The figures which have been presented to me are considerable and they highlight the fact that there is a need for reform. Would my hon. and learned Friend welcome an initiative to introduce partial deregulation for leisure retailing, especially for garden centres?
The Auld Committee thought that there was no sensible alternative to complete deregulation of shop hours. That remains the Government's view, but obviously we would have to form a view on any private Member's Bill which was introduced in the next Session.
Why is it that when trade unionists break the law the Government crack down on them with a very heavy hand, but when employers break it and compel their workers to work on Sundays, without any extra pay and even advertise that they are opening on Sundays —for example do-it-yourself shops — the Government and local authorities take no notice?
We are talking about the Shops Act 1950, and section 71 of that Act says that it is the duty of every local authority to enforce, within its district, the provisions of the Act. Enforcement is a matter for the local authorities; it is not a matter for the Government.
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that if the Government are in difficulties over the Sunday trading laws they need only to adopt the Shops (No. 2) Bill, which is listed on today's Order Paper? The Bill would iron out all the anomalies as well as preserving Sunday as a special day. It would also command majority support in the House.
I read my hon. Friend's Bill. It covers small shops with fewer than four employees and also, for four hours only, do-it-yourself shops, if a local authority makes an appropriate order. I cannot see how it possibly can be right to buy goods from a small shop but offensive, wrong and immoral to buy from a large shop. After what happened in the House not long ago, I am far from sure that there is anything like a consensus for the introduction of the sort of measures which my hon. Friend has in mind.
Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that, although his and the Government's attempt to reform the law failed because there was not general agreement on total deregulation, the Government are, none the less, under some obligation to see whether we rally round an ad hoc, piecemeal policy of reform?
My hon. Friend knows the history of this matter. On Second Reading of the Bill my right hon. Friend made it absolutely plain that the Government were prepared, during the Committee stage, to listen to any proposals for deregulation short of total deregulation. In spite of that, the majority of this House voted against the Bill on Second Reading. In those circumstances, it is unrealistic to expect the Government to introduce a Bill until there is clear evidence that a consensus for reform has emerged.