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Shop Hours (Auld Report)

Volume 79: debated on Monday 20 May 1985

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

We now come to the important debate on the Auld committee report on the Shops Act. I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I repeat that more than 42 right hon. and hon. Members have expressed their wish to take part in the debate. Therefore, I intend to limit speeches to 10 minutes between 6 pm and 7.50 pm; but if those who speak after then stick to that limit, or speak for even less time, I hope that there will be more than enough time for everyone to take part.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of your suggestion during the statement by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, will you give an assurance, in accordance with that precedent, that no one will be allowed to speak in the debate this evening unless he or she has heard the opening speech by the Secretary of State ? It is not a bad idea, and you should stick to it through thick and thin.

4.9 pm

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Proposals to Amend the Shops Acts (Cmnd. 9376); accepts the case for the removal of legislative limitations on shop hours; and looks forward to the Government bringing forward legislation to remove such limitations.
Shop opening hours were last considered in depth by this House during the debate on the Bill introduced in 1983 by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney). By then it was clear that there was hardly anyone who considered the present state of the law satisfactory. The argument for change was put forward on a number of different bases. In the first place, it was almost universally felt that the present distinctions between what could be sold on Sunday and what could not be sold were so arbitrary and outdated as to be indefensible. It was not just a question of a few items that were on the wrong side of the dividing line. There no longer appeared to be a rational dividing line at all. Secondly, there was deep anxiety about the continued existence on the statute book of a law that was being increasingly flouted, and which many if not most local authorities were either simply not prepared to enforce effectively or were unable to do so. These objections to the present law were not seriously challenged.

But in addition, many hon. Members put the case for change in a more positive way. They felt that restrictions on shop opening hours—let us not forget that we are talking about late opening as well as Sunday opening—were an unjustifiable and outdated restriction on the basic freedom that should exist for the consumer to be able to have the choice to shop when he wanted to and for the shopkeeper to be able to assess the wishes of his customers and meet them if he wanted to do so. It was felt by many that the limitations on shop hours were contrary to the interests of the consumer, no longer reflected current social patterns and preferences and were an unjustifiable hindrance to the growth of trade, and in particular the growth of tourism.

None the less, in spite of the virtually universal condemnation of the existing law and the widespread, although by no means universal, belief in the positive merits of change, the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend did not commend itself to the House. A considerable number of hon. Members feared the impact of complete deregulation on the fundamental character of Sunday. Just how many shops would open on Sunday, and which shops would they be ? Other hon. Members were anxious about the impact of such a change on those working in shops and owning them. Would small shops close on an extensive scale, and would there be a major loss of jobs ? Others again wondered whether some compromise or half way house was feasible. Although no one had really suggested any viable new basis for deciding when shops might open during the week or which shops should be allowed to open on Sunday, would not a more careful examination of the problem yield an acceptable and defensible solution falling short of complete decontrol ?

It was because of the combination of almost universal dissatisfaction with the present state of the law, and a widespread feeling of uncertainty about the effects of change and the possible forms that it might take that I decided to accept the suggestions made from all parts of the House, that an inquiry should be appointed to look into the whole question. I accordingly appointed an independent committee of inquiry in July 1983 under the chairmanship of Mr. Robin Auld, QC. The following were the terms of reference:
"To consider what changes are needed in the Shops Acts, having regard to the interests of consumers, employers and employees and to the traditional character of Sunday, and to make recommendations as to how these should be achieved."
The House will note that the committee of inquiry was specifically required to have regard, among other factors, to the fundamental character of Sunday. The membership of the committee was deliberately small, but in order to ensure that the main groups interested could satisfy themselves that the evidence submitted to the committee was comprehensive and rigorously scrutinised, I appointed six assessors. They represented the employers — both large and small —employees, consumers, the churches and the local authorities. Their main task was to ensure that the committee obtained evidence from across the spectrum of their interests and to offer comment on that evidence. My aim was to ensure that every possible solution to the problem was put to the committee and thoroughly examined by those likely to object to it, as well as by the members of the committee themselves. I know that the committee much appreciated the specialist advice it received from its assessors, and I am grateful to them for their work.

In addition, I commissioned the Institute for Fiscal Studies to carry out an economic review, which has been published as appendix 6 of the Auld report. This was designed to meet the concern that had been expressed that there was much speculation but little hard evidence on the economic effects that increased trading hours would have.

Now that hon. Members have had a chance to read and assimilate the report of the Auld committee, I am sure that they will wish to join me in thanking Mr. Robin Auld, QC and his colleagues, Mrs. Liliana Archibald and Miss Frances Cairncross for their comprehensive study. I of course realise that their recommendations are not universally accepted, but I am sure that their thoroughness has given us a solid and informed basis on which to take decisions.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say how, exactly, he decided upon the membership of the committee ? Frances Cairncross has written an interesting article in today's edition of The Times which tries to persuade hon. Members to go further, in one sense, than the Auld report by agreeing completely that the traditional character of Sunday should be abolished. How was Frances Cairncross chosen ? Was she an independent character ? Where does she stand and where does the right hon. and learned Gentleman stand in relation to what she said ?

At the time of the appointments there was no criticism whatsoever that any of those who were appointed to the committee were other than independent. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I did not have the faintest idea about the views of any of the Committee members.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way ?

No, I must proceed.

As the report shows, over 300 organisations and individuals submitted evidence in response to invitations from the committee. In addition, another 7,000 people sent evidence to the committee which was able to consider it with the benefit of help from the assessors.

The report of the inquiry and the accompanying economic review place the discussion on the future of shop opening hours in an entirely different context to that when the House considered the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe. Those hon. Members who took a particular view in 1983 are fully entitled to reconsider the position, now that a report has been published exploring all the main questions which caused anxiety in 1983 and led many hon. Members to feel unable to support the change in the law being then proposed.

The committee examined the obstacles and objections, but in considering whether trading hours should be the subject of legal restriction they started from the premise that
"the law should not interfere in the conduct of human affairs unless it serves a justifiable purpose … in doing so"—
a premise which I am sure that the House would share.

The committee examined carefully the arguments for legal restrictions in the light of the interests of consumers, employers, employees and of those wanting to preserve the traditional character of Sunday.

No, not for the moment.

It came to the conclusion that none of these interests or combinations of interests justified the continuation of statutory restrictions on trading hours.

I shall in a moment.

The Committee considered very carefully all the possibilities for partial deregulation, with which I should like to deal before giving way to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), as I shall, of course, do. Just how widespread the present anomalies are was well illustrated by the article in last Saturday's Daily Telegraph which pointed out that on Sunday one can buy alcohol but not dried milk for babies, aspirin but not toothpaste or soap. Newsagents can sell sweets and newspapers but not the Bible or stationery. Grocers can sell fresh or frozen fruit but not tinned fruit. One can buy cut flowers but not plants. One cannot buy fish and chips in a fish and chip shop, but one can buy other take-away food.

The committee therefore naturally looked at various kinds of proposals for revising the schedules of goods that can be sold late at night or on Sundays. It concluded that there was no way of compiling a list which would not now or in the future be every bit as plagued with anomalies as the present legislation. It is relevant to point out the extent of those anomalies.

The Home Secretary has detailed all the further consideration that has taken place by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and the Auld committee and its assessors and he invites hon. Members who voted one way on a previous occasion to reconsider their point of view. How can his hon. Friends reconsider their views if, because of the Whip, they are not allowed to exercise their own judgment and their own consciences ?

I am sure that my hon. Friends will be greatly assisted by the hon. Gentleman's intervention. The Government are fully entitled to express their views and to seek to persuade my hon. Friends of the merits of those views. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it has been made clear to my hon. Friends who have deeply held conscientious views, that their views are fully respected.

Not for the moment.

I was explaining that the Auld committee looked unsuccessfully at the possibility of compiling a different list of the schedule of goods that could and could not be sold on Sundays. Members of the committee also considered proposals that Sunday trading should be limited to certain kinds of shop or to shops of a certain size, but, again, they could see no way of finding a solution that would work. What type of shop should be allowed to trade ? In these days of mixed shops, it would be hard to produce separate and distinct categories of shops that should or should not be allowed to trade.

The committee considered exemption by size of shop, exemption for self-employed retailers, exemption by area and exemption by periods of the year. It examined the call for a maximum number of hours or days per week. It looked at the possibility of an extension of the present trading hours. Chapter 5 of the report is a thorough, unprejudiced examination of all the alternatives that were put forward.

The committee no doubt felt, as do many hon. Members, that something short of complete deregulation might be more acceptable if it were viable. But the analysis is devastating. Each of the alternative limitations is shown to be either indefensible or unworkable. The conclusion, which is amply supported by a reason, is:
"In our view, all the forms of control canvassed in our Inquiry, while affording protection to some, would neglect the interests of others. More importantly, we are convinced that none of the suggestions for reform, short of complete abolition of restrictions, would work. None of them would work because they would not form the basis of a fair, simple and readily enforceable system of regulation."
The committee therefore recommended the complete abolition of all the statutory restrictions on retail trading hours, both during the week and on Sundays.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we are dealing with Sunday, which is a day when people are expressing their religious convictions in one way or another, and the arguments of the Auld committee, important though they may be, deal only with facts ? People's faith and their convictions must be considered. My right hon. and learned Friend's comments seem to take no account of that fact.

I respect what my hon. Friend has said and I shall be coming to those aspects of the matter.

Not for the moment.

The Shops Act also contains provisions relating to the conditions of work of shop workers, in particular young shop workers. The committee concluded that it would be wrong to preserve the rigid provisions of part H of the Shops Act 1950 in statutory form. It was, however, worried about the demands that might be made on shop workers in the event of deregulation and, although it was not within its terms of reference, it recommended the retention for retail workers of the machinery of wages councils.

The House knows that, since the committee reported last year, the Government have produced a consultative paper on wages councils. The question whether the machinery of wages councils should be retained is important not only to workers in the retail trade, but to all the other workers covered by wages councils legislation.

The position of shop workers, vis-á-vis shop opening hours, will be given detailed and sympathetic considera-tion in the context of the consultation that is taking place, and what is said in the debate will be taken into account as part of that process of consultation. The Government will announce their conclusions on the future of wages councils before any legislation on shop hours is put before the House.

The Home Secretary read the last paragraph of chapter 5 of the Auld committee. Does he agree that the evidence in other chapters refutes the assertion that the evidence received by the committee was conclusive ?

The evidence was carefully analysed. Whatever else may be said about the Auld committee, its capacity to analyse specific suggestions for partial methods of decontrol cannot be doubted. It was particularly well qualified to do that, and its conclusion was nothing other than a proper assessment of the evidence.

A comprehensive review of how people did their shopping was carried out by the National Consumer Council. It reported that only one respondent in 10 found existing shopping hours inconvenient. How can the Auld report support its contention in chapter 5 that there is no justification for the continued regulation of opening hours ? Surely the reverse is the case. There is no excuse for changing the law when only 10 per cent. of the population want a change.

Whether or not people find existing hours convenient is a different matter from whether the criminal law should continue to be used to enforce those hours.

I shall come later to the other safeguards for those working in shops and the impact on employment more generally. Faced with the Auld committee's conclusions about the lack of a viable halfway house, those who have anxieties about going along with the committee's decontrol recommendations have to ask themselves just what action they would now favour.

As a Minister whose primary responsibility is for law and order, I could not advise the House to let the present position remain unaltered.

In a moment.

The law is being regularly, flagrantly and publicly flouted up and down the country. Some local authorities seek to enforce it to the best of their abilities, others do so patchily and many have not the slightest wish to do so and go through the motions only when they are threatened with legal action if they fail to bring some prosecutions.

The result is inconsistency and injustice on a massive scale. Sometimes it is the small shops that are prosecuted and the large ones that get away. In other places, the reverse policy is followed. Everybody will be aware of situations where the same type of shop is prosecuted in one local authority area and escapes prosecution if it happens to be half a mile away in another district.

I shall give way in a moment.

The reason why this has happened is quite simple. The Shops Acts do not penalise behaviour that is self-evidently of a criminal character. They are a means of prescribing a particular, limited pattern of trading. Social change has made that pattern of trading no longer one which is sufficiently generally acceptable for the criminal law to be regarded as an appropriate means of enforcing it.

My right hon. and learned Friend lays a lot of store by the legal consequences. From his senior legal position, does he agree that much of the problem results from the fact that he has not sent a circular to local authorities and enforcement officers setting out their abilities and right to enforce the law ?

I do not believe that that is true. The local authorities are well aware of the law. The real reason why they are not enforcing it is that in large parts of the country local people do not want the law enforced.

The fact that the law is an ass in this instance is no reason for the Government to do away with it completely. Is there not some halfway house—even if it was not considered by the Auld committee—that my right hon. and learned Friend could have looked at ? This is a matter of deep conscience for hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend's suggestion as to what that halfway house should be. The Auld committee looked at every variant that was presented. Indeed, the committee was equipped with assessors representing all views—not all of them were by any means in favour of deregulation—in order to ensure that it considered every variant. However, it was unable to find any variant that stood up.

I shall give way in a moment.

I say this to those hon. Members who deplore that this has come about. I deeply respect and can readily understand the feelings of those who observe with sadness and regret the social changes that have taken place. But is it feasible for us now to turn the clock back ? If no viable halfway house is available, for any society that believes in the rule of law, the only alternative to removing the sanctions of the criminal law is to enforce them. As long as the prospect of change was in the air, it was just about possible to tolerate a degree of inconsistency and injustice. But it was becoming increasingly uncomfortable to so so. We now have no excuse for not making up our minds, and if we do not proceed in the way Auld recommends, we will really have to do everything in our power to enforce the present laws.

Faced with clear evidence of an extremely widespread desire on the part of large numbers of shopkeepers and their customers to do what may be regrettable but is not inherently criminal, I frankly find the prospect of an attempt to enforce the present law almost impossible to contemplate. The protests that would rain down on us from our constituents if that were attempted would make the lobby against VAT on newspapers seem like an amateurish effort on the part of a particularly badly organised constituency party branch.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take comfort from the experience in Massachusetts and Sweden where shop hours were quite recently freed ? Despite the fears of some small retailers that they might suffer, the opposite happened, and many new opportunities were provided for businesses and retailers, and for the creation of new jobs. If we are serious about new jobs, as we are, it is essential to sweep away this very old-fashioned law.

I take the point that my hon. Friend has made. It would be unacceptable to enforce the present law to its full rigour because of the very great social changes that have taken place since the 1950 Act. In 1951, for example, only 24 per cent. of married women below pensionable age worked full or part-time. By 1981, that figure had risen to 57 per cent. It is not much use to those women—or to their husbands and families—if shops are open only during the time that they are at work.

But for many people Sunday is a special day to be set aside for religious worship and observance. Those who wish to confine what they do on Sunday to that deserve our fullest and sincerest respect. For most people, however—

I shall give way in a moment, but I am making an important point.

For most people, however, there is no conflict between going to church and undertaking all the other activities that are popular on Sunday: leisure, entertainment, sporting and other outdoor activities, as well as cleaning, decorating, gardening or whatever it may be. Shopping is one of the activities that people would increasingly like to be able to undertake on Sundays. Sunday shopping provides an opportunity for shopping as a family, which is greatly welcomed by the very many families who cannot shop together during the week. The question that we have to ask is whether we have the right to continue to use the criminal law to deprive them of that choice.

The Home Secretary has spelt out and, in his own words, respected, the special character of Sunday. That presumably explains why the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department told the House the last time we debated Sunday trading that any decision about any change in the character of Sunday that involved deregulation would be a matter of conscience for each hon. Member. The Under-Secretary's speech to the House on that occasion can be found in column 557 of Hansard for 4 February 1983. Why has the Home Secretary changed his mind ?

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State was setting out the position in the relation to the debate that day. The Government responded clearly to the request of the House that there should be an inquiry. Following that inquiry, which examined the very matters that cause concern to the House, the Government are entitled to express their views and to say to those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who feel unable to go along with them, that their consciences are fully respected.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is misrepresenting what happened on 4 February. The Under-Secretary of State said:

"There are important considerations and fears about the character of Sunday … These fears are held in many parts of the House and I agree that they are an important factor. That is why the Government adhere to the view, which successive Governments have adhered to, that the decision must be for the individual conscience of hon. Members."—[Official Report, 4 February 1983: Vol. 36, c. 557.]
The Under-Secretary of State was talking not about the Shops Bill but about the general principle. Why will the Government not keep their word and have a free vote today ?

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the view expressed on that occasion related to that Bill, and it is utterly inconceivable that the Government would be expressing a view as to the position that they would take two years later in response to a report that had not even been commissioned, let alone published.

I was explaining why I took the view that the question that we must ask is whether the right to continue to use the criminal law to deprive people of their choice is justified. I believe that we should only take that view, quite apart from questions of enforceability, if there is reason to believe that a change in the law would lead to a substantial and damaging change in the quality of life on Sunday which would otherwise not take place. The example of Scotland, where there has been no general prohibition on Sunday trading for 50 years, does not lead one to believe that this would be the case. One of the reasons for this is that, although deregulation provides freedom of choice, in practice the consequences of change are unlikely to be as great as some people have feared.

I appreciate the anxiety felt by retailers, particularly small ones, about the impact of deregulation on their businesses.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the explanation that he sought to give of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State just will not wash ? When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary gave that undertaking to the House, it was widely believed that he was saying that this was, indeed, an issue of conscience on which we were all entitled to form an opinion without being pressurised. What most offends those of us on this side of the House who oppose the Bill is the way in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is seeking to steamroller this thing through the House.

My hon. Friend is doing less than justice to my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. From the moment that this debate loomed on the horizon it was made abundantly clear that my right hon. Friend fully accepted the conscientious objections of any of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Those of them who have such objections will, I think, testify to the fact that when they have spoken to the Whips, that readiness and respect has been quite apparent.

I appreciate the anxiety felt by retailers—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We cannot hear the Home Secretary.

Order. The Home Secretary should address the whole House, and not turn his back on it.

I appreciate the anxiety felt by retailers, particularly small ones, about the impact of deregulation on their businesses. The retail trade has been in the process of change for many years. The effect of deregulating opening hours will not in itself produce any large-scale change. The conclusion of the economic review by the Institute for Fiscal Studies states:

"it is unlikely that in any of the areas we have considered — costs, prices, employment and trading patterns—there would be effects which would be of sufficient magnitude to be distinguished readily from the other changes which would be occurring as the result of other influences on the style and structure of British retailing."
I also stress that the opportunities presented by deregulation will provide a stimulus to some sectors of the economy. Garden centres and DIY shops are obvious examples of the trade that will benefit, but there are many others, such as shops involved in the tourist trade. Tourists will certainly feel more welcome, and the economy will in turn benefit if tourists are able to spend more in shops.

Indeed, the British Tourist Authority, which is responsible for securing many jobs, told the Auld committee that the closure on Sundays of many shops causes a considerable loss of revenue for the nation from tourists and would-be shoppers.

None the less, there has been much genuine anxiety about the number of small businesses that will be destroyed if longer opening hours, particularly on a Sunday, are allowed. But, it does not follow that simply because late night or Sunday trading will be permitted, it will be anywhere near universal.

Looking at the scale of Sunday opening, for example, the IFS in its study for the Auld committee considered whether Sunday opening would or would not be profitable for various types of retailer.

The IFS concluded that shops accounting for 48 per cent. of turnover would find Sunday opening profitable. The number of shops that will open is likely to be significantly less than this. We believe that for most of the year it will be in the region of 20 to 30 per cent.

It is interesting to note the results of a survey by 'Terry Burke, of the polytechnic of central London, carried out in April this year. On the basis of discussions with managers of one of the country's largest multiple chains, and answers to questionnaires received from 40 major retailing chains, he came to the conclusion that only 15 to 20 per cent. of high street shops will open all the year around, but that there will be widespread pre-Christmas, sales and holiday Sunday opening.

The Home Secretary is emphasising the commercial aspects of these considerations but a little earlier when I tried unsuccessfully to intervene he said that the committee had considered all points of view Did the committee actually consider the proposition that instead of extending Sunday trading, more stringent restrictions should be imposed with which the Home Secretary should be prepared to require compliance ? Does the Home Secretary realise that, perhaps more north of the border than south of the border, Sunday has a special significance ?

I do not think that that view commends itself to the majority north of the border. What I have said ties up with what happens in Scotland. In April this year, managers or assistants from 541 shops in Scotland were asked whether they would open the following Sunday—let us not forget that they are allowed to do so. Across the country 16 per cent. said that they would open but only 8 per cent. of those located in major town centres said that they would.

When the issue was last debated in the House there were also fears that increased retail trading hours would lead to an increase in prices. I think that the House should be reassured by the conclusion reached by the Institute for Fiscal Studies that in the long run the change will have a very small or negligible effect but that, if anything, they will tend to be reduced. If any savings were passed on to customers the effect would be to reduce the retail prices index by up to about 0·4 per cent.

The fears that have been most widely expressed have been those about the possible loss of jobs that might result from deregulation. The predictions from the study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies are that changes in the number of jobs available in the retail trade will be small both in relation to the total work force of some 2·2 million and to the recent trends of changes in retailing employment. Their model indicates that on the basis that there is no Sunday trading, although that is not now the case, there may be a loss in the short term of 5,000 full-time equivalent jobs and in the long term — by which is meant 10 to 20 years — a further 15,000 full-time equivalent jobs. But, of course, there is already a significant amount of Sunday trading which was not taken into account by IFS, so some of those job losses will have already occurred.

We believe that the Institute for Fiscal Studies probably underestimated the potential expansion in other related fields—for example, catering and tourism. It is a fallacy to believe that there is at any given time a fixed pool of shopping and that if shops are open longer, the same amount of goods will be bought, but over a longer period. It is quite likely that there would be some transfer of expenditure from the purchase of services to the purchase of goods. If sales were to rise by 2 per cent. the Institute for Fiscal Studies calculates that the equivalent of 9,000 extra jobs would be created over the next 10 to 20 years, and if they rise by 5 per cent. the equivalent of 51,000 full-time jobs in the same period.

That is an interesting observation, because a considerable proportion of goods which are sold are imported, but 100 per cent. of services are the result of employment in Britain. Why should such a transfer from services to goods result in net employment rather than net lost employment ?

It is impossible to make such a calculation.

The House will recall that, in addition to its recommendations on shop opening hours, the committee recommended abolition of all the special provisions relating to the conditions of work of shop workers contained in part II of the Shops Act 1950 and its associated provisions in other parts of the Act, although it recognised that a case would be argued for continuing protection in the case of young persons. Whether even in the case of young persons such protection, as opposed to the protection provided by the health and safety provisions, is nowadays needed is by no means clear. Moreover, just as in the case of adults, there is considerable doubt as to the effectiveness of the present restrictions. In spite of our very considerable doubts on these points, we shall listen very carefully to the views of the House and we shall want to consider any evidence which may be presented on the need for continuing to protect young persons in this way.

Earlier, my right hon. and learned Friend said that the Patronage Secretary would take account of those right hon. and hon. Members who had conscientious objections to the motion. However, we are not talking in particular about the conscientious objections of right hon. and hon. Members themselves, but of those which they know, from correspondence, exist among their constituents. Even more important, can my right hon. and learned Friend explain the Government's thinking about those shop assistants who have genuine convictions about not working on Sundays ?

I know that very real fears have been expressed, not only by my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern), and that if regulations are removed, those working in shops now might be forced to work on Sundays.

I understand that concern, not only by those who would be troubled on conscientious grounds about working on Sunday, but also by people who see their Sunday as a day apart, as an opportunity to be with their families and as a day on which they do not wish to work. For example, many married women have for years worked in a shop on the basis that they would do so during the week but would be able to spend Sunday with their families.

That concern is reflected in the amendment to the motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) and I know that it is very widely shared in the House. That is reflected in the signatures to the motion. Although the Auld committee did not believe that protection for those in this category would be feasible, on this issue I must differ from the committee. I accept in principle the case put forward by my hon. Friend and will look sympathetically at the best way of ensuring that established shop workers cannot be compelled to work on Sundays. Doing this will in no way detract from deregulation generally, as experience elsewhere suggests that there will be no shortage of volunteers who wish to work on Sundays.

The Home Secretary has made an important statement, which could be an important concession. Will he clarify what he meant by established shop workers ? Was he seeking to confer a right on those who happen to be employed in shops now, or was he talking about a right that would be extended to anyone seeking employment in the retail trade ?

The former. With the qualifications that I mentioned, I recommend that the House accepts the conclusions of the Auld committee. The Government will seek an early opportunity to present to the House legislation to that effect. It is not possible to put back the clock and I do not think that there would be public support for enforcing the current criminal law.

Many people want change for positive reasons—the main one being not the benefit that that would confer on any particular section of the economy, important though that may be, but rather that restrictions on the freedom of traders to trade and customers to buy what they want, when they want, are inconsistent with the development of a free economy. The onus must rest on those who seek to maintain such restrictions. I believe that that onus can no longer be discharged.

4.51 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

"requires that any legislation relating to shop hours should include full and proper protection for the pay and working conditions of shop workers."
This is an issue that arouses strong feelings and very differing views. I was interested to hear the Home Secretary say that if a law is habitually not observed, it is important that that law should be changed. Does that mean that, as we now have the greatest outbreak of robbery known in the history of our country, the Government will remove the laws against robbery ? Does it mean that if, under the new public order legislation, people do not observe the bans and restrictions on open-air meetings, the Government will remove them ? Does it mean that where the law is sufficiently broken, the Home Secretary will not seek to uphold it but will change it to suit those who broke the law ?

As the right hon. Gentleman has put his remarks in the form of questions, I shall answer them. He knows perfectly well the difference between a law that is broken and a law that is unacceptable because it is no longer one that the majority of people want.

Therefore, we are to have laws maintained on the basis of opinion polls, are we ? If an opinion poll shows that the Government's employment legislation is unacceptable, may we take it that the Home Secretary will come forward and repeal that legislation ?

I shall give way to everyone, but in my own time. I want to get under way for a minute or two, and I shall then give way.

Quite apart from the personal opinions that each of us may hold on this issue, every hon. Member will have received representations from large numbers of outside interests, both legitimate and less legitimate, on this matter. Trading organisations are making different calculations about how a change in the law might affect their profitability. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers says one thing while the Association of Independent Retailers says quite another. The Retail Consortium sounds a discordant note, rather like the dissonance at the introduction to Mozart's 39th symphony. The co-operative movement speaks uniquely and more harmoniously, not only for its commercial interests but for its employees. That is highly proper because the co-op has 9 million members, and its employees, with their families, are also customers of its 6,000 shops.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Labour party amendment is based entirely on material considerations ? Surely other considerations, such as moral and religious, are far more important.

I shall be coming in a moment to precisely the point raised by the hon. Lady.

Like others, the co-op believes in changing and making sense of the law without completely revoking control. Like many, it accepts that current legislation is awkwardly drafted, difficult to enforce and full of anomalies. It is also a strong champion of the traditional British Sunday.

In its belief that change is necessary but should be limited, the co-op shares the attitude of the associations of local authorities which have the unenviable task of enforcing current legislation. But even they differ from each other. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities opposes general Sunday opening, while recognising the need for amending legislation. The Association of District Councils is divided on unrestricted Sunday opening, but united in its wish to protect shopworkers. The Consumers Association supports complete deregulation. The churches have serious misgivings about the effect of Sunday deregulation on the religious observance of the Christian sabbath. All those great institutions and important interests do their best to see the case of those who disagree with them. Some of them have undergone agonies of conscience in making up their minds.

I come now to the intervention by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman). The Opposition believe that issues of conscience require each individual to make up his or her mind. For that reason, we are having a free vote on the main question. The only people who are absolutely certain on this issue are the Government—not for them doubt, not for them thought, not for them the freedom of conscience championed by the Under-Secretary of State when he spoke in the House two years ago on the Bill introduced by the present Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security. I shall repeat what he said, which I quoted in my intervention during the Home Secretary's speech. He said:
"There are important considerations and fears about the character of Sunday … These fears are held in many parts of the House and I agree that they are an important factor. That is why the Government adhere to the view, which successive Governments have adhered to, that the decision must he for the individual conscience of hon. Members."—[Official Report, 4 February 1983, Vol. 36. c. 557.]

I wish to say a few more words, then I shall readily give way.

When I intervened, the Home Secretary effectively said that Tory Members could have a conscience on a private Member's Bill, but they must abandon their conscience on the orders of the Government-even though, if they ask nicely, they may be given permission to think about having a conscience.

I inform the right hon. Gentleman that I have come to the House to abstain because I do not accept that, although I am in favour of this measure, any of my colleagues on either side of the House should be forced either to vote for something in which they do not believe or to do something that other colleagues are not forced to do.

Setting aside the example of the arrogance of power displayed by the Conservative party, including the stage management of the early-day motion signed by more than 100 hon. Members, will my right hon. Friend remember that the organisations to which he referred did not mention the danger of the fragmentation of the family in our society and the additional pressure of this proposal, steamrollered through by the Government, on family life ?

That point has, of course, been made in the many representations to us. It has also been made by the representatives of the shop workers who are worried, as they have the right to be, about the effect on their family lives if they are made to work on a Sunday. I shall deal later with the strange commitment given by the Home Secretary on this matter.

As I have such warm regard for my right hon. Friend and do not want him to suffer any subsequent distress, may I make it clear to him that I shall not be voting for the Labour amendment tonight because it presupposes quite unacceptable subsequent legislation ?

My hon. Friend has every right to vote in the way that he believes appropriate, even on a three-line Whip, and I do not challenge his right—perhaps the Opposition Chief Whip would—to say what he has said. In our amendent we refer to "any legislation"; we do not refer specifically to the legislation that is heralded in the Auld report.

Conservative Members are to be whipped through the Lobby on a three-line Whip on this matter tonight — [Interruption.] —and I hope that everybody interested in this issue, whatever view they hold, will note the difference between the free vote on the Labour Benches and the whipped discipline imposed by the Government.

While there can be, and are, differing views in the House and the country about whether there should be any alterations in shopping hours, I am amazed that the Government should cause division on the subject of the protection of shop workers. I am sure that even shoppers who want complete deregulation do not wish to obtain their shopping convenience at the expense of the exploitation of shop workers.

For myself, I find any change completely unacceptable if it will mean even less security for a large group of workers—one in 11 of the working population—who are already among the most disadvantaged, the most exploited and the worst paid in Britain. The Home Secretary's speech showed a lack of concern for shop workers which I found staggering. He hardly referred to them, except in one particular, in a speech lasting 45 minutes. Therefore, I make it clear for myself that, should the Government defeat our amendment tonight, I shall vote against their motion in protest at their lack of concern for the interests of shop workers.

The nature of provision in shops in Britain means that it is exceptionally difficult for shop workers to win the kind of working conditions that are available to others. It is difficult for them to be organised into trade unions, and, despite the gratuitous sneers by the Under-Secretary against USDAW at Question Time earlier this month, that union has done magnificently in recruiting and seeking to protect 250,000 shop workers.

What the Government propose emphasises the need for USDAW and other shop workers' unions even more strongly. If ever there was a case for the members of USDAW to vote for a political fund, that case was made by the callous speech of the Home Secretary today.

One reason for lack of union organisation is that so many shop workers are employed only part time. In 1983, 43 per cent. of shop workers were part-timers, and most of them were women. Women form 66 per cent. of the shops' labour force and more than half of them, 39 per cent. of the total, work part time.

It is, in addition, a young work force. In 1971, 15 per cent. of males and 21 per cent. of females in the industry were less than 19 years old, and among part-timers the ages were even younger. The 1968 figures showed that in retailing, 75 per cent. of Saturday only workers were under 18, of whom 64 per cent. were girls, and 87 per cent. were under 21. Those official statistics undoubtedly understate the true position.

Current practice where there is Sunday trading, legal or illegal, shows that part-timers are predominant. Retailers opening on Sunday employ double the number of part-timers as on weekdays. Not surprisingly, these workers are often poorly qualified, much less qualified than workers in other industries. They are also inadequately trained. Money spent on training per employee in the distributive trades is less than half that in manufacturing industries.

It is scarcely surprising that shop workers are disgracefully paid. In January of this year, the statutory minimum rate was only £70–66 in the retail food and allied trades, and £71.05 in the non-food retail trades. Women in those trades were receiving little more than half women's national average earnings, and men were receiving not much more than one third of men's average earnings.

We must remember, too, that those miserable conditions have been obtained with existing protections, such as they are. Auld wants to remove some of these protections, and the rest of them are endangered by the Government's attitude to wages councils, which the Auld report, to do it justice, strongly recommends should be retained.

Part of the argument is that extending trading times to include, for example, Sundays would give an opportunity for the very lowest paid to double up on their terms of income and thereby earn more.

I shall deal with that as I proceed.

The Auld recommendation about the abolition of the Shops Act protection for retail workers is astounding in view of the committee's terms of reference, which instructed it to have regard to the interests of employees. Legislation on shop hours in the past has been very much directed towards the protection of shop workers. The Auld report reminds us:
"Statutory restrictions on evening closing had their origin in the late nineteenth century concern to protect shop workers from exploitation".
The Shop Hours Regulation Act 1886, for example, specified maximum hours for persons under 18. That was a century ago, when legislation was governed by Victorian values. Even in 1911, the Shops Act of that year called for a half-day holiday for all shop workers. The Auld recommendations would remove that 75-year-old obligation.

The two major protections that shop workers have at present are the Shops Act 1950 and the wages councils. Neither has brought those workers conditions that are ideal or anything like ideal. However, they have meant that specific statutory protection has existed and that employers have to step carefully or face legal consequences.

The Shops Act 1950 prescribes maximum working hours and conditions of employment for young persons, and lays down regulations governing paid half days off, meal breaks and time off in lieu of Sunday working. The wages council orders prescribe minimum rates that are far from princely but are certainly much higher than they would be if wages councils did not exist. These lay down levels both for weekday and Sunday working and they influence pay in sectors of retail trading that are not covered by wages councils.

The Government's attitude to wages councils is especially deplorable. The way in which the Home Secretary brushed aside the issue of wages councils and simply said that he would listen was scandalous. The Auld report makes two specific recommendations — one is deregulation and the other is the retention of wages councils and a strengthened inspectorate. The Home Secretary—this is why his motion is framed in the way in which it is—accepts the recommendation that suits him and does not accept the other, on which, as I shall show, the first is based; without the second recommenda-tion, the exploitation of shop workers will be absolutely intolerable.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, on reading the mind of the Government on this matter, one can conclude that their central strategy is to depress the wages and conditions that have been fought for by unions over the years ? Their plan, in other words, is to get rid of Sunday as a special day, so that workers will finally work on Sundays as though they were Wednesdays or Thursdays, with the result that double time and time and a half will be a thing of the past. They are not just after shop workers. Once they have established that Sunday is the same as a weekday, additional payments, including unsocial hours money, will be abolished for millions of workers not involved in the trades with which we are concerned. That is part of the jigsaw which my right hon. Friend is piecing together. Does he agree with my conclusion?

In many ways it is even worse than that, as I shall demonstrate as I proceed.

The Government's attitude to wages councils is deplorable. The need for wages councils was recognised more than three quarters of a century ago. in 1909, when they were first created. In this instance we are talking about Edwardian values. The councils' progenitor was Winston Churchill, the man to whom the Prime Minister so frequently refers as Winston, as if he was one of her most intimate friends. It was Churchill who said, when the Bill creating wages councils was introduced:
"It was formerly supposed that the workings of the laws of supply and demand would naturally regulate or eliminate that evil"
of living on a less than a decent wage
"But when you have no organisation, no parity of bargaining, the good employer is undercut by the bad, and the bad employer is undercut by the worst."—[Official Report, 28 April 1909; Vol. 4, c. 388.]
Winston was right then, and he remains right now.

I shall proceed with my speech for a while. I have been giving way a good deal. There are 42 other right hon. and hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate.

Wages councils are needed to establish basic minimum pay levels, rates of pay for overtime, weekends and bank holiday working and minimum holiday entitlements. Without the councils, pay rates in retailing as elsewhere would slump to intolerably low levels. Even now, earnings in the industry are slumping towards the councils' minimum levels. Ten years ago, women full-time shop workers earned on average 20 per cent. more than the wages councils' basic rate and part- timers were 16 per cent. above the basic rate. By last year, both categories of worker were only 10 per cent. above the minimum rate.

The Low Pay Unit has given dreadful examples of the exploitation of shop workers. I shall give the House just three. There is one young woman aged 22 years who is a jewellery sales assistant. She earns £54 gross for a 40-hour week. She says:
"Considering the responsibilities we have, I think our wages are disgustingly low. I personally have taken retail jewellery examinations, which was supposed to have made a difference to my wage packet. It did—£2."
Another woman, Miss S, is a manageress of a dry cleaners. She is 23 and works a 381/2-hour week, for which she receives £44·56 gross. She says:
"I've got to do the pressing, work the machine and look after the counter. My wages don't go far. I give my mum £15 keep money, bus fares £5·70 a week, life insurance £3 and that doesn't leave a lot to buy clothes or go out."
The third example is that of a man aged 20 years who earns £65 for a 47-hour week as the manager of a video hop library. His take-home pay is £49·85, of which he spends £4 on bus fares.

In 1983, the report of the wages inspectorate to the retail food and allied trades wages council showed that a check of 10–9 per cent. of the register revealed that 20,832 workers were being underpaid and that arrears totalling £2,416,353 were assessed as due. Where complaints were investigated, underpayments were revealed at 867 of the 1,096 establishments involved. That is what was found by the wages council, yet the Government will not say that they will keep the councils.

It is no wonder that a working party of the distributive trades EDC reported in March as follows:

"The working group believes that any reform or abolition of the retail trade wages council could have a wide-ranging effect on retail trade employment prospects. It regards as largely unproven the assertion that increases in wage rates determined by wages councils are substantially reducing the employment prospects of young people."

I ask the hon. Gentleman to permit me to continue. I have given way on several occasions. I have a great deal more to say and I should like to see how we get on before I allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene. It is no wonder—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way".] If hon. Members who wish to speak will not be annoyed if I give way, I shall do so.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Perhaps he will tell me how I should respond to a business man who saw me in my constituency yesterday—

Yes, he saw me yesterday because of the subject that we are debating now. He put a complaint to me and asked me what I could do for him. He contended that the actions of a wages council and not the complaints of his employees were putting him out of business and making him bankrupt. The regulations that the council will be enforcing will mean that four people who have had a job in my constituency will be forcibly made unemployed.

I would say that he is a pretty lousy employer. I shall quote from the evidence that is accumulated in the Cambridge study which the Department of Employment has published. Evidence is available in the report of the Select Committee on Employment, which was published last Thursday. The evidence demonstrates that the employer to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred is in a tiny minority and that the effect of wages councils in supporting the miserable minimum wages of workers in the retail industry has a minimal effect on employment. If the hon. Gentleman is worried about bankruptcies in his constituency, he should speak to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about interest rates, which are driving companies out of business.

We are talking about our sabbath day, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department are both Jewish. I respect that. I understand that Mohammedans in Britain can choose whether to work on their sabbath day, which is Friday. Jews in Britain can choose whether they work on their sabbath day, which is Saturday. When the proposed legislation is before the House—we are having only a little debate on the issue today — it will seek to give Christians the opportunity to decide whether they wish to open their shops and work on a Sunday. The arguments about salaries and the tear-jerking examples that we have been given by the right hon. Gentleman relate to every day of the week or whatever days shops are open.

I do not know whether I should have given way to the hon. Gentleman in the circumstances.

What the hon. Gentleman has said would come very well out of an early play by George Bernard Shaw. He is saying that he wants to give Christian employers the right to open their shops but he does not want to give Christian workers the right to say whether they will work. That is the issue and it is that sort of paradox that appears in "Widowers' Houses" and "Major Barbara". I recommend the hon. Gentleman to read both. They are available in the Library.

I shall quote from the study by the department of applied economics at Cambridge university. Addressing itself to wages councils, it states:
"There can be no strong presumption that the retail wages councils have had an important independent employment effect … in the absence of a comprehensive system for the orderly determination of wages in retailing, the wages councils serve a useful purpose in terms of both equity and efficiency."
That survey was carried out on behalf of the Department of Employment. It is no wonder that, only four days ago, the Select Committee on Employment reported:
"Ministers did not give an estimate of the increase in the number of jobs which might be expected to result from abolition"
of wages councils;
"when pressed to do so in respect of young people, they were unable to: the message was 'try it and see'."
No wonder, therefore, that the Auld report—a report that cannot be said to be over-solicitous of the interests of workers in its recommendation that all shops protection should be scrapped—deliberately went beyond its terms of reference to recommend "strongly", to use its own word, that wages councils should be retained for retailing. The report went on to recommend that there should be proper enforcement of wages council orders by an adequately staffed wages council inspectorate. We heard not a word about that from the Secretary of State.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has been speaking about wages councils for about seven minutes. We are actually discussing the motion before the House.

I remind the House that 40 right hon. and hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. There have been 20 interventions during the speeches by the Front Benchers. A matter which is not a point of order merely delays the speeches of other hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) should be ashamed of himself for making that bogus point or order. This report, which I recommend that he read, has just two recommendations, one of which is the recommendation to retain the wages councils and strengthen the wages councils inspectorate. If the hon. Gentleman does not like that recommendation, he is telling us not only that he does not know what is in the report but that he does not care about the workers who are involved.

I shall not give way. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have clearly shown that you believe that no more interventions should be taken; therefore, I shall proceed.

The way in which the Home Secretary brushed aside the issue of wages councils was most offensive and showed no concern whatever for the interests of shop workers. The report makes two recommendations—one is accepted in the Government motion; the other is ignored in the Government motion.

The right hon. Gentleman obviously wrote that before listening to what I said. That is, of course, his custom. Otherwise, he would have heard me say specifically in relation to wages councils:

"The position of shop workers, vis-á-vis opening hours, will be given detailed and sympathetic consideration in the context of the consultation that is taking place".
I said that what was said in this debate would be taken into account. Moreover, although this debate is about opening hours and Sunday opening, I made it quite clear that the Government would announce their conclusion on the future of wages councils, not today but before any legislation on opening hours is brought before the House.

I am afraid that that simply will not wash. The Government have had the report for six months. They have had the opportunity to think about this report for six months. They have thought about the recommendation on deregulation and have made up their minds. I should have thought that six months was long enough for the Government to decide whether to accept the other recommendation. The Government do not care about the other recommendation because they do not care about shop workers.

Protection for workers in this industry becomes all the more essential when we examine the likely effects of deregulation on workers' jobs and conditions. Discussion of the effects of deregulation concentrates on Sunday trading, partly because Sunday trading understandably arouses the strong feelings and consciences of many people, and also because legal shopping hours on weekdays are already so long that major extensions are unlikely between Monday and Saturday, even if there is complete deregulation. Yet for workers, the effects of Sunday deregulation would spread over into the other six days. Unless the type of protection demanded in our amendment is provided, those effects will be painful.

Referring to the effect of deregulation on employment, the Auld report said:
"De-regulation would have an immediate effect on employment in retailing. Sunday opening would generate Sunday jobs, but the resulting fall in week-day demand would mean fewer jobs at other times. In the short term, the IFS suggests that the net effect of these two conflicting influences on manning requirements would be a small reduction in employment in the retail trade, possibly about 5,000 full-time equivalent jobs … In the longer term, the reduction in retailing capacity would inevitably involve a further loss of jobs. Although more people might be required in the remaining shops, the IFS predicts that the net effect would be a reduction of about a further 15,000 full-time equivalent jobs."
That is a net calculation, based on full-time equivalent jobs rather than full-time "real" jobs, as the Prime Minister describes them. The calculation in the report shows that, overall, 110,000 new Sunday jobs are expected to be created — all of them part-time or supplementary to weekday working. On the other hand, 135,000 weekday jobs are expected to be lost and many, if not most, will be full-time jobs. That is additional to the 130,000 full-time jobs that have been lost since 1979.

The real implications are shown in a statement issued by Asda which aimed to demonstrate that Sunday trading produces job increases. Asda said:
"An additional 65–90 staff are needed to operate a superstore on a Sunday. Some 75–90 per cent. of these will be specially recruited via the job centre; others will be existing full or part-time staff."
Asda is saying that most of the people it recruits for Sunday working are part-timers and that it is not creating additional employment for many of its weekday workers. Tesco expects at least 75 per cent. of its Sunday staff to be Sunday-only employees.

These expectations are emphasised by a special report that has just been issued by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which also provided the jobs assessment for the Auld report which the Home Secretary quoted with great approval. This new report was carried out for the Federation of Multiple DIY Retailers, so we cannot suppose that it was intended to be biased against the deregulation recommendation. The report stated:
"First, weekday turnover will be smaller and thus retailers will find they can economise on staff. Second, because Sunday sales will tend to reduce sales at peak times — typically weekday evenings and Saturday—retailers may find they can make more effective use of existing staff as demand during the week is more even."
That is bad enough, but even that assessment of the harmful effects of uncontrolled Sunday opening without protection is made, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies takes pains to emphasise, on the assumption that the continuation of the wages council system will ensure that double-time rates will be paid on Sundays. The institute made that estimate on the best possible assumption of the wages councils being retained and being effective. The IFS went on to say:
"left to market forces the size of the Sunday wage premium would probably fall."
The IFS calculated that, with the fall in that premium, the number of lost weekday jobs would rise to 130,000. Only the maintenance of full protection for shop workers can prevent a massive deterioration in working conditions for those workers, because the industry faces, without their protection, huge dilution by casual and part-time workers.

I shall not give way.

Less full-time working means worse pay and lack of statutory protection in key areas, such as employment protection, redundancy payments and maternity rights. They are especially important in an industry with so many women workers. More casualisation and part-time working means not only less protection for such workers but pressure on full-time workers. Full-time workers will face the evident danger of replacement by part-timers if they cause too much of a fuss over such embellishments as halfway decent pay, let alone holiday and other rights. The Thatcherite dream will become the shop workers' nightmare. That is in an industry in which workers are already inadequately protected. The Auld report itself states that shop workers
"lack the trades union protection enjoyed by most other workers."
In the main, shop workers have to fend for themselves on the subject of working hours and conditions. Yet what hope does the Auld report offer those workers in the absence of statutory protection, including the protection that they themselves say should be removed by the total repeal of Shops Act protection? The report says:
"where an employee might be prejudiced by a requirement to work on Sundays or late at night, so that refusal to do so would lead to dismissal, it might be that the provisions governing unfair dismissal in the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 would in certain cases provide a safeguard.
"Might be … certain cases" that will not do. That is not protection. That is optimistic speculation.

No.

The Employment Protection Act, 1975 even if relevant and applicable, does not provide for reinstatement even if an action is successful. Employers could apply a whole range of pressures short of dismissal. It is no good Ministers saying that other workers are involved in Sunday working without dire consequences because the report dismisses that argument:
"it is notable that a substantial proportion of regular Sunday employment occurs in industries, such as the railways and health service, with a high degree of unionisation and relatively traditional labour practices. Retailing, by contrast, is characterised by less strong unions and exceptional flexibility in the use of labour."
Therefore, for all of us in the Labour party, including my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), whatever attitude may be taken on deregulation and late and Sunday opening—

—protection of the workers— [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] — protection of the workers becomes a sticking point on which we are implacable.

We insist that any legislation must include specific protection for workers. Many of the private Members' Bills that have been introduced on this subject deliberately included some form of protection such as those introduced by the hon. Members for Chelsea o(Mr. Scott), for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) and for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), as well as several others.

I address this remark to the Secretary of State in response to his reply to the intervention of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) about protection of workers on Sunday. We do not regard as satisfactory his limited and mingy commitment that established workers will be protected. The Secretary of State, in response to an intervention by the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls), commended the legislation in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. The commonwealth of Massachusetts legislated on Sunday trading in 1983, and included this provision, that no employee—not "no established employee"—
"shall be required to perform such [Sunday] work, and refusal to work for any retail establishment on Sunday shall not be grounds for discrimination, dismissal, discharge, reduction in hours, or any other penalty."
That is what they have in Massachusetts, and that is what we demand in the Bill. Nothing else will do. [HON. MEMBERS: "What Bill?"] The Bill is coming. The Government say that they are going to legislate.

We demand that all Shops Act protections required by the industry's unions should be retained except where other statutes unequivocally and indubitably provide such protection. Those include half holidays, meal times, refreshment breaks, the number of Sundays to be worked and time off in lieu of Sunday working. We insist on full Shops Act protection for young people.

The report is extremely unsatisfactory on safeguards for young workers. It says that gaps not at present covered by current legislation could be filled by amendments to other statutes. "Could be" is not good enough. We demand an assurance that such gaps will be filled. Above all, we demand that full wages council protection for shop workers be retained. Heaven knows, such protection is barely adequate as it is. We insist on the full retention of the wages council system, and for young people, too.

The Government's consultative paper makes absurd and dangerous statements about the effect of wages council protection on the employment of young people. Those statements are rejected by the Select Committee of this House, by the Cambridge study and by the National Economic Development Council working party. We demand full wages council protection for young people both in regard to minimum rates and age coverage.

The British public are decent, caring people. Many of them may wish for wider shopping opportunities, but none of them would want to enjoy those opportunities at the expense of underpaid, overworked and exploited employees, including women and teenage girls. We are amazed that the Government cannot accept our simple and uncontroversial amendment. We shall be speaking not only for shop workers but for the whole country when we vote for our amendment tonight.

5.35 pm

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) went on with his prepared text in utter disregard of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said. The right hon. Gentleman's language would have been inappropriate in any event. He talked about my right hon. and learned Friend's callous attitude to shop workers when in fact he gave the undertaking to consider carefully the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill). That was totally inappropriate. The right hon. Gentleman should have amended his speech drastically.

The right hon. Gentleman began his speech with a series of noisy questions asking whether what my right hon. and learned Friend said about the law being unenforceable meant that we should not have a law against robbery. That was a total misconception of the position. There is an obvious distinction, of which the right hon. Gentleman must be aware—

I supported the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) because I thought that it was sensible. No doubt the hon. Gentleman opposes it for the same reason. That would be characteristic.

There is a distinction between laws with which it is often difficult to catch the offender and laws which are so illogical and thus so riddled with abuses, inconsistencies and anomalies that no Government or local authority can enforce them. The right hon. Member for Gorton must be fully aware of that distinction. That is the key point.

I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is in favour of Sunday opening. He made an extremely long speech, which was interesting in many ways. The most interesting part was that he did not state where he stood on the main issue. Perhaps at some stage later in the debate we shall hear from the Opposition what their attitude is.

The key point is that we are being asked to continue using the criminal law to enforce a law that nobody in his right mind thinks can go on being enforced. I fully respect the sabbatarians on both sides of the House, and those who wish to continue the traditional English Sunday, whatever exactly that may mean—

No, that is not so. The Tory party was against making Sunday a miserable affair. That was very much a Roundhead whim. Although sabbatarianism has quite a long history, it is essentially a Victorian idea. Most of our legislation dates from Queen Victoria. In fact, Karl Marx said that the chief sufferers from the sabbatarian legislation were the working classes. It is paradoxical that now their alleged representatives are very much against the amelioration of these laws. I am not an admirer of Victorian values, and I am grateful that, in this respect at least, the Government are departing from them; although it is fair to say that Queen Victoria was not a sabbatarian, and was opposed to the sabbatarianism of those days. [Interruption.] Luckily I cannot hear the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). He is raucous but inaudible.

In the earlier debate, the Government were asked to hold an inquiry and not to act before it had reported. In general, that is a sensible procedure. The Government have now done exactly what was asked. The findings of the inquiry are unequivocal, and the Government now have no alternative but to legislate. I agree with both parts of the Auld report. I believe that it is important that, unless some other safeguards can be found, wages councils should be preserved. I am not opposed to the reform of wages councils, but I believe that they need to be preserved in this case.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State was right in 1983—I supported him then—and I believe that the Government are right now.

5.41 pm

There has been an exchange about the line taken by the Under-Secretary in an earlier debate. I believe that this is a matter on which the individual conscience is of supreme importance. It is a matter on which I speak for myself, although I believe that my hon. Friends will agree with almost all that I say, and that they all agree with me when I say that, in any legislative change, the shop worker should be protected. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) took that view when he introduced his legislation, the protection offered in which was far more stringent than the measly concession offered by the Home Secretary today.

On 4 February 1983, when replying to some issues that I had raised, the Under-Secretary said:
"These fears are held in many parts of the House and I agree that they are an important factor. That is why the Government adhere to the view, which successive Governments have adhered to, that the decision must be for the individual conscience of hon. Members." — [Official Report, 4 February 1983; Vol. 36, c. 557.]
In referring to "successive Governments" the hon. Gentleman could not have been speaking solely about the legislation then being discussed. I do not believe that that was what was in his mind. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has now been asked to stand his own words on their head. He should not accede to the pressure to do so. He should make it clear that individual conscience should have free rein, not only in today's debate but in the debates on the details of legislation which, I suspect, will occupy us for many long weeks in some future Session.

The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) referred to the Auld committee as though it were a body of impeccable impartiality and breadth of background knowledge. That is far from the case. Committees set up by Governments are normally of two kinds. Some are intended to debate an issue at length—preferably until after the next general election. Others are intended to secure a certain verdict, and to do so as quickly as possible. The committee just appointed by the Home Secretary to consider advertising on BBC television—the membership was announced on Friday—falls into the former category. Its members range from the Home Secretary's brother to people who have spent most of their working lives in the BBC. It represents a wide range of opinion and its debates will no doubt be lengthy.

The Auld committee has no such breadth. No one could say that the members of the committee represent the full range of opinion on the issue. I can find among the members no one who holds the traditional view of the place of Sunday in our society and in the Christian religion.

The hon. Gentleman is kicking the referee because he does not like his ruling. Not a single word of criticism was advanced about the composition of the committee until it made its report. What right does the hon. Gentleman have to call into question the integrity of the three members who produced the report in good conscience? Further, is the hon. Gentleman aware that there were also six assessors, at least three of whom represented views antipathetic to the final result of the inquiry? Not one of them has called into question the good faith of the inquiry process. Why is the hon. Gentleman doing so?

I do not call into question the good faith of those conducting the inquiry. I question whether they represented the range of views on this issue. They did not.

If the Minister consults his files, he will find there some correspondence from me on certain aspects of the committee's initial actions, which immediately caused me to doubt the breadth of opinion that it represented. The Minister sees fit to ignore that correspondence, but I shall refer to it.

It is possible that the members of the committee initially had no views at all. However, they certainly did not start with a representative breadth of opinion on the subject such as can be found in the committee considering advertising on the BBC, which was clearly set up en the basis that it should contain a breadth of views. I believe that the reason for the difference is that the Government wanted a certain result from the Auld committee whereas they do not want the other committee to produce a result for some time.

Immediately the Auld committee started work, there was a straw in the wind. I wrote to the Minister about it. The committee quite properly placed advertisements in newspapers seeking evidence from people holding different views. However, it placed the advertisements exclusively in Sunday newspapers. The committee had embarked on its task with no grasp of the fact that a significant minority of people, on religious grounds, do not read Sunday newspapers.

The Minister has referred to the assessors. The assessors had no part in writing the report, and cannot be held responsible for it. Their position was quite clear. They were to provide factual evidence on the areas about which they knew.

No one reading the article by Miss Frances Cairncross in The Times today could come to any conclusion other than that she is strongly in favour of Sunday opening on a slightly more widespread scale than was envisaged even in the report. She is fully entitled to hold those views, but they give a flavour of the basis of the report.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the report is somewhat disdainful of the Christian religion and attaches far too little weight to the views of those who, because of their Christian convictions or on other grounds, do not wish to work on Sundays.

The most balanced criticism of the report was produced by the British Council of Churches and the Free Church Federal Council. The critique states:
"The Auld report appears to have been written to sustain the case for abolishing all regulation of shop opening hours. That part of the case which the churches, with others, made on behalf of shop-workers and their families is accepted, but rather than abandon the conclusion that there should be no regulation of hours the Committee makes the proposal for a Wages Council, which it must know the Government is unlikely to accept … There is a serious conflict between the evidence they present and the conclusion they reach. What appears to be a closely argued case is a much more tendentious document. Market forces, it seems, are now to determine every aspect of our life in community."

I shall not take up the theoretical arguments. There are many examples of Sunday opening around the world, and the right hon. Gentleman lives next to the Scottish example. How does he deal with the fact that only 16 per cent. of Scottish shops open on Sundays and that 98 per cent. of Scots say that they are not inconvenienced by Sunday trading? What is the evidence that the Scots are any less religious as a result of Sunday opening?

I am close enough to Scotland to know that the situation there is very different. The pressures to bring about more Sunday trading are far less intense in Scotland than in much of the United Kingdom, and many people in the retail trade in Scotland do not want to see much Sunday trading. Secondly, I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not prefer the social pressures against Sunday trading that operate in some parts of Scotland to a proper regulation of the matter by law.

In seeking to implement the Auld recommendation of complete deregulation without the other recommedation about retaining a wages council, the Government are taking no account of the fact that Sunday is, and has long been, regarded by many people as different from any other day of the week. The moulding and shaping effect of the Christian religion in our society should not simply be thrown aside.

The factors have special significance in some parts of the country, which the Government have not mentioned. In Wales, for example, legislation requires referendums on the opening hours of public houses. The constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) can vote not to have public houses open on Sundays, and did so, but they will have no control over Sunday trading, although these things have a special place in their hearts. If people discover that we have irrevocably changed the character of Sunday, they will be critical of a House of Commons which did this with such carelessness.

It is crucial to protect shop workers from the pressures to work on Sunday when they do not wish to on religious grounds or because they are prepared to work five or six days but want Sunday with their family. When my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East, with whom I disagree on the issue, introduced proposals considerably to deregulate Sunday trading he nevertheless went to great lengths to protect shop workers. His proposals included limiting overtime payments and therefore the extent to which workers can be bribed to work on Sunday.

Some Conservative Members suggested that we should welcome deregulation because shop workers can get a decent living wage only by working double time on Sundays, and that deregulation offers a wonderful opportunity to extend an otherwise small wage. An alarming range of pressures on shop workers to work on Sundays in the event of complete deregulation would include their desire to augment a low income and the pressure to keep a job. There would also be pressure on people wanting to get a job, as they are likely to be asked to fill in an application form declaring whether they have any objections to working on any day of the week. I take issue with the Home Secretary and his vaunted concession in this regard. I was hopeful when he said that he wanted to provide for shop workers who had a conscientious objection to working on Sunday. However, he talked of established shop workers. It is a dated provision for people now working in the retail trade. It is like trying to buy shares in the Trustee Savings Bank—only people who had an account last year will have priority in buying them. Only people who were employed in the retail trade before the proposed legislation is brought in are to have any protection. As that group of people dies out, fewer will be protected, and anyone who wants to apply for a job will be asked whether he is prepared to work on Sunday. If an applicant has any reservations, or a statement of his religious activities arouses any doubt, he will be passed over in favour of someone else. Without protection, we shall eventually have economic persecution of people who persist in their belief that they should not work on Sunday.

On the principle of Sunday, how does the hon. Gentleman, who represents Berwick which, but for an odd mistake, is part of Scotland, defend the sanctity of Sunday from shopping when, since 1950, when attitudes were much more rigorous, the Scots, with all the Free Presbyterians and the Free Church, have had no objection to Sunday trading? Does he not realise that his constituents cross the border on Sundays to go shopping?

There are massive objections to Sunday trading in many parts of Scotland. No doubt the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) will voice some of them. Some of the social pressures are less desirable than a general framework of law under which people know what they are entitled to do and are free to do it.

The Home Secretary's concessions to shop workers are not good enough. The consequences of deregulation for those who feel strongly about working on Sundays will be loss of pay, loss of job or an inability to get one, unless there is protection. Small shopkeepers will be put under enormous pressure. Hon. Members have received extensive representations from the meat trade, for example, which believes that the Government, who claim to be sympathetic towards small businesses, will put unreasonable pressure on many members of it.

We should also consider people who live near shopping centres and who rely on Sunday for peace and an opportunity to sit in their garden without the constant slamming of car doors and the noise of traffic coming and going. It is not enough to say that they should not live there. If people are to live in city centres, it is reasonable to assume that there should be some difference in the pattern of life between weekdays and Sundays. Moreover, many tourists like to go around normally busy areas such as the City of London and other town centres when it is quiet.

There are wider and more general disadvantages of deregulation which have been argued in the Institute for Fiscal Studies report, such as the potential loss of jobs and of trade and an effect on prices. To put it at its lowest, it has not been argued that general economic benefits will follow.

The Government seem to be able to contemplate only deregulation or nothing but there are many choices. I favour revising the Shops Acts to clarify the categories of shop which are allowed to open on Sunday and to define them so as to minimise the difficulties that I have described. The Government seem to have rejected that possibility out of hand, as did the Auld report. There are various compromises. The Home Secretary mentioned Massachusetts and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that the Massachusetts experiment involved specific protection for shop workers: it is also confined to Sunday afternoons. Most other countries which have made such changes have limited the trading to some extent.

We shall also have to consider planning control. Local authorities must be allowed to exercise some planning powers because, if there is deregulated Sunday trading, arguments about the siting of shops will be much more important to objectors when the shops remain open seven days a week.

The Government must protect shop workers, Their job security, the basis on which they are paid — that involves retaining wages councils — and enabling applicants for jobs or workers to contend that they have been unfairly discriminated against for objecting to work on Sundays. However many regulations we build in, workers will still be discriminated against in practice if we deregulate generally.

I say to my hon. Friends that the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) waved the flag of liberty and liberalism in support of his private Member's Bill on deregulation. He should remember that John Stuart Mill said that, when defining the right of the individual, we must always have regard to the extent to which it infringes on the liberties of others. Shop workers and other people affected by Sunday trading are among those others. I say to the Labour party that its amendment improves the motion, but does not go to the heart of the matter.

I say to Conservatives that if the Government accept the Auld report without providing permanent protection for Sunday, they will have signalled themselves as being firmly on the side of Mammon rather than of God, and of substituting the religion of the market place for the religion that has guided and sustained this nation for more than 1,000 years. The Government might win the day on this occasion, but when they get to the details of the Bill, I hope that they will find that many Conservative Members are no more willing than I am to see that happen.

5.59 pm

Tomorrow is the opening of the Chelsea flower show, which is the greatest flower show in the world. The Chelsea flower show is the showplace of nurserymen from this country and overseas, and specialist plants are presented. However, the man and woman in the street buy their plants from garden centres, which are the most important phenomenon in the leisure industry today.

The do-it-yourself movement is also of fundamental importance in the shopping pattern of families. The Government have got their project wrong. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said that there had to be change because of garden centres, and do-it-yourself and tourist shops. But surely we merely need to alter the planning law to make a new planning classification because local authorities do not know what a garden centre is. They cannot decide whether it is a farm shop, a shop or farm land. Under planning laws and regulations, garden centres are neither one nor the other. Do-it-yourself shops are called warehouses. Are they warehouses or shops? That area is fraught in many respects.

If the Government had tackled the problem from the other way on, and had introduced new planning classifications for garden centres, do-it-yourself shops and, to a lesser extent, tourist shops, Sunday trading could have been easily permitted in those three areas.

A fourth category, which is also of great importance to the tourist trade, is exhibitions that stay open on Sunday. I began my speech by mentioning the Chelsea flower show, but there are many other exhibitions, such as the Ideal Home exhibition, at which goods are sold and which stay open on Sunday. That is also a fraught area because, provided the shopper buys a souvenir and carries it away in a souvenir bag, he is not technically breaking the law. That is absurd.

Although I welcome the Government's intentions to change the law in those four limited respects, they have got it wrong because they are trying to change the law for more than those four areas

6.2 pm

I must declare an interest in that I am sponsored by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, as many hon. Members know. It is obvious from the debate and the many interventions that the crux of the matter is the Sunday trading argument. I subscribe to the consensus that there is a need to reform the Shops Act 1950. I accept that it generates some curious anomalies, but we do not need complete abolition of the Act to minimise those anomalies.

The abolitionist case is unconvincing, and potentially highly expensive and disruptive. The Auld committee report says a great deal about the dangers to shop workers and the environment and, indeed, much of the report is correct. Despite that, it reaches the wrong conclusions. I am amazed that the best a Government committee can offer is to say, "It is all too difficult. We must abandon all attempts at regulation."

The proposal that small shops and self-employed retailers should be allowed to open is dismissed summarily by the committee, despite the fact that changing the law in that respect would legitimise much of what now takes place without causing danger to shop workers' conditions, upheaval in the high street, or interference with the traditional Sunday and the Christian belief in the sabbath. That may have proved too difficult, or perhaps too troublesome, for the Auld committee to deal with, but parliamentary draftsmen have much more complicated measures to deal with than this, and would find it a doddle to draft suitable changes in the law to implement such a proposal.

It is said that there is a need for shops to open on Sundays, but we should consider the existing position. Most shops are open by 9 am—some food stores open even earlier—and in most cases they do not close until 6 pm. They are open from Mondays to Saturdays, arid the majority of supermarkets and multiple stores have two and sometimes three late nights every week when they stay open until 7 pm, 8 pm or even later.

Some people, and even some hon. Members, talk about not being able to shop and say that their only free time is on Sunday. Yet I have never heard of anyone who has starved or gone short of food because shops are not open. Nor have I heard of a person being short of something to wear or being without apparel because shops are not open. In the Third world and the north of England, which I represent, some people are short of those things because of insufficient money and mass unemployment, but never because the shops are not open.

The mass of our working population work from 8 or 8.30 am to 5 or 5.30 pm for five days only. Those people have all day Saturday to shop and can easily shop on late opening nights with their families, if they wish.

The arguments of the abolitionists are ludicrous. There is no need for shops to open on Sundays. I accept that there is a desire among some people to go shopping when the whim suits them. Others are disorganised and cannot remember to prepare for the times when shops are closed or cannot even remember when the shops are closed or what time of day it is. Perhaps we should open shops on Christmas day and Boxing day in case someone forgets the stuffing for the turkey or even the turkey itself, or that a new party dress is required. Hon. Members may think that that sounds ludicrous, but those are precisely the type of people to whom the Government are pandering with the Bill. The Government have confused the meaning of "need" with the meaning of "desire" or "whim".

Over the years, shop workers have been a disadvantaged section of the working population —unsocial hours and low pay have been their lot. I shall not deal with this subject for long because my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made an admirable speech in which he dealt with many of the subjects that worry me. As a young man, I worked in a shop. I can well remember my employer sending me along the high street to see whether our competitors were closing, before he would allow me to start closing. That is the shape of things to come. Such is the battle of the high street today that, when some shops open, all must follow. Competition is so intense that no trader can afford to be closed and therefore to lose business to a competitor who is open.

Only so much trade can be achieved overall. To divide it seven ways instead of five or six ways would not mean greater trade for everyone. The higher costs of lighting, cleaning, wages and even rates would mean greater overheads. There is only one way in which a store can recoup such additional costs and that is from the consumer. Prices would undoubtedly rise, despite what the Home Secretary said.

The Government have in the past advocated helping small businesses, yet Sunday trading would cripple the small corner shops. They already suffer from intense competition from supermarkets that have all the modern techniques and the bulk-buying facilities that enable them to sell goods more cheaply. The corner shop does considerable business, by its standards, on a Sunday. If superstores open on Sundays it would lose most of this business and many corner shops and small businesses would disappear—[Laughter.] Hon. Members do not like my modern, efficient way of tackling the debate by using a computer print-out.

The average high street would eventually become almost as busy on Sundays as it is on Saturdays, with all the noise and bustle associated with a busy shopping area. Other services would be required, such as policing, street cleaning, bus services as on a normal weekday, and the full cover of emergency services. In addition to shop workers, this would mean more people working on a Sunday. All those people would have to be paid, thus causing greater burdens on rates and taxes. Ultimately, we would have to pay for those services.

Sunday as we have known it for generations would be gone. Gone would be the peace. Gone would be the family Sunday, because mother or father may be working. Gone would be the opportunity for many to practice the freedom of religious worship. Sunday would become far less a sabbath day than it is now.

The Auld report calls for—

I have very little to go, Mr. Speaker.

The Auld report calls for protection for shop workers. It advocates the retention of the wages councils. The committee must have known that the Government intend to abolish the wages councils because they have published their intention repeatedly over a long period. After all this, the conclusion of the committee was the complete abolition of the Shops Act 1950, which means complete abolition of any protection the shop worker may have.

Wages councils were formed to protect the low paid and those least organised in trade unions. They were meant to put a bottom to wages paid in industries where exploitation was rife. Without that base, shop workers will again be seriously exploited. They will have little choice in refusing to work on Sundays if their employers demand it, because they know that, from the ranks of the 4 million unemployed, people will be found to do their jobs—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for a computer to make copious use of an hon. Member?

6.13 pm

I welcome the opportunity to debate the Auld report and all its implications. First, I must declare two interests. I am on the main board of Boots, one of the largest retailers in the country, and I am a former Minister for Consumer Affairs.

I have not heard much about consumers from Labour Members.

Boots does not advocate Sunday trading, for several reasons, but if the law is changed, and if that is what its customers want, it will open. However, I advocate the implementation of the proposals in the report, subject to adequate qualifications and safeguards.

Five major considerations should be borne in mind when discussing Sunday opening: consumers, traders, those who must work on Sunday, the religious implications, and the effectiveness of the current legislation. Before I discuss those categories in detail, I should emphasise that I believe that we shall do no service to any of them if we try to exaggerate either the advantages or the disadvantages of the proposals before us. There is an obvious temptation to do so, but I shall try to resist it.

No right hon. or hon. Member could seriously defend the current legislation. The House will agree that such a law, which is riddled with anomalies, frequently flouted and held in contempt by so many, brings the framework of British law into disrepute. The anomalies in the law are so bizarre and they have been mentioned often, that I shall not mention them again.

Perhaps worse than the anomalies themselves are the conditions that they have created, whereby normally law-abiding shopkeepers regularly break the criminal law by selling to their customers on Sundays items from the banned category. No policman will walk into a shop and arrest the shopkeeper for selling a can of baked beans to a customer who wants it on a Sunday. What is even worse is that many small and medium-sized shops, especially in the do-it-yourself category, cannot open on Sundays because they cannot afford the fines, while their larger competitors can open on Sundays and sometimes flout the law because they can afford the fines. It is clear that the law operates unfairly and unenforceably.

The Auld report concludes, I believe correctly, that reform is not practical and would lead to greater confusion, and that, therefore, abolition is necessary. Such a proposal would leave traders free to choose whether to trade on Sundays, and would leave consumers free to choose whether to shop on Sundays. No element of compulsion is involved. Some people, especially Labour Members, dispute whether that freedom will apply in practice across the board, and whether it will be beneficial or disadvantageous. Others are understandably worried on religious grounds. I hope that I can deal even-handedly with those issues.

Since the 1950 Act, nearly 1 million more women are at work. Family activities have widened, and shops have become bigger. Many shops have moved from city centres to the edges of towns. For many families, Sunday is a day of rest and of family activity, so I have no doubt that, for the majority of consumers, the abolition of the Shops Act 1950 and the freedom to choose whether to shop on Sundays would be beneficial from the point of view of convenience and for another important reason: it will reinforce consumer power and stimulate competition in some, but not all, sectors of the market place.

Such a change would not greatly affect the character of the traditional Sunday, because, except in special cases, most households will not choose to do their major weekly household shopping on Sundays. They will continue to use their new freedom to carry out top-up food shopping at their local shops for convenience. They will not drive in their cars or take public transport to out-of-town or in-town centres to do minor top-up shopping. On the contrary, the corner shop will keep its trade and will have the added advantage of being able to offer its customer a wider range of goods on a fair, legal basis.

Those who have not chosen to take public transport, or to get into their cars, or who do not wish to shop on Sundays, will have the convenience of knowing that many necessities that they may have run out of in the home, garden or in do-it-yourself activities are available to them if they are willing to go out and get them. The real surge in Sunday shopping will be felt in the edge-of-town shops selling furniture, major domestic appliances, and do-it-yourself goods, and in garden centres.

The growth will arise in family shopping involving expensve purchases, in which the views of the whole family can be shared. However, these purchases will not take place every week and they will have repercussions elsewhere in the market place. Above all, I do not believe that a change in the Sunday opening laws will result in people flocking to town centres to do their shopping, or that many town centre shops will open on Sundays. I have observed Sunday opening in several states in the United States. The overall effects are minimal but variable, just as they would be in this country, according to different circumstances.

I regret that I cannot give way to my hon. Friend. I must get on with my speech.

For example, most of the major shops and department stores in the city centres of California do not open, but on the edge of the cities shopping malls and the larger drug stores open. In the centre of Chicago, where there has been major investment in a city centre mall, most of the shops open and do very well. Therefore, no precise comparisons can be made. The same variations will apply here, as they already do on Saturdays. One only has to walk around the west end of London on Saturdays to see that some department stores are open all day while others are open for half a day, and some shops do not open. They have gauged their market. They know what their viability niche is. I am of course not referring to those shops winch do not open on Saturdays for religious reasons.

I turn now to the effects upon traders of Sunday opening. The benefits and disadvantages for traders are not nearly so clear as they are for customers. Many traders, especially in the categories I have mentioned, will benefit, others will do so only marginally and some will lose. The corner shops will not lose. They are among the marginal gainers. Some shops, in particular the city centre multiple retailers, will have to open on seven days a week, but their turnover will be no higher than it is when trading on six days a week. They will have to open, because if they do not some of their customers will buy elsewhere on Sunday the goods that otherwise they would have bought from them during the week. This is a genuine concern of the Retail Consortium which cannot be dismissed. However, we should not allow this genuine objection to outweigh the benefits that Sunday opening would bring to the majority, nor should we exaggerate the significance of the increased costs. If local authority rates were to be kept lower all over the country it would wipe out any disadvantage for most of the major retailers.

As for the effects of Sunday opening upon those who work in shops and their future interests, I firmly believe that those interests must be protected, but not 5y wages councils, as the report recommends. Their protection should be enshrined in appropriate legislation and should be fair and equitable. It is only right and fair that those who have a conscientious objection to working on Sundays, or those who, for personal or family reasons, do not wish to work on Sundays should not be forced to do so. Their existing or potential jobs should not be endangered as a result. That is a fundamental prerequisite to any change in the law which should be enshrined in the law itself. On the other hand, traders, especially those whose costs will increase, should not be asked to pay part-time Sunday-only workers for eight hours when they work only two. That would be inequitable, would add to costs and would undermine the commercial viability of opening on Sunday.

The benefits of abolition will be more marginal than some people believe. Nevertheless, they will be significant. The disadvantages will be a good deal less than some prophets of doom foretell. I respect the views of those with strong religious convictions, but overriding everything is the need to get rid of a bad law and to uphold the great principles of fairness and freedom.

6.23 pm

The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) ended her speech by saying that we need to get rid of a bad law. The Act to which the Auld report refers has been on the statute book since 1950. If it had been so bad as the hon. Lady and certain other hon. Members have maintained, it is odd that neither of the two main parties that have formed Administrations during the last 35 years have done anything to get rid of it. Such attempts as have been made were left to private Members.

The motion standing in the name of the Prime Minister is one with which I disagree entirely. I regret that the Conservative party, which was regarded as the great bastion of religion in this nation, has accepted the recommendations of the Auld report. The amendment which stands in the name of the Leader of the Opposition is not much better. Although it regards legislation as desirable and essential, it carefully avoids the central issue and is almost as bad as the motion itself.

When he introduced the debate the Home Secretary said that he was a Minister for law and order. My forecast is that when the legislation eventually reaches the statute book there will be further disruption of law and order because of what will happen to the traditional observance of Sunday in this country. I find it offensive that those who would not work on Sundays, apart from washing their cars or working in their gardens, find it acceptable that others should work on Sundays as well as on the other days of the week. We are told that we must have Sunday trading for the benefit of tourists. Many tourists come from countries where they do not enjoy such facilities. If they come from countries which do not have Sunday trading, they observe what happens in this country. Do we have to alter what has been the tradition for generations just to suit tourists who may come here for only three weeks once in every 10 years? That is a ridiculous argument.

The consumer interest has been referred to on many occasions in this debate. Consumers are not demanding that shops should be open on Sunday. I challenge hon. Members to say whether their mail bags are full of letters from people who complain that they cannot buy goods on Sunday. No hon. Member can say that. There is no basis for that assertion.

No, I shall not give way, because of the time limit on speeches. I am restricted to 10 minutes.

I do not see the mail bag of every hon. Member, but while I have been a Member of Parliament I have received no request that shops should be open on Sunday. I do not believe that such a demand exists. The demand comes from Conservative Members. Non-religious bodies, such as the Trades Union Council, the Scottish Trades Union Council and the unions, are greatly opposed to Sunday trading. The British Council of Churches has also made its view clear on that point. The Auld report recommends that the regulation of shop hours should be abolished. This is a twin recommendation. Nobody who wished to implement it would implement one part of the recommendation without the other.

Why on earth is the right hon. Gentleman speaking against the abolition of Sunday opening when the Shops Act 1950 specifically exempted Scotland from clauses 32 to 52? There has been Sunday opening in Scotland ever since 1950, but the right hon. Gentleman has never included in his manifesto the promise that the law would be changed.

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows as well as I that when he goes through Scottish towns on Sunday he never sees shops open in the main street. Other restraints are placed upon Sunday opening in Scotland, apart from what might be on the statute book.

The recommendation is in two parts, which have to be considered together. In addition to the abolition of shop hours regulation, the Auld committee also said:
"we strongly urge the retention for retail workers of the machinery of the wages councils".
The one cannot be implemented without the other. All hon. Members know about the Government's attitude towards wages councils. I do not support the deregulation of shop hours. Many people object to the sweeping changes urged by the report, but agree that the 1950 Act is out of date in some ways and contains some anomalies. Some reform is needed, but there is no proven case for Sunday opening or for late-night opening.

It is all very well to talk about a shop owner's freedom of choice about when he should open. but if some in a trade decide to open late at night or on Sundays, most—not all—will have to follow. If each retailer is to maintain his share of the market and his credibility with his customers, he will be virtually forced to stay open as long and as late as the others. Deregulated trading hours will inevitably mean extended trading hours, which will result in increased costs to traders, which will be passed on to the consumers about whose interests we have heard so much.

The lack of Sunday trading in Scotland is the result of respect for the fourth commandment. There is a need for one day a week to be different and to be set aside for relaxation, rest and worship. The Church of England has been called the Conservative party at prayer, but if Conservative Members are whipped on the motion, the Church of England will be shutting up shop.

I do not believe that we are any longer a Christian society. It seems more like a pagan society. If the motion is passed, and is followed by legislation, the effects on the individual, the family and the nation will be disastrous.

6.31 pm

My main worry has concerned the position of existing workers in the retail trade who, for religious reasons or on conscience grounds, might not wish to be forced to work on Sunday and might fear that they would be discriminated against.

Therefore, I was particularly pleased to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary say that the only matter on which he disagreed with the Auld report was the protection of workers in the retail trade [HON. MEMBERS: "Existing workers."] Yes, that is exactly what my right hon. and learned Friend said. He was referring to paragraph 279 of the report:
"We explained in Chapter Four why we believe that existing shop employees might deserve greater protection against having to work on Sundays or late at night than those who enter the trade in the future, knowing of the likely requirements if our recommendations were to be adopted. Some of those now employed in shops would have religious objections to working on Sundays, and we believe that such objections deserve particular respect. Others might be equally unwilling to work on Sundays or late at night because of family or other commitments, and we believe that it would be wrong if they were forced to choose between such commitments and keeping their jobs."
I agree with that and I do not understand why the Auld committee adopted the attitude shown in the next two paragraphs. It refers to the law passed in Massachusetts in 1983:
"No employee … shall be required to perform such [Sunday] work, and refusal to work for any retail establishment on Sunday shall not be grounds for discrimination, dismissal. discharge, reduction in hours, or any other penalty."
I hope that the Home Secretary will use that law as a model for the Government's legislation. It seems to be eminently sensible. However, the Auld report said that, because the Massachusetts law had not been tested, it did not know how useful it had been. That was an extraordinary statement, because if the law has not been tested, that surely means that it has worked well and that there has been no need to test it.

I will read the bits that I want to read, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will disagree with those bits. The committee quotes in paragraph 281 the evidence given by the Bishop of St. Germans who said that he did not think that legislation on the lines of the Massachusetts law would work here. On the basis of the evidence of one bishop of the Church of England, who ought to be ashamed of himself, the committee says that it does not think that it would be a good idea to put such protection into our law. I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend has chosen to ignore that section of the report and I look forward with interest to seeing the Bill that is to be produced.

There are many other matters about which I am unhappy and on which I and, I am sure, other hon. Members will require much reassurance when a Bill is brought before us. However, on the vital question of the protection of workers, I thank the Home Secretary for his concession on the most important point that we should be discussing.

6.36 pm

I immediately declare an interest as vice-chairman of the co-operative group in the House and as an hon. Member sponsored by the co-operative movement. I hope that that sets a good example to all hon. Members in declaring their interests.

We must put the debate on Sunday trading into context. I do not believe that it is a debate merely about liberalising trade on Sunday. One needs to consider the matter in the light of the overall strategy of the Government since 1979 and of the people who control the Government. Most hon. Members have preferred the topic to remain in the area of individual conscience and private Members' Bills. We all know what has been the fate of those Bills over a long period. That traditional view has served us well, but now we see a change.

The Auld report made only two recommendations and the fact that one is completely ignored in the Government's motion ought to make the Opposition suspicious.

The first recommendation has been up taken with great enthusiasm by some members of the Government. I believe that many hon. Members on both sides of the House regarded the Home Secretary's speech today as pretty deplorable. The only highlights were the interventions. But it was not the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech; it had all the hallmarks of the Prime Minister's view.

The Government are searching frantically for new sacrifices on the altar of market freedom. Over the past six years, we have seen many sacrifices on that altar, and our traditional Sunday is to be the latest victim. Deregulation and simple solutions to complex problems are the hallmarks of the Prime Minister's thinking. Here we see a simplistic approach and the abolition of all controls. Does not that smack of the Prime Minister's view? Once again, the Prime Minister has got it wrong.

All hon. Members know that there is some middle ground on this issue. We all know that over the years society has altered. There are real anomalies, and there is a need for change. We also know that shopping patterns are different. Many of us would say that the anomalies could be ironed out by legislation and that a small expansion covering, perhaps, do-it-yourself shops and garden centres, could be considered. But the main thrust of the shops legislation could be kept intact.

I shall not give way. I am short of time.

The Auld report is very poor. The evidence given is quite contrary to the committee's conclusions. All the evidence shows that there should be a sensible reform of the legislation, which we could all agree on. However, three people have come up with the recommendation that all the legislation pertaining to shop hours and trading should be scrapped. There will be many casualties, including shop workers and not only their families but the families of transport workers and of people who are now to be forced to spend time apart when they should be together on a Sunday.

I shall not give way.

The complexities of modern life are dividing our families. Too often, families do not have the opportunity to gather together during the week, and this legislation will make it even more difficult for parents to see their children and for mothers, fathers and children to gather round the table or to gather in the church or chapel and to communicate with one another.

This proposal seriously underrates the long-term social damage that will be done to the fabric of the family and of the community. That has consequences, too, for law and order, vandalism and all the other things that worry us as legislators. But there can still be common ground if hon. Members of good will decide that this proposal is bad, and kick it out. Many hon. Members have derided what they call the traditional Sunday, and have described those of us who support and defend it as sabbatarians. That seems to be their common way of saying that we are do-gooders or kill-joys. That is apparently the trendy terminology for those of us who want to stick up for something that we believe to be right. I believe that the freedoms of workers, families and of those who want to live in peace on Sunday and who live near our urban shopping centres should be given some priority. But this Government, who give priority to the free market, to business and to their worship of Mammon, remind me of Oscar Wilde's reference to knowing
"the price of everything and the value of nothing".
A chain of unsatisfactory social consequences will flow from any such legislation and will make both it and the Government very unpopular. Indeed, they will be known as the Prime Minister and party who killed the British Sunday. It has been said that we should change our law because the tourists do not like it. Perhaps we should go further, and dress up in 17th century costume in order to appeal to them. Perhaps we should extend the way in which we appeal to tourists. Incidentally, I exempt you, Mr. Speaker, from those remarks and would never refer to you as part of the tourist industry.

We want a sensible and step-by-step approach that will protect shop workers and the traditional English Sunday. I have looked at the Conservative party's manifesto for 1983. The Prime Minister often tells us that her party has a mandate to abolish the GLC. However tenuous that argument maybe, she certainly has no mandate arising from that manifesto to change something as fundamental to British people as the British Sunday. The Government have no mandate to make such a change, and should not make it until they have one.

The change is so far-reaching that there must be a mandate. After all, it would fundamentally change the lives of shop workers and the nature of retail distribution in this country. I speak as someone who knows the co- operative side of the retail movement. Not in five, but in 10 or 15 years' time, we would see a complete change in the nature of our commercial life. Legislation would have a domino effect. No major retailer could afford to stay out once another retailer had opened on Sunday, and Sundays would become like every other day of the week. I do not believe that the British people want that.

The Auld report and the report of the Consumers Council show that the British people have never given their consent for such a drastic change, even in an opinion poll. The British Council of Churches made exactly the right comment in the introductory remarks to its booklet. With the exception of the document from the co-operative movement, that has probably been the best thing to come out of the past week's intensive period of lobbying. The BCC says:
"Our pattern of life in community has changed and the law needs revision to reflect those changes, but not to go far beyond them. Governments have a responsibility to see that such changes of the law are within an overall ethical framework which strengthens the community and safeguards the needs of its weakest members."
This proposal does not do that, and will make changes that are well beyond what is needed in this country today.

6.46 pm

That the present law is chaotic and full of anomalies none can deny. That this is undesirable one can only agree, but to sweep away all restrictions on shop opening hours, as the Auld report recommends, is no answer, as I shall endeavour to show.

Anomalies arise because certain goods are exempt under the existing law but not others. It is not necessarily a bad law, but it has not been properly administered or amended. Nevertheless, certain goods are exempt under the existing law forbidding Sunday sales, and these are listed in the fifth schedule to the 1950 Act. One way around the problem might be to extend the exemptions where a clear case could be established for so doing, or to remove some of the restrictions on weekday trading. But that would not justify the Auld report's conclusion that the removal of restrictions
"offers the best—indeed the only—way forward"—
an arrogant view—and that any adverse effects
"would be far outweighed by the substantial benefits".
That is a monstrous presumption, and I object most strongly to being summoned here under a three-line Whip ostensibly to support it. I can do no such thing. It would be a contradiction of everything that I have stood for and said in the House for many years and, furthermore, it would run counter to the facts.

I assert, as do many of my constituents who have taken the trouble to raise the matter with me, that one cannot weigh in the same scales commercial gain, even convenience to the shopper— which are the supposed advantages—and the social benefit of keeping Sunday as a day of rest, a day that is different from all others. One is simply not comparing like with like. For most people, even those who do not go to church—and many still do —Sunday is different.

I do not know about the rest of the country, but the fact that Sunday is different is welcome in south-east Essex. Its pace is slower. It is quieter. It is a time for relaxation, reflection and recuperation. It is a healing day, one for family togetherness, and for many it is the only day in the week for corporate worship.

Every one of us knows in his heart that physical and mental health requires at least one day a week set apart from the rest. There is no evidence that the nation wishes Sunday as we have known it to be abolished.

I hesitate to agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) in his strictures, but I have to say that no mention of legislation on these lines appeared in the Conservative party manifesto at the last election. I can recollect no mention of my party's intention to change the nature of Sunday. I recall no pledge to that effect at any time.

Since 1950, when the Shops Act was passed, some 13 attempts have been made to change the law, but they all failed. That shows that there is no support in the country for the sweeping changes now envisaged.

I shall not give way, because I am subject to the ten-minutes rule.

Let us consider the impact of the proposals on family life. It could be profound and damaging. Young and Wilmott found in a survey in Greater London that 52 per cent. of shift workers and 34 per cent. of weekend workers said that work interfered with home and family life, while only 27 per cent. of other workers did. On the one day that men are most likely to be at home, many wives will be out at work. Some 66 per cent. of retail workers are women and many of them are married. The point which needs to be underlined is that work on Sunday, whether by father, mother or teenager, reduces the possibility of the members of the family doing things together.

Take the effect on shop workers. The report concedes that,
"while some people are obviously happy to work on Sundays, others are not",
that there might be difficulty in getting sufficient volunteers, and that pressure might be applied on unwilling employees, with refusal to work on Sundays leading to dismissal or prejudiced promotion prospects. Constituents have told me that that is what they fear and I have no doubt that other right hon. and hon. Members have been told the same. Pressure on shop workers to work on Sundays would be difficult to monitor.

Let us consider the effect upon communities and consumers. Retail outlets will be open for longer, but because the turnover available to support retail enterprises will hardly rise at all — no one contests that — the number of outlets is likely to decline. Fewer outlets generally will mean fewer nearby outlets for those who find it hard to travel. I refer particularly to the old, the sick and those on low incomes. Fewer outlets will mean fewer local shops. That is a consequence that should be measured.

Let us consider the impact on church life. Congregations will be fragmented. Some people who would like to attend the main service of the week on a Sunday morning will be unable to do so because they will be required to work. It will rarely be possible for the church members in any one area to gather together as a whole. Church attendance will be made more difficult.

Let us weigh the effects—

No. I have already explained why. No one in the House is less fearful than I of standing up to criticism or intervention. I am simply obeying the Chair's ruling, and my hon. and learned Friend knows that. I hope that that intervention will be deducted from the time allotted to me.

Let us weigh the effects of the proposition on the trading community itself. Frequent references have been made in the debate to the economic review by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. That makes it plain that the tangible economic benefits of permitting Sunday trading are negligible. Retail turnover will rise almost not at all. In the short term, unit costs in retail industry will rise. The effect might well be upward pressure on prices. Alternatively, retail profit margins might be squeezed.

In practice, both those effects may be experienced. That will accelerate the decline in the number of small retailers. Employment will suffer. The institute estimates that in the short term the equivalent of 5,000 full-time jobs will be lost and that in the long term 20,000 will be lost. Because of part-time working, the number employed might rise in the short term and fall in the long term.

The Auld committee's argument is that people on both sides of the market want to trade and that it would be wrong in a free society for us to prevent them from doing so. That argument is totally unconvincing.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies notes:
"it might pay many individual retailers to open on Sundays even though it would pay all retailers collectively to shut on Sundays, and it is very likely that this is in fact the case."
As one of my constituents who wrote to me recently remarked, at a football stadium the first person who stands up has a better view, but soon everyone stands. The net result is that no one's view is improved but that everyone ends by standing instead of sitting.

I take note of the Auld report. I do not accept the case for legislation to remove the restrictions on shop hours. I regret that the Government contemplate introducing legislation to remove those limitations, and I shall vote accordingly.

6.57 pm

Those who favour Sunday trading make much of the anomalies that have arisen from the Shops Act 1950, but, given the extent to which the face of retailing has changed since the war, it is not surprising that such anomalies should have arisen. I know of no one on either side of the debate who would not agree that we should deal with the anomalies. However, do we really require seven-days-a-week shopping to do that?

The dynamic that has changed the face of retailing has been fierce, uncompromising, unrelenting, no-quarter- given competition. The number of retail outlets has declined from more than 500,000 in 1961 to 472,000 in 1971 and to less than 350,000 in 1981. The trend continues.

The number of independent grocers fell from 86,000 to 47,000 between 1971 and 1981. The proportion of national income devoted to spending in the shops has declined from 46 per cent. to 36 per cent. since the war, yet the Home Secretary speculated irresponsibly about the possibility, not of a 2 per cent. increase in that proportion on spending in the retail sector, but of a 5 per cent. increase. He is not in touch with the realities of the retail sector.

Pressure continues to concentrate in order to achieve economies of scale. Above all, the incentive is to retain the market share. Is it not arguable that concentration will accelerate under fiercer competition and that competition will be stimulated by longer shopping hours and Sunday trading? Those who say that shops need not open must be unaware of what has happened to the retail trade since the war.

The steady change in the pattern of retailing and the growth of superstores and hypermarkets have already had serious consequences, not only for the corner store but for disabled people and old-age pensioners. It is interesting to note how old people and others in rural communities have reacted differently from the rest of society—according to recent opinion surveys — as the car-borne shopper predominates and public transport becomes more costly and less frequent. Not only is the small shop under pressure, but USDAW is properly concerned about those trends and their effect on its members.

Irrespective of which side of the argument we support, none of us can fail to respond to the appealing speech of the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). I am proud of his stand on this topic. We must all share his concern about the effect of these proposals on the quality of life as so many of our precious social values come under strain and are eroded.

The Auld committee considered the traditional character of Sunday and accepted that widespread Sunday trading would probably
"affect the traditional character of the day."
It believes that the tradition of Sunday as a day of little activity outside the home and the church has lolg gone. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have already rejected that view. The resolution passed by the Free Church Federal Council and the British Council of Churches in March last year said that there was a social need for Sunday to be a day for the family to be together.

The Auld committee said of retailers that if, following deregulation, Sunday opening occurred on a wide scale, there was a risk that some small shops, and the weaker units among the multiples, would be unable to compete and would have to close.

Many small shops survive only because they are family businesses, because they open all hours and because there is less control of the wages they pay their employees— but the social costs that the families must endure are enormous.

It was difficult to listen to the peroration of the Home Secretary and not think that he was really seeking a free- for-all. The Auld committee said that, although the evidence by USDAW and other organisations representing shop workers is against having to work on Sundays, those retailers who work on Sundays report no difficulty in finding staff willing to work.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) mentioned the impact of Sunday working on staff and on the current composition of the retail trade. Many of its workers are women, a high proportion of whom are married. There will be a considerable impact on their family lives.

The Auld committee commented on shoppers and said that there was an argument that additional shop opening hours would lead to greater demand upon public services. But it did not believe that there would be any great increase in public spending on public services. There will be greater recourse to weights and measures legislation, health and hygiene legislation, the Sale of Goods Act 1979, the Fair Trading Act 1973, the Trades Description Act, wages councils orders and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963.

Scotland has been cited, and we shall hear more about that from my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). Factors prevailing in Scotland are unique, so we cannot compare like with like.

The Home Secretary argued that prices would not be affected by Sunday trading. When corner shops have closed and competition is reduced, price movements will undoubtedly reflect costs and rise. I refer those who believe that the proposals will lead to the creation of jobs to the findings of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Some say that the current law is unsatisfactory because of social and economic changes, but to seek to scrap it altogether is defeatism. Everyone in retail trading fears that the proposals will mean a widespread extension of Sunday trading. Such a development would be detrimental not only to small shopkeepers and their families, USDAW members and other involved in the retail sector, but to those who have gained hitherto. I refer to the vast majority of the population who have Sunday as a day of rest or for corporate worship.

The proposals will have far-reaching implications for the flavour and rhythm of life in Britain. They will encourage the growing secularisation of the sabbath and make for a further erosion of Christian standards. When Sunday is an ordinary shopping day, it may become an ordinary working day for many people in addition to those employed in the retail sector.

Can we not have one day off? Must all the seven days now become the same because, in the words of David Lipsey in The Sunday Times yesterday:
"Reform of laws to allow Sunday trading, epitomises what Mrs. Thatcher's government is supposed to be about."?

7.6 pm

Unlike some of my hon. Friends and most Opposition Members, I welcome the Government's motion. I also welcome the whipping because it is a new interpretation of whipping—when there is a three-line Whip, we have only to be here; it is no longer a question of what one does. That should be welcomed by Back Benchers on both sides of the House.

I am reassured by the condemnation of the Auld report by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). It sounded as though he was talking about any piece of Conservative legislation, and if he condemns the report in that manner, it must be right.

The Auld report, which nobody has yet praised, is clear, concise and sensible. The removal of limitations on shopping hours and on Sunday trading is long overdue. I do not, however, welcome the absolute certainty that appears to underlie so many of the speeches about the dire future for those who work in shops or wish to shop at later hours or on Sundays. I want to put forward some tentative thoughts on some of the points made.

Underlying the Government's intentions in welcoming the report and promising legislation is the increased choice that it will give. It is difficult to measure a hypothesis that does not yet exist, either by opinion polls or by voting behaviour — and that was measured many years ago, before the introduction of commercial television. However, the report mentions a research measurement on page 193, table E2. It clearly shows that two thirds of people are in favour of changes in the hours and the days during which shops are allowed to open.

I do not believe that we should take that research measurement literally. It is one of the essential elements of our membership of this place not only to listen to majorities and interpret their wishes but to protect minorities. Therefore, I question the Government's denial of the second half of the report. while welcoming the Home Secretary's reassurance about the protection of minorities working in shops.

The claim by some Labour Members that there would be a decline in jobs if Sunday opening were permitted bears investigation. The Auld report uses the phrase "full-time equivalent" through its pages, though sadly, in small print buried in the report, is the view that up to 5,000 additional employment opportunities could be created by Sunday trading, with increased turnover of £300 million. That is nothing to be sniffed at when people are pressing the Government to take steps to improve the economy and employment opportunities.

On the technical, as against the sociological side, is the argument of the risk of the eventual diminution of choice in that, by extending Sunday opening to embrace all shops, some might be forced out of business because they could not, or would not open on Sundays. That is unlikely. In the village in Sussex where I live, because the locally owned food shop opens on Sundays, the local Spar shop, which is part of a network, has to open also to meet that competition. There will therefore be more encouragement for shops to open where such trading is seen to be needed to meet local desires.

On the sociological side, much reference is made to the erosion of the traditional British Sunday. That is an emotive phrase, and I agree that we should all be justifiably proud of that tradition if it still existed.

Contrary to that intervention by my hon. Friend, it does not exist with the same tradition as we associate with it. Cinemas are open, television is on and sport and recreation are taking place. Indeed, recreation is encouraged. Public services are provided. People man the telephones and offer taxi services and some still offer on Sundays, to a lesser degree than most of us would wish, train services. Indeed, it was greatly deplored, certainly on these Benches, when the Sunday collections and preparations for postal deliveries were withdrawn.

In those countries — I embrace in this remark, I assure my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn), the area north of the border —where Sunday opening is allowed, there has been no diminution of family cohesion and family worship. Many hon. Members have visited the United States and reference has been made to laws that have been passed in Massachusetts. There is hardly a place—there may be no place — in the United States where there are not much more liberal laws allowing trading on Sundays. There is also hardly a place—there may be no place—in America where family churchgoing is not more prevalent than it is in Britain.

The two march together. The family unit does different things nowadays. Families do not just sit at home and play games. They go out to play them. They do not stay at home and garden. In addition to doing that, they go to the garden centre to buy the plants with which to do the gardening. Nor do they stay at home doing jobs about the house. They go to the DIY stores to buy the drills, wood, nails, even the furniture, with which to live a fuller life in the home.

There is no substantiation, except terrified theorising, of any underlying desirable effects on family life of Sunday trading. If there is a germ of possibility that I am right in my contention, who are we to tell everybody in every town and hamlet in Britain how to live their lives on one day of the week?

We are not saying that shops must open or that people must go shopping. We are talking of the possibility of a permissive law to allow people to go shopping as well as going to church, to go shopping as well as working in their homes, to go shopping or to do the things on the day that they want to do them with the people closest to them—the members of their families.

7.15 pm

When I first came into the House, the late Nye Bevan, apart from warning us of the green acres of boredom, gave me and others new to the place some extremely good advice. He said, "I am afraid that you new Members will have to learn to stand up and make speeches when most of the points that you wanted to make will have been made far more effectively by previous speakers."

In this case, I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), to my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) and for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) for giving a comprehensive analysis of the subject. That is more than can be said of the speech of the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), who began by saying that no references had been made to the Auld report. All hon. Members who have spoken have mentioned it, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton dealt with two chapters of it.

I must at the outset declare my interest. I am a co-op sponsored Member. Many hon. Members whom I regularly call my hon. Friends may not know that I belong to a separate political party which is in coalition with the Labour party, and that has been the case since 1926.

Hon. Members have received a large amount of correspondence and have been lobbied by interests of all shapes and forms. The one that I have appreciated the most has come from the Lord Bishop of Willesden, the Right Reverend Geoffrey Hewlett Thompson, who sent me some extremely interesting propositions following an examina- tion of the issue by his synod.

The document that he sent me was not in the least sabbatarian. It recognised the whole concept of community life and dealt with what would happen— apart from the religious impact — if the Auld recommendations were implemented and the shops law was abolished. It referred to an outgoing community becoming an ingoing one, with less pressure being applied to the way in which we used our leisure, with less of it. Obviously that is a problem that we should face if we had a seven day working week, with the rat race not ending after five and a half days for shop workers.

The co-operative movement has always been the champion of the housewife and consumer, and I shall deal with the aspects of the report that deal with the consumer. It emerges immediately from a reading of the report, and from a re-reading of the debate in February 1983 on the private Member's Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) — sufficient hon. Members turned up on that occasion to make the Friday debate viable—that two aspects must be taken carefully into account.

The first is that there is a section of consumers for whom convenience is an important point. Against that, however, must be put the power of the purse. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have said that the inevitable consequence of Sunday opening must be increased costs of retail distribution. Those increased costs must be passed on, and finally they come out of the housewife's purse.

The Auld committee looked too much at the convenience aspect, although I agree that that must be borne in mind—for example, for the large number of married women who go out to work. Against that, however, must be placed the inevitable consequence of the economic pressures on family spending that would result in increased prices.

Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) referred to the issue of freedom of conscience, and the Home Secretary dealt with that. I suppose that I am the only Member who knows anything about conscientious objection, because I was a conscientious objector. I realise that in this debate we have been presented with inadequate blanket phrases, especially for those who could be affected by the proposal to work on Sundays. There are many disparate reasons that will cause a considerable number to feel it wrong that they should have to work on Sunday. They will take that view on religious grounds and many others. I accept that there can be safeguards for those who are already in work, but if someone wants to work as a shop assistant and he or she states in applying for a job an unwillingness to work on Sundays, that person will not get the job. If the recommendations in the Auld report are implemented, such an applicant will not be successful.

I am profoundly disturbed about the plight of low-paid workers. Tremendous pressure is building up on the Government Benches against wages councils in general. Therefore, it was the second recommendation in the report which found favour with me. The committee realised that retail employees formed one of the lowest paid sectors of the working population. It recognised that they needed to be protected by a wages council and that the relevant council should be preserved. Indeed, it recommended that the inspectorate should be strengthened and improved so that the retail sector will receive the same protection, whatever follows the Auld report.

Experience tells us that the lowest paid need the greatest protection. Those engaged in retail distribution have traditionally always been, with agriculture workers, at the bottom of the heap. Whatever else happens, it is vital that we retain for them the present safeguards. Estimates of job losses have been bandied about the Chamber. I have considered the figures of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and other organisations, including the Retail Consortium, and it seems that if the proposed Sunday working is put into effect we shall have another turn of the unemployment screw.

It is true that there is much part-time work in retail distribution. If there are fewer full-time workers, there will be a greater burden upon the state when it is called upon to provide social security payments and unemployment benefit. We often fail to take into account the social consequences and costs of changes in employment patterns. I have watched the Government pursue economic policies that lead to the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer. We exist in an economic jungle and the rich and powerful have the means to protect themselves, but those on low wages need the protection that the House can provide for them. Therefore, the second recommenda- tion in the Auld report is vital.

It has been accepted generally that the 1950 Act needs changing. Social and economic circumstances have changed. However, that does not justify the Home Secretary's callous approach of scrapping the previous legislation because of the complications that would arise if we tried to amend it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has adopted a defeatist approach and one that the House should reject wholeheartedly.

Change there must be, but there is no need for abolition. The parliamentary draftsmen are more than capable of introducing changes that will have the desired effect while preserving what is best in our family, cultural and social life within the community. We can preserve what is best in our traditions and habits while making the adjustments that are necessary to meet the changes that have taken place. There have been many changes since 1950 and it is clear that they must be reflected in legislation.

I began my speech by referring to the synod and I shall bring my remarks to a close by referring to it again. I ask the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) to reflect upon the quotation that I am about to submit to the House, as his constituency and mine come under the same bishop. The synod stated:
"We acknowledge that the provisions of part IV of the 1950 Act are unjustifiably anomalous, widely disregarded and unenforced, and we are greatly concerned that the law is being brought into disrepute."
I do not have time to read the four pertinent and practical suggestions that follow. However, the synod added:
"space therefore needs to be made in the pattern of community life for people simply to be, and to cultivate truly personal relationships in which people seek to know one another for their own sakes rather than as a means to acquisition."
I hope that the House will agree with that sentiment and that, when subsequent legislation comes before it, it will be scrutinised with the utmost care.

7.26 pm

Sunday occupies a special place in the Christian religion and there is a tendency to regard all objections to Sunday trading as matters only of conscience. My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip has said that he will extend his indulgence to his right hon. and hon. Friends who feel compelled to vote against the motion on grounds of conscience, but no such indulgence is offered to those who oppose the motion on its merits. I am opposed to the motion on grounds of conscience and also because I believe that the Government are making a terrible mistake in seeking to push through changes in Sunday trading. The Government are guilty of a disastrous error of judgment which has political as well as religious overtones and they will pay dearly for it.

No one seriously disputes that the law governing Sunday trading is in need of reform. However, few people want Sunday to be like any other day of the week. The removal of all restrictions on Sunday trading, as recommended by the Auld committee, is bound to have that effect, because it is largely in the restriction on trading on Sundays that the day gets its special character.

A wise Government, especially one who claim to have respect for Victorian values, would seek to avoid such a result. Who can doubt that we all benefit from the weekly pause in the rhythm of everyday life? That pause—the enforced rest, the quietness, the opportunity for recreation and time to be with one's family, in the special character of Sunday that has been brought about in Britain—has been an essential part of the British way of life for centuries. It helps to keep us all sane.

In the. past few decades our pace of life has quickened. Urban society has grown more complex and noisy and there is more mental stress in everyday life than ever before. We need the pause that Sunday provides. We need the extra breathing space more than ever before. It is a basic human need that is recognised by the great religions of the world, the wisdom of the ages and sheer common sense.

What is the argument about? Why do do we need wholesale change in the law? To be fair to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, he does not base his case on the allegedly beneficial effects of unrestricted trading on Sundays. The objectives of those who do so base their case are entirely materialistic and irrespective of public good. The reason given by my right hon. and learned Friend for his support of the abolition of restrictions is the state of the law. I accept that the law is confused, and confusion exists because it is not evident to the public why one item may be sold on Sundays while another which is not greatly different may not. This leads naturally to resentment of the law and the inclination to break it. That attitude is taken because it is regarded as a foolish law. There follows a disinclination to enforce it and, ultimately, contempt for all law. We all agree that we should avoid that at all costs.

That is the case of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, but does it follow that the remedy is to abolish all restrictions? The Auld report is disappointing in this respect. It pays too little regard to the desirability of retaining our traditional Sunday and too much regard to anomalies in the law. Abolition is not the only answer. It is not right to abandon what has always been accepted as part of the British way of life. It is possible to strike a balance between the commercial and the truly public interest. All we need is a logical, and obviously logical, statement in our law of what goods may be sold on Sunday and who may trade on Sunday. This is the task which my right hon. learned Friend the Home Secretary and the Auld committee faced, and they funked it. They chose the easy way out. They found the task too difficult, so they surrendered to the commercial and libertarian lobbies, believing that the sabbatarians, the Christian churches and the trade unions were in retreat.

I was not surprised by the Auld committee's conclusions. They were predictable, considering the way the wind was blowing. I was however surprised that the Government thought it right to force this measure through on a three-line Whip. As if they had not enough enemies already, within and without, they seem determined to alienate a sizeable part of the electorate who hold deep-rooted beliefs about Sunday trading and have hitherto given the Government solid support. These include small traders, shop workers and small business people. They include also many people with a Christian conscience about Sunday. Nowadays, we may not all subscribe to the Christian faith and the Christian church may no longer be entitled, because of dwindling support, to the special position it occupies in the state. But those of us who are still adherents of the Christian faith will fight strongly for it to keep its position and influence in our national life.

As I understand it, the Christian argument for the maintenance of respect for the fourth commandment in our law is that it is positively good, in the scheme of things as God created it, to have a day set apart for rest and recreation and family life. This is so, if not just because it is one of the ten commandments, then because it is for the good of society and sanity and, indeed, employees.

A Government who seek to undermine one of the ten commandments do so at their peril, for they are abandoning Christian morality as the basis of their actions. As Lord Devlin said in the Maccabean lectures in 1965:
"A state which refuses to enforce Christian beliefs has lost the right to enforce Christian morals".
If the report is accepted, there are likely to be further encroachments on the Christian position in our society.

I am sorry, but I do not have sufficient time to give way.

If we destroy the traditional Christian Sunday, how long will it be before compulsory religious education disappears from our schools? Will some other Secretary of State appoint some other Robin Auld to say that, because it is so widely disregarded, the requirement for morning worship in schools must be abandoned and section 25 of the Education Act 1944 repealed? I hope that the Government will think carefully before going further along that path.

In February 1983 a private Member's Bill proposed to do what the Auld committee recommends we should do now. The Bill was defeated on a free vote by 205 votes to 106. I abstained because I thought that some reform of the law was needed to eliminate anomalies, but 41 of my hon. Friends had no such qualms. They voted against the Bill as it stood.

Tonight, all my hon. Friends are summoned to be here. How will those 41 vote this time? Will they fall into line behind the Home Secretary? Those of us who will not are good Conservatives upon whom the Government have relied in foul weather as well as fair. We believe that this time the Government are simply and absolutely wrong. We are not prepared to accept dictation in a matter of this kind. I hope that all those who voted against the Whitney Bill in 1983, and many more besides, will join me in the No Lobby tonight.

7.35 pm

I have long prevaricated and equivocated on this issue, to such an extent that I am fed up with my own indecision. I have generally kept my head down, as one does when the arguments are irreconcilable. I have been pulled both ways by an instinct for liberalisation and change and yet also by a desire to protect the small shopkeeper, the co-operatives and the standards and conditions of shop workers, as well as a general conservative instinct, which naturally is strong in the Labour party, to preserve our way of life on Sunday for sociological, if not religious, reasons.

I decided tonight that sentimentality is not enough, that the time has come to choose, that we cannot hold back the tide — to give three platitudes — and that we face essentially a straight choice, as the Home Secretary said, between deregulation and the present mess. The House had dithered on this issue for far too long, and 19 Bills show the extent of that dithering.

There is no possible compromise between deregulation and the present mess. I do not see any way of deciding that shops should be kept open on the basis of their size. There is no possibility of including some sections of business while excluding others, opening some sections of a supermarket and closing others. I see no middle ground, except the hypocrisy in which we are involved. Once one starts trying to define a middle ground, there is no possibility of agreement.

I must plump for deregulation. I shall, therefore, vote for the Government's motion—on three grounds. First, the present position is a mess, as has been admitted on all sides. Enforcement of trading hours depends not only on the will of the local authority but, often, on the pressure that is brought to bear on that authority. Some authorities reluctantly enforce the regulations, while others do not. Unpredictability brings the law into disrepute. It is a mess of follies, fines, fiddles and fuss which is untenable.

Secondly, the public want an extension of hours and trading on Sunday. All the poll evidence shows this. One must go with the evidence of the polls, which give an overall opinion, not with the pressure of individual fanatics and people with strong feelings. We serve the community and by acting in favour of Sunday trading and deregulation, we are giving the people what they want. Indeed, we are giving the people something for which they have already voted with their feet, their cheque books, their credit cards and their cash.

Thirdly, it is wrong for a minority of any type, religious or otherwise — indeed, in the case of the religious minority, it is a "minority of that minority", as Bishop Gummer, of Suffolk, Coastal has pointed out — to impose their wishes, attitudes and inhibitions on other people. They wish to impose the inhibitions and attitudes of a way of life of 50 years ago and do so by bringing the law into disrepute. They can impose their wishes only by making other people law breakers in a totally undesirable fashion. It is even more undesirable for the Scots, who have freedom, to come down here and attempt to dictate what controls we should have in this country.

Those of us who are taking part in the debate are white, not representing Pakistani shopkeepers. Most of us are male, and do not represent the bulk of shoppers. The only exception is my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) who, I know, is a Stakhanovite shopper. Thus our contributions are unrepresentative of the attitudes of the community.

I support the Government. If anything could have put me off, it was the speech of the Home Secretary, with his equivocation on wages councils. It is essential that the Government commit themselves to retaining wages councils in this area. That is a strong recommendation of the Auld report. If the Government carried out that recommendation, there would be much support for the measure by the Opposition, because our principal concern is about the wages and conditions of shop workers. The Government should have been magnanimous and big- hearted enough to say that they would commit themselves to the retention of wages councils, which can enforce the proper conditions.

The conscience provision should also be extended, because the industry has a rapid turnover, with new people coming in all the time. It should be extended to all employees, to give them the right not to work on Sundays if their conscience dictates. The protection of pay and conditions should be built in.

I shall support the measure because I believe in competition. It will stimulate business and increase trade. It will stimulate the economy as a whole. Therefore, the predictions of the Institute for Fiscal Studies about job losses will not be borne out. I believe that Sunday trading and the extension of hours adds to the gaiety of life and the convenience of the consumer. It adds to the opportunities for the family. People may say that the morbidity, boredom and dullness of the traditional English Sunday brings the family together— [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak for yourself."] All my family can do on a traditional English Sunday is go for a walk on Cleethorpes front, which is not the most exciting form of activity.

I believe in opening up opportunities for the family to shop together, as well as the opportunities for the working wife. Let us not forget that 57 per cent. of married women work. There are also opportunities for the shift worker and for those who cannot shop in normal shopping hours. My predecessor as Member of Parliament for Grimsby wrote in "The Future of Socialism" in 1956 that we needed more open-air cafes, brighter and gayer streets at night, later closing hours, and so on ad infinitum. That means giving the kiss of life to Sunday, not keeping it as a dead day of closed shops, miserable streets, furtive law breaking and total hypocrisy. Let us have the choice. That is what the implementation of the Auld report will give us.

I do not know whether the change that the report brings will be drastic. Personally, I hope it is, because I should like to reinvigorate Sunday and give new life to it. In implementing the report, we shall allow choice as to whether the change is drastic to those to whom it properly belongs—to the consumer, the shopper and those who want to use the choice. We should do that rather than impose it on them. I believe that that is right.

7.43 pm

I like Sundays even though they deprive me of the company of most of my hon. Friends. They allow me to go home and have a peaceful time with my family.

Having looked into the background of the debate, I have a considerably enhanced appreciation of and gratitude towards the 17,000 to 19,000 employees of London Transport, the 30,000 to 40,000 manual workers in local authorities, the 22,000-plus flight staff of British Airways, the 16,000 staff in the fire services, the 60,000 staff of British Rail and the 26,000 staff of the Central Electricity Generating Board, who are among the hundreds of thousands of people who make it possible for me and my family to enjoy our Sunday. Sunday seems to be traditional only in the Victorian sense that the Victorian Sunday was carried on the backs of a large number of people who worked so that the rest could enjoy the Sunday that has passed into legend.

In that catalogue of people to whom I feel gratitude, I should have mentioned the unascertainable number of police who spend their Sundays shepherding those of us who choose to spend our family day marching through the streets, in order to avoid threats to public order. I should also have mentioned all the people who are busily preparing Monday's newspapers.

It seems to me that faith is a matter of seven days a week. Already, many of us spend part of our Sunday in church, at our own choice, but it is also true that many of the churches are moving towards meeting their members outside the confines of Sunday. It is a poor church that relies on the shops being closed to attract a congregation. Although he has left his place, I am sure that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) would not rely on that in his other capacity.

Modifications are possible. In Massachusetts, to which much reference has been made, trading on Sundays does not start until 12 noon. That is a compromise to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary might care to give his attention.

Does not my hon. Friend accept that in Massachusetts they have enshrined in law the right of a man not to work on Sunday? That matter has worried many of us deeply.

I entirely accept that. The right of people not to work on Sundays and not to be put under that pressure is important.

Sunday has also been described as the family day. I am unclear as to exactly what is meant by "the family day", but one thing that is certain is that many families enjoy shopping together. I happen to believe that simple Christian slogan that "the family that prays together stays together". I also believe that it may be possible that the family that shops together stops together.

However, it is true that life is changing anyway. The hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and fÓr Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) are entirely wrong to attribute any Machiavellian motives to the Government. However, they may be right that such things as five and six-shift, working are altering the shape of the working week. So are flexitime and shorter working hours. All those things will make it easier for families to choose how best to coincide. If, as a long-term result, the difference between Sunday remuneration and that for other days gradually disappears, that will be no bad thing. It would also be a good thing if overtime and double time eventually disappeared.

As the vice-chairman of the Small Business Bureau and editor of its newspaper Small Business, I have heard the fears of many small traders. I believe that they are grossly exaggerated. In Sweden, Sunday opening has led to the development of some 2,000 convenience stores. In the United Kingdom we already have less than 25 per cent. of the number of convenience stores which United States experience suggests we should expect if our small business proprietors were as energetic and optimistic as their peers overseas.

Disgraceful practices such as discriminatory discounts, which this Government of ours are far too slow to tackle, are a menace, but Sunday shopping is not one of the perils hanging over the small shop. The Swedish food retailers have said that free hours have proved to be a competitive tool for the small retailer. I believe that it would be the same here.

I bring to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary a minor but important point, which was first brought to my attention by the Kent Association of Small Shopkeepers. If there is a relaxation of trading hours, the Post Office must be expected to change its regulations governing the rules on sub-post offices which, at the moment, are required by those rules to stay open during normal shopping hours. They should be able to shut on any day of the week.

We are not talking about shops staying open seven days a week. Shops should be able to choose when to open, within the spectrum of the seven days. People do not want shops to be open for seven days a week; they want to know when they will be open, and they want them to be open at convenient times.

Many shopkeepers may find that closing the shop on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday will be better for them and for the public, and will give them the opportunity to enjoy leisure facilities when they are not overcrowded.

We owe our local authorities a clarification of the law. They detest being required to enforce a law that, if the experience of my local garden centre is anything to go by, the public holds in total contempt.

7.51 pm

The hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) gave away one of the real reasons for the Government's enthusiasm for this report. He said that he—and no doubt the Government too—want to do away with time and a half and double time, and to make the wages for each day of the week exactly the same.

I declare an interest as a Co-operative Member. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh.") To the hon. Gentlemen who made those sheep-like noises and to the Minister, I should like to say that I have had, and retain, a strong commitment against Sunday opening irrespective of that fact. If I had had no such conviction, the shallow and spurious arguments and the tendentious and biased polemic in the report would have convinced me.

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

No. The Minister will have an opportunity to reply later on.

The members of the committee seem to have decided on their conclusion in advance and then gone out of their way to justify that conclusion with arguments rather than facts or evidence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said, the first conclusion is not supported by evidence. There is no ovenvhelming public—

I shall deal with Scotland. The hon. and learned Gentleman is behaving in his usual tendentious way.

There is no overwhelming public demand for Sunday shopping. The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) challenged hon. Members to prove that there was an overwhelming demand and, as we expected, there was no reply. The majority of retailers strongly favour the retention of controls on Sunday shopping. I therefore found it disappointing that the Retail Consortium, in its letter to us, did not make that clear.

The Auld committee deals, first, with anomalies. We had expected to hear clever speeches about bibles on the one hand and pornographic books on the other—about gin and dried milk—and we heard them. However, we had not expected to hear them from the Home Secretary.

The anomalies could be dealt with without scrapping the controls completely. We can certainly accept rational exemptions, as in the case of airports. However, there are anomalies in the law in many other areas. Food put up for sale as pet food is subject to VAT at the standard rate, but if the label of a food makes no reference to pets, it may be regarded as a zero-rated animal feeding stuff. Pies and pasties sold hot are subject to VAT at the standard rate but if sold cold may be zero-rated. There are many anomalies in the application of VAT. However, although such action would certainly be more welcome than the present proposals, we do not expect the Government to abolish VAT.

The second argument in the Auld report is that the current legislation is too complicated. Amazingly, the report states that the law is not easy for lawyers to understand or interpret. That is a characteristic of most legislation, and I thought that difficult legislation was popular with the lawyers. In any case, to suggest that because the law needs simplification it should be abolished is somewhat drastic.

Some hon. Members have referred to Scotland. Paragraph 243 of the report states:
"The most frequently cited comparison is Scotland… the pattern of Sunday opening in England and Wales under de- regulation would not necessarily be the same. Scotland is a predominantly rural country, with few large shopping centres outside Edinburgh and Glasgow, and with more strongly rooted religious traditions of Sunday observance. Moreover, many of its larger shops are operated by companies whose headquarters are in England. Some may have remained shut on Sunday because their English based managements have geared all their retailing to their trading patterns south of the border… De-regulation of opening hours in England and Wales might prompt a new look at Sunday trading there"—
in Scotland—
"as well."
The majority of people would agree with Auld that Scotland is different and that, for the reasons put forward in Auld, we have not seen a rash of Sunday opening there. However, if there is Sunday opening in England and Wales, all our shops will open. Auld says so, but Auld does not draw the right conclusions.

Scotland is the most quoted example, although it contradicts the Auld conclusions, but Scotland is not the example that the Government are following. They are following the example of the United States of America. I am fed up with suggestions that, like the United States, we should deregulate in every way. I have been to the United States many times. I do not like the American Sunday. I like the traditional British Sunday.

My hon. Friends have expressed many worries about the wages councils. Not only is that second recommendation of the report not to be implemented, but many speeches and statements have made it clear that the Government intend to get rid of the wages councils.

I should like to say a few words about the quality of the British Sunday. I speak not as a practising Christian but as an hon. Member who represents a large number of practising Christians and who respects their views. I wish that the hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the chairman of the Conservative party, had the courage of his convictions. I do not believe that he really supports the legislation. I believe that, as in many instances, he has been sat on by a certain lady.

I respect strong religious convictions. In 1961 the Crathorne committee referred to the special character of Sunday. The Auld report quotes the words of Bishop Hugh Montefiore:
"it gives space in the midst of a busy week, and it acts as a marker in the rhythm of everyday life."
The hon. Member for Mid-Kent referred to journalists, television producers, taxi drivers and others who have to work on Sundays. The fact that certain people have to work on Sunday is no argument for legislating to end the traditional Sunday for the shop workers and the rest of us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) agrees. It is said in the report, and has been repeated this evening, that shopping is a leisure activity. I have a wife and three children and I have been shopping with them. Do we call that a leisure activity? I have read several of those books the titles of which begin. "The Joy of'. If my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), great author that he is, wrote a book entitled "The Joy of Shopping", it would not be a best seller. My joy is the joy of Sunday with the kids and no toyshops open. Is that not marvellous? None of the pressure to buy, buy, buy.

I reject Auld, the co-operative movement rejects it and I hope that the House will. It is amazing that the Government are being pressurised into legislation such as this by illegal and renegade do-it-yourself shops and garden centres. That is where the pressure is coming from.

It is not coming from the public. Is it not appalling that DIY shops and garden centres should decide the law of the United Kingdom? I hope that Parliament is strong enough to reject that pressure.

8 pm

I shall not follow what the hon. Member for Carrick. Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) said, although his views were extremely interesting. I declare an interest—that is what is being done at the moment—as a reader in the Church of England. I am therefore deeply worried about some of these proposals.

This is not a happy day for me, as I am afraid that I am at variance with the Government whom I have supported loyally for so long. Their views on this important subject and those of the Auld report do not coincide with mine. Perhaps I might tell the Under-Secretary of State, a young Minister whom I admire, that he must be a little more careful in his attitude. I can see from his reaction that he is not very pleased with those who speak against what he is trying to promote. The way forward in any legislation, especially something as sensitive as this, is to take along those who disagree. My hon. Friend's attitude will not be helpful tonight.

I am amazed that there is a three-line Whip tonight. Our Chief Whip and the Whips have been most helpful. I am grateful to them, and thank them for their consideration. However, I must tell the House, the Government and my hon. Friend the Minister that the climate of the debate would have been much better if there had been no three-line Whip. Without it, many of those who will abstain or vote against the Government tonight would have supported them, or at least taken a different view. The three-line Whip is a serious mistake.

I do not apologise for stating my beliefs clearly. I should be dishonest to myself and the House if I did not. Keeping Sunday as a holy or different day is one of God's commandments and Christians still have to try to maintain those commandments. I find it difficult enough but we must try. Canon B6(1) of the Church of England states clearly that the Church of England believes that Sunday should be different and a holy day. That is not a bad aim in a modern world in which many people do not accept the Christian standard.

We all have memories of the past. The Victorian Sunday was not the sort of day that I like. It was a grim, joyless and highly restricted day. There should be a proper balance between work and rest. Sunday should be a joyful day for worship, relaxation, family and pleasure. The loss of that distinctive quality, which Sunday still has, would be a grievous loss to the nation as a whole, not just Christians. How dreary it would be if Sunday became a normal day. It is difficult, but we must try to maintain Sunday as a different day. For Christians, of course, it is a day on which one tries to worship and to give to God what is due to Him.

It is obvious that work has to be done on Sunday. I have listened carefully to the arguments that have been adduced today. I remember the years when, as a farmer, I had to work on Sunday mornings and afternoons. Work has to be done by farmers and others in essential industries, and by doctors and nurses. However, I never want Sunday to be another commercial day and for the seven days to be blurred into a continuous working period. Irrespective of the Christian attitude, that would be tragic for the nation and for the people, but it could easily happen if we abandon the legislation and give complete freedom.

I also fear for family life. Sunday trading would create a lot more part-time working. That would inevitably mean children with parents who work part time not having a day when there is a chance, no more, of enjoying a day together, perhaps having a meal together. It is only a chance in a difficult world, but family life could be seriously affected. There are enough attacks on family life at the moment and I do not want my Government, at the end of their term, to be known as the Government who reduced its quality. There are signs of our doing that and I do not want them to continue.

Workers would be under pressure. There would be moral and social pressure on people to take their turn in Sunday work. Christians have a duty to ensure that employees are not exploited or deprived of their rights of worship, leisure and recreation.

I am also worried for small shopkeepers. In a town such as Bideford, which has one pretty huge supermarket which sells everything, the effect on small shops of that supermarket opening on Sunday would be devastating. Small shopkeepers are under enough pressure already and Sunday trading would end many of them. That is contrary to the Government's aims. I admit that there are anomalies, but there must be a middle way. Indeed, I do not accept that there cannot be a middle way. We must find out how best to adjust to modern life.

I should like to conclude by quoting someone who has put it nicely from the Christian point of view — His Holiness the Pope. He said:
"Open up your working week to God by keeping the sabbath holy and partaking regularly of the eucharist. Respect the Lord's day as a precious gift. In this way we can avoid becoming the slaves of work or entertainment."
That is where I stand, and I shall not support the Government tonight.

8.9 pm

The Opposition have established their case, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who covered all aspects of the Auld report. I am one of the two sponsored members of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and represent about 400,000 workers. My union and its officers contributed greatly to the inquiry when it was set up. I well recall the Friday when we turned up to discuss the Shops Act 1950, and the suggestion from an hon. Member to introduce a private Bill to amend that Act. The Auld committee was then set up.

Before Christmas, at Question Time, I asked the Prime Minister whether she agreed with the full implementation of the Employment Act 1980 when she was prepared completely to ignore the implementation of the Shops Act 1950. Yet they are both Acts of Parliament, and should bind trade unionists, shoppers, shopkeepers and everyone. She agreed that both Acts should be implemented.

I have read the Auld report in detail—it is a lengthy document—and examined the input of USDAW into it. I am surprised to find that in many instances USDAW and the committee agreed. The USDAW policy statement says:
"Together with USDAW, the Committee believed that established retail workers would be under real pressure to conform to Sunday trading requirements wherever their employers saw fit. If they entered the trade believing that Sundays were their own, they could begin to think again. Without the 1950 Shops Act to protect them only those in strong, USDAW organised stores may be able to resist the pressures to work regularly on Sundays.
Together with USDAW, the Committee believed that potential retail workers had better view Sundays as a routine working day if they were considering a career in a retail sector without the 1950 Shops Act.
Together with USDAW, the Committee believed that statutory control over retail workers' terms and conditions was an absolute requirement and that without effective and properly enforced Wages Council Orders retail workers, especially non- USDAW members, would be very vulnerable.
Together with USDAW, the Committee believed that some traders would profit very handsomely if the 1950 Shops Act was scrapped but many small traders would suffer increasingly. Their businesses would be the price to pay for extended late night and Sunday trading.
"

I understand the worry that people may be exploited for seven days a week and miss the opportunity of Sunday worship. However, the information given by the right hon. Member for Manchester. Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), which is borne out by all experience in all countries, as it is in Saturday trading and Sunday pubs now, is that employees would primarily be Sunday-only employees—women and the young. Therefore, the rest of the case falls. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that people would be exploited only if they also worked the rest of the week?

I do not entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman suggests, for many reasons. In some -retail establishments, most shop workers must be trained in the job. Some of our employers will train people for a full week's work, but I am sure that they would not train them only for Sunday. If one asks for a drink in a pub or club, usually the barmaid or barman must be trained to serve that drink, to know the prices, to work the till and in many other ways. Not all individual traders would be prepared to volunteer training for one day's work week. A great deal more pressure would be put on people who are already working a five or six-day week to work on Sunday. If we abolish the wages councils, there will be even further pressure. Therefore, I reject the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, and praise the speeches from my right hon. and hon. Friends.

I shall return to the input of USDAW to the Auld committee, and that was agreed. The statement continues:
"Together with USDAW, the Committee believed that local residents would be subject to increased noise, traffic and disturbance wherever Sunday trading occurred.
Together with USDAW, the Committee believed that some consumers would enjoy more flexible options to time their shopping, but that other such as the elderly, the unemployed, the poor, inner city residents and the majority of consumers without private transport would find they had less choice and fewer options as small traders closed down and the large multiples moved out of the High Street onto out-of-town sites.
So, in six key areas USDAW and the Committee were in agreement on deregulated trading:
on the pressures on retail workers' terms and conditions
on the need for statutory protection for them should the 1950 Shops Act fall
on the heavy price to be paid by small traders
on the undesirable impact on local residents
on the severe restrictions which many consumers would face
on the job losses which would follow and the increased use of part-time and casual labour in the retail industry."
Yet, in the face of that agreement and all the objective evidence for which the Auld committee called, the committee recommended the abolition of the Shops Act 1950.

The impact of USDAW has been formidable. The Auld committee examined our reports and the reports from 500 organisations and individuals, with 7,000 responses to the invitations sent out, and undoubtedly and conclusively came to two major recommendations. The Government are prepared to implement and act on only one of them. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said, if the Government are prepared to respond to one recommendation, why will they not respond to the most important recommendation? The second recommendation relates to wages councils, and is far more important to the workers whom I represent.

On Tuesday 2 April, I tabled a question to the Secretary of State for Employment, asking him to make a statement about the future of wages councils. He replied:
"My right hon. Friend published a consultative paper on wages councils on 21 March. This invites comments by 31 May. Decisions will be taken when responses to the document have been considered."—[Official Report, 2 April 1985; Vol. 76, c. 531.]
I accept that reply. However, I fail to understand why this debate was brought forward. Why are we not debating the matter after the consultations have taken place—on 30 May—when the Home Secretary would be equipped with the necessary information to inform the House whether or not we should abolish the wages councils? The Government continue to drag their feet on the issue. When the Home Secretary says that he may be sympathetic to wages councils, it makes me shudder on behalf of the USDAW members whom I represent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney), who is also sponsored by USDAW, used a sheaf of paper when he made his speech. However, he did not have enough time, as a result of the 10-minute rule, to conclude his speech. May I conclude his remarks by referring to the wages councils and the Low Pay Unit? I wish that I had more time to go into detail, because this is an important subject. My hon. Friend would have said that the wages councils were formed to protect the low paid and those who were least organised in trade unions. They were meant to put a bottom to wages paid in those industries where exploitation was rife. Without that base, shop workers will again be seriously exploited. They will have little hope of refusing work on Sundays if the employer demands it, knowing that, from the ranks of 4 million unemployed, people would be found to do their jobs and would readily agree to even greater exploitation just for the pleasure of a job of work.

Advocates of total abolition tell us that it would create more jobs. That is a fallacy. They talk without knowledge of shop life and shop practice. Abolition would increase the employment of part-time labour, and the employment of schoolboys and girls at weekends—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a speech that was terminated by the 10-minute rule to be continued by another hon. Member?

Already, hosts of stores employ many part-time workers and, at weekends, they employ schoolgirls and boys. It is cheaper for the firms to do that, but opening on Sundays will create hardly any extra employment of full-time labour.

8.19 pm

I have listened to more of the speeches in the debate than has the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), and I wonder whether life is different in south Wales from life in the areas of some other hon. Members who have spoken. On Sundays in my constituency I can buy almost anything I want within a five-mile radius of my home. There is Sunday trading in my region regardless of the state of the law.

Many hon. Members have mentioned garden centres. There are no fewer than four garden centres in my constituency, and I regret to say that, more than once, my wife and I have visited them on Sundays. In selling my wife pot plants, those centres were in breach of the law.

There are three clear issues in the debate. The paramount one is whether the Shops Act 1950 is acceptable. There are three aspects to that, the first of which concerns the origin of the Act. If one can believe it, it was introduced as a temporary measure in response to the report of the Gowers committee. It was never intended that it should remain permanently on the statute book. It was a consolidation measure to bring together several existing laws on trading. It made no attempt to deal with the anomalies that existed, even in 1950. Those anomalies have remained, and have increased consider- ably during the past 10 years. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people in England and Wales, but not in Scotland, shop on Sundays and are therefore in breach of the law. It is wholly wrong that such a law should remain on the statute book.

The second issue is whether the 1950 Act can be replaced by new legislation that would cure the anomalies and find an acceptable balance between those who believe that there should be some limited Sunday trading and those who want a completely free system. The Auld report clearly demonstrated the difficulty of achieving that. How can we regularise the law so that it will control Sunday trading? Should we do it by location? Should we say that high street shops must remain closed, but that the out-of-town shopping centres can remain open? If we did that, we should only accelerate the move away from town centres into the new shopping areas.

Should we regulate it by the type of goods sold? In the multi-purpose store, how can one distinguish which part of the store should be open, so that people can make purchases there, and which part of the store should remain closed? Should we do it by size of store? Do we say, "If a store is a certain size, it may open on a Sunday, but if it is larger, it may not"? Should we regularise Sunday trading by producing a list of goods that can be posted near the cash register so that the person operating the till can say, "I am sorry, but you cannot buy that on a Sunday?"

The answer is that, whatever route we take, the anomalies will still exist. Even if a satisfactory formula could be found, decisions will inevitably be arbitrary. If we find an acceptable formula, how can we enforce it? The burden of enforcement is placed on district councils. As one store owner said to me, if Newport district council decided that his store should not open on Sundays, he would simply go across the border to Cardiff. Therefore, Newport would lose his business, and Cardiff would gain it. If we leave enforcement to district authorities, that is the sort of difficulty that they will have. I am sure that they do not want the burden.

I should be interested to hear the Minister's thoughts on whether, in terms of Sunday trading and late-night opening, it would be possible to exercise more regulation through the planning authorities so that at least the peace and quiet that is wanted in most residential areas can be maintained. Is it realistic to use the existing mechanism of planning law rather than the criminal law?

The third issue is whether the abolition of the Shops Act will require additional protection for shop workers. From some of the speeches by Labour Members one would have thought that that was the only issue in the debate. I welcome the assurance of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that he accepts the principle behind the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill). I also commend to him the Massachusetts precedent as it is reproduced in the Auld report. It may contain the answer to the problem of the retail worker who, because of his religious views, does not wish to be forcerd to work on Sundays.

At present, there is no protection for the British Sunday in areas where shops open on Sundays. In Scotland, where Sunday trading is permitted, and in England and Wales, where it is illegal but still happens, people continue to enjoy the traditional British Sunday while at the same time using the shops that are open.

8.29 pm

I am puzzled by the speech of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Robinson). In both his speech and those of other hon. Members there was a recurring theme: that if the law is broken sufficiently often we should no longer seek to uphold and enforce it. As I come from a part of the United Kingdom where there has been a fair amount of murder and mayhem, I am beginning to wonder whether the same kind of thinking permeates Government guidance as in the realm of Sunday trading. In other words, if the law is broken we should no longer try to uphold it.

Several aspects may not have been given sufficient consideration in this debate. Mention has already been made of the fact that there is no large body of public opinion that favours drastic change. Although some anomalies could be removed, I do not believe that the arguments contained in the Auld report are sufficiently convincing to require us to legislate and therefore change the character of the British Sunday. There are several reasons for this.

The first has already been alluded to and glibly set aside —that is, the reference to the fact that young people will be employed on Sundays. It amazes me that hon. Members are prepared to tolerate cheap labour so that multiple stores may continue to prosper while we relapse into one of the worst aspects of an outdated Victorian society. Therefore I urge the Government to give deeper consideration to this aspect before they legislate, because it will not ultimately enrich the country and help the community. An increasing number of part-time workers will result in an increase in the black economy, but the economy of the nation as a whole will not be improved.

The hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) said that he believed in the old adage that the family that prays together stays together. He also believes that the family that shops together stops together. I am not sure whether we have examined family shopping sufficiently closely. I have discovered that it becomes a nightmare not only for their mothers and fathers but for other shoppers when children run hither and thither through multiple stores. I submit that there is ample time on other occasions for the family to shop together and to stick together through thick and thin. It is a travesty of one of our fundamental values to equate shopping together with praying together. It reflects the commercial attitude which predominates on certain Benches, to the detriment, I believe, of the nation. In Ulster there are business men who would sell their granny if they could get enough for her. There are those who let the commercial and profit motives take control.

I hope that hon. Members will reflect, not upon what will happen to businesses, but to communities. I am sure that other hon. Members know of the difficulties that are experienced in shopping complexes in urban areas. Planning permission has been given for their construction without considering the consequential knock-on effect upon the neighbourhood. Many of my constituents have been in touch with me about what happens in their areas. It is all very well for the shopper who comes to the shopping precinct, gets a bargain and goes away again. However, for six days of the week, from the early hours of the morning until late at night, large vans arrive and are unloaded, trolleys clatter and quietness disappears from the community. Those communities are now being asked to tolerate yet more noise and thereby lose the one day upon which they can enjoy peace and quiet. I plead on behalf of those people for a re-examination of the legislation.

As one who was nurtured on a respect for the Lord's day, I urge this Chamber to pause before it moves in the direction of accepting one basic element of the Auld report and ignoring the other basic element. That element has already been alluded to, but I ask hon. Members to think afresh about the Christian Sunday—the Lord's day, as some of us prefer to call it. Since I became a Member of Parliament, there have been innumerable allusiors in debates to the lack of respect for authority. This Chamber could take a step towards leading the nation back to a respect for authority if it set its seal upon observing the authority of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Whatever the religion of people may be, I discover that we have this in common: that although we may disagree on the day, we believe in the principle that one day in seven ought to be set aside for rest and worship and family life. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, could do it as effectively as I, but I do not intend to deliver a sermon upon the New Testament doctrine of the Lord's day. Nevertheless. I wish to emphasise the principle. Exceptions are therein allowed, but I plead with hon. Members to look afresh at this question.

Victorian principles have often been upbraided, but, whether or not we like every aspect of Victorian society, one principle which remained true was concern for the family. Even when families broke up, we discover that the Victorian society provided help and support for those who were in particular need. I believe that if the Auld report is implemented and we depart from the principles a the Old Book, family life will continue to be eroded, as will respect for authority which manifests itself in riots on the streets. Therefore, I urge the House to think carefully. If it accepts the principle contained in the Auld report, I hope that the Government will examine the matter carefully before introducing legislation.

8.39 pm

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) speaks for more people than he perhaps realises. W e often forget that more people go to church on Sundays than go to football matches on Saturdays. That is a statistic which I offer to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department.

I wish to concentrate upon two or three aspects. Although the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gm-ton (Mr. Kaufman) did not tell us where he stood on the issue of Sunday trading, and gratuitously distorted the points made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, nevertheless there was real substance in what was said by the hon. Member for Belfast. South, who referred to the suggestion that a law should be abolished if it is unenforceable. That is an exceptionally dangerous doctrine. It could be argued that speeding restrictions are far less popular than restrictions on Sunday trading. It could also be argued that speeding restrictions are just as difficult to enforce, but it would not therefore be sensible to argue that there should be no speeding restrictions.

Most hon. Members who are very troubled by the subject that is being debated today are not killjoy sabbatarians. We believe that Sunday should be a joyful day when people enjoy themselves to the full— it is irrelevant whether they go to church as part of that—and a different day from the rest of the week. We believe that there is a traditional British Sunday, and the Auld report recognises that its proposals are bound to have a corrosive or eroding effect on that traditional Sunday.

We believe that there is much to be said for a family having a meal together on a Sunday. That is as important in its way in making a family unit cohesive as is going to church. We do not suggest that the present law is perfect or that it is not riddled with ridiculous anomalies, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) spoke with great conviction.

However, I was disturbed by one aspect of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester. She rightly declared an interest as a director of Boots and said that she would not obey the Boots whip but would vote with the Government and against her fellow directors. That is an honourable and proper position, but hon. Members who are doubtful about how to vote ought to note that my right hon. Friend said that although Boots did not wish to open on Sundays and agreed with the Retail Consortium in underlining all the objections that have been put so reasonably, if Sunday trading came, Boots would open.

I apologise if I slightly misquoted my right hon. Friend, but there will be pressure and many more shops will open, not only to the detriment of the character of the British Sunday, but to the detriment of the small shop, whether the corner shop, the village shop or the small establishment in a rural area.

I believe that there could be a reasonable compromise. I gave evidence to the Auld committee and tabled an amendment to the motion. Mr. Speaker did not select my amendment which, imperfectly, suggests that one solution could be to limit the easing of restrictions to establishments employing fewer than a certain number of people. The Home Secretary dismissed that suggestion and said that he did not think it sensible. However, he did not put up convincing arguments to demolish my proposal.

Many of us believe that garden centres and village shops that are struggling to keep open fulfil a useful social function and we argue that freeing them from restrictions and anomalies should not mean that we would automatically have the cash tills jingling in every high street on every Sunday, thereby creating a second Saturday or, even worse, transferring the pressure so that Sunday becomes a peak shopping day.

The Government are on a dangerous course which carries the serious threat that part of our national life will be seriously undermined. On whatever terms we were debating the motion, I should find myself in the opposite Lobby to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and his ministerial colleagues.

I have been here long enough for three-line Whips not to mean a great deal to me. If I believe that the merits of an issue are not particularly great, I shall vote against the party. I have done so on a number of occasions, though not with any relish or enjoyment. I greatly resent the fact that this issue has been made the subject for a three-line Whip. That flies in the face of one of our better and more honourable parliamentary traditions, which is that an issue that is, broadly speaking, one of conscience and not of party politics should be left to the discretion and conscience of hon. Members who should vote accordingly.

I have been given a little licence. I received a pleasant letter from my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary in which he acknowledges my misgivings and says that my conscientious scruples are fully respected. I appreciate that and I understand that my hon. Friends who have made similar representations have received a similar licence. However, that is not an answer, because I know that other colleagues are disturbed about the Government's policy, but, because a three-line Whip has been put on, they feel obliged to support the Government. That applies particularly to Parliamentary Private Secretaries, the great extra army of unpaid members of the payroll vote.

If the Government wish to test the opinion of the House, which should be the object of the debate, there should be no Whip on. The matter should be treated as any other major issue of conscience would be treated, and hon. Members should be allowed to vote without fearing that they are being disloyal.