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Sunday Trading

Volume 767: debated on Monday 14 December 2015


Asked by

My Lords, over the summer the Government consulted on proposals to devolve the power to extend Sunday trading hours to local areas. We are carefully considering the responses to the consultation and will publish our plans in due course.

Do the Government not believe in cutting red tape and devolving powers to local authorities? Does the Minister agree that we are a multicultural society and England should be as liberal as Scotland in Sunday trading laws? Will she assure the House that she is not going to put the interests of the SNP before the convenience of English and Welsh consumers and the economy of England and Wales?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to mention the Scots, who already have deregulated Sunday trading hours, but I emphasise again that we are looking at this carefully in light of the consultation. Our proposal is to make the decision a local one.

My Lords, is it wise to tamper with what has been described as the great British compromise which the current Sunday trading law represents?

My Lords, I think my noble friend was saying that he likes the current compromise, which does have a balance. Equally, there have been a number of changes in recent years, not least the enormous number of sales over the internet, which continue to grow—by 15% this year. The Government are rightly looking at the issue again to see if there should be more local choice, not least to encourage sales to tourists.

My Lords, the Minister will recall that the last time a Conservative Government yielded to the supermarkets, the main points of controversy were protecting the terms and conditions of employment of workers in the retail industry, and protecting those who have a conscientious objection to working on a Sunday. What provision will be made in respect of these two matters?

My Lords, we have made it clear in our consultation that shop workers who want to work on Sundays will have greater choice to work more hours, but that those who do not wish to work on Sundays will continue to be protected. This important point comes through from the consultation.

My Lords, the Liberal Democrats understand the Government’s considering allowing this decision to be made at a local level. However, we are concerned that this power, if given, could be seen as a boon to out-of-town traders. Will the Minister reassure us that any devolution will come with strict caveats on its use to ensure that local authorities focus on benefiting small independents and not out-of-town shopping malls?

My Lords, under our proposals, this would be a matter for local authorities. I know that they have different views on how to benefit their local economies and SMEs, but actually, this measure could be good for SMEs, particularly in areas with great tourism potential, where the footfall would help small companies—not only retail shops but restaurants and leisure outlets, for example.

My Lords, would a useful reform be to go back to the good old days when people were paid double time for working on Sunday; then, shops, in the main, would not want to open? If I introduced a Private Member’s Bill, would the Government support me?

My Lords, we have not taken decisions yet in relation to our proposals, or on what legislative vehicle would be appropriate.

My Lords, will not such devolution result in a postcode lottery? Can one imagine, for example, a chain of garden centres across the country—in which, incidentally, I have no interest to declare—being allowed to open in local authority A and not local authority B?

My Lords, I think you would indeed get differences, and that would reflect different councils and the different views of different elected representatives. I am glad that my noble friend mentioned garden centres because the Horticultural Trades Association is one of the bodies that is particularly keen to see reform, so that people can buy their plants and pots on a Sunday.

My Lords, we look forward to hearing the results of the consultation, which must be one of the longest being carried out by the Government at present. However, for the avoidance of all doubt, I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed that the Enterprise Bill currently before your Lordships’ House, or any other Bill currently before either House, will not be used to bring forward such regulations in this Parliament.

My Lords, no decisions have been taken in relation to our proposals or to the legislative vehicle. I cannot help the noble Lord.

Will my noble friend accept that those of us who opposed the relaxation of Sunday trading restrictions many years ago forecast that Sunday would become another high street Saturday? That prophecy has been fulfilled. Will she please try to persuade her ministerial colleagues not to take it further?

My Lords, of course, this is a matter of balance and we feel that there is opportunity for change. We are looking at the arguments. My own view is that Sunday does remain special. Society has changed but some of us still go to church.

My Lords, there is a consultation. We are looking at all the responses. I do not know whether Sports Direct has been involved.

My Lords, may I urge the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester to promote his Private Member’s Bill? This issue obviously needs discussion and I cannot think of a better way of launching that discussion.

My Lords, I take note of this point, which is now gathering support, and will report it to the usual channels.

My Lords, can the Minister explain exactly how, under the Government’s consultation proposals, workers are actually protected—not just protected at law, but protected from losing their jobs if they exercise their right not to work on Sunday?

My Lords, I am happy to take the noble Baroness through it in detail but it is unlawful to discriminate in the way that she seems to suggest might be possible. Shopworkers’ rights would be even better communicated if we were to change the law but, at the moment, people have a right—and if that right is broken, they can go to ACAS and an employment tribunal.