Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Pike : In recognition of the stores that support the Shopping Hours Reform Council and the six-hour option, and the way in which they have been prepared to break the law for a number of years, surely one can have no confidence that, if the Bill is carried in its present form, they will not try to break the law to move to eight or 10 hours, as my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. Anderson : I should have thought that it was also "back to basics" not to encourage law breakers, as the Government are seeking to do in the Bill, and to protect those such as Marks and Spencer who, against their financial interests, seek to obey the law. People in Britain do not want total deregulation and it was overwhelmingly rejected by the House on 8 December. If one were to believe the bona fide credentials of those behind the Shopping Hours Reform Council, one would also assume that they want overall liberalisation. As one can see from their unsuccessful attempts to prevent American warehouse chains entering the country, however, it is not liberalisation that they want ; it is market share and their own narrow trade gain and, alas, various sections of the House appear to have fallen for that.

As a result of the SHRC option, every local authority will be forced to spend resources drawing up a detailed register of the names, addresses and opening and closing times of every large store in the area and of every large shop wishing to trade on Sundays. That in itself is a major requirement to impose on hard-pressed local authorities

Column 337

which, as a result of other pressures, are shedding staff. Assuming that they had done that, local authorities would then have to police the opening and closing times which would have been registered by the stores in question. Because there are no set opening or closing times--the six hours have to be within a band--the local authority would have to ensure, so far as practicable, that the stores adhered to the opening and closing times that they had set out. That is an untidy system and would impose an additional unnecessary and unwelcome burden on our local authorities.

Each local authority will be required to have a large number of inspectors, to be on patrol every Sunday--presumably premium payments will be payable to them--to ensure that the new law, as laid down by the House, is respected and enforced. I fully accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). What confidence can we have, in the light of the law-breaking record of those stores, that they will rigorously adhere to the opening and closing times which they will have registered with the local authority? It may well be that the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) has greater faith in those stores.

Mr. Couchman : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Can he tell me how many officers the average local district council has had on duty on Sundays seeking to enforce the Shops Act 1950 in the past 40 years? I suggest that most of them have had none.

Mr. Anderson : The reason why there have been none is that those local authorities knew that they did not have the backing of central Government, particularly during the past few years. Therefore, it would have been wasted effort to employ officers who had many other duties to enforce the law when there was a clear signal from the Government--by the Government's inaction--that they were not at all interested in the law being enforced and obeyed. Had there been a clear signal from the Government that in these matters, as in others, they were interested in law and order, local authorities would have responded accordingly and would have had their officers enforcing the law.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East) : Does my hon. Friend agree that over the past two or three years local authorities, particularly environmental officers who normally would enforce the trading standards laws, have been under-resourced? Does he further agree that many local authorities did not know where the Government stood on the issue? Had they pursued the court cases and had the European Court ruled differently, councillors could have been surcharged for those actions.

7.45 pm

Mr. Anderson : I fully agree with my hon. Friend, save in one respect : local authorities knew only too well where the Government stood. They knew that the Government were not interested in enforcing the law.

As every lawyer knows, although the referral to the European Court of Justice was done by the High Court on the basis that there was at least a minimally arguable case, there was no serious prospect of its being agreed by the European Court of Justice because every country in Europe has its own laws on Sunday trading.

Column 338

It was a delaying device. The Government prevented local authorities from enforcing the existing law during the time --and it was known that it would be a long time--that procedures would be gone through in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. It was a deliberate collusion between the Government and the law breakers. The Minister shakes his head. I can tell him that when the matter was referred to the European Court of Justice, it was asserted that it would take more than a year. With another hat on, I do some work in the European Court of Justice and it is well known how slow its procedures are.

Immediately upon that referral to the Court, it was clear that there would be a period of uncertainty. That period of uncertainty was increased by the Government when they refused to assist local authorities who knew that at a time of financial stringency they were risking their own poll tax or council tax payers' money. I understand from one local authority that more than £250,000 would have been at risk had the case been lost. Few local authorities would have been bold enough to risk that sort of money while the Government were doing nothing to enforce the law.

Mr. Peter Lloyd : Should it have been right for the

Attorney-General to intervene--I do not believe it was, and that was certainly not the opinion of my right hon. and learned Friend--the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that taxpayers' money should have been put at risk in the same way as charge payers' money was. That would not be a good use of the money when the law was obscure, because the High Court had referred the matter to the European Court.

Mr. Anderson : The law was clear in respect of the Shops Act and the existing law, as traditionally interpreted, would have prevailed while the referral to the European Court of Justice was taking place. The Minister makes an absurd point in suggesting that there is some equivalence between a local authority risking the money of its own ratepayers because of a technicality and central Government ensuring that law and order in this case, as in others, was enforced. The Government chose to do nothing.

Mr. Peter Lloyd : I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was saying that the law was in doubt and that that was why the local authorities could not perform their duty or that the law was quite clear. If it was, why did local authorities not pursue their duty and obtain damages at no expense to local ratepayers?

Mr. Anderson : Clearly, the Shops Act had been interpreted in a certain way. As a result of the referral, there was only an arguable case. There cannot have been any serious expectation on the part of those who brought the case in the first place that they would ultimately win in the European Court of Justice. There could have been no such expectation because there is such a range of practices within EC countries. If that lobby had no serious expectation of winning, what was its motive but to buy time?

Mr. John Marshall : Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that the High Court sent that case to the European Court of Justice to buy time for retailers--that the judges of this country indulged in a legalistic facade? If so, no one believes him.

Column 339

Mr. Anderson : The hon. Gentleman makes an absurd point. I said that the motive of those who commenced the proceedings was to buy time. The nature of our laws dictated that the issue be taken to Luxembourg. It was known from past practice that that would take a long time--during which the Government could choose to enforce or not to enforce the law. That lobby knew that the Government were sympathetic, and it was allowed to get away with it.

As the absurdities of the SHRC option are made manifest, local authorities will again be unready to enforce the law. Matters will become more and more chaotic and, as sure as night follows day, we shall slide into total deregulation.

Rev. Martin Smyth : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those who supported complete deregulation said that they would vote for the SHRC proposals as the way forward? That supports the hon. Gentleman's argument that, the door having been opened, it will open much wider.

Mr. Anderson : Of course. The Shopping Hours Reform Council knew that its option was riddled with anomalies, would cause chaos and would eventually slide in the direction that the council wanted. Total deregulation is not wanted here or by the people of Britain, who recognise the strong case for a common day of rest and relaxation each week. They acknowledge that Sunday is the principal day of the week on which time is spent with family and friends. They know that as a result of the Bill--in which the Government are colluding--that invaluable common day off will be permanently obliterated from national life, in the same way as Good Friday. It is a one-way ratchet and there will be no going back. The effect of the SHRC option will be that Sunday will become like any other shopping, working weekday.

Total deregulation is also not wanted by small shop owners--few of whom would survive eight-hour competition from larger stores. I ask the right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House to consider village stores, which play a tremendous community role, and the way specialised shops in high streets throughout the country are increasingly closing down. How many family butchers are left in our high streets as a result of competition from supermarkets?

Mrs. Gorman : In my experience, many small shops have gone to the wall because of the heavy rates and, sometimes, high rents that they have to pay--rather than lack of trade.

Mr. Anderson : I concede that rates are a factor. I know that the hon. Lady cares about this issue, and I ask her to consider also the case of markets. There is a market in my city, and I know many of the stallholders personally. The powers given to local authorities in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill will create competition that may be too much for them to bear. That process of eliminating small traders such as butchers and bakers through competition from supermarkets will certainly accelerate.

Mr. Graham : We are always being told about the wonderful Scottish experience of Sunday trading, but I assure my hon. Friend that it creates many difficulties. In my area, police have to attend areas that were once quiet on Sunday to deal with traffic congestion. There is also pressure on local government services to ensure that shopping areas are kept clean and tidy. Much cost is

Column 340

associated with Sunday opening. I confess that my wife shops on Sunday, although not every Sunday. My final point--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. Enough.

Mr. Anderson : After that little warm-up, I look forward with eager anticipation to my hon. Friend's speech. He spoke of his experience of Sunday trading in Scotland, and I wholly agree that the character of Sunday will be fundamentally altered.

As to the point about rates mentioned by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), I imagine that they account for a small proportion of the total costs that bear on small businesses. Deregulation is not wanted by small traders, or by urban residents--whose peace and quiet is likely to be fundamentally changed. Neither is it wanted by the majority of 2.2 million retail workers--contrary to the assertions of those who claim to speak on behalf of those workers.

Total deregulation is not wanted by policemen and traffic wardens. It is not wanted or needed by consumers, whose requirements will be catered for more than adequately by the combination of deregulated mid-week opening hours provided for in clause 17 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill.

When we first discussed the options, there was a case for ensuring greater consumer choice. That was one of the more cogent points made by those who argued against my position, but that contention has been fundamentaly altered by the deregulation Bill. Any consumer will have ample time to shop on weekday evenings ; yet the Government are still determined to destroy our traditional British Sunday--which is precious to us and has many positive social effects.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Selby on his amendments, which meet the profound wishes and good sense of the majority of the public, who do not want Sunday to be just like any other day. They fear the commercial pressures to which we yield again and again, and that much that we value in terms of small shops, the peace and quiet of a Sunday and the ability to be with one's family at least one common day a week will be destroyed--and will not be capable of being recreated.

Dame Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden) : I recall clearly the arguments that we all listened to on 8 December. Many hon. Members in the House this evening will remember that I favoured the total deregulation option. It was not the will of the House that we should have total deregulation, but I do not accept the contention of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) that the Shopping Hours Reform Council proposal is a Trojan horse or, indeed, that it is a short cut to getting total deregulation.

I did not think that that proposal was the right one for the House to adopt and I made that abundantly clear at the time. I believe strongly that we should allow people to make for themselves the choices that they want to make. That was not the choice of the House. Having voted on 8 December for the six-hours option, I determined that I would pursue that course, for some of the reasons that the hon. Gentleman articulated. If we are to have a day that is different, the SHRC option of six hours for the larger stores gives just that difference to the day. For example, the hon.

Column 341

Gentleman argued that small shops would also not suffer if we had the option that my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) has just proposed.

8 pm

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : For the record, will the right hon. Lady define the difference between what is in the Bill and total deregulation? Will she give her definition? Dame Angela Rumbold : I was just coming to that. The Bill will allow smaller shops the freedom to open at any time that they wish on a Sunday--the protection that so many people wanted to offer to small shops against what they saw as the predatory nature of the larger stores. The larger stores, however--those of more than 3,000 sq ft--will have to choose the six hours in which they wish to open during a Sunday. That is in itself protection for those small shops.

Mr. Donald Anderson : It is very marginal.

Dame Angela Rumbold : The hon. Gentleman might say that, but it is a protection, because it shows that there must be a choice.

Mr. Couchman : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with the total deregulation option, there would have been no question whatever of the substantial degree of worker protection that has been written into the Bill as it presently stands?

Dame Angela Rumbold : That is one reason why I wanted total deregulation ; it seemed to make eminent sense.

The other point that the hon. Member for Swansea, East made was that, under the six-hour option, there will be considerable extra work for the local authorities to police the law, as it will be if that is what the House wishes. I must put it to him that the option that Keep Sunday Special made included an enormous amount of regulation and policing, to such an extent that a majority of local authorities were in agreement that that was the very last thing that they wanted introduced, because it would mean so much extra work and extra costs for them and for the people whom they would have to employ.

Mr. Donald Anderson : Of course I concede that, under the Keep Sunday Special option, there would be burdens on local authorities. I do not resile from that. All that I am saying is that the so-called liberalisation of the SHRC would also entail a substantial burden on local authorities. By so doing and moving inexorably--in my judgment--to total deregulation, we will do away with our traditional Sunday, which most people value.

Dame Angela Rumbold : The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view, as, indeed, I am to mine. I do not believe that the six-hour option will impose on local authorities anything like the burdens that the Keep Sunday Special

Mr. Lord : Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?

Dame Angela Rumbold : I shall do so, although I should like to make a little progress.

Column 342

Mr. Lord : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way because I am one of those who believe that this is simply deregulation by the back door. I accept the points that were made at the time. This was looked at as a compromise, but only because there were three matters before the House and this was the one in the middle. If we had started from scratch, with a clean sheet, and asked whether we wanted shops to open on a Sunday and somebody came forward with a "compromise" that allowed shops to open for six hours in an eight-hour day, that would not have been regarded as sensible. Bearing in mind a bit of opening at the beginning of the day and a bit of opening at the end of the day over the edges, to most normal people it must look like a normal working day.

Dame Angela Rumbold : I am quite surprised at my hon. Friend. I thought that the House specialised in compromise. It was incapable many times of making a clear decision one way or another, which is why I deplore the fact that we were not able to choose the total deregulation option that was before the House at the time. I want now to come to the point that was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby. He believes that the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill will enable stores to open for six days a week at any time. Therefore, following his reasoning, that will obviate the need for shops--particularly the larger stores--to open on a Sunday.

I believe that the shopping habits of the great British public are not quite as manic as some hon. Members would like to think. I do not see millions of people rushing to the shops at every minute or hour of the day that they are open. The habits of the shopping public are normally more rational and they are more inclined to go shopping at their convenience than at that of the shops. The shops can do no more than open and offer the opportunity to their customers. It will be entirely up to customers to choose when they go shopping. I am fairly confident that the vast majority of women who take on the responsibility of doing the weekly shop will find intensely unattractive the opportunity to go shopping at the hours of 9 pm to midnight. I say that because substantial numbers of those women work extremely hard. When they have worked, they normally go home and prepare a meal, and often do chores. The very last thing they will want to do then is get into the car or on their bicycles, or on their feet, and go down to the local supermarket to do a shop.

I must tell hon. Members who are not accustomed to shopping that it is not a leisurely or enjoyable task. It is a task which must be done, but is quite hard work, requires a certain amount of physical capacity and can be very tiring. To assume that this suggestion will be welcomed by people who want to go and do their shopping in a more rational frame of mind seems quite absurd.

Mr. Alton : There are good reasons therefore for sparing people the necessity of going through precisely those exercises on a Sunday as well.

Dame Angela Rumbold : I deeply disagree. I make no bones about this. I do not want to dictate when any shop or retailer should open, but if it is possible for families to go together and do the shopping, it is infinitely better for the person on whom the burden normally falls--that is, the woman--that she should have the opportunity of having her husband, and perhaps her children, accompany her. We

Column 343

are not talking about the weekly shop, although I was quite incensed at some of the ways in which that shop was described. I thought it demonstrated beyond anything that I have ever heard in the House a total ignorance of the burdens that women must carry. It was also suggested that few women--indeed, people--worked on Sunday and did not work on other days.

On the whole, women work extremely hard, whether they work for their living, look after their children or simply stay at home and look after the home. If they also have to take work during the week to supplement and subsidise the family income, for whatever reason, it seems quite outrageous that we should say to them that they can work Monday to Saturday up until midnight but not on a Sunday, and that one can only do that for extra money. Many of those women choose to work on Sunday because that is the day when it is most convenient for them, to ensure that the families stay together, because their partner is then able to undertake caring for their children. Families--the element about which we argue so often in the House- -are more likely to stay together in those circumstances than if the woman has to work until midnight, which is a ridiculous idea.

Mr. Alfred Morris : The right hon. Lady has spoken with some feeling about the problems of shoppers. She is a former Minister of State in the Home Office and I recall that she often spoke with feeling in support of what was said by the Police Federation. Now, the federation's general secretary says :

"To allow Sunday to become a day which requires high levels of manpower and police resources would have a serious effect on shift systems, and there is no doubt that police officers do require Sundays off to spend with family and friends".

How does the right hon. Lady respond to that?

Dame Angela Rumbold : When I was at the Home Office, I had no responsibility for the police, although I had other responsibilities.

Mr. Peter Lloyd : As I said earlier, the Association of Chief Police Officers has made clear its view that any extra work that would fall to it would be manageable and negligible.

Dame Angela Rumbold : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Let me continue with what I was saying about the importance of understanding precisely what we are being asked to consider. We are being asked to consider an alternative to what we approved in our vote on 8 December--and that alternative is posited on the fact that because larger stores may have an opportunity to open six days a week throughout the night as well as all day, we should feel able to change our minds and deny families and others the chance to shop in such stores on Sundays, even for limited periods.

I believe that it would be best to uphold our vote of 8 December and to allow customers--including families--to make up their own minds about when they wish to shop. I feel extremely confident that many will continue to do what millions do already, irrespective of the notion that everyone wishes to spend Sunday at home--often, dare I say, bored out of their minds.

Many people like to go out as a family on Sundays. They do not necessarily want to do the weekly shop ; many wish to visit garden centres, take the children to buy a new pair of shoes, look at furniture or buy materials for home

Column 344

improvement. Who are we to deprive them of that opportunity? Who are we to say that, with total deregulation, they can engage in those activities from Monday to Saturday, between certain hours? In fact, most families do not manage to get together in their homes until between 7 and 8 pm ; they will almost certainly be condemned to shop late at night. What rational family will take the children out so late, or expect a woman to go out in the dark at a time when women, and elderly people in particular, are fearful about going out?

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding) : My right hon. Friend makes an eloquent case for deregulation. May I ask who will pay the additional costs involved? Who will pay for the extra policing, the extra parking and traffic control and the extra garbage collection costs, for example? Will it be the shops that benefit from Sunday opening, or the general public--taxpayers, business taxpayers, business rate payers and council tax payers, including those who, for reasons of conscience or otherwise, prefer not to open their shops on Sundays?

Dame Angela Rumbold : Many, of course, will not open their shops on Sundays. Precisely those points, however, have been considered very carefully, both in Committee and just now by my right hon. Friend the Minister, who answered adequately and eloquently on behalf of the Police Federation. He said that ACPO and other federations had said that the extra charges that may or may not accrue--I am not at all convinced that they will--would be negligible in comparison with the importance of giving people the opportunity to behave as they choose on Sundays, rather than as we dictate.

8.15 pm

Let me make the point about safety once more, because I think that it is important. We often assume that, because shops are open late at night in summer, that is a perfectly acceptable time for families to go out. In this country, however, it is usually dark when people go out in the evening, because we cannot grasp the nettle and bring our time arrangements into line with those of our continental counterparts. That, however, is a separate point, on which I shall not elaborate.

I feel that we are in grave danger of assuming that, because a deregulation Bill is before the House, it may somehow enable people to open their shops at different times and thereby attract more customers. For reasons of safety, I do not believe that any elderly people or many women will go out late at night ; certainly, no families will allow their children to go out at such times, for good and sensible reasons. Therefore, I believe that very few shops will avail themselves of the opportunity to stay open enormously late : customers simply will not want to visit them.

This evening, hon. Members are trying to put a case based on a false premise--the premise that we know when people are going to go shopping. We do not know that ; what we do know is that the experience of the past few years suggests that many people enjoy shopping on Sundays, during the day. Are we to deny those people the opportunity, simply because we think that they might go shopping late at night instead? I do not think that likely, and I urge hon. Members to think very carefully before voting for the amendment. I believe that such a vote would be based on a completely false premise.

Column 345

Mr. Alton : We are considering three sets of amendments. There are what might be described as the "mornings only" amendments ; there is the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and me, which seeks to exempt at least Christmas day, when it falls on a Sunday, and Easter Sunday ; and there are the amendments to which the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) spoke so well, which seek to limit the size and scale of shops that may open, excluding the larger shops measuring more than 3,000 sq ft. All are attempts to return us to where we were in December, when the Keep Sunday Special option was narrowly defeated. As we now know from our debates on the Floor of the House and in Committee, the changes made since then--both in the Bill itself, and following the introduction of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill--and the subsequent failure to include worker protection in this Bill make it clear that the votes cast earlier by many right hon. and hon. Members were conditional on future alterations. That is why these amendments are so crucial. I hope that many hon. Members, when they come to vote, will see them as a chance to put the Bill back on the right path.

The right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) spoke in the debate on the original Bill presented by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell). It seems a long time ago that we first went through the arguments, as a kind of rehearsal for the debate to come.

The right hon. Lady and I have always disagreed on this matter ; there is no point in disguising that. I disagree with her for a number of reasons. She has argued for complete deregulation and I respect the way in which she has put her view, but I do not agree with it.

Enough features of our life in this country have been "deregulated". There is a need to protect and safeguard our family life, our community life, church life, town centres and small shops, and to meet the needs of the elderly and the disadvantaged. We have already conceded far too much to materialism and consumerism. There is, therefore, a moral question to be considered about the deeper values of our society. The issue that we are debating goes to the heart of those.

We need time together as families and communities. Nothing can be more important than children and their parents having time with one another, or there being time in which to visit elderly people. If all the pressures are to be placed on us on a Sunday that are placed on us every other day of the week, what chance will we have to fulfil those duties? We speak so much about our rights and our choice, but what about our responsibilities, our duties and our obligations to one another? Sunday gives us the ideal opportunity for a pause in our lives.

Rev. Martin Smyth : The hon. Gentleman was answering the arguments of the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold). Does he accept that, just as she was making assumptions from our point of view to try to refute the arguments of the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison), the right hon. Lady was making some strange assumptions herself-- obviously not fully aware of changing patterns of night life in our cities- -when she postulated that no one would want to go shopping at night? In other words, there will be an opportunity for people to shop at night and, to confirm

Column 346

what the hon. Gentleman was saying, we are minimising the proper opportunities for family leisure together on the one day that is available.

Mr. Alton : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that argument so well. What I found strange about the right hon. Lady's case was that she argued an entirely different case on the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill and that she and some of her hon. Friends would say that we need to have those opportunities Monday to Saturday to shop 24 hours a day, because people need to have the chance to go out at night and so on. I do not dispute that, but let us consider the present moment.

We seem to have got by perfectly well for most of this century with the shopping arrangements which we have had and, in so doing, we have protected Sunday as a special day. It was the Government's own Auld committee, appointed in 1983, that concluded :

"the economic effects of deregulation are likely to be small ; the social effects may not be."

The social effects may not be. I believe that that is true. The social effects are likely to be considerable.

If I can offer even better advice than that of the Auld committee to the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden, it would be the advice that Winston Churchill once gave. He said that we needed Sunday and he described it as

"the necessary pause in the national life and activity". He said :

"it is essentially the day of emancipation from the compulsion and strain of daily work".

He said :

"it is the birthright of every British subject, a day of personal, social and spiritual opportunity, and, above all, our great heritage, and one it is our responsibility, privilege and duty to hand on, to posterity unsullied by the commercialisation which is making its mark today."

If that was true 40-odd years ago, how much more true is it today, with the pressures of commercialisation and materialism that abound? I passionately believe, therefore, that we must do more to restrict, rather than to make available, Sunday as yet another day for shopping.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who speaks for the Labour party on home affairs, is here for this part of the debate, because it reminds me of what he said, quite rightly, in the book "Reclaiming the Ground" :

"There is right and wrong. There is good and bad",

and that we had to understand the difference. In that book, he and other people quoted from R. H. Tawney, when they said that expediency alone should not justify the way in which we vote on issues. I hope that he will be present with us in the Lobby later, to put some real flesh on those remarks, because he has his chance tonight to protect a very important part of our national life.

Other hon. Members will speak about the amendments that deal with "mornings only". The amendments that I want to speak to specifically are those about Christmas and Easter. If we do nothing else today, surely we should exclude from the Bill Christmas day and Easter day. Easter day especially is a day when the pressures will be on for shops to be open. We heard from the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) earlier about Good Friday and the way in which that has already disappeared as a special day. The same is true of Easter day.

I hope that amendment No. 14 will be relatively non-controversial, although I doubt it, somehow. I suspect

Column 347

that the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), who I know would have been sympathetic if the amendment had merely mentioned Christmas day, will not support it if it includes Easter day. I hope to be proven wrong by him later, and perhaps I have stirred him into making a few remarks about that amendment.

I strongly support the right hon. Member for Selby's amendments, which are supported by Members in all parts of the Chamber. First, I believe that they would be a boost for small business. Small stores have been especially hard hit by the recession and by the sheer corporate muscle of the big superstores. Of course there is room in the marketplace for small food shops and for large supermarkets, but they can co-exist only if small businesses are given a chance to thrive on Sunday trade.

Large stores make only 5 per cent. of their turnover on Sundays, whereas up to 25 per cent. of small shops' trade takes place on Sundays. Under the Shopping Hours Reform Council option, Sunday trading, which is crucial to small shops' survival, could be cut by half. That is one reason why people should support the right hon. Gentleman's amendment.

Secondly, there is the idea of Sunday as a different day. If those amendments are accepted, Sunday will remain different from the other days of the week. Customers who need to shop for essential foods and household goods will be able to do so, yet the free-for-all of deregulation, with the noise and the environmental cost--issues which I mentioned earlier--and the pressures on small shops to open when the employees would prefer to be with their families, will be avoided. Thirdly, there is the issue of damage to small shops. Small convenience stores have fought hard to remain viable in the face of increasing competition from supermarkets and superstores. Late night and Sunday opening have been essential to their survival. In the past 20 years, 50 small stores on average have gone out of business every single week. In 1950, there were 650 supermarkets of more than 2,500 sq ft, and 145,000 independent grocers. In 1992, there were 769 superstores of more than 25,000 sq ft and only 35,000 independent local stores, compared with 145,000 in 1950. That situation will be made much worse unless we provide the protection that the right hon. Member for Selby is trying to provide. All that is borne out by the "Retail Intelligence Report" for 1993, which reported :

"for major multiples, business that was formerly going to neighbourhood stores is being picked up as additional business." For small stores, the SHRC option is not a six-hour option but an eight-hour option, as different superstores choose to trade at different times. As we heard from the hon. Member for Swansea, East, not only will workers have to work an hour in advance of opening and an hour at the end of opening, but they will have the travelling time involved, which will require them to work up to nine hours on a Sunday.

Fourthly, there is the issue of job losses. The London Economics survey for 1993 stated that the SHRC option would lead to about 5,000 job losses. They would come mainly from the small shops sector. That is another reason why the amendment should be supported.

Fifthly, I want to tackle the myth of freedom of choice, which the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden advanced. The SHRC and the right hon. Lady seek to

Next Section

  Home Page