17 November 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

2.56 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether in view of the current state of the law on Sunday trading they are giving guidance to local authorities as to their duty in respect of enforcing it.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that unambiguous, if unhelpful, reply. Perhaps I may ask him whether he and Her Majesty's Government appreciate the real difficulties which the present state of the law on Sunday trading involves for local authorities. In particular, is he aware that Teignbridge council has felt bound to warn the monks of Buckfast Abbey that while they are perfectly free to go on selling their beautiful wines on Sunday afternoons, they commit a criminal offence if they sell bibles, crucifixes or rosaries?

My Lords, my noble friend raises some of the anomalies of the present legislation which we tried to correct in the previous Session. As your Lordships know, because of opposition on the other side we did not succeed. Therefore we shall continue to look at the situation and keep it under review.

My Lords, does the noble Earl remember, as he should do, the debates that took place in this House on the earlier Bill and the amendments that were moved by the Opposition and from the Bishops' Benches? Is he encouraged by his recollection of those events not to make remarks such as he has just made, and to bring forward sensible legislation?

My Lords, my recollection is not terribly clear, as the Bill was piloted at that stage by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur and not by myself.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, despite any mistakes which Parliament may have made in dealing with this matter in the past, unless some consistency is introduced into this matter the law will be brought into even greater contempt than it is in now?

My Lords, we are concerned about that possibility, and that is why we are considering all possible options at the moment.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of what is happening in Presbyterian Scotland, which is traditionally anti-Sabbatarian as regards Sunday trading? One can see what is happening there where there is no law to enforce.

My Lords, I think this is another occasion where Scotland sets a good example.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that most councils apply this law unwillingly and then only after complaint? Does he agree that this leads to uneven and selective enforcement, which clearly restricts the freedom of choice to which the present Government are committed?

My Lords, it is up to each local authority to consider how best to discharge its duty under the Act.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that if he is as wise as I believe him to be he will not touch this matter at all? He will leave it to the common sense of the British people. Illogical or not, they like their British Sunday.

My Lords, that is one point of view that we are taking into account when reviewing the situation.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in places such as Lancashire, where one town takes a certain action and the next town five miles away takes another action, that brings the whole matter into complete disrepute and local authorities are crying out for the Government to give guidance on the problem?

My Lords, Lancashire is not unique. The Government gave very good guidance but unfortunately it was not accepted in another place.

My Lords, can the Minister give an indication of the number of successful and unsuccessful prosecutions during 1986? Can he tell us whether those prosecutions applied predominantly to the DIY trade and garden centres?

My Lords, I cannot give the breakdown that my noble friend wants, but in 1986, 611 defendants were proceeded against and 543 were found guilty of offences in connection with Sunday opening.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that this could all be dealt with extremely easily, simply by repealing this nonsensical legislation?

My Lords, I think your Lordships' House gave a very clear indication about how it felt on this matter on a previous occasion.

My Lords, cannot small shopkeepers be left alone to make their own arrangements instead of being dictated to?

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the law in respect of Sunday trading is clear, unambiguous and enforceable? Is not this proved every week by those local authorities which have the will and respect the law? They are bringing successful prosecutions whenever they choose to do so. Would it not be good advice to those who call themselves supporters of the law but who at present dislike it that they should support it until it is changed?

My Lords, I am sure that every single Member of your Lordships' House would seek to uphold the law. I recall a discussion in which the noble Lord took part on Sunday racing and the question of the opening of betting shops where a slightly different point of view might have been expressed, albeit inadvertently. I believe that the law is not terribly clear on this matter. There are a lot of anomalies, which is why the Auld report was so right in saying that it needed a complete overhaul. As the House will recall, your Lordships did not find that any compromise removed the anomalies.