Second Reading

Part of Sunday Trading (London Olympic and Paralympic Games) Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 7:57 pm on 24th April 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench 7:57 pm, 24th April 2012

My Lords, my only reservation about this Bill is the sunset clause. The relaxation, or normalisation, of Sunday shopping hours lasts only from 22 July to 9 September. Of course it is welcome, but now that we are debating it, one cannot help but notice what is inconsistent, protectionist and, indeed, sexist about our Sunday shopping laws. Is it not odd that the restrictions affect only large shops over 3,000 square feet in size? This immediately sweeps away any rational objection to Sunday trading. It cannot be argued that there should be time for families to be together and go to church when non-large shops are open.

Not only are small shops open, but we all expect to be served on Sunday by those who work and support, at varying hours and seamlessly, in TV, radio and cinemas? The clergy and, no doubt, their wives are busy on Sunday. The pubs are open. Concerts are held. Sport and health clubs go on. Hospitals and medical services are fully staffed. Would we not be shocked if we were told that all married people in hospital service were going home to feed their families? Care homes are, of course, open. Museums, the police and the fire service are working. Restaurants are open, no doubt selling pasties. Garages are open. Traffic wardens are at work. The AA and the RAC are out there working to rescue us. Transport is more or less fully functional. Flights are flying. Swimming pools are open, and so are gyms and hotels. The telephone, electricity and gas are working with people behind the scenes to support them. The stately homes are open, as are the markets and the funfairs. The newspapers are being printed and sold. Garden centres and farm shops are open. No doubt that list could be added to. There are no such restrictions in Scotland, hardly a less religious or family-oriented nation than England.

More and more people, especially women, are in employment and find it impossible to fit in all the chores in normal shopping hours during the week. Indeed, it is my view that banks, post offices, hairdressers and dry cleaners need to be open on Sundays. Since there is-and remains-no compulsion on a worker to work on Sunday and since we are a multicultural society, there is no threat to religious freedom here.

Family togetherness is threatened now by the opening of pubs and the availability of sports on Sunday. In any case, a favoured family togetherness activity is, precisely, shopping. If convenience stores are accepted, why is there no concern for the family togetherness of their owners? Is it perhaps protectionism at work? Noise concern is misplaced because there is noise already from the various activities that I have mentioned.

There is something-dare I say-a bit snobbish about controlling supermarkets and big stores when none of the other activities and outlets that I have mentioned is controlled. A YouGov poll in March this year revealed that 35 per cent of adults wanted a permanent relaxation of Sunday hours; 31 per cent supported the temporary relaxation that we are discussing this evening; only 27 per cent were opposed. Forty-six per cent of Scots supported permanent relaxation-and they should know because they already have it. The hours apply, as has been said, only to England and Wales. A OnePoll survey in February this year showed that 33 per cent want a permanent relaxation and 22 per cent want Sunday closure. A Sunday Telegraph poll in March of 1,000 adults showed that 37 per cent wanted permanent relaxation, and that 63 per cent of women did.

The existing six-hour allowance is a bit of a nuisance. A large shop is typically open only from, say, 10 am to 4 pm. There is not really enough time before lunch if you are preparing it, or indeed after lunch if it has been a good lunch, to get to the supermarket for the necessary hour and a half or two hours. The Government have shown great enthusiasm for the Mary Portas-led study of how to revive the high street. The high street is dead on a Sunday. If more shops were open there, they would rival the out-of-town shops.

I mentioned sexism. The sexism here is that objections to longer Sunday opening hours appear to come mostly-but not always-from men. They are quite happy to have the pub, sport and the garage on Sunday as usual, but I suppose they do not want their wives out when they might be required at home to make lunch. Cooking, visiting relatives, laundry and childcare are all taken for granted for very long hours on Sundays. Would it not be wonderful if all women downed tools at home on Sunday on the grounds that it was a day of rest? What working women want, quite apart from the Olympics period, is a day when they can catch up with the tasks impossible to perform during the working week-number one: shopping, preferably with another family member.

So here's to the success of the longer Sunday opening hours-not only good for the Olympics but good for family activities and very good for women.