HC Deb 10 May 1990 vol 172 cc378-9
1. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the law relating to Sunday trading in Northern Ireland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham)

The relevant law is contained in the Shops Act (Northern Ireland) 1946, and is similar to the law applying in England and Wales.

Mr. Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that a law which prohibits the sale of the Bible but allows the sale of girlie magazines, which allows the sale of gin but not of condensed milk and which allows the sale of chocolate but prohibits the sale of sugar, is illogical, immoral and fortunately, rarely enforced? Should not the Shops Act (Northern Ireland) 1946 reflect the realities of life in the 1990s instead of the prejudices of the 1940s?

Mr. Needham

I accept that many elements of the Sunday trading laws are ridiculous. One can buy food for an ass but not for a cat in Northern Ireland on a Sunday. However, there is no significant political pressure for changing the trading laws on Sunday in Northern Ireland, least of all from Unionist Members of Parliament. Although we shall keep the matter under review, it would be unwise for us to do anything without seeing what happens in the rest of the country.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does the Minister agree, as I am sure the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) does, that the real problem involves traders who for profit motives rather than community interests want to trade on the Sabbath day? Was not that problem with us long before Nehemiah was governor of Jerusalem, and is not it likely to remain? The real issue is to apply the law and maintain the sanctity of that day.

Mr. Needham

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the enforcement of the law is the responsibility of district councils in Northern Ireland, and I am sure that he will pass that message on to them.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the Minister agree that those anomalies refer to England and Wales as well as to Northern Ireland? When poking fun at Northern Ireland, he should also poke fun at the parts of Great Britain that come under the same laws. Will he give the House an assurance that if the Sunday trading law is considered in a Bill for the rest of Great Britain, the people of Northern Ireland will have the same opportunity of having a proper Bill and not something pushed through the House by an Order in Council which would be unacceptable in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman is aware that it is a transfered matter, so any changes will be dealt with under the transferred procedure. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I never poke fun, least of all at him.

Mr. Ray Powell

I have very rarely been called during Northern Ireland Question Time, but the matter concerns the Shops Act 1950. The Government are continually preaching that we should abide by the law and obey it. Is it not time that the Government themselves ensured that the Shops Act 1950 was properly upheld and enforced as an Act of Parliament?

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman is probably not aware that in Northern Ireland, enforcement of the law is the responsibility of the district council.