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Clarke pressed to reinforce ban on Sunday trading

KENNETH CLARKE, the Home Secretary, has come under pressure from opponents of Sunday trading to spell out to local councils that the 1950 Shops Act ban remains the law until Parliament changes it.

Concern by the Keep Sunday Special campaign, which has the support of religious groups, the shopworkers' union Usdaw, and more than 30 trade associations, comes in the wake of last week's opinion of the Advocate-General of the European Court of Justice that B & Q, the DIY chain, could not claim the Sunday prohibition in England and Wales violated EC law. The campaign fears that unless Mr Clarke takes a stand, the Home Office will be seen as signalling to local authorities that they need not enforce the law.

Contrary to indications last week, autumn 1993 is the earliest a reforming Bill might be introduced. Apart from the need to await the ruling of the full Luxembourg court this autumn and its consideration by the House of Lords, the Bill to ratify the Maastricht treaty is likely to block the available parliamentary time.

Government sources also indicated yesterday that the issue may be allowed to fester even longer, in the hope that pressure for change will gather pace.

Campaign leaders yesterday pressed Home Office officials for a statement to ensure local authorities are in no doubt that they must enforce the law. They have been promised their concerns will be conveyed directly to Mr Clarke.

In a House of Lords ruling involving the building supplies chain Wickes, Lord Goff said that until the EC law point was finally cleared up, 'the Act of 1950 remains in force with the effect that . . . the general prohibition against Sunday trading is still the law'. But David Blackmore, the campaign's operations director, said: 'There are no positive signals from the Government that the law should be enforced.'

The campaign backs the Bill tabled by Ray Powell, Labour MP for Ogmore, to prevent chain stores opening on Sundays.