HC Deb 03 November 1988 vol 139 cc1164-5
2. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the number of convictions for breaches of Sunday trading law over the past three years.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton)

The total number of convictions for Sunday trading offences in 1985, 1986 and 1987 were 604, 559 and 550 respectively. Figures are not yet available for 1988.

Mr. Marshall

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Does he agree that a law that is frequently broken, rarely enforced and quite illogical should be reformed root and branch as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Renton

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. As he says, the law is out of date, shot full of anomalies and, at best, unevenly enforced. That is why we have consulted many groups to see whether there is a broad consensus for reform.

Mr. Alton

Will the Minister take account of the large body of opinion, both in the country and in the House, that does not wish to see Sunday made into any other day, and wants to see it kept special? Will he take those views into account before bringing forward any legislation?

Mr. Renton

I appreciate what the hon. Member says, but there are many ways of keeping Sunday special. Many people may find that they could, for example, combine going to a shop with going to church without ceasing to make Sunday a special day.

Sir Charles Morrison

In the light of my hon. Friend's entirely sensible remarks about existing Sunday law, will he also consider the law affecting Sunday sport, particularly as every Sunday during the summer, and often during the winter, every sport or body of sport breaks the law in order to meet public need?

Mr. Renton

I hear with sympathy what my hon. Friend says and shall certainly bear his comments in mind.

Mr. Pike

Will the Minister recognise that the House expressed a view on the issue not all that long ago? Is it not wrong for his Department to wash its hands of the matter and leave it to local authorities to interpret the law as they wish? Should he not send a letter to local authorities advising them how the existing law should be administered and enforced?

Mr. Renton

Certainly not. Clearly, in the Shops Act 1950 Parliament vested in local authorities the job of enforcing the law. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General recently made clear, that is what we expect them to do. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) should bear in mind that on the previous occasion at which there was an attempt to reform Sunday trading laws every Labour Member voted against, including the Scottish Labour Members, who have enjoyed total deregulation in their constituencies for many years. When does the hon. Member for Burnley think that his Scottish colleagues will help their English counterparts to act legally when they go shopping on Sundays?