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Mr. Morris : In fairness to other Members who want to speak, I cannot give way ; more especially as a Privy Councillor, I owe it to them to speak briefly if they are to have any chance of speaking at all.
We recognise that many people do work on Sundays and that some others may wish to do so ; but we believe that for retail opening to become the norm would be a major step towards destroying the social benefits of the traditional Sunday for most of the British people. We recognise the need for some shops to open ; we recognise that some people regard shopping as a leisure activity ; we recognise that others might wish to shop because of their other responsibilities at home and at work. On balance, however, we believe that Parliament should not throw out the baby of demonstrable social benefit to the majority with the bathwater of occasional inconvenience to a minority.
I turn briefly to employment policy, the second basis for our support. We are a major employer, but we support the trade unions who represent the Co- operative movement's employees when they say that the best protection shop workers can have against exploitation in regard to Sunday
Column 622working is a legal one. We know that there are shopworkers who want to work on Sunday because they receive premium payments, but the overall position is that people would rather not work on Sunday. All of us know that premium payments are by no means universal, nor are they permanent. In a recent survey completed by the Institute of Retail Studies at the university of Stirling, it was found that indeed 30 per cent. of Sunday workers receive no premium payments. Extension of Sunday working in a low-paid work force must result in worsening conditions and wages. At the same time, premium rates in all industries will be threatened if Sunday increasingly becomes a "normal day".
Consumer policy is the third basis for our support. Sunday trading is of most commercial benefit to large private multiples that have been able to invest large capital sums in big stores, often in out-of-town locations. They will be the main beneficiaries of deregulated Sunday trading. The existing illegal trade shows how well placed they are to swallow the trade of smaller shops, more especially food and convenience shops. Retailers who lose out because of Sunday trading are those who do not have access to large investment funds--small traders and the co-operatives. The legal structure of co-operatives, which gives them their democratic practice and allows only a limited return on capital, also limits their access to equity capital. They are unable, for these reasons, to match the recent massive rights issues of the big food chains. There is no need here to spell out why small traders have problems about capital, nor why deregulation will totally deprive many small villages of their only shops.
There would be an argument to maintain diversity of size and legal structure in the retail industry, even if consumer interests were not involved. But they are involved. Co-ops and small shops give particular consumer service to small communities where there is no superstore because it could not make money, and also to a huge number of consumers, a high proportion of them elderly and disabled people, with no access to a car for a trip to the out-of-town retail park. They will suffer if local shops close down from Monday to Saturday because the non-local supermarket opens on Sunday.
The fourth basis of our support is law and order policy. Over the past few years, a growing number of large companies have decided blatantly to ignore the Shops Act 1950 and to open for business on Sundays. We are not concerned whether this was avoidance, or evasion, or finessing or flouting of the law. There is no escaping the reality that a number of large companies have traded illegally. Their conduct debases the law and demeans Parliament itself. The effect is that the law in general is brought into disrepute. The public reaction is that there is one law for the rich private multiples and another law for their poor consumers, who may buy illegally but must not shoplift from the law-breaking retailer--even on Sundays. How can parliamentarians, who make the law and work to uphold the rule of law by discouraging crime, possibly agree to a new Sunday trading law that would, by mass deregulation, serve only to reward transgressors by scrapping the law which they broke?
Of course, other traders have been in touch with me as well as my trading colleagues in the Co-operative movement. An enterprise which has two grocery stores in my constituency tells me in a recent letter :
"For staff, the possibility of unrestricted Sunday trading is extremely worrying.
Column 623Quite simply, many if not all staff would be required to work at least occasionally on Sundays, possibly on a shift system. This would be offensive to their religious beliefs and disruptive of the social and family life of shop employees. While we would not attempt to force any dissenting employee to work on Sundays, there would almost certainly be perceived pressure on store staff to do so, despite any legislated protection. People in most other walks of life are not suddenly forced to give up their Sundays. Why should shop staff?" The letter goes on :
"The unemployment situation would be worsened further by the higher costs involved by Sunday trading in food retailing in particular. Finally, the small local self-employed High Street convenience stores, which currently survive on Sunday trading, would progressively be forced out of business, throwing whole families out of work." This is one of many letters that I have had in support of the Bill. They demonstrate that the Bill is both worthy of and enjoys widespread approval in the country. Again I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and wish him all success in promoting what is a sensible and reformist Bill, whose enactment has become an urgent necessity. Friday is often regarded as the "a" in etcetera of the parliamentary week. With my hon. Friend's Bill to debate, that is certainly not true of this week. He merits our highest regard and appreciation and that of everyone who is now prepared to challenge those who have treated the law of this country with studied contempt.
Dame Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden) : First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) on promoting this private Member's Bill on what has undoubtedly been an exceedingly controversial topic for years. I am happy that he has done so because it is high time that the subject was debated in the House, where a broad set of views are represented which we can consider and determine when voting on his proposals.
I disagree with the Bill, not least because it is inconsistent and does not keep Sunday particularly special. The Bill seems to sanction Sunday shopping by trying to update the Shops Act 1950 and bring it into the 1990s.
As the predecessor of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, I spent much time talking to many people whose interests were almost entirely concentrated on ensuring that we change the Shops Act 1950. When I first approached the subject, I thought that we should try to stay within the existing framework and create as few changes as possible. I am a person who believes in as little change as possible, which is why I am a Conservative. I like to see things remain more or less as they are.
I studied the 1950 Act carefully. I looked at its provisions and wondered how they could be reshaped to suit today's circumstances. The first factor to strike me when I looked at the practice of shopping and retailing was that I could not compare the position in 1950 to that of the 1990s. It is as unlikely that we shall be able to compare what happens in the 1990s to what will happen in the year 2030.
If we produce a Bill that merely updates the Shops Act 1950--as I believe the Bill of the hon. Member for Ogmore does--it will not stand the test of time. The House should
Column 624be in the business of enacting legislation that is both simple and lasting. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's Bill will achieve those ends.
It is not just our shopping habits and the sort of goods that we purchase in today's economy that have changed, but there has been a dramatic change in our way of life. People's lifestyles today are different from those of 1950. We may regret that--part of me regrets it. It would be nice if things were much the same today as they were some years ago, but they are not. The economic realities of life mean that a substantial number of households no longer contain one person who stays at home and one person who works. They do not contain somebody who is available to carry out all the tasks within six days and devote himself of herself entirely to the family at home on Sunday.
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich) : The right hon. Lady will recognise that the changes that she has described apply to other European countries? Will she explain how the French, Germans and Italians, who have experienced the same changes in social practices and economic factors as we have over the years, have been able to retain a Sunday without the commercialised opening of shops which she and her supporters appear to advocate in Britain?
Dame Angela Rumbold : I can explain that easily. I am a British citizen and part of the British legislature ;I am interested only in what affects people in this country. I am not legislating for France, Germany, Italy or any other country, nor would I try to do so.
I have set out why I believe that it would be enormously difficult to encapsulate all those factors simply by updating the Shops Act 1950, as the Bill does. I realise that we must make changes, but I want to keep them simple. I want simple changes to accomodate the needs of modern life. The simplest, most straightforward solution to the problem is deregulation, with protection for Sunday shop workers.
When I was a Minister and listened to debates on Sunday trading, I was forcefully struck by the fact that it would be difficult to persuade the House to accept total deregulation. I was pragmatic and realised that some concessions would have to be made to those people who wanted to restrict Sunday shopping.
We must consider carefully how to restrict Sunday trading. We could consider ways to restrict goods. We could decide to restrict certain goods from being sold on Sunday, but it would be almost impossible to make a durable list of items that could not be sold on Sunday. That is simply because, in 10 years' time, goods will have been invented that were not originally contained in the legislation. That would create anomalies, such as those that currently exist in the 1950 Act, which allows one to buy a Chinese takeaway, fried chicken and kebabs, but not fish and chips, which is nonsense.
If we rule out restricting what can be bought on Sundays, we could consider restricting where one can buy goods. The Bill tries to do that. It has been suggested that we could restrict the size of the premises from which goods may be bought on Sunday. We could restrict large
Column 625hypermarkets and supermarkets from opening and allow to open only small corner shops, which people have, for many years, used by custom and practice. The hon. Gentleman's Bill also tries to do that, but we would create a mess if we tried to legislate for that.
We could allow all shops to open, but only within certain hours. Such restriction does work and is possible. If we restricted opening hours on Sunday, we would have to think carefully about whose businesses we should serve. Newsagents want to open first thing on Sunday morning as people like to read their newspapers with their breakfast. Chemists will have to open to provide medicines in the case of emergencies.
We could restrict commercial family activities on Sundays until after midday or 1 pm. We could ensure that everyone wanting to visit a garden centre or partake of similar activities would have to go in the morning, which would keep Sunday afternoon shopping-free. However, such regulation would not help in the case of licensed premises. People tend to drink alcohol on Sunday, as well as Saturday and Monday.
We would also have to consider new industries that have grown up, such as video shops, many of which would be forced to close down if they had to close after 2 pm on Sunday--that is a sad fact. I am not in hock to the video production industry, but I know that employees of its employees work on Sunday and a large number of people enjoy the opportunity to use video shops. We would have to build into the legislation provisions to cover such activities. If one wants the legislation to provide for exceptions, each one must be built into it. Over a period they will become untenable and the legislation will have to be amended.
Mr. Dicks : People who want to keep Sunday special for recreational activities often do not want professional recreational activities on Sunday, which is another anomaly. People who want to watch professional football or go to the races on their day of rest should be able to do so but it means that people will have to be employed at those events.
Another exceedingly worrying aspect involves those employed in the retail business, who may come under pressure to work seven days a week. I considered that subject carefully. Clearly, one must accept that a number of people in this country currently work on Saturday and Sunday. Like it or not, legions of women find working on Saturday more satisfactory and more beneficial to their family life. They work on Sunday so that their partners can participate in family life and be with the children. They also work on Sunday because the current economic circumstances--which have existed for some time--mean that it is important for women to contribute to the family finances. Are we to say that we will not allow such women to work on Sundays? The House should think seriously about that.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : The right hon. Lady's Government are busy trying to get rid of the wages councils, which are one of the few protections for low-paid women workers. Does she seriously suggest that women work on Sundays out of choice and not
Column 626because they are driven to do so by appallingly low wages, which are still universal for the sort of jobs about which the right hon. Lady speaks?
Dame Angela Rumbold : It is obvious that the hon. Lady does not speak to the kind of people who come to speak to me about the importance of being able, if they choose, to work on Sundays. The hon. Lady might get a surprise if she spoke to some of those women because she would realise how important it is for them to have a choice.
Like it or not--and many do not--Sunday shopping has become a family activity. People like to go out as a family, even if only to the garden centre. Many people also enjoy Sunday shopping together. That is surprising to me because I intensely dislike shopping in a supermarket. I am greatly bothered by the notion of trying to restrict Sunday trading because many of the people--usually women, but occasionally men--who have to do the weekly shopping are forced by the restrictions to do it at the same time as everybody else. Many people have not experienced pushing a loaded supermarket trolley in a large crowd of people. People who work hard six days a week should not be told, perhaps by those who do not have to push loaded trolleys, that they will not be allowed to shop on Sunday. Such arrogance is unacceptable in this day and age.
It is no part of our work to restrict people's choice about when they should shop or their ability to work on days which many others might regard as unsocial ; for some people such days and hours are a lifeline. I share some of the worries about making Sunday like Saturday or Monday, but I do not think that deregulation would cause that to happen. It does not necessarily follow that because shops are allowed to open they will. Apart from the times when they opened just before Christmat in the past two or three years or so, that has not been perceived generally to happen.
Mrs. Winterton : It is generous of my right hon. Friend to give way towards the end of her speech, to which I am listening carefully. Does she agree that a totally deregulated Sunday allowing opening for even six hours a day would be a gamble as to whether the things that she mentions survived? She spoke in great detail about why, when she was in the Home Office, she had come to her conclusion that shops should be open for at least six hours. Why did she not have the courage of her convictions then to introduce such a measure?
Dame Angela Rumbold : As my hon. Friend knows, my career in the Home Office was, sadly, brought to an untimely end. I do not think that it is a gamble. We live in a reasonable and responsible society. We have to trust retailers and the British public to operate a voluntary code about how they behave on a Sunday as opposed to a Saturday, a Friday or a Monday. That is deeply built into the way of life in this country. I do not think that it would simply change overnight and it is somewhat hysterical of those who oppose that view to worry about it too much.
I share my hon. Friend's concerns about employee protection and it is important to establish that those
Column 627currently in work should not be subjected to unreasonable pressure to work seven days a week when that is not their wish. It would be possible to establish a voluntary code of practice for retailers. However, it may not be possible, and on that issue alone I need to be reassured. That might be achieved by legislative protection to ensure that people could not be pressurised to work more than six days a week. I admire the hon. Member for Ogmore for introducing the Bill, but there is no way in which I will support it.
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill) : The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) for the adroit and humorous way in which he introduced his Bill on which we can base new laws. It commands support throughout the House, but it also has its opponents. I hope that it will be victorious.
I listened to the speech of the right hon. Member--I presume she is right hon.--for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold). Her time at the Home Office may have been brought to a premature conclusion, but it was not entirely clear from the exchange between the right hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) whether the right hon. Lady had been elevated to that title. I shall assume that she has.
The right hon. Lady gave a variety of reasons for being opposed to the measure. She said that the legislation would not last for eternity ; but no legislation does and that is not a reason for voting against it. We regularly reform legislation : this is a reforming Parliament and, of course, no legislation is cast in concrete. Whatever the House decides on Sunday trading, I should be surprised if in 40 years' time we did not consider the issues again. The right hon. Lady said that many of the changes in this country had not been for the good of our nation. Many of us agree when we look at the social ecology and at many of the things happening in our land. An estimated 1 million elderly people do not see a friend, relative or neighbour in an average week. One in three marriages end in divorce and the breakdown of family life, and there has been a great rise in criminality.
I agree that many of the changes in our society are not for the better, but that is another reason not for being defeatist, but for recognising that those are challenges and that we must do all that we can to enshrine family and community life and the values which, on other occasions, the right hon. Lady would certainly espouse. We must examine legislation with a view to seeing how we can keep relationships together and give people time together.
The right hon. Lady said that because we are British we do not need to take any notice of what is happening elsewhere in Europe. Given that we are making slow progress on another Bill, most people agree that that argument does not stand up.
Dame Angela Rumbold : I did not say what the hon. Gentleman says I said about this country. I said that I am in the British legislature trying to influence legislation for this country and for our people. That is my main point. Therefore, I do not need to take into account what happens in other countries.
Mr. Alton : That is a reversal of arguments that have been advanced in debates over the past few days. Ironically, the hon. Member for Congleton, who intervened in the speech of the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden, and the right hon. Lady would find themselves in different Lobbies in Divisions on the other legislation. It is slightly paradoxical for Europe to be quoted in this way. Every other European Community country has been able to enshrine in its statutes legislation to safeguard their workers and Sundays--and I shall return to that point in my speech. It is not impossible for us to do the same in Britain. We do not have to do what everybody else does, but it is absurd to suggest that it is not possible to legislate in that way because we are British and somehow do not have the same capacity as our friends across the channel to introduce safeguards.
The right hon. Lady also said that there were anomalies in the Bill. The hon. Member for Ogmore has already generously stated that in Committee he will listen to the arguments and that, to use his words, he will be reasonable and pragmatic when considering any anomalies and any concerns that are raised then.
It is an interesting new theory that no legislation to be presented to the House in future by any Government will contain no anomalies. Many of us will be relieved to know that that will be the case. We were also told that registration might be too complicated. That will come as good news to everybody who has to pay value added tax. Presumably, therefore, VAT will be abolished. Why bother to register for elections? It is very complicated. People cannot put their minds to it. The whole House knows that these are pretty implausible arguments. All that came from the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden, who was responsible for trying impartially to change our laws. It is no wonder that so many of us were suspicious of her when she was in her former post.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill would require a large number of small businesses to register the nature of their turnover in a way that they probably do not even record at present? At a time when we are trying to lift the burdens on small businesses, is not that just what we ought not to be doing?
Mr. Alton : There are 200,000 small retailers in this country, many of whom will be forced out of business unless we ensure that the hypermarkets and supermarkets are unable to trade on Sundays, thus forcing them out of business. To suggest that it would be beyond the wit of a small retailer to fill in a registration form if he wished to trade on Sunday is absurd.
The right hon. Lady referred to the question of choice. She said that choice should be elevated to the position of a religion or a philosophy. It was the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, who, in his recent excellent book "The Persistence of Faith", said that the word "choice" comes from the same Greek root as the word "herasis". It may be that the word "choice" could be regarded today as a modern heresy : that it is my right to do whatever I want, regardless of the consequences. Choices are invariably
Column 629made at other people's expense. Nowhere is that more likely to be the case than here. As the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) said earlier today, there are plenty of opportunities for shopping. In the average retail week, 51 hours are available for shopping, so there are plenty of choices already.
It is worth recalling that, when we last considered this issue in 1986, a cross-party coalition in Parliament said that it did not want Sunday to be deregulated. It was the only time during that 13-year period that the Government were defeated on a whipped vote. But did they give up ? No. They continued to come back to the House to try to find ways around it.
The story line has constantly changed. We were told to wait for the decision of the European Court ; but it came out in favour of keeping Sunday special. No longer, therefore, were we told to wait for the decision of the European Court. We were then told to turn a blind eye to anyone who broke the law. That was said by people who on other occasions tell us that they belong to the party of law and order. That is no example to set to people in our cities and communities who are becoming more and more lawless.
The Home Secretary now offers us his well-known three-card trick. That is through the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill : if there are many different options, he will eventually get what he wants because people will be so confused. I have news for the House : I do not believe that that will happen.
If we had the Home Office's preferred option, which is riven with anomalies and confusion, we could end up with no legislation whatsoever, with no reform of the Shops Act 1950. That is why it is so good that the hon. Member for Ogmore has provided us with this practical alternative. It is not based on the principle of he who pays the piper calls the tune. It is based upon his experience of working with shop workers throughout the land who are entitled to protection, a view which has cross-party support in the House because it provides the best means of ensuring that Sunday is not turned into yet another Saturday.
As the European Court has recognised, workers are entitled to a common day off to be used for family and community activities, including time to go to church. Sundays also guarantee equilibrium and stability in busy and pressurised lives by balancing stressful work with time for leisure and recreation. By limiting retail activity on Sundays, we also protect shop workers and those employed in ancillary services from pressure to work unusual hours. For close on 1,000 years, Britain has had laws regulating commercial activity on Sunday, so it is not an impossibility. We have done it for nearly 1,000 years. It was Churchill who once said that our most prized institution is Sunday. He spoke wisely when he used those words. We should remember them today.
As the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) mentioned earlier, safeguards are enshrined in the German constitution. If one looks at the effects on the German economy, one can see that those safeguards have not caused economic chaos or the disintegration of the German economy. It may be the secret of Germany's success--the recognition that workers need time off, that their rights should be enshrined in the constitution and that they should be accorded dignity and respect.
Shop workers are already in a low-paid and vulnerable sector of the economy, for 70 per cent. of retail companies pay their workers less than £3.50 an hour. There is
Column 630pressure, as we heard from the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), for even further deregulation in that respect. Shop workers who refuse to work unsocial hours will not get jobs ; they will not be employed ; they will not be promoted ; they will be the first to be given redundancy notices. Deregulation will lead to inescapable pressure, particularly on women, to work on a day that they would prefer to spend with their families and children. There is also the problem that faces people who live alongside shopping areas. Only a week ago residents in the Allerton road area of Liverpool came to see me at my advice centre to tell me about the problems that they are experiencing because Woolworths had decided to open its shop there on Sundays. That has led, in the streets of little terraced houses adjacent to that store, to early-morning deliveries, to car doors being banged, and to the roads being congested with parked cars. Even on the one day that they did not have to suffer that commercial activity, they now have to put up with the bustle of hectic business and the consequntial noise, hassle and stress. Most absurdly, of all, no extra money for shopping is available, anyway. If the advocates of Sunday secularisation could only see beyond their greed, they might realise that the financial gain will be negligible.
There is one more reason why I shall support the Bill. In a country where a crime is committed every two seconds and where one in three families experience divorce and the breakdown of family life, the Government are presumably concerned about the reasons for our chronic social maladies. Many of our problems stem from the inadequate time spent together by families. There is no substitute for parental interest, guidance and support. If the Home Secretary gets his way, many children and young people, to say nothing of the elderly relatives who enjoy a Sunday visit, will have even less time spent upon them in future. The social costs far outweigh any supposed advantages of unlimited shopping free for alls.
The Bill protects workers and family and community life. It recognises the basic human need that we all have for unpressurised time for leisure and recreation. It rightly takes a stand against the cult of materialism and the sheer greed that motivates so many other decisions that are taken today. The Home Secretary has made his position clear : a totally secularised, deregulated Sunday. Therefore, I am glad that we are in a position to ask someone else, who is opposed to that objective, to steer through the House a Bill that reflects the will of Parliament as it was expressed in our last vote on the issue.
It is for those reasons that I hope that we shall give the Bill a Second Reading today.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : For me, Friday mornings are very precious indeed--second only in importance to Sundays--because, like most north-western hon. Members, I like to be at home, in my case in Lancaster, on Fridays. I am here only because I regard the Bill as absolutely essential to the maintenance of family life. My favourite occupation on Fridays, come what may, is to go around--we are lucky to have it--our covered shopping market. It is an old Victorian market which, sadly, was devastated by fire, but nevertheless it survives. I wander around the aisles of that lovely old market, do my
Column 631shopping and natter to people. I vividly remember the previous time when the matter of Sunday trading was before the House. I saw a highly respected confectioner rushing around the market like a steam engine. I said to her, "Mrs."--I will not reveal her name--"what on earth are you doing? I have never seen you go around so fast." "Ooh," she said, "it's my birthday tomorrow, and if the Bill to deregulate Sunday goes through, it will be the last Sunday that our family will ever be able to spend together, because at least one of us will have to be on duty." That business is a family-run concern. That is concrete example of what will happen throughout the land. I also represent a delightful country area. We are dependent on two things : our schools, which thankfully we have managed, with something of a battle, to maintain, and our village shops. These would be substantially threatened if we allowed the deregulation of Sunday and did not preserve Sunday by this Bill which strikes an admirable balance. I am proud to say that I admire the promoter of the Bill, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), for saying that he is willing to consider clearing up any uncertain matters in Committee, for example in relation to garden centres.
Whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are bringing up a family--I have a rather hefty sized family--or attempting to keep law and order in the Chamber, which is by no means an easy job, or keeping law and order in the country, your prime duty is not to give in to law breakers. One does not give biscuits to a bad child. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, should not call an hon. Member who is obstreperous--that includes me--and the Government should certainly not reward large, wealthy retail chains by scrapping the law that they have so flagrantly violated for the perfectly simple reason that they can afford the fines.
I am in favour of law and order, I am in favour of family life and I am very much in favour of the Bill.
Ms. Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen) : Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Whatever our views on Sunday trading, many hon. Members are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), who, by pursuing his private Member's Bill has at least given us an opportunity to have this debate--an opportunity which has so far been denied us by the Government, despite the Home Secretary's statement to the House on 26 November, when he declared his determination
"to settle the vexed question of the reform of the law on Sunday trading in England and Wales."--[ Official Report, 26 November 1992 ; Vol. 214, c. 997.]
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore has brought forward his Bill in a genuine and honest attempt to sort out the current mess and confusion over Sunday trading. My hon. Friend declared his interest. I should like to declare my long-term interest in this matter. Before I entered the House, when I was a prospective parliamentary candidate, I worked in my constituency as the northern region organiser for the Shopping Hours Reform Council.
As legislators, we must ask ourselves whether the Bill will achieve consensus and establish a satisfactory situation in respect of Sunday trading or whether it will merely serve to sustain circumstances which meet neither the wishes of consumers nor the rights of shop workers.
Column 632Our overriding priority must be to bring the Sunday trading debate permanently to a close, achieve consensus, and reconcile the rights and conditions of employment of shop workers with the desire of the public to shop on Sundays.
It is essential that any reforming legislation takes sufficient account of reality to command the respect of the general public. Without public support, many local authorities will regard enforcement of this legislation as having as low a priority as that of the current law. Also, the provisions need to be simple and easy to enforce.
The problem with the Bill is that it flies in the face of public opinion. Surveys carried out over 18 years by the well-respected Consumers Association have consistently shown a two thirds majority in favour of liberalisation of the law on Sunday opening, yet in many ways the Bill is more restrictive than the Shops Act 1950. It would close some shops that are currently permitted to open, such as convenience stores and some newsagents if they are larger than 1,500 sq ft. It would also close coin- operated launderettes which can currently operate legally. Moreover, it would close the very shops that most people want to use on Sundays. Although I welcome my hon. Friend's statement that he would be willing to consider concessions on DIY stores, there is a significant question mark over garden centres.
In the view of the Consumers Association, the Bill contains so many complexities that it will create as much confusion and uncertainty as the current Act causes. The main reason for that is that it continues the type- of-shop approach, which was rejected by the Auld committee on the ground that it would not be any easier to select a defensible list of shop types for exemption than it would be to select a list of goods. That view is also upheld by the eminent QC, Eldred Tabachnik, who concluded that
"far from removing the themelessness which characterises the 1950 Act, the Bill is every bit as, if not more, anomalous than the current law"
"the categories of trading on Sundays permitted by the Bill comprise an arbitrary hotch potch."
There are numerous illustrations of the types of problems. No doubt some are due to drafting errors, but most are simply inherent in any such type- of-shop approach and they are exacerbated by the 80 per cent. rule. In effect, the Bill would close almost all petrol stations on Sundays. To be exempt from the closure requirement, a petrol station is required to sell only petrol. If it wished to sell any other product it would have to apply for class A registration. In order to be eligible, it would need to be less than 1,500 sq ft, and 80 per cent. of turnover would need to be from sales of goods from the prescribed list. Petrol is not included in that list.
Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central) : It is important, whatever else we do, to get some of our facts right ; we might differ on our opinions. Is the hon. Lady aware that the House of Commons Chamber measures 68 ft by 45 ft 6 in? It is a little more than 3,000 sq ft. I have no small shops of that size in my constituency. We are talking about 3,000 sq ft, and 1,500 sq ft is still half of the Chamber. I do not know of many garage forecourt shops that will be seriously inconvenienced if their sales area is restricted to that size.
Ms. Anderson : Many motorway service stations would fall into that category. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is arguing that the House of Commons Chamber should be open on Sundays--perhaps he is.
The Bill permits the purchase of a ladder from a garden centre but not from a DIY shop. However, many DIY centres have a garden centre section. DIY retailers might consider sectioning off parts of their store to enable illegal trading in that section to continue. The list of anomalies goes on. I am simply seeking to illustrate the point that the Bill will not end the debate and division on Sunday trading, but will guarantee that they continue.
I know that the position of shop workers has greatly exercised my hon. Friends ; it is also a matter of great concern to me. I can do no better than to quote from the general secretary of my trade union, John Edmonds of the GMB, which represents some 60,000 shop workers, the overwhelming majority of whom are women. In a recent letter to hon. Members, Mr. Edmonds said that the
"continuing confusion over Sunday shopping has become intolerable for employees within the retail industry."
He also said that local authorities, businesses, shop workers and the public need clarification of the law to put an end to the ridiculous charade which blights the nation's Sundays. He said that it is unacceptable that people should be forced to work on Sundays against their will ; I know that most hon. Members would agree.
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) : I am aware of the remarks in that letter, but, as a fellow member of that union, I believe that it was a mistake. My hon. Friend has already accepted that there is a need for the House to debate these issues and resolve them. Because of the lack of any Government Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) has provided us with the opportunity to do that. Given the request from the general secretary of the GMB, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be best for the Bill to be given a Second Reading, so that all the issues to which she referred could be properly debated in Committee? Will she therefore support the Bill's Second Reading?