Sunday Trading Hours

– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 23rd May 2006.

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Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East 11:00 am, 23rd May 2006

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate Sunday trading hours and to do so with you in the Chair, Mr. Taylor. I welcome my very good friend the Minister, who is responding to this debate. He represents a London constituency and, in that capacity, I hope he will join me in welcoming the goals of the Evening Standard campaign for small shops in the capital.

I studied, as I am sure the Minister did, the remarks of our right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, who, while in his current post, said in the recent Commons debate on confident consumers:

"I am determined to...strike the right balance."—[Hansard, 11 May 2006; Vol. 446, c. 566.]

I am pleased that he used that phrase, because the right balance is what the whole question of Sunday trading hours must be about.

I speak as a fully paid up and long-standing member of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. The issue is crucially important to the union and its members. We need to strike a balance between more than the interests of shop workers, whom I believe are the majority, who do not want longer Sunday working hours, and consumers, whom I believe are the minority, who do. This issue is about the right balance between large and small stores, and between the character of Sunday and that of other days of the week. It is also about the work-life balance and the balance between the interests of those who are affected by the traffic, deliveries and servicing of Sunday trading and those who want to shop.

We should all recall that there was intensive and prolonged debate on all those issues before the passage of the Sunday Trading Act 1994, which was itself a considered compromise between those who wanted no Sunday trading, those who wanted deregulation and those who wanted a significant bit of trading for large stores, more freedom for small stores and protection for affected workers. It was a compromise—it struck a balance—and subsequent developments qualified it, notably the welcome introduction of the minimum wage and Christmas day protection.

The balance has, on the whole, worked better than opponents at either end of the spectrum expected. People can shop in large supermarkets and stores for much of the day and they can use smaller shops outside those hours, yet Sunday remains a bit different, and shop workers retain some protection in law and in practice. If we were seeking to change that Act, there would be a much stronger case for entrenching legally the right to premium payment and for strengthening workers' protection against pressure to work on Sundays when they do not want to do so, rather than for moving in the opposite direction.

Sunday trading is one of the subjects on which we never get everyone to agree. I do not see any evidence that opinion has shifted much one way or the other.We should not keep compromising with those who want a total free-for-all. If we were to do so, we would allow them to salami-slice their way to complete deregulation, which is not what most people want; it is not even what all the big retail chains want. The onus is on those who want longer or deregulated hours to make the case. I do not think that they have succeeded in doing so, and they have not convinced the public.

From what my constituents in Oxford tell me, and from opinion polls, I see no tide of opinion in favour of longer opening hours for large stores—quite the contrary. For example, a British Market Research Bureau survey for the Association of Convenience Stores found that 68 per cent. of the public did not want large supermarket chains to open for longer hours on Sunday. Of the remainder, a further 14 per cent. said that they would reconsider and not support longer opening hours if they threatened small businesses. USDAW's NOP survey found that 62 per cent. of the public do not want longer Sunday opening hours. Even a survey of people who were out shopping on a Sunday conducted for the lobby group, Deregulate, found that only 56 per cent. favoured longer opening hours. That is hardly a ringing endorsement from those in the public whom one might expect to be most in favour of longer hours.

The inquiry by the panel of parliamentarians, including my hon. Friend Mr. Reed, who is present, found widespread opposition not only from religious groups and trade unionists but, significantly, from groups such as Working Families, the Mothers' Union and CARE, and particular concern for the effects on family life and especially parents' ability to spend time with their children. That is an issue, rightly, of growing concern.

Such important considerations were given surprisingly little attention in the cost-benefit analysis commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry. Indeed, some important arguments were explicitly excluded from the analysis, such as people not wanting trading because it is the Christian day of rest, restrictions being necessary to protect workers from pressure to work on a Sunday, and a collective preference for a quiet day. In a rather haughty get-out clause the authors, from Indepen, state:

"We have not attempted to evaluate these arguments quantitatively."

They ought to have added "qualitatively" as well. They go on to say:

"If they have merit, it would be necessary for Ministers to make judgements as to how their merits compare with the net benefits of liberalisation that we have quantified."

I urge Ministers to do just that. Some of the most important arguments are at stake in the decision about what sort of a day we as a society want Sunday to be for workers as well as consumers and for us all as human beings.

Colleagues will, I am sure, have scope in their speeches to consider such matters and other issues from the cost-benefit analysis in further detail. However, it is important to stress three key points. First, the cost-benefit analysis report sees no net job generation from further deregulation. Secondly, the gains that it claims, such as the effect on prices, derive largely from the progressive erosion of premium payments. Even if the reduction in consumer prices and higher profits were to materialise, it would largely be at the expense of low-paid workers. It is inconceivable in such circumstances that the already extensive pressure that shop staff feel that they are under to work on Sundays—more than half of staff reported such pressure in an USDAW survey—would not increase.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has been the fortunate recipient of a paper from Deregulate, but it states:

"Our proposals are supported by...many who work on Sundays in the industry because they may want to top up pensions, or are the 170,000 students facing debt who find it convenient to work at weekends or are those recruited through 'Jobcentreplus'."

There it is; we are doing this on behalf of those who are most in need. Does he think that that is a good argument?

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East

I have not seen that briefing from Deregulate, but that does not surprise me. Indeed, the cost-benefit analysis commissioned by the DTI pointed to both students and single parents as potential recruits for additional Sunday working. As far as the latter are concerned, who is looking after the children while those lone parents are out working? As USDAW's surveys have shown, many people are not doing such work through choice but out of necessity as a means of keeping body and soul together. No one would dispute that Sunday working suits some people. The thrust of my argument is not that it does not, but that many people feel under increasing pressure to work when they do not want to do so. Moreover, as the cost-benefit analysis report showed, the premium payments that attract some people to work on Sundays at the moment have been progressively eroded, from the typical double time, at the time of the 1994 Act, to time and a half, time and a quarter and, in many cases, single time. That pressure would get worse.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central

My right hon. Friend made the valid point earlier that we should consider strengthening the rights of workers to guarantees of premium payments. Does he accept in any case that there are many exploited workers even now, both in the sectors brought into Sunday trading by the most recent changes and in those that could always trade on Sunday? People need proper protection from being forced to worked to work on Sundays for inadequate remuneration.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East

I certainly accept that, and that point is clear from surveys and the anecdotal evidence of workers in the industry.

The third key point that came out of the cost-benefit analysis was that small stores will lose out, especially on current out-of-hours sales, for which they are a substitute for large store provision. Given the report's precision on the benefits that it claims will come from extending hours, it is striking how vague its conclusions are about the quantitative effects on smaller and convenience stores. How many small shops would close and how many jobs would be lost? We must give weight to the conclusion drawn by the Association of Convenience Stores that liberalisation would have a

"devastating effect on local convenience stores".

We should also bear in mind the sector's survey, which showed that as many as 30 per cent. of independents would be likely to close if Sunday trading hours were extended and that 44 per cent. of retailers would be forced to cut staff.

To draw to a conclusion, the case for further deregulation has not been made; indeed, there are good grounds for being apprehensive about its effects. I hope that the Government, having reviewed all the evidence, will come to the same conclusion. If by any mischance they do not, I would seek assurances, first, that there would be votes on primary legislation in Parliament before any change could be made and, secondly, that any such votes would be free votes, so that MPs could vote according to their conscience and judgment.

I hope that the situation does not come to that and that the Government will share my view that they have many more important and constructive things to do than bring in longer Sunday trading hours. Doing so would put shop workers under unacceptable pressure, further diminish the special character of Sunday and lead to the closure of many more small shops. Let us keep a civilised balance and stick with the 1994 Act.

I leave the last word to Heather Morris and Debbie Davidson, shop workers who gave moving accounts of what the possibility of more Sunday working meant to them at a seminar that USDAW organised for MPs. They pointed out that Sunday working hours are already longer than the six hours for which the shops can be open, because of preparation and clearing-up time. They said:

"Sunday is losing its tradition of being a family day. We look forward to having Sunday tea together because we can no longer have Sunday lunch together.

Some of us don't have the luxury of choosing to work on Sundays or choosing to work in retail. We are hardworking people...there to support our families."

One added:

"I know dearly how important families are. How important it is to spend time with them, to create memories for our children, keep traditions and family life alive.

I want to spend my bank holidays at home with the family—but we are open. I want to spend Boxing Day with my family—but we are open. I want to spend Easter with my family—but we are open.

I would urge you to remember—when you sit eating your Sunday roast at home, know that we will still be there working—right up to 5.30.

But know too that when you are enjoying your sandwiches, cake and tea at 6 o'clock that evening, we too are at home enjoying ours, with our sons, daughters and grandchildren.

So for us—allow us that at least."

I hope that the Government will do just that, and drop the idea of longer Sunday trading hours.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

Order. It is my intention to call the Front-Bench speakers at 12 noon. Six hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, so will hon. Members observe those limits? You can do the arithmetic yourselves.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 11:15 am, 23rd May 2006

It is a great pleasure to follow Mr. Smith, whom I congratulate on securing the debate on this important topic.

With due deference to the Minister, I am not sure that this ball should be in the court of the Department of Trade and Industry in the first place. The DTI is there to advocate the interests of the employer, of business, and more and more, sadly, of big business. Many other aspects of this debate need to be taken into account before any conclusion is reached, such as the effect on children and family life, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. I do not consider the DTI to be well placed to take account of the needs of children and family life. I hope that what he said about the need for families to have time together will be taken seriously before any conclusion is reached on this proposal.

I hope also that serious attention will be given to the likely impact on our towns and cities, and on the roads between them and the adjoining villages. We already have six-days-a-week congestion, and we are in danger of having seven-days-a-week congestion. That means that we will need more bus services to be provided on Sundays and more filling stations to be open. If Sunday trading hours are extended, premises both in and out of town will be used for even more hours than they are now, people will expect bus services to run earlier, and people who live in town centres will be awoken earlier.

Take, for example, someone who lives in the centre of Ryde or Newport in my constituency—I declare an interest because I live in the centre of Newport. It is not unusual for large delivery lorries to arrive at supermarkets such as Somerfield and Sainsbury's well before the official opening hours of those stores on six, no seven, days a week. If the time at which those stores can open is made earlier on a Sunday, people will be disturbed earlier by delivery lorries. In my constituency, there will be more pressure for people to work on the ferries earlier, so that the delivery lorries can cross the Solent in time to reach the supermarkets before they open.

The proposals will have an impact on employment, as I am sure the Minister understands, but they will also have an impact on the condition and state of our towns and villages. People quite like walking around Newport and Ryde on Sundays, because there is less traffic and congestion. Sundays would become very much like any other day if the proposals of the big conglomerates were to take effect in the manner under consideration. I hope that the Minister will consider carefully with his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government the impact of Sunday trading on planning and local government.

I hope that the Minister will also consider the impact on tourism. Obviously, there is some demand for some stores to be open on Sundays, but for the most part it is small stores, shops and businesses that open on Sundays to deal with the needs of tourism. Thankfully, most tourism has not yet been taken over by the Sainsburys and Tescos of this world; there is already a danger of that with garden centres, which are increasingly being swallowed up by big chains. There was a time when I felt some sympathy for the desire of garden centres to open on Easter day, but no longer, because for the great part they are no longer small, local businesses that breathe money into the economy of their local area, although many still are.

I hope that the Minister who has this difficult responsibility will allow the Department of Trade and Industry to shed its traditional appearance, and that it will look more carefully at the whole range of community interests across the nation.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the seminar provided for right hon. and hon. Members by USDAW and the "Keep Sunday Special" campaign. The contributions of Heather Morris and Debbie Davidson were moving. In particular, I remember their references to the hours at which people have to start work. Supermarkets have to open on weekday mornings with all the shelves full and all the bread freshly baked, and that would have to be translated to Sunday mornings if Sunday trading was to be extended in the same way. We were told that the bakers have to start work at 4 o'clock in the morning if fresh bread is to be on the shelves by 7. There is no reason why that should not happen also on Sundays under proposals currently up for consideration.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

May I place on record my support, on behalf of my constituents, for USDAW's "Save our Sundays" campaign and for the "Keep Sunday Special" campaign? I congratulate my hon. Friend on his remarks about the impact of deregulation on family life. Is he as shocked as I am to hear that there are 1.4 million families with dependent children in which both parents already have to work throughout the weekend?

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I am surprised that the number is as great as my hon. Friend suggests. I am concerned about it, however, because those children deserve to have time with their parents—with both parents together—and they need to see how, ideally, families should work. I know that it is difficult for people to bring up children, and I know that many children are not fortunate enough to be brought up by both parents; but we do not want more children to be forced for reasons of economic necessity to be left by their parents on Sundays as they are left on other days of the week.

I was speaking about the effect on shop workers. It can be argued that shop workers are grown up people and can make up their own minds when they want to work and when they do not want to work; they can take what is on offer or they can work elsewhere. That is the traditional argument of the big conglomerates. I subscribe to the view that people should make their own decisions on where and when they work, but it is not sufficient for us simply to wash our hands of our responsibility to them and to the shop workers of future generations.

It is not because of how much shop workers are paid that I worry about them working on Sunday: I am sure that many students are happy to work on Sunday. I am concerned about the extension of Sunday trading because of the consequences for communities and families. I am concerned also about its impact on those families who already run small businesses, because it is a form of unfair competition. Large businesses are backed by a huge amount of capital, and they can spread that capital and the cost of that investment over seven days a week; but a family running a corner shop naturally wants some private time, and it will be much more difficult to spread the cost of the investment over seven days a week with full opening hours.

I believe that if such a proposal ever came before the House in the form of legislation, we should look again at the further regulation of Sunday trading. However, I suggest that further regulation should not be imposed nationally but that it should be for local authorities to impose it within the current regulations. I suggest, for example, that local authorities ought to be given the power to limit further the hours of Sunday trading for all or any class of business if they so desired. For instance, they could permit sole traders to open for the full six hours but require larger traders to open for less. They could permit locally owned businesses to open for the full six hours but restrict other businesses. They could permit small garden centres or farm shops to open the full six hours but not permit other businesses to do so. The House will need to take account of those considerations if the proposal ever forms legislation, but most important is that the Minister considers carefully the views of his colleagues in other Departments as well as those of the public on this unpopular proposal.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

Order. There are five Members wishing to speak and 35 minutes left.

Photo of Andy Reed Andy Reed PPS (John Healey, Financial Secretary), HM Treasury 11:25 am, 23rd May 2006

Thank you, Mr. Taylor. The pressure is on—I understand that. There is a great temptation for people to stand up and say that they will be brief. Having already lost a couple of minutes, I shall try to keep to a narrow point.

I thank my right hon. Friend Mr. Smith for securing this debate. It is important that the Minister and his team know the strong feelings of Back Benchers not just from one party but throughout the House. I am grateful that my right hon. Friend mentioned the document, "Whose Convenience?", in which I declare a bit of an interest. It did what the Department of Trade and Industry failed to do, examining the social effects of extending weekend working and Sunday trading.

My right hon. Friend highlighted one of the big problems, which was that the DTI focus was too narrow. The cost-benefit analysis was based solely on the economic arguments of extending Sunday trading, but as other hon. Members have said, the real problems with extending Sunday trading are the effects on family life, parenting and relationships.

I come to the issue with my faith. I am one of those who believe that it is possible for Members of Parliament to have a strong faith and to bring it to policy making. My faith underlies much of what I have to say. I keep Sunday as special as possible, but I recognise that in a secular society it is impossible to impose my views about Sunday on everybody else. I am flexible, but I try as much as possible not to shop on a Sunday and to make it a special day. Such an approach can even help MPs to ensure that they see more of their families.

MPs have some choice in the matter. To a certain extent, apart from a few things that we have to do throughout the year, we have some choice about how we structure our week. The people who will be most affected by the proposal probably have very little choice. Mr. Hollobone raised this matter earlier, when he said that 1.5 million families include people who have to work on Sundays. If we extend trading, we will make that much worse.

Because of my faith, which underpins my values and the way in which I look at society, I believe that

"God measures a society...not by the size of its GDP or by the efficiency of its markets, but by the quality of its relationships."

"God" could be changed to "we".

This is one of the two or three areas about which I feel strongly. As people know, I have a great passion for sport and for international development. The third area that I wish to pursue while I am in the House is getting the balance right for encouraging, fostering and nurturing relationships, as that is the key to solving many of today's social ills and problems. The Government can assist and create environments, but the single biggest thing that they can do is to create time for families to encourage and nurture relationships.

I thank those who helped to write the report. As usual, those of us who are named in it probably did very little work. The credit goes to others who are here today. I shall not refer to the whole of the report, but what is interesting in paragraph 3.5, which deals with the effects on family life and parenting, is that it was not just the usual suspects who provided the strongest opposition to a relaxation of the six-hour rule. Obviously, organisations such as the TUC and USDAW were involved, but it was nice that others such as Morrisons were as well. I was encouraged by that. We should remember when we castigate the big supermarkets that companies such as Morrisons recognise that there is a balance to be struck. The British Shops and Stores Association, Working Families, the Mothers Union and CARE were also involved, and it was the National Centre for Social Research that highlighted the number of people who already work long hours.

It is a little late in terms of the work that has already been done, but it is imperative when the Minister and his colleagues consider the report, that they consider introducing primary legislation. I and other hon. Members urge them to give us a free vote so that we can all have our say. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] At that point, the Minister will get the message that there is no great support for the measure in the House or the country. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East rightly said, even research done among those who had chosen to go shopping on a Sunday showed only 56 per cent. support for extending Sunday shopping. Clearly, support is not that large in the country; indeed, other research and opinion polls generally show about 70 per cent. opposition.

There is nothing for the Government to gain by extending Sunday shopping. Given that they want to generate good news stories rather than bad, why would they generate another bad news story unnecessarily? They should just kill this one off at the end of this Adjournment debate, and we could all walk away happy, praising the Minister as he went on his way. Perhaps one or two extra Members need to be present to convince him, but he would make friends here and across the House if he killed the proposal off today, rather than waiting for the summer recess. We need to get our values right in society, and that is also true of the work-life balance. The Department has introduced several welcome legislative changes, which have started to address the need to get the work-life balance right, and it would be strange if it took the retrograde step represented by the present measure and undermined much of the good work that has been done.

As I said, my other interest is in sport, and I chair the National Strategic Partnership for Volunteering in Sport—we actually got consultants in to come up with a shorter title, but that was the one that they came up with. However, the body is important because we speak on behalf of the roughly 2.5 million people who volunteer in sport. As everybody who has volunteered will know, however, the increased pressure of work is squeezing people's ability to give regular time to volunteering. We all volunteer, but we also know that sport is increasingly changing. The 3 o'clock Saturday afternoon kick-off has changed and the mini rugby clubs and the football teams are full. Indeed, my little eight-year-old son has just started playing football and was supposed to have been in a tournament on Sunday. However, it is impossible to get the balance right, and we need to create extra time.

The Institute of Management did research into lifestyle measures and asked people whether they had time for other interests. Even in 1997, 77 per cent. of people said that they did not, but by 1999, about 87 per cent. said that they had little time for additional interests. When they were asked whether their extended hours were damaging their health, 71 per cent. said that they did, so people recognised the problem. When they were asked whether their hours had an effect on their relationship with their children, 86 per cent. said that they did. As we know, the time that people enjoy together with their family is a vital part of the week. We must recognise the need to get the work-life balance right when we have our children. One of those who was surveyed said that he was working as hard as he could to spend lots of time with his grandchildren. That is great, and it will be some consolation to him, but it might not be a consolation to his children.

We need to get the balance right to free up people's time. The biggest contribution that we can make is to create time so that families can spend quality time together. That will deliver not only a better Sunday but a better quality of life right across the nation in terms of what we as families and individuals achieve.

Photo of David Lepper David Lepper Labour, Brighton, Pavilion 11:33 am, 23rd May 2006

I too congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr. Smith on obtaining the debate. I should declare that I am a life member of the Association of Town Centre Management, although I do not believe that it has a particular view on Sunday trading.

The question I ask myself is where the call to extend Sunday hours comes from, because it does not seem to come from us in Parliament, and as we have heard, it does not come from those who work in shops or from the public. Surveys show very low public support for changing the law; indeed, the Department of Trade and Industry commissioned a cost-benefit analysis by Indepen Consulting Ltd, which bears that out. It surveyed the current situation, and page 16 of its report shows that 13 per cent. of adults aged 16 and over shop at supermarkets every Sunday, while 7 per cent. shop at other large stores every Sunday. The conclusion that most of us would draw from that—oddly, the Indepen report does not draw it—is that 80 per cent. of adults do not shop at supermarkets on Sundays and 93 per cent. do not shop at other large stores on Sundays. Even the Department's own commissioned report seems to bear out that lack of public support.

So who wants change? Not necessarily all the big four supermarkets. A representative of Sainsbury's quoted in Retail Week late last year said:

"Our customers tell us they are happy with our opening hours and we have not had any demand to change them."

Of course, however, if change should come I am sure that Sainsbury's would follow the other big supermarkets in extending its hours. I can only conclude that the pressure comes from the big three supermarkets, if not from all of the big four.

I am sure that the Minister will want to take into account the fact that the Competition Commission has now been asked by the Office of Fair Trading to carry out a new inquiry into the grocery trade, and in particular the effect on it of the big four supermarkets. In addition to all the other reasons that have been given that support my belief that it would be unwise for the Government to proceed with an extension of opening hours at present, it would be unwise to proceed with any proposals for change while that Competition Commission inquiry is under way. If the Minister wants a reason to kick the idea into the long grass, that is very respectable one for him to make use of.

I welcome the assurance, given by one of the Minister's colleagues at the USDAW conference a month or so ago, that if any change were to be proposed in future it would be subject to a vote in Parliament—I hope that it would be a free vote—and would not be dealt with under the powers that might be given to Parliament under, for instance, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

An argument urged by some supporters of extending hours—whoever those shadowy characters might be—is that it would mean lower prices for customers. However, the Indepen report gives no evidence that that will be so. It merely asserts it. It does not mention, for instance, the fact that in the past the Competition Commission logically said that supermarket pricing depends on local competition; the effect of change on that competition and on the smaller, independent convenience stores and other independent retailers concerns me. We all know the figures about closures of independent convenience stores in the past few years: 2,000 of them closed last year, and their sales are regularly down an average of 5 per cent. a year. The recent report by the all-party small shops group, "High Street Britain: 2015", which I am pleased to have played a part in preparing, showed the pressures to which those small shops are already subject.

The Indepen report states that extending hours will

"impact negatively on small stores that are primarily substitutes for large stores" and could have a positive impact on

"small stores that are complements to large stores".

What the report ignores is the fact that in the past few years the number of small stores that complement larger stores has decreased, and the number of small stores that act as substitutes has increased. That is because the larger stores have extended beyond their usual grocery base the range of goods and services on offer to customers, to include DVDs and CDs, white goods, clothing, magazines and newspapers, pharmacy services, photo processing and so on. More and more of the small stores near the bigger stores are not complementary to those bigger stores, but are substitutes, and the Indepen report completely overlooks that important factor.

In Brighton and Hove we are lucky. We have a good, successful sub-regional shopping centre, where most of the big multiples are represented, and we also have a vibrant and diverse area of small, independent retailers around the Lanes and the North Laine, which many people who have visited Brighton will know. The North Laine and the Lanes are currently voting on whether to become a business improvement district. We do not know how the vote will turn out, but by making it possible to set up business improvement districts the Government are helping small retailers who want to help themselves. If they extend the opening hours of larger stores they will put small retailers under still further pressure rather than helping them. I urge the Minister, as others have done, to look at the evidence, which is that the public and Members of Parliament do not want it, and to take the matter no further and forget about it.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Labour, Warrington North 11:40 am, 23rd May 2006

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr. Smith on securing the debate.

It seems to me that we have seen a steady erosion of time off and special days. I remember a long debate many years ago when I was a councillor about whether we should allow the market to open on Good Friday. We said no, but Good Friday is now a normal working day for many people.

It is important to protect family life when we can. People have strong views about Sunday trading, which have been expressed in the House many times. Most of us accept that the decision was made to allow stores to open for a limited number of hours and that it will stand. When that decision was taken by the House, there were a number of safeguards in place to ensure that people did not have to work on Sundays if they did not want to and to ensure premium payments. However, all the evidence from the survey carried out by USDAW is that those safeguards are being eroded. Eighty per cent. of people who work in shops now work on Sundays and say that it is difficult to have a Sunday off. Almost half are unhappy about that.

Let us be clear: we are talking about many low-paid workers who feel under pressure to work on Sundays if they are to keep their jobs and who need to work on Sundays to keep their wages at a decent level. We should tackle that rather than force people into longer and longer hours to earn a decent wage. Sunday working is not always as voluntary as it seems.

I believe that the pressure on stores to open longer is taking valuable time away from family life. Like my hon. Friend Mr. Reed, I try not to have engagements on Sundays. We have a choice, but many people do not, and parents need that time to spend with their children. It is difficult to find child care on a Sunday and even more difficult for carers. We should not forget that many people who work in shops are also carers and have family responsibilities.

The cost of Sunday working has an impact on us all. It has an impact on local authorities, which must provide more cleaning services and ensure that transport is running and rubbish removed. It also has an impact on the emergency services, which have many more calls to accidents on Sundays as traffic builds up. If we extend opening hours, it will not be long before Sunday becomes a normal working day for many more people than those who work in shops.

The cost falls on all of us in the community. What for? Who has ever starved to death because a shop was not open on a Sunday, never mind that it is not open for a few extra hours? Who has ever found themselves in real difficulty because they cannot suddenly run down to the shops to buy an extra tin of beans? Let us try to put the matter in perspective: what we are trying to protect is far more valuable, even though it cannot be measured. What is important is not always measurable—it is the right to a decent family life and to be able to spend time with children. It is important to us as a society that our children are properly brought up, otherwise the price will fall on us all.

It is time we stopped defining ourselves as a nation by how much we shop. Going to the shops is beginning to be a definition of life and leisure. There are more important things: family, sport, volunteering and what people put back into their communities. We need to protect that community time, as well as those workers on low wages who work very long hours in shops, who can have their hours changed at a moment's notice. They deserve what we consider our right.

Like many others, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to kick that deregulation into the long grass. Hardly anyone wants it, and I certainly do not believe that the House wants it.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

Order. I want the Front Benchers to begin summing up at midday, so I ask the two Members who would like to speak to keep their remarks to that time limit. We will then be able to get them both in.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud 11:45 am, 23rd May 2006

I shall be brief, so that my hon. Friend Shona McIsaac can get in to speak.

I wish to make three quick points. I might be wrong, but I am led to believe that Tesco has now withdrawn from Deregulate, which is promising. Tesco is now calling for partial deregulation. I hope that that is a result of the pressure brought to bear by USDAW. I am pleased to say that Tesco has always recognised USDAW and has good industrial relations with it.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

But does the hon. Gentleman accept that Tesco and businesses large and small would need to open for longer hours if there was deregulation because of the commercial imperative to maintain their market share? That would damage the workers and our communities.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

That is the case, and I hope that other supermarkets will see sense.

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Selby

Does my hon. Friend accept that although Tesco has pulled out of the Deregulate campaign, which calls for complete deregulation, it intimated that it is in favour of nine hours of trading on Sundays? That is a false compromise that should be rejected by the Minister and the Department of Trade and Industry.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I think we are on to a winner here. We should take half a loaf at the moment, but we want the full loaf, as we want Tesco to leave things as they are. I share the views of my right hon. Friend Mr. Smith, and I share the faith of my hon. Friend Mr. Reed. I think that we should be going backwards towards more regulation, but that is just my political stance.

I have two other points to make. The first is a serious point about the damage that deregulation would do to our smallest stores. Anyone who has seen the evidence from the New Economics Foundation on clone towns and ghost towns could not help but worry that deregulation would be another nail in the coffin of those smaller stores that choose to open on Sundays—and people choose to work in them.

I do not wish to ban such working, because everybody needs some services on Sundays and we should protect those services. People can get basic groceries and materials outside the normal restricted hours on a Sunday. However, I still believe that we should restrict the hours of opening for all services, bar the emergency ones. We should protect those services, which are so crucial, and keep them in operation.

Photo of Rosie Cooper Rosie Cooper PPS (Rt Hon Lord Rooker, Minister of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I visited a convenience store in my constituency the other week, and the Association of Convenience Stores and USDAW should be congratulated on ensuring good public debate and that Ministers know just how badly deregulation will affect our constituencies and constituents.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I share the view that there should be a free vote. I do not blame the DTI, as I think that the pressure for deregulation comes largely from the Treasury, although I might be wrong. I hope that the DTI will stand up against the Treasury, if that is the case, and tell it that this is the wrong way to go.

My next point refers back to Deregulate, which I mentioned when I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East. It says that 80 per cent. of the population agreed with the statement that politicians should not be involved in setting opening hours on Sundays. Well, there is a good reason why we are here, is there not? We might as well let the market take over everything, and then why would we need to exist? Let us not have democracy; let us just have the market running everything. I hope that the next point was, "And you will be required to work on Sundays." We would then have seen whether that same 80 per cent. put their hands up and said, "Great, we can't wait to go out and work on Sundays."

It is pure hypocrisy for people to say that others should work on Sundays when they are not prepared to work on Sundays themselves. We should say to them, "If you want it, you do it," because a lot of people do not have that choice. They are forced into working Sundays, and they are the people we should be protecting.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Caroline Flint, Minister of State), Department of Health 11:50 am, 23rd May 2006

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr. Smith on securing this debate on Sunday trading. One matter that I want to focus on is work-life balance, although I must say that I do not like that phrase and wish we could find a better one to describe the subject. [Interruption.] Yes, time off. That is an excellent idea. Another related matter is the effect that these longer hours would have on families.

As we have heard, there simply is not a demand for longer shopping hours on Sundays. I hope the Department of Trade and Industry takes note of that; I am speaking as a former DTI Parliamentary Private Secretary. Survey after survey and opinion poll after opinion poll says that that is not wanted. The strongest opposition to longer hours comes from those who are concerned about the likely effects on family relationships and community life, and we have heard some excellent contributions demonstrating that.

Let us look at the submission from Shirley Dex, professor of longitudinal social research—whatever that is—at the university of London's Institute of Education. She observes that recent changes in the labour force

"have shown that very large proportions of mothers and fathers, sometimes both, work on Saturdays, Sundays or both weekend days", and adds that that proportion would inevitably increase as a result of further deregulation.

Professor Dex also notes that a number of studies have found significant dissatisfaction among parents working atypical times, with the amount of time they have spent with their children being of serious concern to them. That dissatisfaction was shared by children. We have talked about parents today, but the effect on family life is also a worry for children, who will not be able to see mum and dad as much as they would like.

The professor concludes that the main benefit of working at weekends is additional household income, but the majority of parents who work at weekends find that that seriously interferes with their ability to have a family life.

However, in this context we are not just talking about children. As has been mentioned, there is also an impact on people with caring responsibilities, such as for an elderly or disabled relative or somebody who is terminally ill. They have even fewer options for finding somebody to look after that relative than parents do for their children. It is phenomenally difficult for people to get somebody in to look after an elderly relative—perhaps somebody suffering from Alzheimer's.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Caroline Flint, Minister of State), Department of Health

As the hon. Gentleman says, the figure is one in 10 adults. We should be concerned about this. Rather than just wanting a free-for-all, as some have said, we must be very careful here.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East said that he is proud to be a member of USDAW, and its contribution to the debate has been praised. I am also a member of USDAW, although it has been many years—probably decades—since I worked in a shop. USDAW has analysed what its members have said about Sunday deregulation. The evidence from people working in shops on Sundays who are USDAW members is overwhelming: they say that they would find it difficult to get babysitters and it would have a dramatic impact on their family life.

The DTI has as part of its remit the subject of work-life balance, as well as trade and industry. That is why the idea of deregulation on Sundays should be kicked into the long grass, as my hon. Friend Helen Jones said.

There will also be an impact on convenience stores. We have heard about the representations made by the Association of Convenience Stores. It, too, says that deregulation will have a dramatic impact on communities. If the larger shops are allowed to have a free-for-all, there will be closures of smaller shops, which will have a devastating impact on communities in many smaller villages, as well as in suburban and rural areas, particularly where there is no public transport.

I heard what Mr. Turner said about possible increases in public transport, but in many rural areas in my constituency there is simply none. People rely on small suburban and village shops, but I make no bones about the fact that those will close if there is deregulation. That will isolate people, particularly the elderly.

We have seen the potential effect on families, people with caring responsibilities and elderly people who perhaps cannot drive, or are no longer allowed to, and who have no public transport available. Such people will be isolated in their communities, which does not improve quality of life. This move would be seriously detrimental to the quality of life in Britain today. Yet again, I ask the Minister to kick it into the long grass.

Finally, I want to touch on the comments made by my hon. Friend Mr. Drew, who was right in saying that Tesco has pulled out of the campaign for total deregulation. On 10 May, the Financial Times stated:

"Tesco has abruptly pulled out of the retailers' campaign to deregulate Sunday trading in a move that will undermine the lobby for longer opening hours."

I heard it mentioned that Tesco does not want total deregulation, and perhaps wants partial deregulation or slightly longer hours, but I do not care. It was one of the main backers of the campaign to deregulate, and it has pulled out. That is a serious blow to the deregulation campaign.

We have looked at this issue as a debate between convenience stores and supermarkets, but it is far more than that. Do-it-yourself and furniture stores, clothes shops and car showrooms are involved. This is not just about supermarkets; we are examining the whole retail sector. Whatever the reason, Tesco pulled out of backing the campaign. That is a blow to those who want deregulation of Sunday trading, and, as Tesco says, "Every little helps."

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 11:58 am, 23rd May 2006

I fear that I am about to shatter the cosy consensus that has been building up today, so I have my flak jacket on.

I shall begin by explaining that Liberal Democrat policy is to have a free vote on this subject.

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

If hon. Members will give me a chance, I will go on to make some more points. I shall seek to give a balanced view of the arguments, so that I can represent the opinions on both sides, and then give my view, which is mine alone and is not intended to be representative of my party as a whole.

The Government consultation is designed to evaluate the economic costs of relaxing or removing Sunday trading restrictions. Several hon. Members have asked: what about the social costs? It is incumbent on us, as Members of Parliament, to consider them, although it is not up to us to dictate the way that people and their families should spend their Sundays. The Sunday Trading Act 1994 has become outdated. It is a good time to re-examine things. I have looked through the various studies that have been done, and I have been trying to assess—

Photo of David Lepper David Lepper Labour, Brighton, Pavilion

Will the hon. Lady explain why she believes the 1994 Act has become outdated? Perhaps she is going to explain that later in her speech.

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: I am. Patterns of behaviour and consumer expectations have changed in the ensuing 12 years. Several hon. Members asked who exactly seeks to make the changes and who says that they are necessary. Having looked at the various studies, I think that what the results are deemed to be depends on which interest group one asks to assess the study: they all seem to come out for their own interests.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Lady said earlier that it is not for politicians to dictate how people spend their Sundays. Another hon. Member—with his tongue in his cheek, I think—said something similar. Does she think that it is for politicians to require a police force to be provided on a Sunday to protect the property of the shops that open for those long hours?

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

It is incumbent on the police force to be available on Sunday, as on every day, as are so many groups in our society, including farmers, police, and people who work in the fire services, care services, hospitals, catering, entertainment, TV, sport, security, transport and distribution. One might ask: why are our retail staff so very different?

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Labour, Warrington North

Does the hon. Lady seriously expect that council workers should now work a full shift pattern on a Sunday, as should those who work in the ambulance service, police and so on? Their shift patterns are different at the weekend. Will she put on the record whether she would expect, if we had full deregulation, such people to have a normal, weekday working pattern on a Sunday?

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

In my conclusions, I shall not suggest that we should have full deregulation, so the hon. Lady's question does not apply. However, I acknowledge that there might be incumbent effects if Sunday trading hours are extended even slightly. That will have a knock-on effect on others.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Labour, Warrington North

I thank the hon. Lady for that answer, but will she clarify it? If she wants to extend Sunday trading hours, even without what she calls full deregulation, exactly what will be the cost to local authorities of providing extra services on a Sunday? What does she expect the working pattern for the emergency services to be? If it is not a full, normal weekday pattern, what will it be?

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

On costs, the only costs and benefits that I am in a position to quote are those from the Department of Trade and Industry study, which measures the economic benefit as an additional£1.4 billion a year, but that is in revenue, not in expenditure.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

Is the hon. Lady aware of the high and increasing level of consumer debt?

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I was about to say that given that we have only a finite amount of expenditure, the question of where that additional £1.4 billion of revenue would come from is concerning.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Caroline Flint, Minister of State), Department of Health

It would probably come from convenience store customers who have had to transfer to large supermarkets and are seduced by all their three-for-two offers.

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I am grateful, and I shall elaborate on this issue as we go on, so perhaps the hon. Lady could be patient and allow me to make a little progress. I am conscious of the time.

I shall round up my comments about the "for" group, but I assure the House that I shall be glad to speak about the "against" group. Some people want an extension, particularly the big retailers. I exclude supermarkets for the moment, because I have something special to say about them. It is estimated that garden centres lose £45 million a year because of the restriction on Sunday opening hours, as do DIY and high street shops and similar organisations.

Let us consider the pattern of consumers. David Lepper said that only a small number of people shop on a Sunday. I shop on Sunday with my daughter; it is a family activity and we do it together. I do not know where everyone else is, but the nice shopping areas in the high street such as clothes shops and shoe shops certainly seem to trade very well given the present Sunday trading hours.

Photo of David Lepper David Lepper Labour, Brighton, Pavilion

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way again, but I ask her to note that the figures that I cited and to which she refers came from the report commissioned by the DTI and carried out by Indepen, and not from one of the interest groups to which she referred—perhaps to cast doubt on the validity of those surveys.

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I take that point, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I was merely making a personal observation.

I turn to the arguments against and to those workers who are being constrained. A lot of time has been given to them. However, some like to work on Sundays because they have the opportunity to do so, despite disparaging remarks about students having to pay off their student debts or people wanting to supplement their pensions. As for the traditional family, if the primary carer goes out to work on Sunday—let us say that it is mum—then the children will be left with dad. That gives the children an opportunity to have some quality time with the parent who remains at home. [Laughter.] I give that argument for what it is worth.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Labour, Warrington North

I am listening to the hon. Lady's argument about choice. Is she suggesting that the same ought to apply in the House? If she thinks it is valuable for people to have the choice of working on a Sunday, will she table a motion that the House should sit on Sundays, thus giving ourselves a chance to work then?

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that suggestion. Many hon. Members already work on Sundays.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Labour, Warrington North

Here, away from their families?

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

Speaking personally, I often go to my local television studios to make recordings on Sundays, and I attend community events on Sundays. It is not a great deal of fun. MPs work a phenomenal number of hours. All hon. Members in the Chamber would agree.

With some relief, I now move on to the arguments against. I shall talk first about the idea that Sunday is just another day. Whatever one's religious beliefs, there is something to be said for Sunday being one day in the week that is slightly different. We have been talking about family time. Families can also spend time shopping. Some families choose to have their Sunday roast together, but patterns of family behaviour change over time.

My family used to have a traditional Sunday lunch, but kids today often do not want to do that. They want to do other things instead. We might watch a football match together, but those professional footballers will be working on a Sunday. [Interruption.] I note the sedentary remark made by Helen Jones that those footballers may well be reasonably well rewarded for their endeavours. Their case is certainly nothing compared with that of the shop workers to whom we referred earlier.

My main concern, which has been raised, is the idea of the Tescopoly—the monopoly of the supermarkets—and the threat that large supermarkets pose to small retail shops. A recent study discovered that a third of trade for small shops occurs outside the hours of 10 and 4 on a Sunday. I note with great regret that 7,337 independent retailers closed between 2000 and 2004. It is incumbent on hon. Members, who certainly need no persuading in this room, to remember that employing local people is important, as the creation of more local jobs means that more money goes into the area, and such businesses source more products locally and can choose whether to open or close. I will not repeat the points about worker concerns over the erosion of premium payments and the pressure to get them to work, because those points have been made already.

In conclusion, several comments have been made about Tesco's withdrawal from the Deregulate lobby group. My view, for what it is worth, is that perhaps Tesco has its hands full with the Competition Commission. I do not know. The recommendation or suggestion that we could perhaps raise hours from six hours to eight on a Sunday would seem to me to be a reasonable compromise and so, hopefully, something of that nature might meet with approval from all sides of the House.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

Order. The hon. Lady has had more than her fair share of time and was coming to the end of her remarks.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) 12:12 pm, 23rd May 2006

I begin by congratulating Mr. Smith not only on securing the debate but on making incisive and thoughtful remarks about the entity of the debate. Hon. Members will, I suspect, be more interested in hearing what the Minister has to say, so I shall attempt to be reasonably brief.

As we have discovered in the debate, Sunday trading is an issue about which many people understandably feel strongly. It is a complex issue: it appears on the surface to be about retail trading hours, but it is also about employment rights. It would seem to be merely an economic matter, but self-evidently it is fundamentally a social issue as well. Sunday trading hours are a matter for families as consumers and as workers.

The Government, as we know, have undertaken an initial consultation. It did not start out as an initial consultation but it has suddenly become that. They have now commissioned a cost-benefit analysis, which has been discussed in this debate. Ministers have said so far that they are considering the balance of views, but we have yet to hear a clear statement of intent from Government. I hope that the Minister will correct that omission and put on record the direction in which the Government intend to travel and, indeed, whether they intend to ensure that their Back Benchers take that path with them in the form of a whipped vote. My view is that the Government need to be very careful in ensuring that they get a sensible balance between the needs of families, workers and retailers, so that those who shop may choose to do so but those who choose not to work are properly protected. There has to be a clear case for change.

The Sunday Trading Act 1994, and its amendment through the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004, were the result of a classic British parliamentary compromise. The 1994 Act was designed to reflect the different concerns of those whom I have mentioned and of many Christian groups. It also reflected the nature of retailing in society in 1994. Clearly society and our lifestyles have changed since then. We live in a more mobile and multicultural world. We are, whether we like it or not, a more consumer-led society. Helen Jones articulately expressed why that is often a bad thing in our society. Whether we like it not, for many people in this nation, shopping is an essential part of their leisure. We have seen the arrival of the internet. We now face the peculiarity of being able to shop online with Tesco at 6 o'clock on a Sunday evening, but not being able to go to its supermarkets.

There have been notable changes in habits in relation to retailing. I am told by experts in the industry that whereas 10 or 15 years ago, we used, on the whole, to go to the supermarket once a week—I say "we"; it is usually my wife, I admit—now the pattern is to go there two or three times a week. Habits have changed and the result is that the convenience sector is growing faster than the traditional supermarket. That is why large retailers entered the convenience sector a few years ago and are competing directly with the independents. In many of our communities—I am surprised that this was not debated today—the large retailers can circumvent the Sunday trading laws because they own convenience stores that are below the 3,000 sq ft threshold. It is important to remember that when considering any change in the law that the Government may be thinking about. In many of our towns, the Sunday trading laws are irrelevant to the debate between large and small retailers.

It can be argued—many people do—that in a free market it is up to retailers to decide when they trade, based on consumer demand, and there is much to be said for that argument, but it depends on the market being free, open and fair. In recent years, many small shops have closed. I think that David Lepper said that about 2,000 such shops had closed in 2004. Many more are threatened. There is a growing chorus of concern about the pricing tactics employed by larger retailers when opening new stores.

The recent decision by the Office of Fair Trading to refer the whole of the grocery market to the Competition Commission confirmed that there are clear problems in that market. The inquiry must be comprehensive. A narrow inquiry that failed to address the allegations, whether the issue was predatory pricing or unfair contracts, would leave a shadow over the market. That would be bad for consumers and for retailers, large and small.

Some people have argued that with that significant inquiry under way, the Government should delay their plans to change the Sunday trading hours. What does the Minister think? Does he recognise that if he implements legislation in the next year, before the commission has concluded its work, that could adversely affect the very basis of the inquiry? I suspect that the whole House would want to hear his reply.

The starting point in this debate is the consumer. People should be free to make their own choices. It is not the role of Government or politicians generally to dictate where people should spend their leisure time; I shall come to working time in a moment. For many people—I say this with some incredulity—shopping is their favourite leisure activity. As, perhaps, a typical middle-aged man, I find that prospect truly ghastly, but who am I—who are any of us—to tell people how they should spend their time?

The converse of being free to shop on a Sunday is the right not to be forced to work on that day. Although the current law works well in some respects, I have much sympathy for what the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and many of its members have said on that issue. We have to recognise that there is informal pressure, but we also have to be clear that legislation often cannot deal with such pressure. The Government need to be careful to ensure that whatever they do, those who do not want to work on a Sunday can make that choice without it unfairly affecting their job or their prospects.

I shall now deal briefly with the question of family life. Of course, Sunday trading is a much broader question than just economics. I understand and have much sympathy with the position of groups such as Keep Sunday Special. To me, a practising Christian, Sunday is a special day, different from the rest of the week. It is also right to say that in a society in which often both parents work, the time that parents have for each other and for their children is under incredible pressure. As a society, we may be financially richer, but sadly the price is that we are time poor. Of course in a multicultural society, Sunday is not everyone's Sabbath; but the principle of a day of rest nevertheless can and should be recognised if we are to give our relationships the time that they need to grow.

Sadly, the time for my speech to grow is not with me. I look forward to the Minister's response to the questions that have been raised.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry 12:20 pm, 23rd May 2006

I, too, start by congratulating my right hon. Friend Mr. Smith on introducing a good, well informed debate, including—against much heckling from my side—the contribution of the Liberal Democrat spokesperson.

Photo of Brian Jenkins Brian Jenkins Labour, Tamworth

Who is on your side? [Laughter.]

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

There was some quite bad behaviour from my colleagues during a plucky speech.

As the Minister for Energy, I am here today talking about Sunday trading not because all the issues in energy policy have been so resolved that I have time on my hands—there still seems to be some political interest in one or two issues—

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

Perhaps later in my speech. I am talking about Sunday trading because my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, who also deals with investment and foreign affairs, is unable to respond to the debate. He sends his apologies, but he cannot be here, sadly owing to personal and family circumstances.

I do not accept the caricature of the Department of Trade and Industry that Mr. Turner depicted. I know that it is now fashionable for the historic party of capital to attack big business, but to caricature us as a Department solely concerned with big business is unfair. We are concerned with employment relationships, work-life balance and consumer policy, as well as the needs of business. Before I came to the House I directed a body called the Family Policy Studies Centre, so I am aware of the need to take account of the impact of proposed legislation on the diversity of family life. Also, when I look at my red boxes on a Sunday and compare them with the grass uncut, the young cabbages unplanted and so on, I have some sympathy with the idea of keeping Sunday special.

The present position is that the Government are reviewing the Sunday trading laws in England and Wales. We welcome an open debate on the issue, and today's debate has been an important contribution to that. Since the review of Sunday trading was announced last November, we have asked for and received a range of evidence in response to our informal consultation. We also commissioned the cost-benefit analysis, which is now available on the DTI website. However, in case there is any misunderstanding, we also made it clear on our website that we would welcome further relevant evidence or views—from consumers, religious groups, employees and businesses—not only on the economic case, but on all aspects of further liberalisation. A cost-benefit analysis is a contribution to the process, but it can only be partial.

Two weeks ago we held a stakeholder conference to give people the chance to debate the cost-benefit analysis and have their say on all aspects of Sunday trading. We have made it clear that if we decide to proceed with the review, there will be a further period of formal consultation on any change. We want our consumer and labour policies to be well informed, although we recognise that there will never be an overall consensus on such a controversial issue.

The current Sunday trading laws were established12 years ago. The Sunday Trading Act 1994 restricts large shops in England and Wales from opening for more than six hours between 10 and 6, and prevents them from opening at all on Easter Sunday. The fact that the legislation has been in place for 12 years does not necessarily mean that it is wrong, but it is sensible for us to look at it again.

We know from the responses to our informal consultation that there is a wide range of opinions on all sides of the debate and that some are very strongly held. Many of those views have been expressed today. This debate forms part of the ongoing consultation, and all views expressed will be taken into account. To illustrate the extent to which the Government have been listening, I will summarise the range of perspectives that has been put forward.

Some look at the question purely from a consumer perspective and argue that it should be business that decides when shops should open, not the Government, and that shops should be free to respond to the needs of their customers. The Government often get accused of over-regulating business, and there are those who feel that it is not the Government's place to regulate at all in this area.

Others feel strongly that there is more at stake than mere consumption and they would like to see Sunday protected as a day of rest: a quieter day when families can spend time together. We must also respect the position of those Christian groups who, because of their deeply held religious beliefs, feel that shops should not open at all on a Sunday, or should certainly not open for longer than they do under current law.

Others focus on the impact of extending Sunday opening on employees, and we have heard that argument today, not least from my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East. Some employees value the chance to work on Sundays, but others feel that Sunday opening has made their working life and family life more difficult. There are those who argue that the undertaking of work by parents on weekends can have an adverse impact on children and knock-on consequences for society.

I welcome the comments of those who reminded us that in a modern society with an ageing population, we are not just talking about the care of children, but the responsibility that many adults take on for the care of elderly relatives or grown-up children with disabilities. I had a private Member's Bill that dealt with this subject, which became the Carers (Recognition & Services) Act 1995. Another important perspective that we have heard much about is the impact of further liberalisation on small shops.

Where are we? Those, and all the other views that have been expressed, have to be given proper consideration. My right hon. Friends, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Minister for Trade are considering carefully all the views and evidence they have received so far.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

Perhaps a little later. In addition, my right hon. Friends are also considering the cost-benefit analysis, which examines the economic impact of extending Sunday shopping hours for large shops. We welcome this report as a key contribution to the debate, alongside the views and evidence we have received from others. After hearing those views, if the Government feel that any change to the status quo is to be considered, there will be a formal consultation.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

I give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East

The Minister answered his own rhetorical question, "Where are we?" I have listened carefully to what he said about the procedures the Department is going through. Will he tell us when he thinks our right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of Trade will take a decision on whether they need to proceed to a formal review, or whether—in accordance with the overwhelming view expressed here and in the country—the matter should be left?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

I am bound to say that we have not yet reached a conclusion about what should happen to Sunday shopping hours. No decision will be taken until we have assessed all the evidence, including the views expressed today. We want to make a decision based on all the information and informed by all perspectives on this topic. We want all interested parties to have a say about whether further or partial liberalisation—or no change—is the right way forward. In particular, we need to consider carefully whether large shops should be allowed to open on Easter Sunday. We have been told that shop workers either are not aware of their legal right to opt out of Sunday working, or do not feel that they can use it, and we want to understand that issue better.

We need to consider the evidence on the wider social issues that have been identified, which are as relevant as economic issues to decisions on Sunday trading. I am afraid that I cannot give my right hon. Friend a specific date, but I am able to give way to my hon. Friend Shona McIsaac, if she is still eager to intervene.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac PPS (Caroline Flint, Minister of State), Department of Health

The Minister mentioned the Ministers in his Department who will consider all the views expressed in the debate. As Minister for Energy, what impact does he think that deregulation will have on energy consumption in this country?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for energy, Department of Trade and Industry

It probably depends how much energy people expend on devising ingenious questions when they are at home on a Sunday.

Let me make it clear that the special protection allowing shop workers to choose not to work on Sundays is here to stay, It is important to stress that. I cannot be more specific about time scales, but I would like to repeat that we have had a useful debate.

I am pleased to have been able to stand in for my ministerial colleague and to get into a controversial issue at long last. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East for giving me the opportunity to bring my mind to bear on the subject.