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House of Commons

Friday 22 January 1993

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Stoke Mandeville Hospital

9.34 am

Mr. David Lidington Aylesbury) : It gives me great pleasure to present a petition about the future of Stoke Mandeville hospital, in my constituency. It is signed by 12 residents of Aylesbury and the surrounding area. However, the sentiments expressed therein are common to a much larger petition signed by about 27,000 people in Aylesbury and the surrounding area but the wording of which did not conform to the regulations of the House.

The petition reads :

That Stoke Mandeville Hospital has for many years provided health care of a high standard to local people, that the Hospital has gained a high reputation, not only locally, but nationally and internationally and that people are now fearful that this high quality health care may not be available in the future.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your Honourable House may urge Her Majesty's Government to make proper provision so that Stoke Mandeville Hospital can continue to offer medical treatment of the highest quality to all patients referred there.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table .

Visitors (Right of Appeal)

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : I have pleasure in presenting a petition, which I strongly support and which is signed by many of my constituents and residents of south London, mostly from local churches and voluntary organisations, about the removal of the right of appeal for

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visitors which is contained in the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill which will come back to the House from another place. The petition reads :

That Great Injustice will be done by the Provisions of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill in removing from those wishing to visit the United Kingdom any appeal against refusal of a visa or Entry Certificate ; that under the present system a substantial number of appeals against refusal of leave to come to the United Kingdom as visitors are upheld by independent adjudicators ; that friends and relatives wishing to come together for family occasions or in times of bereavement as well as joy may be prevented without any recourse to appeal and this will cause much resentment and hardship and injustice.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House will reject the Provisions of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill. My constituents and the petitioners hope that the petition will have some effect in correcting what they regard as a gross injustice against them, their relatives and their friends.

To lie upon the Table.

St. Bartholomew's Hospital

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury) : I have the honour to present a petition urging that St. Bartholomew's hospital should not be closed but saved. The House will recall that Professor Tomlinson dismisses 900 years of history in seven paragraphs. Millions of people around the country do not wish St. Bartholomew's to close. The petition is signed by 126,000 people, in addition to the 500,000 people who delivered a petition to 10 Downing street only a month ago.

The petition reads :

The Humble Petition of the patients and friends of St. Bartholomew's Hospital


That St. Bartholomew's Hospital is an indispensable resource for the health and welfare of the local community, a national centre of medical excellence, and provides all patients with a high quality of care.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House do all within your power to ensure that St. Bartholomew's Hospital remains open for the benefit of local residents and patients who rely on its services and would be harmed by its closure.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c. The petition is strongly endorsed by me, thousands of my constituents, and hundreds of thousands of Londoners.

To lie upon the Table.

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Orders of the Day

Shops (Amendment) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Speaker : I have not selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) but, of course, its subject matter may be referred to in the course of the debate. 9.39 pm

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am pleased, Madam Speaker, that you are in the Chair to call me to open this important debate. I intend to cut short my speech, which would normally take half an hour or 45 minutes if Second Reading were being moved by a Minister or by one of our Front-Bench spokesmen. I am aware that many hon. Members wish to participate in this major debate and, although I am the promoter of the Bill, it would not be fair to deny hon. Members, whatever their opinions, the opportunity to speak simply because it had taken 45 minutes to move Second Reading. I hope that my attitude will be reflected in the time taken by other hon. Members who speak.

I am glad to see that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have now taken the Chair, because when you were elected to your position you promised me that you would take the opportunity of calling me on 22 January. The House will note that you have not even been able to do that--and that since you were elected you have not called me at any time. I introduce this Bill on behalf of my sponsors. Sometimes sponsors simply add their names to private Members' Bills and forget that they have done so, but that has not happened with this Bill. The sponsors have met regularly for discussion, and the Bill has been dealt with collectively, as an all-party Bill, from the day that I presented it until this morning. I am glad to report to the House that the Bill was presented with unanimous agreement. Hon. Members from the Conservative and Labour parties, and the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, discussed it at the meetings.

This is not a Labour party private Member's Bill. I do not know whether it has the backing of the Labour Front Bench--perhaps we shall be told that later, if at all. I pay tribute to my sponsors and hope that they will be able to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker. They have given the Bill exceptionally loyal and industrious support and encouragement.

I thank, too, the Keep Sunday Special campaign workers, especially Michael Schluter, David Blackmore, Paul Diamond, Hannah Reed, Claire Barford and John Alexander, who have worked so hard for such long hours for so little remuneration to prepare the way for today's debate. I also thank Garfield Davies and Bill Conner of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers--and especially my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South- East (Mr. Turner), the chairman of the Co-operative parliamentary group, and the members of RECOST, the Retailers Council on Sunday Trading, especially retailers such as CWS, the CRS, the John Lewis Partnership, Iceland, C and A, Etam and Greggs, as well as many others who have given unstintingly towards developing and preparing my Bill.

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I also thank all the main church denominations which over the years have continued to uphold the principles of keeping Sunday a special day for friends, family and voluntary activities. Those are the principles for which my Bill stands. Ten minutes ago we had prayers. I should like to thank the people who have prayed for me and for my sponsors, and who have prayed that the House will consider the question seriously on behalf of church denominations and organisations throughout the country.

At this point I declare my interest, in the hope that others who may have an opposing view will declare their interests, even if they are not mentioned in the Register of Members' Interests. Because of selfish interests, millions of pounds are being spent in the fight by those who oppose the Bill. I am proud to be the senior sponsored Member of Parliament on the USDAW parliamentary panel. I represent in the House the interests of 350,000 shop workers, and I seek to promote their concerns whenever I can. They are among the poorest paid workers in the country, and the measures that we are debating are vital to protect their income and their quality of life. I believe that Lloyd George once said that democracy means government by discussion--but it becomes effective only if one can stop people talking. I hope that that will be a lesson to us all. Let us hope that our contributions will be brief so that all hon. Members may participate.

Before outlining the Bill, I shall put three questions to the House. First, should not right hon. and hon. Members ask why it has taken the Government from 1986 to November 1992 to offer the House a measure to reform Sunday trading? Why has it taken six and a half years for the Government to spring to life when the need for reform has been evident to everybody?

The second question is, why has it been necessary to delay until the end of January the Second Reading of a private Member's Bill which was drawn number three in the ballot in May 1992 and had its First Reading in June 1992? Is there a hidden agenda to prevent this Bill from reaching the statute book? [Laughter.] I warn Conservative Members who are laughing that one of the opportunities that the House gives to Back Benchers is the right to introduce private Members' Bills. If we are lucky in the ballot immediately following an election, and come out at number three, even in a long Session such as the present Session, we do not expect to wait eight months before our Bill is given a Second Reading debate.

The Government know that we have only until November before a new Session starts. With three months for the summer recess, and a month or so for Easter and Whitsun together, four months of that time will be taken out. What earthly hope have Back Benchers of their Bills becoming law, even in a long Session, when the Government do not allow the House to debate Second Reading until eight months after their Bill is presented? That is scandalous, and it is time that something was done in the House to protect Back Benchers' rights.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Powell : I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman may be called later. I know that a number of hon. Members who share the hon. Gentleman's opinion want to be called as well.

My third question is why a Government who are committed to law and order enforce every Act on the

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statute book except for one. Is there any financial link between the retailers who break the law and the party that allows them to do so? That question should be replied to. It is no good the Government hiding behind the cloak of Europe or behind the other cloaks they have used for two or three years and allowing their supporters flagrantly to break the law, which is causing concern throughout the retail industry.

I shall now deal with the goals of the Bill. Today's debate is not about the details of the Bill, because they will be debated and sorted out in Committee. Our debate today is about the cause for legislation. Our debate is about ends, not means.

I have here a booklet entitled "Towards a New Shops Act." I hope that all hon. Members have received a copy. I have sent copies to all 650 hon. Members to ensure that they are aware of the Bill because it is so involved and complicated. On pages 6 and 7, I have set out the seven goals which are the basis of the Bill.

The first goal is to guarantee a common day off for family and community activities, including church worship. The second is to protect the right of workers not to work on Sunday. The third is to protect vulnerable smaller retailers from pressure to work a seven-day week.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Powell : I have already said that I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman and I get on very well in the House, but I do not want interventions which take up a lot of time.

The fourth goal is to protect our high streets and those who use them. The fifth is to protect those living near shopping centres or main roads. The sixth goal is to provide for the reasonable needs of consumers and the seventh is to prevent unfair competition. I hope that hon. Members will note that consumers' convenience is only one factor in resolving the Sunday issue. It would be unfair only to consider consumers instead of striking a balance among the various groups with an interest in whether shops open on Sunday.

Some hon. Members who speak today may wish to spend the time of the House in pointing to minor problems and anomalies in the drafting of the Bill-- [Laughter.] It is nice to have a laugh. We do not have the backing, as some hon. Members have, of the big retailers and, therefore, of their legal teams. We do not have the services of Government-paid parliamentary draftsmen. Even if we had, I remind the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), who is a supporter of the Government, that, whenever a Bill receives a Second Reading and goes into Committee, a ream of amendments is tabled, not by members of the Committee, but by the Government. The hon. Gentleman should not laugh at a Bill that is constructed by people who are volunteers. Let us have some substance in the debate today and not shibboleths. There is one decisive question before the House today : do we want to keep Sunday a special day or not? No other legislation, apart from the Bill, will guarantee to keep Sunday special.

I have some words for those who object to my proposals. Some say that we can deregulate without any adverse effects. That is an attractive argument because it implies that we can have our cake and eat it. Advocates of that view say that we should look at Scotland where there

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is already Sunday trading. My reply is that we should indeed look at Scotland, but that we should look at it carefully and not superficially.

In the major cities, Sunday trading is already the norm for many Sundays of the year and it continues to grow rapidly. Many shop workers are on single time and have no day off in lieu. Church attendance has dropped sharply, which may or may not be associated with the growth of Sunday shopping.

Closer to home, let us consider what has happened to Good Friday in England and Wales. It was once a quiet day like a Sunday. Competitive pressures have now made it like any other shopping day because we did not pass legislation to protect it.

It is said that people want Sunday shopping. That argument rests on opinion polls. After the election, hon. Members must have realised how unreliable those polls are. Some years ago, I attempted to introduce a ten-minute Bill to stop the taking of opinion polls during elections and by-elections. I had tremendous support from the House, but, unfortunately, as usual, the Government did not afford me the time to get the Bill on the statute book.

It is true that 5 per cent. of the population go to supermarkets on Sunday- -I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) is one of them. It is also true that 95 per cent. of the population do not. They are the silent majority who neither want nor need Sunday trading. I well understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow may occasionally shop on a Sunday. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he is in the House of Commons from dawn to dusk every day of the week.

It is said that there is no feasible way to design a law on Sunday trading which will work. How are such laws made to work in almost every other European country? Almost 300 million people out of the 340 million in Europe are governed by laws restricting Sunday trading. The House knows that where there is a will, there is a way. I shall now deal with the key points of the Bill, which are set out in the booklet "Towards a New Shops Act". I will not repeat them except to outline the four main areas. First, certain types of shop would be allowed to open. The Bill is based on a list of shops and not on a list of goods. Shops that opened could sell all the goods in the shop. Secondly, the types of shop that we wish to allow to open are summarised in the word "REST", which stands for recreation, emergency, social gathering and travel.

Thirdly, we propose a system by which shops will register with the local authority if they want to open. That would ease enforcement and the registration system would be self-funded. Fourthly, there are detailed provisions for employee protection. Given the difficulty of enforcing employee protection in practice, the employee protection in the Bill stands on two legs. The first leg is that most shops would be shut, so most employees would not be asked to work. The second leg is statutory protection for the minority who would have to work. If the House gives the Bill a Second Reading today, I should welcome discussion in Committee on a number of controversial details of the Bill, such as whether we should allow do-it-yourself shops to be included in some form of definition. We could also discuss whether the size of the corner shop should be increased from 1,500 sq ft and whether all shops should be allowed to open for two or three Sundays before Christmas. I realise that strong views are held on each of those points, and we shall be able to consider the arguments in detail in Committee.

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As I have just said what I expect to discuss in Committee, let me once again quote Lloyd George :

"I would rather be an opportunist and float than go to the bottom with my principles around my neck."

That is important when we consider whether to accept the option that we are proposing.

Pages 31 to 33 of "Towards a New Shops Act" contain a list of organisations. Appendix 2 lists those who support the REST proposals. Hon. Members will note that that represents a formidable number of people, but it is by no means the entire list. I have been heartened by the amount of mail that my sponsors and I and the Keep Sunday Special campaign have received supporting the REST proposals. I am sure that all hon. Members in the Chamber today will have received a considerable amount of mail in support of the REST proposals. I received a card last week which stated, "Chin up." It was a note of encouragement from no less a person than Joy Brodier of Bedford who sent that now famous postcard to Terry Waite. In her card to me, she said that any help that she could give on the REST clause would be readily available.

On her card, Joy Brodier wrote that she had sent Christmas cards and requests for Keep Sunday Special proposals to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Employment as well as to that Education chappie whose name she could not remember--and we can all understand why. She also said that today's debate would be taking place the day before her 40th birthday. She hoped that it would be a cause for rejoicing. I share her sentiment.

Retailers who have written to me claim that it is not commercially viable for most retailers to trade every day of the week. Six days trading would merely be spread over seven. There is no extra money out there to be spent and, as margins in food retailing leave no room for manoeuvre, seven-day trading would inevitably increase costs and they, in part, would have to be passed on to the customer. Currently, some supermarkets claim that Sunday trading is boosting turnover. All I can say is that they are stealing business from those who are upholding the law. One major retailer stated on that issue : "We have a human side too and staff welfare and community issues have also played a major part in our argument. Of our 11,000 staff, 80 per cent. work in the stores and many of them would be called upon to work on a Sunday rota. For some it may not be an inconvenience, indeed for a few it may be welcomed, as double time may well help the family budget. But for most it would be an unwelcome intrusion into their family lives."

Of course, supporters of deregulation are making great play of their support for workers' rights and many of the big names have promised to ensure that only volunteers will work the Sunday rota. However, business cannot operate on a voluntary basis. Pressure will be brought to bear and, within a few years, Sunday working will become the norm for up to 2 million retail and supporting staff. Hon. Members should note that up to 2 million staff may be affected by our decision today.

Smaller shops are not restricted to the high street. Most street corners and village centres have a local store that serves the immediate community and, dare I say it, provides the Sunday newspapers and other essentials that

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are part of what makes Sunday special. Many of those stores are suffering now and more will be forced to close if Sunday becomes a free for all.

How do community issues fit into the equation? I use that concept in the broadest sense to encompass quality of life. Sunday trading must encourage the move to out-of-town shopping. Malls, retail parks and superstores are most likely to attract the Sunday shopper. The high street is already under threat in many areas. If inner-city life is to be encouraged to thrive, its lifeblood of trade must be preserved.

Let us be clear : Sunday trading will devastate shopping as we know it. That will happen not tomorrow, not next year and perhaps not in this millenium. However, the next generation will certainly suffer the consequences of shopping totally geared to suit the articulate, better-off and more sophisticated members of society.

The Bill, based on the REST proposals, clearly states that those small shops should be alllowed to trade. However, for them to argue their own case against deregulation would obviously be seen as protectionist. Indeed, it may be, but the implications of those community shops disappearing affect us all. We will be affected by noise, pollution, transport and the general hustle and bustle that are part of the rat race that we endure today. Surely Sunday trading can only make life more hectic and disruptive. One day of peace and rest, for whatever recreation one cares to follow, must be sacrosanct and it should be preserved.

We feel that the only people who want Sunday trading are non-shop workers. However, do they realise that if Sunday trading is approved, they too will eventually have to work? After all, people have only one wage packet per week, in whatever way or on whichever day they spend it. More hours to work would mean larger wage bills and that would put many small shops out of business.

Most shop staff work overtime at Christmas and in respect of late night shopping six days a week. Sunday trading would mean late nights and seven working days. That would mean 365 days a year of shopping and 365 days of hustle and bustle with no pause after six days to recharge. There would be no time for family lunches, family teas or family visits. There would be no time to visit mum or dad, grandma or grandfather, no time to worship and no time for recreation. Shop workers would have no chance to spend one day a week with friends and family. There would be more pressure on young people to work the whole weekend. There would be more pollution, more noise, more traffic wardens. Security officers, cleaners and caterers would be forced to work. There would be no proper compensation for working unsocial hours. One's life would be controlled by one's employer for seven days a week. There would also be higher prices as retailers covered costs. At that rate, shop workers and all those involved in retailing would surely be returning to Victorian times.

I am sure that hon. Members will be glad that I have now turned to the last page in my notes. Winston Churchill once stated : "Sunday is a divine and priceless institution a necessary pause in the national life it is the birthright of every British subject our responsibility, privilege and duty to hand on to posterity." Most of us will unreservedly agree with those sentiments. Let me appeal to all right hon. and hon. Members, because this may be the last chance to protect the

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traditional English Sunday in the form that so many of us enjoy. I ask the House, not from any financial interest or for reasons of private gain or for selfish motives, but for the sake of our grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters and our future grandsons and granddaughters and generations to come, to let them live to enjoy what we have enjoyed. The House should vote for my Bill today and keep Sunday a special day for ever.

10.10 am

Mr. Michael Alison (Selby) : It is a great honour to speak second in this debate, following the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), as one of the co-sponsors of his Bill. If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman has manifested the qualities of patience, doggedness, subtlety, courtesy and, occasionally, ruthlessness. That is the prerogative of Members of the Whips Office in every part of the House down the ages. As part of my association with the hon. Gentleman, I hope that I shall never lack a pair on a critical Bill.

It is both daunting and intriguing to reflect on the fact that, whatever view we take about Sunday trading and whatever side we are on, we have in common that we are all trying to conquer a peak--the formulation of a reasonable framework of acceptable Sunday trading laws. The formulation of such a reasonable framework has baffled and defied the most expert political and parliamentary mountaineers throughout the century. Endless Back Benchers have tried and failed to produce a sensible framework for Sunday trading. Even Baroness Thatcher found this particular peak beyond her extraordinary political skills. So the question is : will we, this generation of the House, be the crew which will pull off the final assent? Will my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, who is sitting on the Front Bench this morning, be the Minister who goes down in history as the guy who got to the top?

Against that background, it is reasonable to remind ourselves of the common ground which both assault teams share, so to speak. I doubt whether there are any hon. Members in the House who do not subscribe to the practice and principle of a day of rest for ourselves and our fellow human beings. We will probably go further on the same common ground and specify that the day of rest should be in the proportion of one in seven. The seventh day off, but not necessarily Sunday, seems satisfactorily sanctioned by culture, tradition and the natural rhythms of exertion and relaxation, whatever one's religious views may be.

I would go further and argue that there is another important reality in the amount of common ground which is shared on both sides of the debate. Supporters of both options lie in different parts of the House. The approach of the Keep Sunday Special campaign is echoed in the Bill. The other element of common ground between, say, the Keep Sunday Special campaign and the Shopping Hours Reform Council is not only the validity and necessity for a day off but that the day off should be the same day off for as many people as possible. I am struck by the extent to which those who want more Sunday shops to open or more Sunday shopping hours than the present Shops Act 1950 allows argue that Sunday shopping is an important aspect in itself. Sunday shopping is a family and social recreation. Shopping is essentially

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something that Mum and Dad and the children can do together precisely because Sunday is a general day off from work and school.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : I will be brief. This is very much a British matter and a matter of important domestic legislation for us to put right, and therefore one should not look too much overseas or to Europe at other examples.

It is interesting to reflect, however, that in Germany, for example, the national day of rest is solemnly enshrined in its constitution as a sacred principle. The most successful welfare capitalist economy in Europe enshrines the national day of rest as a sacred principle, and German retailers fully accept that. Why can United Kingdom retailers not accept the same principle? As we do not have a written constitution in the United Kingdom, is not the excellent Bill sponsored by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) and the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) the best way of dealing with the problem?

Mr. Alison : I am not sure whether I am sad or glad about my hon. Friend's intervention because I was doing my best to emphasise common ground and therefore trying to keep Europe and religion out of the argument. If my hon. Friend insists on introducing Europe and religion, let me endorse the fact that the religious Catholic Italy, the secular non- religious France and the Catholic and Protestant Germany, as European partners and neighbours of ours, all subscribe to the common principle which keeps Sunday special. The Shopping Hours Reform Council shares the view that there should be a day off for most people and that that day should be Sunday. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.

The real issue about Sunday trading is not essentially one of principle nowadays ; it is one of degree. Nearly everyone agrees that there should be a day of rest and that the day of rest should apply to as many people as possible for family reasons. The real question then is whether we should maximise the extent of Sunday trading, compatible with giving as many people as possible a day off and on the same day, or whether we should minimise within the agreed framework the extent of Sunday trading. I have no doubt that the answer is that we should minimise, not maximise, the extent of Sunday trading for the reasons that I have outlined.

Mr. Harry Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend accept that, with the clearly established pattern of rest on Sunday for most of the population, the best way of preserving a single day of rest for most of the population is to leave things as they are, with suitable minor amendments as proposed by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell)?

Mr. Alison : I very much share my hon. Friend's view. However, I do not want to rest too much on the idea of leaving things as they are at present, because in place today is something positive and constructive but which introduces the notion of some change. I partially go with my hon. Friend, but essentially we agree. To maximise the scope for Sunday shop opening, which is the approach adopted by the Shopping Hours Reform Council, for example, we might improve the quality of life at the margin for millions of people. I entirely endorse and recognise the improvement in the quality of life which

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there might be for a large number of people. The trouble is that it would cause much more acute detriment to a smaller number of people. It is like that old joke about the pig and the chicken discussing the significance of bacon and eggs--the egg being relative and marginal for the chicken and the bacon being absolute and final for the pig. The argument of proportionality should direct our attention, above all, to the smaller number of people for whom the detriment of more widespread Sunday opening is more akin to the fate of the pig than the inconvenience of the chicken. If Sunday opening is maximised, shop workers may have real difficulties with their jobs--their consciences, getting the premium rates of pay which all agree they should have if they must work on Sunday, their family life and so on. The same applies to various ancillary workers who would have to be drawn in to sustain and support those who had to work on Sundays if the maximised approach were adopted.

In some ways, the most serious detriment would be suffered by the tens of thousands of small shops run by individuals or couples. For reasons of competition they would have to open seven days a week and they might literally find it lethal--this is getting close to the fate of the pig--to have to open seven days a week with no relief. So the detriment caused by maximising Sunday opening would be serious for certain categories, although they would represent relatively small numbers of people. Against that background, the detriment to the millions who would find Sunday shopping convenient and enjoyable, is relatively minor, although not without significance.

It is an interesting phenomenon that where shops open on Sundays without restriction there is a tendency for more and more people to switch their shopping to Sunday. We should weigh the implications of that. Once we liberalised the laws, there would be an intensification of the tendency to shop on Sundays and, therefore, of the detriment to those who are most vulnerable. The very fact that there is a tendency for shopping to move to Sundays when there are no restrictions emphasises, paradoxically, the essential postponability of shopping. If people switch their shopping to Sunday, it means that they give priority on Saturday or Friday afternoons or evenings to activities which are more important to them, such as sporting, cultural or family events. People might say that as the shops were open on Sunday they could leave the relatively minor task of hunting around for the spares or whatever they need to Sunday because it is less important. That shows the postponability and marginality of Sunday shopping for the millions of people for whom it is a convenience but not a critical factor in their lives. They are content to switch their shopping to Sunday if the shops happen to be open.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington) : If people want to do their shopping on Saturday should they have access to sporting activities on Sundays, which means that people have to work on Sundays? I am confused about my right hon. Friend's point about sporting activities on Sundays.

Mr. Alison : I did not touch on sporting activities on Sundays. I said that people who postponed their shopping to Sunday did so because they wanted to spend Saturday

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doing other things which had greater priority in their programme, including sporting events and so on. Therefore, it would be more convenient to them to do things which are less important to them on Sunday. That is the only point that I make in that context. For the reasons that I have given, I believe that a minimalist approach to Sunday trading is both reasonable and humane. The Bill presents a rational but positive framework for Sunday trading based on the REST acronym of the hon. Member for Ogmore, which stands for recreation, emergency, social activities and transport. That gives us a reasonable framework of minimalist opening.

Mr. John Marshall : My right hon. Friend said that the Bill would help those who want recreation. Is he aware that it would close the vast majority of garden centres in England?

Mr. Alison : That point is disputed. My hon. Friend heard the speech by the hon. Member for Ogmore. He said that he was introducing essentially a negotiable framework against the background of a minimalist approach. If he is prepared in Committee to think about the prospects for DIY, he is clearly prepared to think about tidying up any doubts at the margin about garden centres. Essentially the approach is to allow garden centres to be open. If there is any doubt about that, let my hon. Friend join the Committee and table appropriate amendments. I am sure that the hon. Member for Ogmore will consider them.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman's experience is the same as mine. He might confirm that some of the fears expressed by garden centres were expressed by people who looked at earlier definitions than the one contained in the Bill, which refers to a wide range of goods, characterising those sold in garden centres, which can be sold under the Bill.

Mr. Alison : I am particularly glad to note the little firmness on the Benches immediately in front of me of colleagues who have picked out a specific item which worries them. Our essential approach in the House today should be to make the decision in principle on whether to go for maximalist or minimalist approach to Sunday opening. As the hon. Member for Ogmore has already said, if the House allows us to follow the Keep Sunday Special campaign lines, many of the technical and specific points will be negotiable in Committee within the framework of the minimalist approach.

I hope that the House will endorse the approach inherent in the Bill and think about the detriment caused to small numbers of people at the cost of relatively limited inconvenience to millions of others.

10.25 am

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : There are private Members' Bills and so-called private Members' Bills. Some are genuinely private Members' Bills, others are not. Those which are not are Government Bills masquerading as private Members' Bills. They are Bills which Departments of State have failed to have included in the Queen's Speech and which Ministers, or their Parliamentary Private Secretaries, hawk round among hon. Members who have won high places in the private Members' ballot. Those who accept them from Ministers

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tread the primrose path to the statute book. They are given a drafted Bill, speeches and briefings for all stages, and the virtual certainty of achieving Royal Assent.

I sometimes think that such Bills should carry, parenthetically, after their short titles, the letter (G), so that people here and in the country will see just how many "private Members' Bills" are, in fact, Government Bills and, therefore, how much of the parliamentary time allocated to private Members is used instead for Government legislation. The point is one which the Select Committee on Procedure might like to consider.

The measure of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) is a private Members' Bill properly so-called and I honour him both for his independent spirit and his success in presenting a Bill so worthy of enactment. He has given the House a Bill which is the first serious attempt to reform Sunday trading law in a sensible and practical way. It respects the special nature of Sunday, while allowing a reasonable range of activities to be pursued. The Bill offers the best possible way of tackling a mess which gets messier week by week.

I have the honour to be sponsored by the Co-operative movement, the first ever Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for the city of Manchester. In declaring my interest, I declare also my pride in being a representative here of a movement whose traditions are among the most admirable this country has to offer.

While there are some details of the Bill we shall want to examine closely in Committee, in particular the case for increasing to 3,000 the square footage limit on small shops allowed to open and the need to allow travel agents to do so--they are concerned purely with recreation--the Co- operative movement supports the Bill as the best framework for reforming the Sunday trading law. In our view, it is far better than the alternatives, which offer only variations on the theme of total deregulation.

Our support for the Bill has four bases : first of all, social policy. We believe that the traditional Sunday, characterised by the opportunities that it gives for recreation with family and friends, is of high value and worth preserving.

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