HC Deb 22 November 1984 vol 68 cc392-3
7. Mr. Michael Brown

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will publish the report of the committee of inquiry into proposals to amend the Shops Act 1950.

Mr. Brittan

The report was published yesterday. I am grateful to the committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Robin Auld, for its valuable study of an area in which there is general agreement that the present law is unsatisfactory. I welcome the report, and we shall give it the most careful consideration.

Mr. Brown

In view of the committee's unanimous view that the Shops Act should be repealed, does my right hon. and learned Friend intend to bring forward legislation in this Session or during the lifetime of the present Parliament to repeal the 1950 Act? If he is not prepared to give that assurance, why was the inquiry deemed necessary?

Mr. Brittan

I cannot give my hon. Friend that assurance. As I said at the time, the inquiry was set up because there was widespread agreement that restrictions on trading laws affecting trading during the week and on Sundays were in need of reform, but there were differing views about how to do that. The committee's task was to establish what recommendations it could make to deal with those unsatisfactory circumstances. We shall consider the report urgently. In the light of the reaction to it, I hope in the not-too-distant future to be able to make a statement to the House about the Government's intentions.

Mr. Beith

Will the Home Secretary take more account of people who live near shopping centres and rely on Sundays for a bit of peace and quiet, those who regard Sunday as having an important role in the traditions of our country, and the families of women shop workers who like mum to be at home on Sunday?

Mr. Brittan

Mr. Auld's committee considered all of those issues and concluded that none of them should stand in the way of a major liberalisation of our commercial life.

Mr. Dickens

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many of those who oppose the opening of shops on Sunday are people who, when on holiday abroad, expect to find the shops open on Sunday? Will he ensure that the Home Office accelerates the passage of legislation in this House so that we can break free from the shackles of Sunday closing?

Mr. Brittan

My hon. Friend makes a fair point about people going abroad. As I have said, the Government do not intend that consideration of this report should be long delayed. Having considered it and the reactions to it, we shall make a statement to the House, I hope in the early part of next year.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is the Home Secretary aware that for practising Christians throughout the country any decision to change the law will be an affront to their ideals? Why is he so intent on destroying the traditional British Sunday?

Mr. Brittan

I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's views reflect the entirety of religious opinion in the country.

Mr. John Hunt

In view of the unanimity of these recommendations and the strong support for them on both sides of the House, will my right hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to indicate to local authorities, including my own in Bromley, that they should not now pursue further prosecutions under the Shops Act, pending a change in the law?

Mr. Brittan

I could not possibly give such an indication. The Conservative party and Government believe in the rule of law; and until it is properly changed by Parliament reaching a conclusion the law remains as it is.

Mr. Ray Powell

Why is it not possible for the Home Secretary to show the same enthusiasm for enforcing the Shops Act 1950 as he has shown in enforcing the sequestration provisions of the Trade Union Act? When will he apply the same standard to both? Has he also noted the report's suggestion that we should retain wages councils?

Mr. Brittan

I certainly noted that recommendation, which will be considered alongside the general review of wages councils undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. As the hon. Gentleman knows, enforcement is a matter for the local authorities.