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23 May 2006 : Column 412WH

I hope that the Minister who has this difficult responsibility will allow the Department of Trade and Industry to shed its traditional appearance, and that it will look more carefully at the whole range of community interests across the nation.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the seminar provided for right hon. and hon. Members by USDAW and the “Keep Sunday Special” campaign. The contributions of Heather Morris and Debbie Davidson were moving. In particular, I remember their references to the hours at which people have to start work. Supermarkets have to open on weekday mornings with all the shelves full and all the bread freshly baked, and that would have to be translated to Sunday mornings if Sunday trading was to be extended in the same way. We were told that the bakers have to start work at 4 o’clock in the morning if fresh bread is to be on the shelves by 7. There is no reason why that should not happen also on Sundays under proposals currently up for consideration.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May I place on record my support, on behalf of my constituents, for USDAW’s “Save our Sundays” campaign and for the “Keep Sunday Special” campaign? I congratulate my hon. Friend on his remarks about the impact of deregulation on family life. Is he as shocked as I am to hear that there are 1.4 million families with dependent children in which both parents already have to work throughout the weekend?

Mr. Turner: I am surprised that the number is as great as my hon. Friend suggests. I am concerned about it, however, because those children deserve to have time with their parents—with both parents together—and they need to see how, ideally, families should work. I know that it is difficult for people to bring up children, and I know that many children are not fortunate enough to be brought up by both parents; but we do not want more children to be forced for reasons of economic necessity to be left by their parents on Sundays as they are left on other days of the week.

I was speaking about the effect on shop workers. It can be argued that shop workers are grown up people and can make up their own minds when they want to work and when they do not want to work; they can take what is on offer or they can work elsewhere. That is the traditional argument of the big conglomerates. I subscribe to the view that people should make their own decisions on where and when they work, but it is not sufficient for us simply to wash our hands of our responsibility to them and to the shop workers of future generations.

It is not because of how much shop workers are paid that I worry about them working on Sunday: I am sure that many students are happy to work on Sunday. I am concerned about the extension of Sunday trading because of the consequences for communities and families. I am concerned also about its impact on those families who already run small businesses, because it is a form of unfair competition. Large businesses are backed by a huge amount of capital, and they can spread that capital and the cost of that investment over seven days a week; but a family running a corner shop naturally wants some private time, and it will be much more difficult to spread the cost of the investment over seven days a week with full opening hours.

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I believe that if such a proposal ever came before the House in the form of legislation, we should look again at the further regulation of Sunday trading. However, I suggest that further regulation should not be imposed nationally but that it should be for local authorities to impose it within the current regulations. I suggest, for example, that local authorities ought to be given the power to limit further the hours of Sunday trading for all or any class of business if they so desired. For instance, they could permit sole traders to open for the full six hours but require larger traders to open for less. They could permit locally owned businesses to open for the full six hours but restrict other businesses. They could permit small garden centres or farm shops to open the full six hours but not permit other businesses to do so. The House will need to take account of those considerations if the proposal ever forms legislation, but most important is that the Minister considers carefully the views of his colleagues in other Departments as well as those of the public on this unpopular proposal.

Several hon. Members rose—

David Taylor (in the Chair): Order. There are five Members wishing to speak and 35 minutes left.

11.25 am

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you, Mr. Taylor. The pressure is on—I understand that. There is a great temptation for people to stand up and say that they will be brief. Having already lost a couple of minutes, I shall try to keep to a narrow point.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) for securing this debate. It is important that the Minister and his team know the strong feelings of Back Benchers not just from one party but throughout the House. I am grateful that my right hon. Friend mentioned the document, “Whose Convenience?”, in which I declare a bit of an interest. It did what the Department of Trade and Industry failed to do, examining the social effects of extending weekend working and Sunday trading.

My right hon. Friend highlighted one of the big problems, which was that the DTI focus was too narrow. The cost-benefit analysis was based solely on the economic arguments of extending Sunday trading, but as other hon. Members have said, the real problems with extending Sunday trading are the effects on family life, parenting and relationships.

I come to the issue with my faith. I am one of those who believe that it is possible for Members of Parliament to have a strong faith and to bring it to policy making. My faith underlies much of what I have to say. I keep Sunday as special as possible, but I recognise that in a secular society it is impossible to impose my views about Sunday on everybody else. I am flexible, but I try as much as possible not to shop on a Sunday and to make it a special day. Such an approach can even help MPs to ensure that they see more of their families.

MPs have some choice in the matter. To a certain extent, apart from a few things that we have to do throughout the year, we have some choice about how we
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structure our week. The people who will be most affected by the proposal probably have very little choice. The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) raised this matter earlier, when he said that 1.5 million families include people who have to work on Sundays. If we extend trading, we will make that much worse.

Because of my faith, which underpins my values and the way in which I look at society, I believe that

“God” could be changed to “we”.

This is one of the two or three areas about which I feel strongly. As people know, I have a great passion for sport and for international development. The third area that I wish to pursue while I am in the House is getting the balance right for encouraging, fostering and nurturing relationships, as that is the key to solving many of today’s social ills and problems. The Government can assist and create environments, but the single biggest thing that they can do is to create time for families to encourage and nurture relationships.

I thank those who helped to write the report. As usual, those of us who are named in it probably did very little work. The credit goes to others who are here today. I shall not refer to the whole of the report, but what is interesting in paragraph 3.5, which deals with the effects on family life and parenting, is that it was not just the usual suspects who provided the strongest opposition to a relaxation of the six-hour rule. Obviously, organisations such as the TUC and USDAW were involved, but it was nice that others such as Morrisons were as well. I was encouraged by that. We should remember when we castigate the big supermarkets that companies such as Morrisons recognise that there is a balance to be struck. The British Shops and Stores Association, Working Families, the Mothers Union and CARE were also involved, and it was the National Centre for Social Research that highlighted the number of people who already work long hours.

It is a little late in terms of the work that has already been done, but it is imperative when the Minister and his colleagues consider the report, that they consider introducing primary legislation. I and other hon. Members urge them to give us a free vote so that we can all have our say. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] At that point, the Minister will get the message that there is no great support for the measure in the House or the country. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East rightly said, even research done among those who had chosen to go shopping on a Sunday showed only 56 per cent. support for extending Sunday shopping. Clearly, support is not that large in the country; indeed, other research and opinion polls generally show about 70 per cent. opposition.

There is nothing for the Government to gain by extending Sunday shopping. Given that they want to generate good news stories rather than bad, why would they generate another bad news story unnecessarily? They should just kill this one off at the end of this Adjournment debate, and we could all walk away happy, praising the Minister as he went on his way. Perhaps one or two extra Members need to be present to convince him, but he would make friends here and across the House if he killed the proposal off today, rather than waiting for the summer recess. We need to
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get our values right in society, and that is also true of the work-life balance. The Department has introduced several welcome legislative changes, which have started to address the need to get the work-life balance right, and it would be strange if it took the retrograde step represented by the present measure and undermined much of the good work that has been done.

As I said, my other interest is in sport, and I chair the National Strategic Partnership for Volunteering in Sport—we actually got consultants in to come up with a shorter title, but that was the one that they came up with. However, the body is important because we speak on behalf of the roughly 2.5 million people who volunteer in sport. As everybody who has volunteered will know, however, the increased pressure of work is squeezing people’s ability to give regular time to volunteering. We all volunteer, but we also know that sport is increasingly changing. The 3 o’clock Saturday afternoon kick-off has changed and the mini rugby clubs and the football teams are full. Indeed, my little eight-year-old son has just started playing football and was supposed to have been in a tournament on Sunday. However, it is impossible to get the balance right, and we need to create extra time.

The Institute of Management did research into lifestyle measures and asked people whether they had time for other interests. Even in 1997, 77 per cent. of people said that they did not, but by 1999, about 87 per cent. said that they had little time for additional interests. When they were asked whether their extended hours were damaging their health, 71 per cent. said that they did, so people recognised the problem. When they were asked whether their hours had an effect on their relationship with their children, 86 per cent. said that they did. As we know, the time that people enjoy together with their family is a vital part of the week. We must recognise the need to get the work-life balance right when we have our children. One of those who was surveyed said that he was working as hard as he could to spend lots of time with his grandchildren. That is great, and it will be some consolation to him, but it might not be a consolation to his children.

We need to get the balance right to free up people’s time. The biggest contribution that we can make is to create time so that families can spend quality time together. That will deliver not only a better Sunday but a better quality of life right across the nation in terms of what we as families and individuals achieve.

11.33 am

David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op): I too congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) on obtaining the debate. I should declare that I am a life member of the Association of Town Centre Management, although I do not believe that it has a particular view on Sunday trading.

The question I ask myself is where the call to extend Sunday hours comes from, because it does not seem to come from us in Parliament, and as we have heard, it does not come from those who work in shops or from the public. Surveys show very low public support for changing the law; indeed, the Department of Trade and Industry commissioned a cost-benefit analysis by Indepen
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Consulting Ltd, which bears that out. It surveyed the current situation, and page 16 of its report shows that 13 per cent. of adults aged 16 and over shop at supermarkets every Sunday, while 7 per cent. shop at other large stores every Sunday. The conclusion that most of us would draw from that—oddly, the Indepen report does not draw it—is that 80 per cent. of adults do not shop at supermarkets on Sundays and 93 per cent. do not shop at other large stores on Sundays. Even the Department’s own commissioned report seems to bear out that lack of public support.

So who wants change? Not necessarily all the big four supermarkets. A representative of Sainsbury’s quoted in Retail Week late last year said:

Of course, however, if change should come I am sure that Sainsbury’s would follow the other big supermarkets in extending its hours. I can only conclude that the pressure comes from the big three supermarkets, if not from all of the big four.

I am sure that the Minister will want to take into account the fact that the Competition Commission has now been asked by the Office of Fair Trading to carry out a new inquiry into the grocery trade, and in particular the effect on it of the big four supermarkets. In addition to all the other reasons that have been given that support my belief that it would be unwise for the Government to proceed with an extension of opening hours at present, it would be unwise to proceed with any proposals for change while that Competition Commission inquiry is under way. If the Minister wants a reason to kick the idea into the long grass, that is very respectable one for him to make use of.

I welcome the assurance, given by one of the Minister’s colleagues at the USDAW conference a month or so ago, that if any change were to be proposed in future it would be subject to a vote in Parliament—I hope that it would be a free vote—and would not be dealt with under the powers that might be given to Parliament under, for instance, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

An argument urged by some supporters of extending hours—whoever those shadowy characters might be—is that it would mean lower prices for customers. However, the Indepen report gives no evidence that that will be so. It merely asserts it. It does not mention, for instance, the fact that in the past the Competition Commission logically said that supermarket pricing depends on local competition; the effect of change on that competition and on the smaller, independent convenience stores and other independent retailers concerns me. We all know the figures about closures of independent convenience stores in the past few years: 2,000 of them closed last year, and their sales are regularly down an average of 5 per cent. a year. The recent report by the all-party small shops group, “High Street Britain: 2015”, which I am pleased to have played a part in preparing, showed the pressures to which those small shops are already subject.

The Indepen report states that extending hours will

and could have a positive impact on

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What the report ignores is the fact that in the past few years the number of small stores that complement larger stores has decreased, and the number of small stores that act as substitutes has increased. That is because the larger stores have extended beyond their usual grocery base the range of goods and services on offer to customers, to include DVDs and CDs, white goods, clothing, magazines and newspapers, pharmacy services, photo processing and so on. More and more of the small stores near the bigger stores are not complementary to those bigger stores, but are substitutes, and the Indepen report completely overlooks that important factor.

In Brighton and Hove we are lucky. We have a good, successful sub-regional shopping centre, where most of the big multiples are represented, and we also have a vibrant and diverse area of small, independent retailers around the Lanes and the North Laine, which many people who have visited Brighton will know. The North Laine and the Lanes are currently voting on whether to become a business improvement district. We do not know how the vote will turn out, but by making it possible to set up business improvement districts the Government are helping small retailers who want to help themselves. If they extend the opening hours of larger stores they will put small retailers under still further pressure rather than helping them. I urge the Minister, as others have done, to look at the evidence, which is that the public and Members of Parliament do not want it, and to take the matter no further and forget about it.

11.40 am

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) on securing the debate.

It seems to me that we have seen a steady erosion of time off and special days. I remember a long debate many years ago when I was a councillor about whether we should allow the market to open on Good Friday. We said no, but Good Friday is now a normal working day for many people.

It is important to protect family life when we can. People have strong views about Sunday trading, which have been expressed in the House many times. Most of us accept that the decision was made to allow stores to open for a limited number of hours and that it will stand. When that decision was taken by the House, there were a number of safeguards in place to ensure that people did not have to work on Sundays if they did not want to and to ensure premium payments. However, all the evidence from the survey carried out by USDAW is that those safeguards are being eroded. Eighty per cent. of people who work in shops now work on Sundays and say that it is difficult to have a Sunday off. Almost half are unhappy about that.

Let us be clear: we are talking about many low-paid workers who feel under pressure to work on Sundays if they are to keep their jobs and who need to work on Sundays to keep their wages at a decent level. We should tackle that rather than force people into longer and longer hours to earn a decent wage. Sunday working is not always as voluntary as it seems.

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