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23 May 2006 : Column 406WH

I accept that that is a qualified statement, but the chief constable accepts the broad thrust of where we are going.

Mr. McLoughlin: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McNulty: Funnily enough, I have no quote for Derbyshire, so I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. McLoughlin: I am sorry that the Minister has no quote for Derbyshire. May I press him on one point? At the moment, we are in a four-month consultation period. My understanding is that it will end sometime in July. Will the Minister assure us that an announcement will not be made on this issue on25 July, as the House rises, and that we will have the opportunity to discuss it so that the House can properly measure the proposals?

Mr. McNulty: I can give the right hon. Gentleman an assurance on the first point, because I understand that the four-month objection period finishes around 11 August, rather than in mid-July. Therefore the small window at the end of July wherein he suggested there might be parliamentary debate does not come into play.

Let me say this as clearly as I can, because there have been intimations in the press. The new Home Secretary starts from the premise that the current position is simply untenable and the direction of travel of what we have suggested is the right outcome. Quite rightly, as a new Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend reserves the right to take a look at things such as timetables and all the other elements that go with that. With or without that, local MPs are right to raise what are very important issues—none of which I traduce as trivial—such as council tax precept equalisation, the disparity between urban and rural areas and the disparity between the starting financial bases of each of the counties. Work is being done on those matters. In fact, the east midlands business plan for the merger was one of the best of those submitted, but work continues.

If hon. Members are suggesting that more time is required, I am not shocked or astonished by that and I will certainly take their suggestions back to the Department. I have commented on the Home Secretary’s position. If the concern is that they have not had sufficient time at ministerial level to talk their concerns through, I will give an assurance that that can happen for the east midlands and elsewhere. I take seriously the concerns expressed by hon. Members and I will take them back to the Department, but the current position is untenable. We want to go in the direction outlined in the merger plans. Policing is far too important to ignore the genuine concerns raised by hon. Members from all parts of the Chamber—

David Taylor (in the Chair): Order. I ask contributors to and observers of the police forces debate to leave quietly.

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Sunday Trading Hours

11 am

Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to debate Sunday trading hours and to do so with you in the Chair, Mr. Taylor. I welcome my very good friend the Minister, who is responding to this debate. He represents a London constituency and, in that capacity, I hope he will join me in welcoming the goals of the Evening Standard campaign for small shops in the capital.

I studied, as I am sure the Minister did, the remarks of our right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, who, while in his current post, said in the recent Commons debate on confident consumers:

I am pleased that he used that phrase, because the right balance is what the whole question of Sunday trading hours must be about.

I speak as a fully paid up and long-standing member of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. The issue is crucially important to the union and its members. We need to strike a balance between more than the interests of shop workers, whom I believe are the majority, who do not want longer Sunday working hours, and consumers, whom I believe are the minority, who do. This issue is about the right balance between large and small stores, and between the character of Sunday and that of other days of the week. It is also about the work-life balance and the balance between the interests of those who are affected by the traffic, deliveries and servicing of Sunday trading and those who want to shop.

We should all recall that there was intensive and prolonged debate on all those issues before the passage of the Sunday Trading Act 1994, which was itself a considered compromise between those who wanted no Sunday trading, those who wanted deregulation and those who wanted a significant bit of trading for large stores, more freedom for small stores and protection for affected workers. It was a compromise—it struck a balance—and subsequent developments qualified it, notably the welcome introduction of the minimum wage and Christmas day protection.

The balance has, on the whole, worked better than opponents at either end of the spectrum expected. People can shop in large supermarkets and stores for much of the day and they can use smaller shops outside those hours, yet Sunday remains a bit different, and shop workers retain some protection in law and in practice. If we were seeking to change that Act, there would be a much stronger case for entrenching legally the right to premium payment and for strengthening workers’ protection against pressure to work on Sundays when they do not want to do so, rather than for moving in the opposite direction.

Sunday trading is one of the subjects on which we never get everyone to agree. I do not see any evidence that opinion has shifted much one way or the other.We should not keep compromising with those who want a total free-for-all. If we were to do so, we would allow them to salami-slice their way to complete deregulation, which is not what most people want; it is not even what all the big retail chains want. The onus is
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on those who want longer or deregulated hours to make the case. I do not think that they have succeeded in doing so, and they have not convinced the public.

From what my constituents in Oxford tell me, and from opinion polls, I see no tide of opinion in favour of longer opening hours for large stores—quite the contrary. For example, a British Market Research Bureau survey for the Association of Convenience Stores found that 68 per cent. of the public did not want large supermarket chains to open for longer hours on Sunday. Of the remainder, a further 14 per cent. said that they would reconsider and not support longer opening hours if they threatened small businesses. USDAW’s NOP survey found that 62 per cent. of the public do not want longer Sunday opening hours. Even a survey of people who were out shopping on a Sunday conducted for the lobby group, Deregulate, found that only 56 per cent. favoured longer opening hours. That is hardly a ringing endorsement from those in the public whom one might expect to be most in favour of longer hours.

The inquiry by the panel of parliamentarians, including my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), who is present, found widespread opposition not only from religious groups and trade unionists but, significantly, from groups such as Working Families, the Mothers’ Union and CARE, and particular concern for the effects on family life and especially parents’ ability to spend time with their children. That is an issue, rightly, of growing concern.

Such important considerations were given surprisingly little attention in the cost-benefit analysis commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry. Indeed, some important arguments were explicitly excluded from the analysis, such as people not wanting trading because it is the Christian day of rest, restrictions being necessary to protect workers from pressure to work on a Sunday, and a collective preference for a quiet day. In a rather haughty get-out clause the authors, from Indepen, state:

They ought to have added “qualitatively” as well. They go on to say:

I urge Ministers to do just that. Some of the most important arguments are at stake in the decision about what sort of a day we as a society want Sunday to be for workers as well as consumers and for us all as human beings.

Colleagues will, I am sure, have scope in their speeches to consider such matters and other issues from the cost-benefit analysis in further detail. However, it is important to stress three key points. First, the cost-benefit analysis report sees no net job generation from further deregulation. Secondly, the gains that it claims, such as the effect on prices, derive largely from the progressive erosion of premium payments. Even if the reduction in consumer prices and higher profits were to materialise, it would largely be at the expense of low-paid workers. It is inconceivable in such circumstances that the already extensive pressure that shop staff feel that they are under to work on Sundays—more than half of staff reported such pressure in an USDAW survey—would not increase.

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Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has been the fortunate recipient of a paper from Deregulate, but it states:

There it is; we are doing this on behalf of those who are most in need. Does he think that that is a good argument?

Mr. Smith: I have not seen that briefing from Deregulate, but that does not surprise me. Indeed, the cost-benefit analysis commissioned by the DTI pointed to both students and single parents as potential recruits for additional Sunday working. As far as the latter are concerned, who is looking after the children while those lone parents are out working? As USDAW’s surveys have shown, many people are not doing such work through choice but out of necessity as a means of keeping body and soul together. No one would dispute that Sunday working suits some people. The thrust of my argument is not that it does not, but that many people feel under increasing pressure to work when they do not want to do so. Moreover, as the cost-benefit analysis report showed, the premium payments that attract some people to work on Sundays at the moment have been progressively eroded, from the typical double time, at the time of the 1994 Act, to time and a half, time and a quarter and, in many cases, single time. That pressure would get worse.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): My right hon. Friend made the valid point earlier that we should consider strengthening the rights of workers to guarantees of premium payments. Does he accept in any case that there are many exploited workers even now, both in the sectors brought into Sunday trading by the most recent changes and in those that could always trade on Sunday? People need proper protection from being forced to worked to work on Sundays for inadequate remuneration.

Mr. Smith: I certainly accept that, and that point is clear from surveys and the anecdotal evidence of workers in the industry.

The third key point that came out of the cost-benefit analysis was that small stores will lose out, especially on current out-of-hours sales, for which they are a substitute for large store provision. Given the report’s precision on the benefits that it claims will come from extending hours, it is striking how vague its conclusions are about the quantitative effects on smaller and convenience stores. How many small shops would close and how many jobs would be lost? We must give weight to the conclusion drawn by the Association of Convenience Stores that liberalisation would have a

We should also bear in mind the sector’s survey, which showed that as many as 30 per cent. of independents would be likely to close if Sunday trading hours were extended and that 44 per cent. of retailers would be forced to cut staff.

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To draw to a conclusion, the case for further deregulation has not been made; indeed, there are good grounds for being apprehensive about its effects. I hope that the Government, having reviewed all the evidence, will come to the same conclusion. If by any mischance they do not, I would seek assurances, first, that there would be votes on primary legislation in Parliament before any change could be made and, secondly, that any such votes would be free votes, so that MPs could vote according to their conscience and judgment.

I hope that the situation does not come to that and that the Government will share my view that they have many more important and constructive things to do than bring in longer Sunday trading hours. Doing so would put shop workers under unacceptable pressure, further diminish the special character of Sunday and lead to the closure of many more small shops. Let us keep a civilised balance and stick with the 1994 Act.

I leave the last word to Heather Morris and Debbie Davidson, shop workers who gave moving accounts of what the possibility of more Sunday working meant to them at a seminar that USDAW organised for MPs. They pointed out that Sunday working hours are already longer than the six hours for which the shops can be open, because of preparation and clearing-up time. They said:

One added:

I hope that the Government will do just that, and drop the idea of longer Sunday trading hours.

Several hon. Members rose—

David Taylor (in the Chair): Order. It is my intention to call the Front-Bench speakers at 12 noon. Six hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, so will hon. Members observe those limits? You can do the arithmetic yourselves.

11.15 am

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), whom I congratulate on securing the debate on this important topic.

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With due deference to the Minister, I am not sure that this ball should be in the court of the Department of Trade and Industry in the first place. The DTI is there to advocate the interests of the employer, of business, and more and more, sadly, of big business. Many other aspects of this debate need to be taken into account before any conclusion is reached, such as the effect on children and family life, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. I do not consider the DTI to be well placed to take account of the needs of children and family life. I hope that what he said about the need for families to have time together will be taken seriously before any conclusion is reached on this proposal.

I hope also that serious attention will be given to the likely impact on our towns and cities, and on the roads between them and the adjoining villages. We already have six-days-a-week congestion, and we are in danger of having seven-days-a-week congestion. That means that we will need more bus services to be provided on Sundays and more filling stations to be open. If Sunday trading hours are extended, premises both in and out of town will be used for even more hours than they are now, people will expect bus services to run earlier, and people who live in town centres will be awoken earlier.

Take, for example, someone who lives in the centre of Ryde or Newport in my constituency—I declare an interest because I live in the centre of Newport. It is not unusual for large delivery lorries to arrive at supermarkets such as Somerfield and Sainsbury’s well before the official opening hours of those stores on six, no seven, days a week. If the time at which those stores can open is made earlier on a Sunday, people will be disturbed earlier by delivery lorries. In my constituency, there will be more pressure for people to work on the ferries earlier, so that the delivery lorries can cross the Solent in time to reach the supermarkets before they open.

The proposals will have an impact on employment, as I am sure the Minister understands, but they will also have an impact on the condition and state of our towns and villages. People quite like walking around Newport and Ryde on Sundays, because there is less traffic and congestion. Sundays would become very much like any other day if the proposals of the big conglomerates were to take effect in the manner under consideration. I hope that the Minister will consider carefully with his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government the impact of Sunday trading on planning and local government.

I hope that the Minister will also consider the impact on tourism. Obviously, there is some demand for some stores to be open on Sundays, but for the most part it is small stores, shops and businesses that open on Sundays to deal with the needs of tourism. Thankfully, most tourism has not yet been taken over by the Sainsburys and Tescos of this world; there is already a danger of that with garden centres, which are increasingly being swallowed up by big chains. There was a time when I felt some sympathy for the desire of garden centres to open on Easter day, but no longer, because for the great part they are no longer small, local businesses that breathe money into the economy of their local area, although many still are.

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