HC Deb 20 February 1992 vol 204 cc456-7
13. Mr. Simon Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the progress of discussions on the future of Sunday trading.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

My extensive programme of separate discussions with a wide range of major interest groups on possible ways of reforming the Shops Act 1950 is nearing completion. For the present, there remain great differences between the groups. Once the legal position of the Shops Act 1950 in relation to Community law is clear, I hope to be in a position to recommend a way forward to the House.

Mr. Coombs

Is it not by now abundantly obvious to everyone that those organisations that remain implacably opposed to Sunday trading will never agree to any compromise solution to the problem that could be laid before the House and command widespread support? Has not the time come for the Government to commit themselves unequivocally to legislate in the next Parliament so that those who wish to shop on Sunday and exercise their free choice to do so are enabled to do so by total deregulation of the law?

Mrs. Rumbold

My hon. Friend represents the important views of a number of colleagues. However, another group of people have equally strongly held views, and for that reason it is not as easy as my hon. Friend would have the House believe to introduce legislation that would command total respect in the House.

Mr. Ray Powell

Does the Minister appreciate that tomorrow there will be an opportunity to ensure that proposals put to the House could be accepted, could go into Committee and could form the basis of discussion for any Government returned on 9 April? 1 know that a Labour Government will be returned and I am sure that that Government will not take as long as from 1986 to the present time, as this Government have, to do something constructive about changing the law and bringing in legislation that could be enforced throughout the country.

Mrs. Rumbold

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's views; I also appreciate the fact that he is presenting a proposal to the House of Commons. I think that he knows that it is difficult for the Government to accept, any proposal before the question of Community law is resolved, and also that his proposals are relatively controversial.

Mr. Malins

Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the supermarkets that have recently been opening on Sundays? Does she accept that very few people are totally opposed to Sunday trading, but millions want some form of compromise that recognises the special nature of Sunday?

Mrs. Rumbold

Many people wish to recognise the special nature of Sunday. Interestingly, however, each time that the topic is raised in the House of Commons, very diverse views are expressed. That, I think, clears the stand that the Government have been taking, and their view that the matter cannot be easily resolved. I share some of my hon. Friend's views, but I do not believe that the House is yet ready to accept a proposal from the Government that will command wide support from a large number of hon. Members.