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23 May 2006 : Column 418WH

I believe that the pressure on stores to open longer is taking valuable time away from family life. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), I try not to have engagements on Sundays. We have a choice, but many people do not, and parents need that time to spend with their children. It is difficult to find child care on a Sunday and even more difficult for carers. We should not forget that many people who work in shops are also carers and have family responsibilities.

The cost of Sunday working has an impact on us all. It has an impact on local authorities, which must provide more cleaning services and ensure that transport is running and rubbish removed. It also has an impact on the emergency services, which have many more calls to accidents on Sundays as traffic builds up. If we extend opening hours, it will not be long before Sunday becomes a normal working day for many more people than those who work in shops.

The cost falls on all of us in the community. What for? Who has ever starved to death because a shop was not open on a Sunday, never mind that it is not open for a few extra hours? Who has ever found themselves in real difficulty because they cannot suddenly run down to the shops to buy an extra tin of beans? Let us try to put the matter in perspective: what we are trying to protect is far more valuable, even though it cannot be measured. What is important is not always measurable—it is the right to a decent family life and to be able to spend time with children. It is important to us as a society that our children are properly brought up, otherwise the price will fall on us all.

It is time we stopped defining ourselves as a nation by how much we shop. Going to the shops is beginning to be a definition of life and leisure. There are more important things: family, sport, volunteering and what people put back into their communities. We need to protect that community time, as well as those workers on low wages who work very long hours in shops, who can have their hours changed at a moment’s notice. They deserve what we consider our right.

Like many others, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to kick that deregulation into the long grass. Hardly anyone wants it, and I certainly do not believe that the House wants it.

Several hon. Members rose—

Miss Anne Begg (in the Chair): Order. I want the Front Benchers to begin summing up at midday, so I ask the two Members who would like to speak to keep their remarks to that time limit. We will then be able to get them both in.

11.45 am

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I shall be brief, so that my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) can get in to speak.

I wish to make three quick points. I might be wrong, but I am led to believe that Tesco has now withdrawn from Deregulate, which is promising. Tesco is now calling for partial deregulation. I hope that that is a result of the pressure brought to bear by USDAW. I am pleased to say that Tesco has always recognised USDAW and has good industrial relations with it.

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Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): But does the hon. Gentleman accept that Tesco and businesses large and small would need to open for longer hours if there was deregulation because of the commercial imperative to maintain their market share? That would damage the workers and our communities.

Mr. Drew: That is the case, and I hope that other supermarkets will see sense.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that although Tesco has pulled out of the Deregulate campaign, which calls for complete deregulation, it intimated that it is in favour of nine hours of trading on Sundays? That is a false compromise that should be rejected by the Minister and the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr. Drew: I think we are on to a winner here. We should take half a loaf at the moment, but we want the full loaf, as we want Tesco to leave things as they are. I share the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), and I share the faith of my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough(Mr. Reed). I think that we should be going backwards towards more regulation, but that is just my political stance.

I have two other points to make. The first is a serious point about the damage that deregulation would do to our smallest stores. Anyone who has seen the evidence from the New Economics Foundation on clone towns and ghost towns could not help but worry that deregulation would be another nail in the coffin of those smaller stores that choose to open on Sundays—and people choose to work in them.

I do not wish to ban such working, because everybody needs some services on Sundays and we should protect those services. People can get basic groceries and materials outside the normal restricted hours on a Sunday. However, I still believe that we should restrict the hours of opening for all services, bar the emergency ones. We should protect those services, which are so crucial, and keep them in operation.

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): I visited a convenience store in my constituency the other week, and the Association of Convenience Stores and USDAW should be congratulated on ensuring good public debate and that Ministers know just how badly deregulation will affect our constituencies and constituents.

Mr. Drew: I agree with my hon. Friend, and I share the view that there should be a free vote. I do not blame the DTI, as I think that the pressure for deregulation comes largely from the Treasury, although I might be wrong. I hope that the DTI will stand up against the Treasury, if that is the case, and tell it that this is the wrong way to go.

My next point refers back to Deregulate, which I mentioned when I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East. It says that 80 per cent. of the population agreed with the statement that politicians should not be involved in setting opening hours on Sundays. Well, there is a good reason why we
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are here, is there not? We might as well let the market take over everything, and then why would we need to exist? Let us not have democracy; let us just have the market running everything. I hope that the next point was, “And you will be required to work on Sundays.” We would then have seen whether that same 80 per cent. put their hands up and said, “Great, we can’t wait to go out and work on Sundays.”

It is pure hypocrisy for people to say that others should work on Sundays when they are not prepared to work on Sundays themselves. We should say to them, “If you want it, you do it,” because a lot of people do not have that choice. They are forced into working Sundays, and they are the people we should be protecting.

11.50 am

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) on securing this debate on Sunday trading. One matter that I want to focus on is work-life balance, although I must say that I do not like that phrase and wish we could find a better one to describe the subject. [Interruption.] Yes, time off. That is an excellent idea. Another related matter is the effect that these longer hours would have on families.

As we have heard, there simply is not a demand for longer shopping hours on Sundays. I hope the Department of Trade and Industry takes note of that; I am speaking as a former DTI Parliamentary Private Secretary. Survey after survey and opinion poll after opinion poll says that that is not wanted. The strongest opposition to longer hours comes from those who are concerned about the likely effects on family relationships and community life, and we have heard some excellent contributions demonstrating that.

Let us look at the submission from Shirley Dex, professor of longitudinal social research—whatever that is—at the university of London’s Institute of Education. She observes that recent changes in the labour force

and adds that that proportion would inevitably increase as a result of further deregulation.

Professor Dex also notes that a number of studies have found significant dissatisfaction among parents working atypical times, with the amount of time they have spent with their children being of serious concern to them. That dissatisfaction was shared by children. We have talked about parents today, but the effect on family life is also a worry for children, who will not be able to see mum and dad as much as they would like.

The professor concludes that the main benefit of working at weekends is additional household income, but the majority of parents who work at weekends find that that seriously interferes with their ability to have a family life.

However, in this context we are not just talking about children. As has been mentioned, there is also an impact on people with caring responsibilities, such as for an elderly or disabled relative or somebody who is terminally ill. They have even fewer options for finding somebody to look after that relative than parents do for
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their children. It is phenomenally difficult for people to get somebody in to look after an elderly relative—perhaps somebody suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Bob Spink: One in 10 adults.

Shona McIsaac: As the hon. Gentleman says, the figure is one in 10 adults. We should be concerned about this. Rather than just wanting a free-for-all, as some have said, we must be very careful here.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East said that he is proud to be a member of USDAW, and its contribution to the debate has been praised. I am also a member of USDAW, although it has been many years—probably decades—since I worked in a shop. USDAW has analysed what its members have said about Sunday deregulation. The evidence from people working in shops on Sundays who are USDAW members is overwhelming: they say that they would find it difficult to get babysitters and it would have a dramatic impact on their family life.

The DTI has as part of its remit the subject of work-life balance, as well as trade and industry. That is why the idea of deregulation on Sundays should be kicked into the long grass, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) said.

There will also be an impact on convenience stores. We have heard about the representations made by the Association of Convenience Stores. It, too, says that deregulation will have a dramatic impact on communities. If the larger shops are allowed to have a free-for-all, there will be closures of smaller shops, which will have a devastating impact on communities in many smaller villages, as well as in suburban and rural areas, particularly where there is no public transport.

I heard what the hon. Member for Isle of Wight(Mr. Turner) said about possible increases in public transport, but in many rural areas in my constituency there is simply none. People rely on small suburban and village shops, but I make no bones about the fact that those will close if there is deregulation. That will isolate people, particularly the elderly.

We have seen the potential effect on families, people with caring responsibilities and elderly people who perhaps cannot drive, or are no longer allowed to, and who have no public transport available. Such people will be isolated in their communities, which does not improve quality of life. This move would be seriously detrimental to the quality of life in Britain today. Yet again, I ask the Minister to kick it into the long grass.

Finally, I want to touch on the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who was right in saying that Tesco has pulled out of the campaign for total deregulation. On 10 May, the Financial Times stated:

I heard it mentioned that Tesco does not want total deregulation, and perhaps wants partial deregulation or slightly longer hours, but I do not care. It was one of the main backers of the campaign to deregulate, and it has pulled out. That is a serious blow to the deregulation campaign.

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We have looked at this issue as a debate between convenience stores and supermarkets, but it is far more than that. Do-it-yourself and furniture stores, clothes shops and car showrooms are involved. This is not just about supermarkets; we are examining the whole retail sector. Whatever the reason, Tesco pulled out of backing the campaign. That is a blow to those who want deregulation of Sunday trading, and, as Tesco says, “Every little helps.”

11.58 am

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): I fear that I am about to shatter the cosy consensus that has been building up today, so I have my flak jacket on.

I shall begin by explaining that Liberal Democrat policy is to have a free vote on this subject.

Shona McIsaac: That is not policy.

Lorely Burt: If hon. Members will give me a chance, I will go on to make some more points. I shall seek to give a balanced view of the arguments, so that I can represent the opinions on both sides, and then give my view, which is mine alone and is not intended to be representative of my party as a whole.

The Government consultation is designed to evaluate the economic costs of relaxing or removing Sunday trading restrictions. Several hon. Members have asked: what about the social costs? It is incumbent on us, as Members of Parliament, to consider them, although it is not up to us to dictate the way that people and their families should spend their Sundays. The Sunday Trading Act 1994 has become outdated. It is a good time to re-examine things. I have looked through the various studies that have been done, and I have been trying to assess—

David Lepper: Will the hon. Lady explain why she believes the 1994 Act has become outdated? Perhaps she is going to explain that later in her speech.

Lorely Burt: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: I am. Patterns of behaviour and consumer expectations have changed in the ensuing 12 years. Several hon. Members asked who exactly seeks to make the changes and who says that they are necessary. Having looked at the various studies, I think that what the results are deemed to be depends on which interest group one asks to assess the study: they all seem to come out for their own interests.

Mr. Andrew Turner: The hon. Lady said earlier that it is not for politicians to dictate how people spend their Sundays. Another hon. Member—with his tongue in his cheek, I think—said something similar. Does she think that it is for politicians to require a police force to be provided on a Sunday to protect the property of the shops that open for those long hours?

Lorely Burt: It is incumbent on the police force to be available on Sunday, as on every day, as are so many groups in our society, including farmers, police, and people who work in the fire services, care services,
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hospitals, catering, entertainment, TV, sport, security, transport and distribution. One might ask: why are our retail staff so very different?

Helen Jones: Does the hon. Lady seriously expect that council workers should now work a full shift pattern on a Sunday, as should those who work in the ambulance service, police and so on? Their shift patterns are different at the weekend. Will she put on the record whether she would expect, if we had full deregulation, such people to have a normal, weekday working pattern on a Sunday?

Lorely Burt: In my conclusions, I shall not suggest that we should have full deregulation, so the hon. Lady’s question does not apply. However, I acknowledge that there might be incumbent effects if Sunday trading hours are extended even slightly. That will have a knock-on effect on others.

Helen Jones: I thank the hon. Lady for that answer, but will she clarify it? If she wants to extend Sunday trading hours, even without what she calls full deregulation, exactly what will be the cost to local authorities of providing extra services on a Sunday? What does she expect the working pattern for the emergency services to be? If it is not a full, normal weekday pattern, what will it be?

Lorely Burt: On costs, the only costs and benefits that I am in a position to quote are those from the Department of Trade and Industry study, which measures the economic benefit as an additional£1.4 billion a year, but that is in revenue, not in expenditure.

Bob Spink: Is the hon. Lady aware of the high and increasing level of consumer debt?

Lorely Burt: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I was about to say that given that we have only a finite amount of expenditure, the question of where that additional £1.4 billion of revenue would come from is concerning.

Shona McIsaac: It would probably come from convenience store customers who have had to transfer to large supermarkets and are seduced by all their three-for-two offers.

Lorely Burt: I am grateful, and I shall elaborate on this issue as we go on, so perhaps the hon. Lady could be patient and allow me to make a little progress. I am conscious of the time.

I shall round up my comments about the “for” group, but I assure the House that I shall be glad to speak about the “against” group. Some people want an extension, particularly the big retailers. I exclude supermarkets for the moment, because I have something special to say about them. It is estimated that garden centres lose £45 million a year because of the restriction on Sunday opening hours, as do DIY and high street shops and similar organisations.

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