Enterprise Bill: House of Commons rejects Sunday trading plans

Caroline 4On the 9th of March the House of Commons debated the Government’s Enterprise Bill at its Report Stage. Debate focused on proposals to allow Local Authorities in England Wales to deregulate Sunday Trading in their areas. Several amendments were tabled to the bill, including one from David Burrows MP to remove those clauses altogether.

The Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, Second Church Estates Commissioner, spoke in the debate and drew attention to a compromise amendment that she had tabled (though not in her capacity as a Church Commissioner). Her amendment was not voted on as the House accepted by 317 to 286 votes the amendment from David Burrowes to remove the clauses on Sunday trading from the bill. 

Her speech in the debate is below and can also be watched here

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): I rise to speak in support of amendment 19, which I suggest is a workable compromise. As Second Church Estates Commissioner, I met Treasury Ministers to try to understand the reasons why the Government wanted to change the original compromise of the Sunday Trading Act 1994. I was told that there were two principal reasons: first, to address the demise of the high street; and secondly, the need to remain competitive with neighbouring countries, notably France.

Online shopping was cited as the principal cause of the recent demise of the high street, but longer-term competition from out of town shopping centres has also caused that demise. I doubt very much that keeping shops open longer on Sundays will stop people shopping online. Anyone who has been shopping with their teenage or young adult children will know that they go to the shops to look, and say, “Mum, we won’t buy it here because there’s an online discount.” Rather like Canute, we will find it very difficult to turn back the tide.

Robert Jenrick: Will my right hon. Friend answer the point that I tried to make in a previous intervention? Behind every online transaction, there are tens of thousands of British workers, including in Newark’s Knowhow warehouse. Those people have rights, too. She is standing up for one type of worker and ignoring the fact that tens of thousands, if not more, are working elsewhere behind the scenes.

Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend makes a perfectly valid but separate point. I am addressing the question of whether keeping shops open longer will stop people shopping online; he wants people to have jobs servicing the online industry. As has been pointed out, a number of high street stores are successful in maintaining their high street position and at the same time giving an online offer.

I am prepared to concede that we need to remain competitive as a country, so I asked the British embassy in Paris to give me details of the recent change in French Sunday trading laws. Essentially, my amendment, which I have tabled with the help of the Clerks, seeks to mirror as closely as possible how the French Government have approached the very same question by designating localised tourist zones.

The Macron law—it is named after the Minister who introduced it—extended the number of Sundays for trading in France from five a year to 12 a year. Essentially, it is one Sunday a month. By happy coincidence, it created 12 zones. Six are in Paris, and it might be a welcome distraction to Members to run through where they are: Boulevard Haussmann, Champs-Élysées, Saint-Germain and Montmartre. That gives colleagues a sense of the size of the zones that the French Government identified. There are zones in six other regional cities, including Cannes, Deauville and Nice.

That allowed local government to designate smaller tourist zones, where shops under special licence could open for longer. The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) indirectly asked how the French Government designated tourist zones. The answer to his question is that they collected data on the profile of shoppers who used those zones. Their definition was that the zone should show exceptional attendance by tourists residing abroad. Crucially, those tourist zones do not have wider application, which reduces the negative effects on smaller shops and convenience stores, which we have discussed.

The Olympic park experience is important because, in essence, it is the only practical pilot we have to go on when discussing the likely impact of extended opening. When the practical experience of 2012 was analysed by Oxford Economics, it was ascertained, as Members have pointed out, that small and medium-sized enterprises in up to a two-mile radius from large supermarkets in the area lost over 3% of their weekly sales income. If that is extrapolated to the national scale, it is estimated there would be an annual loss of £870 million in sales for all types of convenience stores and a net loss of 3,270 retail jobs in England and Wales, were longer Sunday trading hours to be made permanent, as happened in the experiment during the Olympics.

I have been contacted by local Nisa and SPAR convenience store providers concerned about the implications of these changes on smaller stores. I also share the deeper concerns expressed by my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), the Keep Sunday Special campaign and the Church of England, about the erosion of a general day of leisure on which people can be available for shared activities with friends and family, especially those who build up community spirit and strengthen families.

I have talked to shop workers in large stores who often get their free time in half days on days other than Sunday, when family and friends might not be available. Until today, we have not had a detailed impact assessment, so I tend to agree with the Bishop of St Albans, the lead spokesman in the Church of England on Sunday trading. He said:

“an increase in opening hours will only lead to more people being pressured into spending Sunday apart from their children and families.”

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): As my right hon. Friend will be aware, I represent a constituency with a large tourism industry. How would her suggestion work, given that in Paignton, for example, parts of the town centre are used by locals, yet the out-of-town supermarket is used by people going to the holiday camps? How would this result in a tourist zone?

Mrs Spelman: This is essentially a devolved proposal. It would be for local authorities to express an interest in being a designated tourist zone. My amendment limits temporally and geographically the potentially deleterious impact on SMEs. It has the capacity to deal with extended opening hours during the British holiday season, as well as during the Christmas season, when many places—Blackpool, for example—experience an increase in tourist trade.

Research has shown that the majority of shop workers do not welcome the opportunity to work longer hours on a Sunday. I commend Ministers for including improved legal protections in the current provisions, but the practical reality in the workplace is that if someone is worried about losing their job, they will not want to ask for a special concession not to have to work on a Sunday. Similarly, if someone wants a promotion, they will not want to ask for that concession, because their competitors in the promotion stakes might not ask for a comparable one.

I welcome the Government amendment, which did make it on to the Amendment Paper, to give local authorities the power to restrict Sunday trading to zones, but I am concerned that the zoning is potentially too broad in its impact. For example, it would not be strong enough to avoid a combined local authority-wide mega zone occurring, which, in my view, would have an excessively negative impact. A trial would also make it difficult to discern the selected impacts on different businesses within such a wide zone.

It is obviously not the Minister’s fault that the manuscript amendment was not selected. He indicated that it gave us a feeling for what he would like to do—it was a valiant effort—but the difficulty for parliamentarians is that it is not actually on the Amendment Paper. As somebody said, we need an amendment that we can feel and touch. I believe that a compromise that benefits families and UK competition lies in the tourist-zone model. I strongly encourage Members to support this compromise.

(Via Parliament.UK)