I congratulate my hon. Friend Liz Twist on opening the debate this afternoon. I declare an interest as chair of the USDAW group of Members of Parliament and as a member of USDAW, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. I am particularly pleased to take part in this debate. It is very important to send a message to the Minister that we think that the retail sector is an important contributor to the UK economy. It employs millions of people and is key to the regeneration of our local towns and communities, and also key to the employment across the country of many people. Three million people are directly employed in retail; 1.5 million work in related activity that depends on the success of our high streets. Our high streets are the fabric of our communities and we need to look at what we can do to protect them.
My hon. Friend John Howell have raised some of the challenges on our high streets at the moment. Disposable income is falling for many people. There are real challenges in the economy as a whole, which means less money is spent locally. The issue of online sales is a particularly big challenge. I have bought things online, as everybody else in this House will have done. It is important to look at the context behind that and consider what that challenge poses.