Sunday Trading Act 1994 (Amendment)

Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 12:34 pm on 24th May 2006.

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Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Liberal Democrat, Teignbridge 12:34 pm, 24th May 2006

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Sunday Trading Act 1994 to limit the hours of opening of large shops on Sundays and other specified days.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to present to the House a Bill that will limit the hours in which large supermarkets and other stores trade on a Sunday at present. I do so because I believe that every politician in the House must answer a simple question: what kind of society do we wish to create? In 1994, did we really wish to create a seven-days-a-week society, with each day identical to the previous one? Did we wish to make Sunday the same as a Saturday, Friday or Monday? I do not believe that we did.

A healthy society has a rhythm to life, not a monotony of work, work, work, shop, work, shop, shop, work, or whatever. To me, that is not good for a healthy society. I am worried about families, and I want to help them to be together, not to split them apart so that one partner works on a Sunday while the other looks after the children, allowing them to work on a Monday while the first partner looks after the children. That is not good for families. Families are generally a unit of two partners and children. I think that it is good if families can spend time together as a unit, rather than each partner spending time individually with the children. There are other opportunities that are missing from the rhythm of life.

Although I am a Christian—I am a Roman Catholic and I go to church—that is not the fundamental reason why I am proposing the Bill. I am suggesting that one day has to be different, and it does not matter whether that is for religious observance, a sporting interest, leisure, or time with the children. I fundamentally believe that, for a healthy society, such a difference must go on.

Let us consider the impact of the 1994 Act. The Government-commissioned Indepen report stated that the changes that have occurred since 1994 include the extension of Sunday opening and its continuing growth. The report concludes that congestion has increased on Sundays as more and more people go to the shops. However, more importantly for those who have to work on Sundays, there has been a reduction in the Sunday wage premium. Those who find themselves with little choice but to work on Sundays are thus finding that their reward for giving up their day off with their families is being reduced.

When we consider what people want, we must look at the changes that have occurred. One of the big changes to the grocery trade has been the growth of the big four. The big four now have 70 per cent. of all grocery trade. The Department of Trade and Industry's response to that is not to say, "Hold on a second. Aren't just four companies dominating the whole market?" It has refused year after year to examine that situation to determine whether there is fair trading, although there is some give on that at the moment.

The Department's proposals are actually the reverse of mine. It proposes to consult on deregulating Sundays altogether. The only consequence of that would be to increase the dominance of the big four. It would work to the detriment of small shops, and there would be not only no rhythm of life in society in the week, but no rhythm of where people can go to shop: the convenience stores would all close because they could not compete with the buying power of the large supermarkets.

What sort of society do we want? Is it one that is led by the market? I believe that that should not be the case. The market should serve us, not we serve the market. A survey by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, which does not support my proposals—it wants the existing regulations to remain in place; it does not want an extension of opening hours, but nor does it want to go back to the situation in 1994—showed that 43 per cent. of those who responded did not want to work on Sundays but often had to, that 37 per cent. did not mind working on Sundays occasionally, and that only 20 per cent. wanted to work on Sundays. The reality is, however, that more and more people are being forced to. I am aware of people in my constituency who are frightened to say no to their employers when it comes to Sunday working. The number of workers who are now protected is falling because work within the sector tends to be short term.

However, not only are shop workers affected by Sunday opening; so are street cleaners, who have to go out on a Sunday because there is now more mess on that day; so are bus drivers, because people want to go to the shops and there is pressure on services on Sundays; so are lorry drivers, who have to give up their weekends to make deliveries to stores; so are the police, who now have to do more work because shops are open on a Sunday; so are traffic wardens, who have to control the traffic on Sundays; and so are fire crews, who have to staff the fire stations because there is an increased risk of their being called out because of the shops and additional offices that are open on a Sunday. The 1994 Act has had an impact not just on the rhythm of life and on workers who are forced to give up their free time to work on a Sunday, but on a lot of other people in many other sectors.

Let me quote two or three cases that have been put to me. A woman working for a large department store in Swansea wrote to Keep Sunday Special, saying:

"I feel enormous pressure exerted on me to work Sundays, not only by my employer, but by my colleagues, many of whom felt threatened and worried by recent redundancies. I approached a supervisor, pointing out that legally I could not be forced to work on a Sunday. I was told that it was in my interests to be part of the team...no one else is complaining!"

People have contacted Working Families, which also wants to keep the status quo. It said:

"One caller had been working weekend shifts for many years while her ex-partner looked after the children. However, when he moved away she was left with no cover. She simply couldn't work weekends any more."

She lost her job as a consequence. Working Families also said:

"Another caller had had his shift patterns changed unilaterally to include some weekends, which coincided with when his wife worked. His employer wasn't prepared to fit shifts around partners. We advised the caller of his rights regarding flexible working, but he said that both he and his wife were too scared of losing their jobs to do anything."

That is the reality of Sunday work.

There is support for a change from the Churches, and the United Reformed Church used the phrase "rhythm of life" in its letter to me. Between 71 and 80 per cent. of parents say that they have no choice about whether they work weekends. They are not like MPs, who may opt to do their casework on a Sunday. Instead, they are the poorer members of society—the people who are forced to work. For them, we need to look at the legislation and to change it. For society as a whole, we need to look at it and change it. I believe passionately that Sunday needs to be different. We need a day when we can relax, meditate, play sport or go to church.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Richard Younger-Ross, Dr. John Pugh, Mr. Colin Breed, Andrew Stunell, Mr. David Anderson, Stephen Pound, Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas, Miss Ann Widdecombe, Peter Luff and Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger.

N

At last an MP that speaks some sense! I also hate the fact that businesses are now open on Boxing Day too and feel very sorry for family members who should be at home eating the left over turkey not slogging their guts out for a pittance to line some fat cat shareholders wallet.

Submitted by Nia Morris