Boots tell staff how to lobby for Sunday trading

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MPs could soon be receiving a steady stream of letters in different coloured inks from staff at Boots, the chemists.

Managers at Boots branches have been told to help staff write to their MPs as part of the company's campaign in favour of Sunday trading.

A letter to Boots branch managers from the company's own Sunday shopping campaign says: 'Unless we balance your MP's postbag, a vociferous minority will win the Sunday shopping debate as it did in 1986.'

It suggests managers should prompt the counter-attack against the Keep Sunday Special Campaign by arming their staff with 'pens of assorted colours, a range of notepaper but not company-headed paper, envelopes to match the notepaper and guidelines on writing letters to MPs'.

The Boots managers are told to keep the letters in date sequence to ensure that they are posted at the correct intervals. 'In this way, the MP will be constantly reminded of the popularity of Sunday shopping by a steady stream of letters.'

Boots staff are told to keep their letters brief and to explain why they want to work on Sundays.

It suggests they may like to say: 'The extra money helps to pay for my mortgage/car/

holiday . . . I can only work when my husband is at home to look after our children . . .'

The Boots letter was leaked to the Universe, the Catholic newspaper. David Alton, a Liberal Democrat MP, said it meant that staff could be blackmailed into writing to their MPs, but that was denied by Boots.

A spokesman for the company said: 'We are not coercing staff to write. They are doing so voluntarily, as they are in large numbers from other stores - Sainsbury's, Tesco's and Dixons.'

MPs usually give short shrift to letters that are clearly part of a campaign, which will be seen as an opening shot in the war of words which is already being prepared for the Home Office Bill to liberalise the Sunday trading laws.

The Sunday trading Bill, to be included in the Queen's Speech on 18 November, promises to be the most hotly contested legislation in the package for the new session of Parliament.

MPs are to be given a free vote on options ranging from total liberalisation to new limits on the current chaos in Sunday opening hours.