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At last, Mr. Speaker, I beg to move,
After what I can describe only as a very fractious hour, I hope that the modest proposal that I shall make to the House will unite us. Every week, in Prime Minister's questions, we all listen with sadness to the list of names that the Prime Minister reads out of those who have given their lives for their country in Afghanistan. What has happened in the past few years has given added significance to the annual commemoration of those who have laid down their lives for their country over the past century.
Remembrance Sunday looms large in the calendar and has real meaning for people throughout the United Kingdom, and it seems to me right that the House should recognise that. That there is a public feeling of wanting to recognise it is made manifest every time that sad procession drives through Wootton Bassett and people come and respectfully stand. I am bound to say, in parenthesis, that that is rather exploited by the media, but that is another story. That there is true feeling, true sadness and a wish to show how much we appreciate those who have made the supreme sacrifice is all too evident.
What I am seeking to do with this Bill is to put Remembrance Sunday on the same footing as Easter Sunday and Christmas day. Christmas day was given exemption in the Sunday Trading Act 1994, and a special status in the Bill introduced in 2004 by Mr. Jones. On whatever day of the week it falls, the large shops are closed.
I believe that this a very modest but very sensible proposal. It is extremely difficult for members of the British Legion in some towns and cities to organise their remembrance parades because of the clutter, hustle and bustle of the high street on Sunday. Many people who would wish to pay their respects by standing silently at the local cenotaph are local shop workers. This Bill has the very strong support of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, and I am delighted to be able to introduce it.
The Bill would not affect farm shops, pharmacies, petrol filling stations, shops at airports or railway stations, or shops at exhibitions that are specially staged on a Sunday. Rather, it would mean that large shops-those of 280 square meters, or 3,000 square feet, and above-would not be able to open on Remembrance Sunday. It would also mean that the loading restrictions in force for Easter day and Christmas day would apply.
When we first debated Sunday trading, I was one of those who strongly opposed the removal of all restrictions. I said in a speech then that, if we abolished all the restrictions, we would end up with a high street Sunday that was a replica of Saturday. Whatever view colleagues take of Sunday trading, no one can deny that that is what has happened. In all our major towns and cities, the hustle and bustle and activity on a Sunday mirror that of the day before, the Saturday. Surely it is not too much to ask that only a second Sunday of the year-and, on those rare occasions when Christmas day falls on a Sunday, a third-should be set aside.
Christmas day is a great day of family celebration. Easter day is too and, like Christmas, it is also a great religious festival. However, there are very few families in the land who have not been touched in one way or another by the conflicts of the last century.
My mother died in 2000, at the age of 90. When I went through her papers, I was amazed to discover that she had lost no fewer than seven cousins in the great war. All of us have similar stories in our families. Today, young men and women are serving on the front line in Afghanistan, and a number of them will never come back.
Those of us who have been privileged to welcome our returning troops as they marched into New Palace Yard-with your permission, Mr. Speaker-have been deeply moved by the spirit, dedication, determination, bravery and quiet courage of those young people. We have also been moved by their eagerness to get back.
We have just gone though the war in Iraq, and we are still at war in Afghanistan. I really feel that we should set aside Remembrance Sunday, so that the remembrance ceremonies can be conducted with proper and due decorum, and so that the ringing of the cash till does not drown out the observance of the silence.
I hope that the Government will accept this Bill, and that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Benches and in the other parties will support it. I have based it on the one introduced by the hon. Member for North Durham a few years ago, and if the House gives me leave I will publish it later today. I shall name a day for Second reading that will make it possible for the Bill to be enacted in time for Remembrance Sunday this year.
We are preparing to enter an election in which we will debate with each other- perfectly honourably and honestly-on a range of issues about which we disagree. However, I believe that it is right and proper for us to come together over this measure, which I think will have widespread support throughout the country.
Question put and agreed to.
That Sir Patrick Cormack, Dr. Vincent Cable, Mr. Christopher Chope, Rosie Cooper, Mr. Nigel Dodds, Christopher Fraser, Kate Hoey, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Dr. Richard Taylor, Miss Ann Widdecombe, Sir Nicholas Winterton and Dr. Tony Wright present the Bill.
Sir Patrick Cormack accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on