HC Deb 05 December 1985 vol 88 cc410-1
1. Mr. Patrick Thompson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many representations he has received concerning the Shops Bill [Lords].

The Minister of State Home Office (Mr. David Waddington)

We have received 6,688 representations concerning the Shops Bill [Lords] since it was published.

Mr. Thompson

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Does he agree that these representations confirm general support for reform of the Shops Act 1950, but overwhelming opposition to the idea of unrestricted free trading? In this instance, does he accept that people must be right, where a small committee may well be wrong and that I cannot support proposals that are against custom and practice and the country's Christian tradition?

Mr. Waddington

In my experience, people write to Members of Parliament when they disapprove of legislation introduced by the Government, but they rarely write and thank us when they agree with what we are doing. In the main, the letters that we have received have obviously come from a vociferous minority.

Mr. Ray Powell

Why do we have appeals for contributions towards the preservation of St. Margaret's church, Westminster, and churches throughout the country when the Government are doing everything possible to persuade people with a tradition of 500 years of Christian belief to abandon that belief and to shop and work on Sundays? Are the Government now opposed to the Church of England, and are they abandoning that Church because it has become more Marxist or more honest?

Mr. Waddington

Apart from the fact that in many of our cathedrals Sunday trading is pursued illegally, there seems to be little connection between the hon. Gentleman's question and that on the Order Paper.

Mr. Butler

My hon. and learned Friend referred to our constituents writing in and making representations direct to the Government. Is it not the case that the volume of letters being received is much greater than on any other subject, in my experience? Will he take into account what people are saying, which is, "Keep Sunday different"? That being so, unless their Lordships, in their wisdom, amend the Bill, will he withdraw it?

Mr. Waddington

The halfway houses recommended by organisations such as Keep Sunday Different are beguiling at first glance, but the Auld committee looked at them. The Jubilee Centre suggests a new list of goods, but has come up with one based on no principle. Why one should be able to buy tobacco on Sunday but not a plant pot, according to the Jubilee Centre, I do not know.

Mr. James Lamond

We have been made aware that the Minister does not like letters from hon. Members, but surely he will not brush aside 6,600 letters as a small vociferous minority. How can the Government expect to be believed when the chairman of the Conservative party preaches that there is a serious decline in moral and religious standards, while in the same week the Government introduce a Bill such as this in the House of Lords?

Mr. Waddington

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I like many of the letters that I receive. Many letters have been written to us during the last month. I remind the hon. Member that about 7,000 representations were made to the Auld committee and that a vast volume of evidence was considered by the committee, the composition of which was never objected to at the time. All these matters were studied in great depth. We are studying carefully all the representations that we are receiving.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that many small retail outlets in my constituency and elsewhere, many of which are family run, consider that complete deregulation Sunday trading will seriously affect their prospects? Do not these proposals make a mockery of the Government's declared policy to create an environment in which small businesses such as these can thrive and prosper?

Mr. Waddington

Some of what has been said has unduly alarmed small businesses, but the experience overseas leads one to believe that small businesses can operate flexibly to meet demand in a way that large businesses cannot, and that is the explanation for the fact that the number of small businesses in Sweden has grown since deregulation in 1972.