Memo to the Home Office
By ANGUS MAUDE, MP o far the Government has shown no signs of a being about to drop the Shops Bill. This may be due simply to a desire to keep the House of Lords innocently amused for as long as possible; and if anyone doubts that the proceedings have been entertaining, I recommend them to study the discussion initiated by Lord Swinton on the legality of buying and eating currant buns. On the other hand, it may be that the Government genuinely believes in the desirability of the Bill.
This would be more serious. It marks such a startling change in the principles of Government policy that we must presumably be prepared for further shocks of the same kind. I thought it might be helpful if I suggested some of the obvious existing anomalies to which the Home Office will no doubt wish to turn their attention after they have finished with shops.
Let us first glance briefly at the idea behind the Shops Bill. We need not worry too much about the Mohammedan barrow-boys and the Jewish barbers in Scotland, for this part of the Bill is no more than the crazed maundering of some overwrought official who has devoted his life to the tidying-up of unimportant anomalies. But as far as I am able to understand the under- lying principles of the rest of the Bill, they can be summarised like this :
(1) Every shopkeeper, however small, in- efficient or idle, ought to be enabled to earn a living without overwork;
(2) Since most people are able to do their shopping before tea-time, there is no reason why everyone should not do so; those who have hitherto proved obdurate must be educated to conform to the proper times.
Fair enough. But a principle of this kind can- not be allowed to stop at shops. Anomalies and injustices abound. Where shall we start? Here are a few that cause me particular concern.
First, there is the question of the sale of petrol. It must be extremely provoking, under a system of rationing, for garages to have to sell petrol in little dribbles of one, two or three gallons at a time. It is also quite uneconomic, since it is quicker for a man to pump in six gallons than to make two separate sorties each for the purpose of selling three gallons. I therefore propose that at the beginning of each month the motorist should be compelled to fill up with his entire month's basic ration and—if his tank will hold it—his supplementaries as well. If some of it gets stolen, it will teach him to put a lock on the tank.
But, irrespective of the problems of rationing, there is also the question of petrol sales at anti- social times. There are still far too many garages staying open at night and on Sundays, and I can- not believe it is necessary. After all, they can only be doing it because they fear someone else will pinch their trade if they don't. All garages must, therefore, close at 6 p.m. from Monday to Friday, at 1 p.m. on Saturday and for the whole of Sunday. If any motorist can't remember to fill up his tank on Saturday morning, then he de- serves to run out of petrol on top of the Cots- wolds on Sunday afternoon. He won't do it twice. There is also far too much unnecessary public transport. It is generally accepted that the pur- pose of London Transport is to provide reason- ably congenial work for its staff, and that the only snag about the job is the passengers. These, unlike the inanimate raw material of other in- dustries, are full of unreasonable prejudices. They expect to be picked up somewhere near their starting points and to be conveyed with a minimum of comfort and expedition to the most inconvenient destinations. There is no reason why we should continue with the present half-hearted attempts to pander to these whimsies. A simple restriction of omnibus services to a few straight- forward routes along main arteries would do much to ease the position, while ensuring that no passenger had more than half-an-hour's walk at each end (except perhaps for an insignificant minority who could perfectly well stay at home).
There is obviously far too much unnecessary travelling at weekends by both train and omnibus, and this is extremely inconvenient to the staff, who could just as well have their weekend over- time pay assimilated into a guaranteed weekly wage. Most people can get away from work on Friday night or by midday on Saturday at the latest; by getting up really early on Monday morning, they could travel straight back to work without returning home at all. Short journeys on Sunday by public transport are clearly quite un- justifiable. There is always some place of worship within easy walking distance, even if it is not always of the desired denomination; besides, normal people stay in bed on Sunday morning. In the afternoon, the national interest would be better served if people tended their gardens in- stead of visiting their relations.
I am also absolutely fed up with the behaviour of people who call out their family doctors during the night or at weekends. Much of the alleged sickness treated in this country is imaginary; much more could be borne without treatment by the exercise of a little self-control. Besides, if people knew it was impossible to get a broken leg set on a Sunday they would soon educate themselves to distemper the ceiling and prune the apple tree on Saturday. The Home Office might wish to deal with this matter by Regulation, but perhaps it could best be incorporated into the Minister of Health's interim settlement with the doctors. This opportunity could be taken to deal also with the scandal of those keen doctors, besotted with bizarre notions of service, who go out of their way to visit patients who could easily come to them; some even go through the anti- quated and unnecessary processes of diagnosis, instead of either instantly prescribing a bottle of medicine or sending the patient on to a hospital. This unethical method of pinching patients from more leisurely practitioners should be stopped at once.
The licensing laws are a fruitful field, for there are all sorts of anomalies in opening hours and between pubs, clubs and restaurants. Probably the simplest solution would be to work out the times at which every normal person could do with a drink, and then absolutely prohibit every place of refreshment from opening during those hours. I do not want to anticipate the problem that will confront the Home Secretary when he receives the twenty-four minority reports from the Wolfenden Committee on Prostitution, but obviously this matter can be dealt with on sound restrictionist principles, and I am getting out a plan.
The anomalies inherent in farming have now, I think, been mostly removed. It is now reason- ably easy for a thoroughly inefficient farmer on bad land to make a living, while the tax-collector deals faithfully with the high profits made by his more active and knowledgeable, competitor. There may, however, be some scope for mitigat- ing the fortuitous effects of weather. For example, if one part of, the country is flooded while another has perfect weather and a good harvest, it is clearly right that a statutory levy should average out the incomes of both sets of farmers. I am much afraid that at present one lot might do quite well out of it, and that would not be right. But perhaps the Ministry of Agricul- ture has already thought of this and acted in the proper Conservative way. •