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Sunday Trading

Volume 720: debated on Tuesday 6 July 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will make proposals for Sundays to be as far as possible work-free, following requests to the European Union Council of Ministers.

My Lords, the Government have no plans to make Sundays work-free. Sunday working brings significant benefits to employers, consumers and employees alike in terms of convenience, flexibility and availability of work.

I thank the noble Baroness for her reply even though I cannot say that I find it very encouraging. Can I persuade her that a known national day of rest each week would bring huge benefits—for example to family life, amateur sport, voluntary social activities, and even the environment by reducing the pollution arising from commercial activities?

What a lovely thought. However, British workers already have their right to a day’s rest a week, or two days in two weeks, and it is not for the Government to decide for their people which day best suits the individual. We firmly believe in a freedom of choice in this matter. It would be lovely to follow what the noble Lord is asking for, but a significant proportion of people would still be working, because one person’s rest is another person’s work.

My Lords, the noble Baroness will recall that when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, yielded to the commercial pressures of the major superstores and liberalised Sunday trading, concern was expressed about the likely effect on family life. Is it not now the time to say to what extent the experiment in liberalisation has been a success and to have some form of independent inquiry to evaluate what has happened over that period?

My Lords, we see no evidence of requests for change. Nobody is forced to work on Sundays in Great Britain. Employees of large retail and betting shops have special rights to refuse Sunday working, while other employees can negotiate working patterns with their employer. The option to work Sundays gives individuals the flexibility to find employment and working hours that best suit them and their families and take their weekly day of rest when they wish.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm, after the last question, that the coalition Government have absolutely no intention whatever of reforming the Sunday trading legislation, thereby throwing us back to those dull Sundays that we all dreaded as teenagers?

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Government have no intention to relax the current Sunday Trading Act in a way that would alter Boxing Day this year, which is on a Sunday, to be a normal shopping day, which would undermine the rights of workers to a proper Christmas break?

I can confirm that the Government have no plans to change the rules on Sunday trading at the moment.

Does the Minister recognise the gender imbalance in this Question, in that men will always want their pubs open on a Sunday and their sporting fixtures, whereas working women—indeed, women work seven days a week, but I mean those who work outside the home—would be greatly restricted if shops and so on were not open on a Sunday? We should all be allowed to choose our own day of rest—not to mention the diversity issue. Sunday is not a special day for everybody.

My Lords, it is right that everybody should be able to choose the way they spend their day of rest, and there is no pressure for women to be looked at as a special case at this time. However, I am sure that, with the work that the noble Baroness has done on equality, she will bring anything to my attention that she feels we can do something about.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that in a multifaith and in many cases no-faith, multicultural and multiracial society, Sunday does not have the same significance for all people? Can she also confirm that employees and workers will maintain their right under current employment law not to work on Sundays?

My Lords, does the Minister not think that there is a slight misrepresentation in it being put to her that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, bowed to big pressure from big business? Those of us involved in the legislation at the time mostly remember very clearly the splendid campaign run by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, on Sunday trading.

My Lords, will the Minister explain to your Lordships the role of the European Council in this matter? Do we really have to go cap-in-hand to Brussels to seek permission not to work on Sundays? If so, is that not the final nail in the always fraudulent concept of subsidiarity?

I think not. We know that the European Union does the broad legislation, which is then devolved to the individual countries to do as they wish to do. Britain certainly does as it wishes to do—within the European Union, of course.