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Remembrance Sunday

Volume 723: debated on Tuesday 14 December 2010

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce restrictions on opening times for retail premises on Remembrance Sunday.

First, my Lords, I pay tribute to all service personnel, past and present, who have so admirably served this country. It is our duty to remember and honour the fallen. Remembrance Sunday provides us with that opportunity and I hope that this custom will remain for all time. Large retail premises—those with more than 280 square metres of trading space—are already restricted to opening for periods of only six hours on any Sunday. The Government have no plans to further restrict the opening times of shops on Remembrance Sunday.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that on 10 March this year Sir Patrick Cormack—who is coming to this House next Tuesday to sit on the coalition Benches—supported by Dr Vincent Cable, introduced in the other place a Bill to provide for the extension of Christmas Day restrictions on the opening of retail premises to Remembrance Sunday? Is she aware that the Bill’s Second Reading would have taken place on 23 April 2010 if the general election had not been called? Finally, will she introduce a Bill accordingly to ensure that those benefits apply to Remembrance Sunday in 2011 and, if not, will the Government support a Private Member’s Bill from this House?

Yes, I understand that the Bill was introduced in the other place in March this year and that it ran out of time before it could have its Second Reading. It was of course Sir Patrick Cormack, then an MP in the other place, who introduced the Bill and, yes, he will be taking his seat in your Lordships’ House next Tuesday. I am sure that, as very often happens in this House, he will form common cause with the noble Lord. As to the second question—whether we will support a Private Member’s Bill on the same subject—the Government cannot commit to support a Bill that would prevent large shops from opening on Remembrance Sunday. It is not the place of the Government, and never has been, to regulate in an effort to enforce observance of important national commemorations. We leave observance of such occasions to the individual. Remembrance is a matter of conscience and a desire to show respect for the fallen; it is not, in the Government’s view, related to a particular activity or business, such as shopping and retailing.

My Lords, when we have a defence Question, we often have the names of those who have fallen recited to us. Will the Government consider including the names of the fallen in the Prayers that we have at the opening of our sessions? Secondly, could not a message from Parliament be sent to the bereaved families of those who sacrificed their lives for us?

I sympathise enormously with what my noble friend says, but it is not a matter for the House. Perhaps this is a time when we should smile at the Bishops’ Bench to see whether they will speak to us about it.

Will my noble friend confirm that, before there is any further change to Sunday trading, the point raised by the noble Lord opposite will be given priority?

My Lords, I do not quite know how I can answer that question. I can only give the answer that I gave before, which is that at the moment we would not support the Bill if it were proposed.

My Lords, would the Minister agree that Remembrance Sunday and associated events are a matter not just of individual conscience but of national policy and for society as a whole? While it would perhaps be unreasonable to restrict shops to fewer than six hours, could consideration be given to delaying the opening of shops on that day, because so many ceremonies occur at 11 o’clock in the morning on Remembrance Sunday?

The right reverend Prelate brings an interesting question and I am very happy to answer it. There is no Act that says that anybody has to trade on a Sunday and no reason why a shop cannot be closed. The hours that shops have are between 10 am and 6 pm for six consecutive hours. They do not have to open for six consecutive hours. If they wish to, they are free on any Sunday to open from any time during those hours. They could possibly open in the afternoon rather than in the morning of this important event.

My Lords, this is a national matter. I urge on my noble friend the idea that we need to establish certain national standards and a certain national consciousness in matters of state such as this. It seems not right that it should be left entirely to individual conscience. The Government have a duty to tell people what being British is and this is part of it.

My Lords, I can only give the answer that I gave before. In this country, we are very fortunate that so many of our citizens choose to observe Remembrance Sunday and Armistice on 11 November. The Government take the view that remembrance is a matter of personal conscience and is not something that should or can be legislated for.

I concur with what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has just said. I suggest that the laxity in terms of respect for Sunday and for people who believe that Sunday is a special day, not only for our servicemen, is something that this Government should look at critically. I hope that they will seek to bring about amendments, at least, to legislation that might give some rights to those of us for whom Sunday is special.

I should perhaps speak of the military covenant, of which the noble Lord will know. The Government welcomed the publication last week of a report by the independent task force on the military covenant led by Professor Strachan. The Government have already announced that they will be taking forward the work to implement the recommendations in the Armed Forces community covenant. This will involve encouraging the nation to identify ways of supporting local Armed Forces communities in ways that reflect their particular circumstances. We will look at these recommendations and report next year. I hope that the noble Lord will find that helpful.