My Lords, as the Bill is supported by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, I feel obliged to declare an interest as a past general-secretary of the union. As a Christian, I believe that Remembrance Sunday should have the same recognition as Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. If carried, the Bill will have both moral and economic significance—the moral significance far outweighs the economic. We need some moral advancement in our secular society today.
On 14 December last year, when I asked the Question as to the Government’s intentions—a Question that seemed to have support from all sides of the House—the Minister said:
“It is not the place of the Government, and never has been, to regulate in an effort to enforce observance of important national commemorations. We leave observance of such occasions to the individual”.—[Official Report, 14/12/10; col. 518.]
In this regard, I have two things to say. First, it may well be that the employer in the retail sector would have the right of the individual but what about the rights of the employee? I doubt that, without the protection of law, the employee would enjoy the same rights as the employer but may wish to attend the Cenotaph at 11 am on Remembrance Sunday.
Secondly, it may well be that there are those who want no restrictions whatever on retail operations on Sundays. However, that is not the view of Parliament, hence the restrictions already provided by the current shop Acts, which ensure that Easter Sunday and Christmas Day have limited retail operations. Many of us want this extended to Remembrance Sunday—a Sunday when Christians and non-Christians have the opportunity to participate in the remembrance of those who died on the battlefields, preserving our freedom.
When Sir Patrick Cormack, who is now in your Lordships’ House, proposed this Bill in the other place in March 2010, he said:
“Remembrance Sunday looms large in the calendar and has real meaning for people throughout the United Kingdom, and it seems to me right that the House should recognise that”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/3/10; col. 308.]
I clearly agree with the noble Lord. What was right in 2010 must also be right just one year later. It is my sincere hope that this House will do now what the other place failed to do because the general election was called, and restrict retail activity on Remembrance Sunday in line with Christmas Day and Easter Sunday.
However, I am now a little worried about the intentions of the coalition Government in this area. In April, USDAW, my former union, became aware of certain developments, which are very concerning. On 7 April this year, a circular was published by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, stating:
“The Government has today launched a website questioning whether Sunday and Christmas Day trading by large stores should stay restricted. There is no doubt that those who want 24-hour Sunday opening will be responding, but we want to make sure that shopworkers’ voices are heard as well”.
The regulations concerned are the Sunday Trading Act 1994 and the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004. An internet address is given for the consultation, about which the circular says:
“The purpose of this Government website is to identify regulations that should be scrapped. If they get rid of Sunday and Christmas Day trading regulations it will mean”,
that large shops will be able to open not only on those days but for the whole of Sunday, rather than being restricted to the current six hours. The right of a shop worker to opt out of Sunday working will go; premium payments, if they exist, will probably disappear; large stores will be open on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday, which is currently banned; and restrictions on delivery times to shops will be lifted. I have since been told that this consultation has been put into the long grass, probably because it did not turn out as the deregulators wanted.
There is no doubt in my mind that this consultation was driven by the economic motives of large retail bosses, with little concern for the moral significance that would be damaged. I am counting on Parliament not to let this happen. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity. I am grateful to him for picking up this Bill, which I, as he generously said, introduced in another place shortly before the general election last year. When I introduced that Bill, I was given no undertaking by the Government of the day, but I was given some encouragement and I thought that there was a real possibility that we might get this simple, non-controversial measure on to the statute books before the general election. That was not to be. For some reason, a Whip in another place shouted the fatal word “Object!” and the Bill went down. Therefore, I was glad when the noble Lord told me that he was prepared to pick it up. I am delighted to be in your Lordships’ House and able to follow and support him this morning.
I was one of those who, during the long debates on Sunday trading, voted against the change in the law that took place. As I told the House of Commons, we would have a replicated Saturday in every town and city in the land, and that, indeed, has happened. However, we preserved two days from overcommercialism—Easter Sunday, which is the greatest of all Christian festivals, and Christmas Day, which is a day of family rejoicing and celebration for those who are Christian believers and those who are not. I am delighted to gather from the noble Lord’s comments that the consultation on the rather foolish suggestion that restrictions should be lifted on those two days is not being pursued.
Today we are trying to ring-fence another day: Remembrance Sunday. It is a day that means a great deal to many people throughout this land. In just three years’ time we shall commemorate the outbreak of the First World War, one of the most appalling conflicts in human history. In the same year, we shall commemorate the outbreak of the Second World War. With every week that passes we are reminded of the courage and sacrifice of young men and women today. Every time my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever answers a Question at the Dispatch Box on his defence responsibilities, he invariably precedes his Answer with a message of condolence on behalf of us all to someone who has fallen, usually in Afghanistan. He also makes reference to the wounded, which is much appreciated in all parts of the House. It is a terrible thing to lose a life in conflict, but it can be almost as terrible, for the loved ones as well as for the maimed individual, to be severely wounded. One of the most memorable aspects of the remembrance weekend in this country is seeing the procession by the Cenotaph of those who have laid down, if not their lives, their limbs, and in many cases been maimed almost beyond recognition.
Is it too much to say that we as a nation should give a special significance to Remembrance Sunday? We decided that it was right that shops should close on Christmas Day because we did not want the ringing of the cash tills to drown out the ringing of the Christmas bells. I do not want the ringing of the cash tills to drown out the silence that falls on this land at 11 am on Remembrance Sunday. Nor do I want the ringing of the cash tills to drown out any of the personal acts of remembrance that take place up and down this land in all quarters of the United Kingdom, each of which has its special memories. As I look across the Chamber, see the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and remember my responsibilities as chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, I think of one word: Enniskillen—a Remembrance Day that for that reason means so much to so many in Northern Ireland, in addition to the reasons that we know about today.
This is a modest proposal. It is a small Bill and a gentle measure, but it would be saying that for that day, Remembrance Sunday, we put aside our trading and we try to push into the background of our lives that aggressive commercialism that has done so much to spoil family life and simple pleasures, because life is very different from what it was when I or any of your Lordships present enjoyed our childhood, and when Sunday was indeed a special day—whatever one’s religious views or lack of them.
Of course, on Remembrance Day the act of remembrance is contained within a Christian service—but it is not just a Christian service. There are those of other faiths who feel as deeply as we do; and there are those of no faith at all, who the noble Lord alluded to, who still feel a very special sense of belonging to a wider society, and who want to commemorate and give thanks to those who have sacrificed their lives or good health.
There cannot be a family in this land that has not been touched by the sacrifice of a member of their family or a friend during the conflicts of the past century. When I went through my dear late mother’s possessions after she died a few years ago at the age of 90, I discovered something that I never knew. No fewer than six of her first cousins had been slaughtered on the battlefields of the First World War. That tale can be repeated time and again. For them, for those who fell in the Second World War, for those who fought in all the conflicts since, and for those who have readily put their lives on the line—as so many young men and women are doing even as we have this debate this morning—we can make one small gesture. That small gesture would be to support this measure introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, just as I sought to introduce it in another place shortly over a year ago. It would have all the benefits to which he rightly referred for those who work in shops, but it would go much wider than that. It could be seen as a civilised act by a civilised country, and I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to give us at least some encouragement.
My Lords, it is with a real sense of gratitude that I stand today—gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Davies and Lord Cormack, for speaking in support of this Bill, gratitude to the House for the many many kindnesses that you have shown me these past months, and gratitude for the forgiveness you have shown me for my various violations of the codes. In Italy, there is a saying that there are two kinds of idiot and the worst is the one that does not mean it. I stand before you in that spirit—and I am sure that it will happen again.
I really am grateful to this House. I wish to mention all the Doorkeepers who have guided, rebuked and scolded me so elegantly in the time that I have been here, and who taught me the way to the Terrace where I could continue my balanced diet of orange juice, coffee and cigarettes. I would really like to thank Davina, who serves the coffee, and Malika, who is definitely the kindest dinner lady that I have ever met. A mark of an institution is how it treats its cleaners, cooks and security guards. For years, I worked with London Citizens on the Living Wage campaign and it never ceased to astound me that people of great moral probity with very good degrees in the social sciences could look around them and not see their cleaners or cooks. In this House, it is a great honour that we are a corporate body that treats everyone with humanity, including its Members.
It is with that tremendous sense of honour that I speak to noble Lords. I went to another great institution in the body politic, Cambridge University, and I remember how full of rage, hate and anger I was at the age of 18 when I walked into the college for the first time. That confirms to me what my mother said to me: “You will grow up—you will”. I can assure you that the kindness you have shown me is greatly reciprocated by me.
There is also a tremendous sense of gratitude to this House and to the people of this country. I am from a Jewish family—I am not from the Christian faith. Alone in Europe, the Jewish community survived in this country. We owe that to your parents. We owe that to the bravery of the people of the whole country who lost their husbands, sons and children, and who fought so bravely. My mum’s family were from Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill, of which I am now Lord. They had their windows smashed; the bombs were falling; and I was always taught of the quiet bravery that we showed.
There is a tendency these days in politics to think that it is all about money—that it is all about deficits, cuts and procedures—but it is with a sense of wonder that we stand in this Parliament, which is a place of wisdom, a place of experience and a place of vocation. It is a place where people of tremendous experiences in so many walks of life bring their wisdom to bear and sometimes place a brake, as Winston Churchill said, on the speeding motor of the other place—just to brake and say, “Take a pause”.
This is not a Bill that promotes Sabbath day observance, although I wish to say that the tradition from which you come, my noble friend Lord Davies, is a great and noble one within our party—the tradition that comes out of chapels and out of working people coming together, defying the powers of the rich and saying that there must be rest; there must be some pause. I urge noble Lords to understand that for people dependent on a low salary or wage it is terribly difficult to say no to your bosses. I know that my mother was one of five girls in a very poor family in Stamford Hill, but when the Sabbath came they were ladies and lords around the table. The white tablecloth was on, the chicken was cooked and they could take their rightful place in a world of nobility. This is what the Sabbath gives. I feel gratitude for this Bill; and if we forget and do not honour the sacrifices made for our liberties and for each other, and if we forget what a wonderful and brave people we are, we will lose it.
There is much more to say but I have said enough for the time being. I completely support the Bill, its gentleness, and the idea that this day should be a day when we bring together one of the great institutions of our country, Sunday, with one of its great traditions—to quietly honour those who have made sacrifices so that we can be free, and to honour the traditions of our country and its wonderful freedom and democracy. I also want to honour my party. The working people of this country did not turn to communism or fascism. They stayed straight with us and we stayed straight with Parliament, and we have to honour that. We must honour what unites us, and what unites us is that in very difficult times we protected each other. I urge noble Lords to have one day a year when we can remember that.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, on a truly excellent, witty and moving maiden speech. I am sure that those of us who know of his distinguished career in academic and public life would have expected no less. His work with London Citizens is particularly noteworthy and I am a great admirer of the work done for the London Living Wage campaign. I also admire anyone who can get Boris Johnson and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor to work together. The noble Lord is also well known for his invention of blue Labour, which will, I am sure, help to add further colour to our discussions.
The noble Lord, Lord Glasman, has said that he was “completely shocked” by his appointment to this House. I am sure that anyone who has studied his record of achievements and heard him speak today will feel that he was quite wrong to be so shocked. He is a very welcome addition to this House: his academic expertise, his close concern for the people of this country and his passionate concern for and understanding of the real life of the community will enrich our debates. I look forward with great pleasure to his contributions, and I am sure the whole House will want to join me in extending to him our congratulations and the warmest possible welcome.
The case for the Bill before us has been put very eloquently and forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity. I found his words compelling. Indeed, the speeches in this debate have reminded us, and no doubt will remind us, forcefully of the debt that we owe our Armed Forces and of the need to remember properly the sacrifices they have made and continue to make on our behalf.
The case for the Bill was also made in the Commons in March 2010 by my noble friend Lord Cormack, who spoke so well and with such eloquence a moment ago. If I may, I should like to quote a brief sentence from the speech that my noble friend made to his colleagues in the Commons then. These sentences sum up for me the case for the Bill. He said:
“We have just gone through the war in Iraq, and we are still at war in Afghanistan. I really feel that we should set aside Remembrance Sunday, so that the remembrance ceremonies can be conducted with proper and due decorum, and so that the ringing of the cash till does not drown out the observance of the silence”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/3/10; col. 309.]
I shall be brief. I can add nothing to the force of the contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Davies of Coity and Lord Glasman, and my noble friend Lord Cormack. I entirely agree with the notion that we owe a duty of respect and reverence to those who have sacrificed their lives for us. I agree, too, wholeheartedly that the observation of the silence on Remembrance Sunday is a key part of that respect and reverence. That is why it takes place, and that is why more and more people, of their own volition and in response to the campaigns promoting the silence, take part in it.
However, all this activity is individual and personal. It is all entirely voluntary and uncoerced. I believe that its voluntary, personal and freely given nature is essential to the meaning and the stature of the silence. Participation in remembrance seems to me moving and compelling precisely because it is a free choice and a matter of individual conscience. Participation moves the nation as it does because the nation knows it to be a voluntary and unsupervised expression of national feeling.
Perhaps we are better placed than most to see how avidly Governments seem to want to regulate, take over and organise many aspects of the lives of the people in this country—aspects that may very well be better left to the personal consciences and inclinations of individual citizens. We have in this House a proud record of standing up for the rights of the individual against too much government. I simply do not think that government has or should have a role in enforcing the way that the people of this country freely choose to celebrate or commemorate events that are important to us collectively. I agree that it would be a benefit if the actions prescribed in the Bill were in fact to take place; it is just that I do not think that legislation is an appropriate means of achieving this result.
It is a commonplace nowadays—and true for all that—that the large retailers, which are the objects of this Bill, are extremely sensitive to the wishes of their customers and to popular opinion. I have no doubt that a concerted and well organised campaign to convince these retailers to close on Remembrance Sunday would, in time, be entirely successful. That is the approach I would prefer. This issue is a matter of individual conscience and, when it comes to a heartfelt expression of public feeling, I really doubt that the Government should be involved.
Perhaps I may finish by saying how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this very important matter and by saying how much I wish him success by legislation or otherwise.
My Lords, this is a small Bill, yes—less than three pages—but I believe a significant Bill not only in what it seeks to commemorate but in the good that it could do our culture as a whole. I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, on introducing the Bill, which could have far-reaching benefits perhaps beyond his original intentions.
Also, it is a great pleasure to speak after the inspiring and entertaining maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, whose career in academia and community organising will add much to your Lordships’ House. Personally, I was encouraged to read that the noble Lord was, like me, completely shocked to be appointed to your Lordships’ House, and I look forward to comparing notes on that.
I have framed my comments around what I believe to be the benefits of the Bill: remembrance, reflection and rest. I am very grateful that for most of my lifetime and that of my parents Britain has been at peace. I am not old enough to really remember the Falklands War. I have family who were in the RAF for 39 years but saw active service only in Borneo. I lived in Ghana during the first Gulf War, with no television and before the internet. I studied GCSE and A-level history and yet did not cover a world war. I hope that that failure of our education system is also a matter of history.
The poppy and Remembrance Sunday kept a fledgling sense of awareness for my generation, but the price paid by previous generations for the freedoms that this country enjoys was being lost from the nation’s consciousness. Sadly, it took the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts for the nation to remember the sacrifice paid by so many young men and women for our safety today. Even then, I could not help but feel that charities, residents of Wootton Bassett and outspoken military chiefs had to barge their way into the debate and the media to give us the right sense of perspective. I believe that this Bill could play a significant part in helping the nation, even in peacetime, to remember the sacrifices that are the foundations of our freedoms today.
However, beyond remembrance lies reflection. I am always quietened and deeply reflective when the names of fallen service men and women are read aloud in your Lordships’ House. Such reflection, even for a moment, is good: to think about what is truly important, to be grateful for health and life and to think of others in their grief. Even if the Bill means that the person busy doing home improvements curses that the DIY store is shut, they may remember the reason, stop for a moment and put the improvement of their castle in perspective. The closure of our shops is now such an unusual occurrence that I believe Julius Caesar would say, “We came, we saw, we shopped”.
I recently holidayed on the Isles of Lewis and Harris, and the peace and quiet of Sundays there brought back vague childhood memories for me. Turning the clock back is not always wise, but Socrates did say that:
“The unexamined life is not worth living”,
and putting aside a day for remembrance and reflection would give space to many to do so.
Finally, the Bill will give many in the nation some well-earned rest. That may seem a strange comment after so many wonderful, celebratory bank holidays in April and May of this year. However, the boost to consumer sales figures for those months shows that often we shop rather than rest. Of course, for many people shopping is a pleasure, but these bank holidays have not given rest to our shop workers who work long hours and are often among the lowest paid in society. Half of all employees in the retail and wholesale sector earn less than £7 per hour and three-fifths of them are women.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, is pleased to learn that more than 10,000 members of USDAW responded to the Government’s Red Tape Challenge website, which asked whether Sunday and Christmas Day trading should be abolished, amended or retained. Over 91 per cent very firmly said that they wanted no changes to the existing regulations on Sunday and Christmas Day trading. Perhaps that is an indication that retail workers could do with some rest and perhaps our tourist attractions and other leisure activities would get a welcome boost with a non-shopping bank holiday.
The Bill would help us to lay aside our credit cards, reflect on the human cost of our freedoms and take on board some of the advice from one of the nation's favourite poems—“Leisure” by William Henry Davies:
“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare …
A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare”.
It is a pleasure to support the Bill.
My Lords, with the indulgence of the House, I will say a few words in the gap. I particularly want to thank my noble friend Lord Glasman for the beautiful speech that he made and to congratulate him on what was, I think we all agree, a remarkable maiden speech. The noble Lord, through his teaching, writing, campaigning and now his contribution to our debates, is someone who challenges us to consider the values that underlie our politics and policy-making.
I have been closely aware of the work of London Citizens for many years because my daughter has been one of my noble friend’s close colleagues and fellow campaigners. I know that he, like London Citizens, proposes a decent, gentle radicalism that is something that we should heed seriously and think very carefully about. It is good to have him with us.
I also want to support the Bill introduced and proposed by my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity. Theologically, I am not sure whether Remembrance Sunday is analogous to Christmas Day or Easter Sunday: I am not competent to say. It is a pity that, unusually, we do not have guidance on such a matter this morning from the Bishops’ Benches, but I am certain that socially, it is appropriate that we should have a formal commitment of the kind that the Bill would make possible on behalf of us all to attend on a third occasion in the year to matters that are more elevated than getting, spending and shopping. Our all-too-habitual acquisitiveness should give way to a contemplation of the selflessness and sacrifice of those who have laid down their lives in conflict or been grievously wounded. Calmness should, on this day in the year, like on Christmas Day and Easter Day, supersede our all-too-normal frenzy. We should be bound together collectively rather than separated in competitive individualism.
Many of us would perfectly readily assent to such propositions, but then many people will say that this should surely be a matter of personal choice. However, my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity is right to insist that legislation is needed. It is a sad reality to acknowledge this, but he is right to observe that it is not likely that employees’ rights and consciences will necessarily be respected by employers. Therefore, a formal obligation should be laid on employers to allow this. I congratulate my noble friend and warmly support his Bill.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Davies on the Bill and my noble friend Lord Glasman on his witty and moving speech. We share a background. I, too, come from a Jewish family who were refugees at the end of the 19th century and were grateful to be able to come here. They were grateful in some cases where their lives were being defended and in other cases they unfortunately perished. I had a cousin who went through an Anne Frank experience while living in Rotterdam. He hid in a cupboard while he heard the boot steps of the Gestapo searching the house. He managed to survive. Therefore, I have a personal understanding and feeling of gratitude towards this country and towards those men and women who laid down their lives in the two great wars and continue to lay down their lives today.
I was very moved by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, when he talked about the sacrifice of yesterday and of today's men and women. He neatly encapsulated this issue when he talked about Remembrance Sunday being drowned out by the ringing of cash tills.
On the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, I cannot resist a good quotation. Even when I have heard them before they are still worth hearing again, especially the reference to Socrates. On a cycle tour of the Western Isles, I, too, encountered almost total shut down. Certainly, there was silence.
I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. He, too, understood the sentiments behind the Bill. Towards the end of his contribution, he gave us reason to think about the implications and whether the Bill would achieve everything that it seeks to achieve. I support what it seeks to achieve. Every Remembrance Sunday, on behalf of my residents’ association, I lay a wreath at the local war memorial in Southall. It is a moving but small service. It does not totally shut down Southall and surrounding districts: we do not get two minutes of absolute silence.
Even if the Bill were to be passed, we know that many men and women would still be working on this particular day. That is a fact, unfortunately, of 21st century life. I suppose that it was the fact that caused us to allow, with some restrictions, Sunday trading. It was not an easy decision. There were passionate and worthy views held on both sides. There is no doubt that it has had an impact and I would not deny the point that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made.
Reflecting on this particular Bill and if the Government were to choose to support it, I wonder whether we could seek to turn the clock back. Personally, I would like to see a greater observance on that particular Sunday of the two-minute silence. I would like to see all employers recognise the importance of encouraging their employees in that observance, but should that be a matter of compulsion or, as the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, suggested, of persuasion?
A mood has been developing in this country. The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, mentioned Wootton Bassett. There has been a gradual understanding of the importance of honouring people of today who have made the supreme sacrifice—or, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reminded us, who have been severely wounded. I think that the mood has changed. Whether this particular piece of legislation is the right piece of legislation and whether it would do everything that it seeks to achieve—and I understand fully what it seeks to achieve—I am not so sure. Nevertheless, I welcome the opportunity to have this debate. I, too, await with interest what the Minister has to say on this issue.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, for bringing this Bill to the attention of the House today and for prompting such a moving set of speeches of such heartfelt feeling, especially that of my noble friend Lord Cormack and the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Glasman. We enjoyed it very much and are happy to welcome the noble Lord to his feet. We know that the House will look forward to many speeches, which I am sure will follow.
This is of course not the first time that I have had the pleasure of addressing the House on this issue. Noble Lords may recall the brief debate in December, prompted by my response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Davies, seeking news of government plans for just such provisions as those being sought in this Bill, and whether at that time the Government would support such a Bill.
Before setting out the Government’s view on this Bill, I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all service personnel, past and present, who have so admirably served this country. The coalition Government recognise and fully appreciate the professionalism, dedication and sacrifices that our service men and women make and have made on a daily basis while serving and protecting this country. We must never forget the courage shown and the sacrifices that were made by all during the hardships that war brings.
I shall speak personally for a moment, as others have done, including the noble Lord, Lord Young, who spoke most movingly I thought. I come from a city called Plymouth, which is a naval city and a city of marines. I come from a family used to losing our men in defence of freedom and of our beloved country. My family have lost many people in wars and are proud to have done so. When the “Hood” went down, we grieved with all the other people who lost family in it. Through the Blitz, through which I lived as a very little girl, my shattered city got up every day and carried on. That essential normality quelled our daily fears, and that is something that we should remember.
We are a nation that has fought many times and that has always had to pick itself up and get on with the next day. We remember and honour the fallen, and Remembrance Sunday is the day when we focus our thoughts on their sacrifices. I hope that this custom will remain for all time. It is great tribute to our Armed Forces that so many people come together at the Cenotaph and the many other remembrance events across the country.
I referred to my reply and the short debate that followed the question from the noble Lord, Lord Davies, on matters reflected in his Bill. On that occasion, I said that the Government had no plans to introduce the provisions now sought in this Bill, and that I could not confirm that the Government would support such provisions were they presented in the form of a Private Member’s Bill. Also in my reply on that occasion, I said that the Government took the view that, if an individual chooses to observe remembrance and to take time to reflect at that time of year, that is fundamentally a matter of personal conscience and choice and not something that can necessarily be regulated for. The Government remain of that view.
The Government support and promote remembrance of the fallen. Notwithstanding our acknowledgement and appreciation of the noble Lord’s admirable underlying objective in promoting his Bill, the Government have reservations about a Bill that seeks to encourage and enforce observance by regulation. This is not a question of relieving shop owners or those who work in shops from any formal restriction that prevents them from observing remembrance when they choose to do so; that might be another matter. Those who operate large shops are already free to choose not to open on any particular Sunday, or to open later on Remembrance Sunday, if they wish.
I note the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, that shop workers are being unfairly prevented from observing remembrance. I am not aware of that. No shop worker in this country can be forced to work on Sundays when they opt not to do so. If they generally work on Sundays, or they are employed to work only on Sundays, they can negotiate with their employers for time off when they wish to observe or participate in an act of remembrance. We have no reason to suppose that employers would do anything other than be sympathetic to such requests on the grounds of conscience. The Government would certainly encourage employers to respond sympathetically to such requests.
To the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, I can say that Sunday trading law continues to elicit strong feeling on all sides of the argument, of course—for tightening or relaxing the law and for retaining the status quo. The Government are considering the many responses that they received on the red tape challenge website, and I understand that they will announce in July whether to develop options for change.
As I have said, at the level of the individual the observance of remembrance is a matter of personal choice and conscience, no matter how much of an imperative we in this House believe it is, or how much we might think it is the right thing to do. People who choose to observe remembrance do so not as an alternative to shopping but because they believe it is the right and proper thing to do. Whether shops are open or closed is not likely to change those people, nor indeed those people who for whatever reason choose not to observe or acknowledge these occasions. Were this Bill to become law and large shops forced not to open, and shop workers forced not to go to work, the Government do not believe that observance of or participating in acts of remembrance would necessarily increase. Shop workers and those who choose to shop on Sundays will continue to behave as their conscience tells them; restricting their choice of activities in this way is not likely in our view to change that.
On the question of having a day off at Christmas and Easter and why we do not do so on Remembrance Sunday, I am aware that we regulate so that large shops must close all day on Christmas Day and on Easter Sunday, but that is for different reasons. In those cases, it was decided for religious, historical and cultural reasons that it is not right that employees in shops should be expected to work and that this reflected what had historically been the case for those particular days. In the case of Easter Sunday, this was addressed in the Sunday Trading Act, when opening hours generally were relaxed. The Christmas Day (Trading) Act followed some years later when it became apparent that the tradition of no opening on Christmas Day was in danger of being eroded. There is no such tradition in this country in respect of remembrance.
It has been expressed by one of our most respected organisations in this field that the closure of large stores on Remembrance Sunday might risk people being less likely to pause in the course of their activities. It can be far more poignant and personal for people to pause as part of their normal day—for example, if they are shopping and hear an announcement about the two minutes’ silence than if they are at home and perhaps unaware of it. Also there might be a risk that people might be less likely to pause and reflect if they are not in a public place where others are already doing so.
Although we have reservations about this Bill, I would not wish to leave the House in any doubt about the Government’s commitment to encouraging and perpetuating acts of remembrance and to ensuring that remembrance impinges upon people’s consciousness at least once a year, so that they may be encouraged to reflect.
I am grateful to my noble friend, for whom I have great admiration, for giving way. Will she give the House two assurances? Will she recognise that what she said about pausing during shopping and so on has, happily, become a feature of 11 November, generally on a weekday? That is good. However, here we are talking about national recognition of Remembrance Sunday. Will she at least have further conversations with her ministerial colleagues about what has been said today and how appropriate many of us feel it would be to have that national act of recognition enshrined by this Parliament?
My Lords, debates in this House are so good because discussions like this on Bills give the Government an opportunity to hear again what is said in this House, to reflect on it and to take the measure of it. That is why these things return and return. One of the great things about our democracy is that such Bills are allowed to return and return. I hope that that will give my noble friend some comfort.
I agree with those who say that remembrance is a matter of national importance. It speaks to the nation’s appreciation of the acts and sacrifices of those who have gone before us, of the role they have played in the history of our nation and of the freedoms that we all enjoy today. The Government acknowledge these debts and demonstrate their commitment by setting an example and placing acts of remembrance uppermost in their priorities at that time of year. We seek to set that example and lead by joining with others from within Parliament, the Royal Family, the Armed Forces, the Royal British Legion, of course, and many thousands of others. We do so by participating in a range of activities and commemorations. These include the service of remembrance at the Cenotaph, the Royal British Legion’s festival of remembrance, the two-minute silence on the anniversary of Armistice Day, and the countless services and parades held across the United Kingdom. Remembrance is important, and it is very important that people of all generations are aware of its meaning and its history, but it is better in this case to lead and to educate by example. We feel that this is not an issue to which regulation is best suited.
To conclude, I hope that I have been able to set the context in which the Government have their reservations about this Bill. In so doing, I hope that I have been able to provide what I hope will be perceived by the House as a firm assurance of the Government’s commitment to seeing the continued observance of and participation in acts of remembrance far into the future.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in support of this Bill. I also express my sincere congratulations to my noble friend Lord Glasman on his maiden speech, which was full of passion and humility. I agree with the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, described his speech too.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, that this is about culture. I used the word “morality”. This Bill is not about money, and nor should it be. It should not be dressed up in the economic circumstances that were addressed in the Shops Act. From 1952 until the 1980s, we in this country recognised the Shops Act and the way in which it benefitted the British people, with Sunday being special. Then, illegal trading started with its consequent developments. I always remember that in April 1985, even though there was a government three-line whip in the House of Commons, a proposal was defeated because the Members of Parliament believed in doing something that did not concern the economic circumstances of shopkeepers. They looked at what the people of this country wanted and that has survived.
I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, said that 10,000 shop workers had responded to this consultation and that 91 per cent had clearly said that they did not want any change. If they do not want change to the Sunday Trading Act as it is now, they will be supportive of a Remembrance Sunday that ensures that that day is treated like Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. That is what we are about in this country. Let us preserve the very things that are important to us. It is not just about making money—we have only ever dabbled with the Shops Act on economic grounds—and it should not be so. Otherwise we shall turn this country into nothing but a great big dollar, as some people would say, and we do not need to do that.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for his intervention. He clearly reminded us that the Defence Minister regularly lists at the Dispatch Box the names of British soldiers who have died or been injured in Afghanistan in the current hostilities. I am a little disappointed that there was not unconditional support from those on the Labour Front Bench. Nevertheless, they have given an assurance that they will go away and talk about it. I hope they will do so because regulation is required for Remembrance Sunday if it is going to work. That is what I want to see. I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and taken forward.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.