My Lords, I start by declaring my relevant interests in this debate. I sit on the Diversity Committee and the Athletes' Committee of the London 2012 organising committee, also known as LOCOG. I also undertake other work for LOCOG that is listed in the register. However, none of it is linked to the topic of this debate. I also know that the noble Lord, Lord Coe, is disappointed not to be here this evening to take part in the debate.
With 94 days to go to the opening ceremony of the Olympics, I have to admit that I am in somewhat of a quandary. I have always said that we should maximise the opportunities of the Olympics and Paralympics-not just the sporting ones-because the Games will happen on home soil only once in our lifetime. However, I also feel passionately about protecting the hours of Sunday trading. The briefings that I have received on this topic put forward a very persuasive argument for opposing the Bill and extending Sunday trading hours. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has said that 73 per cent of its members believe that longer Sunday opening hours will lead to more pressure on them to work on a Sunday against their will. It is very important that we protect shop workers. The Federation of Small Businesses has also cited Sir Stuart Rose as saying that longer trading hours will not increase consumer spending, although in very different circumstances from what will happen during the Games.
On a personal note, I have to say that I like a day that is different from the rest of the week, and I think that the hours that are currently available for shopping are adequate. However, while I fundamentally oppose long-term change to Sunday trading laws, my quandary is that I recognise that during the Olympics and Paralympics it would make a great deal of sense for there to be increased flexibility to allow those visiting the Games or the general public the opportunity to spend their money at what will be an unusual and different time in the UK.
I have been to six different Games-to five as an athlete and I was working at one-and while each city and country hosts them in a different way, we should not underestimate the excitement, fervour or feel-good factor that occurs at Games times, and we should be ready for that. During Games time, there will be a significant number of different people, as compared to the usual tourists, who will visit not just London but cities around the UK. They will be visiting the live sites and there will be many different ways that families will gather together to support our athletes and the Games, and watch the events. They will not just be people who have bought tickets for the Games.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, raised a valid point about whether the provisions of the Bill should be available to all shops. I considered this carefully, because my original reasoning was that it would make sense for the Bill to affect only shops around the Games sites or live sites. However, considering the way that families will experience the Games, there might be people in all the different parts of England and Wales who will want to buy paint or clothes at different times. Where I live in the north-east of England, the shops in the nearest towns-we do not have many shops in Eaglescliffe -do not open on a Sunday; they are all shut, apart from two weeks before Christmas. I take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said regarding shops being open if they have customers. That is incredibly important, and I really hope that the decisions taken by the shops will be based on their specific circumstances and that they do not feel forced to open.
I also considered whether, rather than having just a block of opening, it might be useful for the provisions to extend just for the Olympics and Paralympics. However, between the Games there will be a massive turnover in the city. The people who may have escaped London because they do not want to be around during the Olympics might be coming back. Athletes are in and out, people choose to stay on at the end of the Games, and people come in early for the Paralympics. Although I am reluctant to say it, having the whole block of opening is probably the most sensible way forward.
What I feel strongly about is that the Government have said:
"Should the Government ever decide that it is appropriate to look again at the possibility of a more permanent relaxation of Sunday trading restrictions a full consultation would be undertaken".
That is important to reiterate. We cannot use Games time in any way as an accurate trial of the circumstances. These Games are completely and utterly exceptional. In the cities that I have been to during the Olympics and Paralympics-Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing; and I have spent an extensive time in each of those cities, leading up to the Games and afterwards-there is such a different atmosphere that I do not think we can use this in any way as a trial.
However, we have to be aware of the effect on small businesses during these specific circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, referred to whether people choose to do work on a Sunday. Possibly because I do not have a life, I work on a Sunday, but that is my choice. An awful lot of people who work in shops will not feel that they have that choice. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about people having the opportunity to opt in, rather than out, is important because a lot of those workers will feel a certain amount of pressure to work.
Having said all that, London and the UK have consistently said they are open for business. The Olympics and Paralympics are a massive opportunity to benefit the whole UK. In this case, and in these very particular circumstances-and for a time-limited period, according to the sunset clause-the Sunday trading laws should be a little more flexible.