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House of Commons Hansard
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02 May 1985
Volume 78

12.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a further statement on Sunday trading.

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The House will have the opportunity to debate the Auld report in the very near future and my right hon. and learned Friend will take that opportunity to make a statement on the Government's intentions.

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Is my hon. Friend aware that a strong case can be made for eliminating the anomalies of the present Sunday trading laws, but that a general relaxation would be disastrous for the cherished way of life of this country? A previous attempt to abolish restrictions was decisively rejected by the House on a free vote. The Government have no mandate for acting in the way that is apparently proposed. Should not Sunday be allowed to remain a day for rest, recreation and religion?

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That depends upon one's definition of rest and recreation. For some people it might involve a little quiet shopping. My hon. Friend will have the opportunity to develop his views, as will other hon. Members, during the debate that is soon to take place.

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Before the Minister makes his statement, will he consider the fact that to abolish completely the Shops Act would cause very considerable hardship to shop workers? Is he aware that they would have no defence whatever against the unscrupulous employer, because of the abolition by the Government of the wages council? Will he also take into account the tremendous offence that abolition would cause to many hundreds of thousands of religious people throughout the country?

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To hear the hon. Gentleman ask his question one would think that nothing had changed since the days of Mr. Polly. In putting forward the views of the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers, the hon. Gentleman has revealed only too clearly why that union commands the support of only 15 per cent. of those who work in the retail sector.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that if Sunday trading were to be allowed, it would add to the employment prospects of very many people?

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I have every reason to believe that that would be the case.

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Will my hon. Friend accept that there is a sense of steamrollering about this issue and that opinions throughout the country vary from total apathy among chambers of commerce to downright opposition among the silent majority?

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It is two and a half years since the matter was last debated on the Floor of the House. Every speaker, whether for or against Sunday trading, said that the Shops Acts were in need of amendment. The Government then set up a committee which took almost a year to reach its conclusions. The committee's report was published over six months ago and we are now moving towards a debate on the report. It is interesting that "steamrollering" should be thought to embrace all of that.

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Does the Minister not recognise that when his Tory friends brush aside the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) about the conditions for shop workers being made worse should full Sunday trading be authorised, he ought also to recognise that for many shop workers Sunday is the only family day that they have together, since six-day trading already takes place in many of our major cities? If full Sunday trading were to be authorised, conditions for hundreds of thousands of shop workers, not least their wages, would be destroyed.

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Again there is an air of unreality about the hon. Gentleman's question, but no doubt we shall have the pleasure of hearing from him at even greater length when the matter is fully debated.

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Will my hon. Friend accept that this matter must be decided on a free vote and that very strong views are held about it by many Conservative Members? They believe that all the advantages do not lie in the abolition of the Shops Acts and all their provisions, that Sunday is a day for the family and for corporate worship and that to abolish the Shops Acts would play into the hands of the large retailer, the supermarket and hypermarket, while small businesses—the butcher and the other traders who are a traditional part of this country—would suffer gravely.

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I hear what my hon. Friend says. The terms on which any proposal might be put before the House is not a matter for me but for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is in his place.