MP proposes fourth Sunday trading option: Tory wants only 'special shops' to open in morning. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A TORY MP has thrown a potential spanner into the already confused works of tonight's key decisions on reforming Sunday trading by proposing a fourth option on which MPs may be asked to vote.

Sir Peter Emery, the MP for Honiton, wants only 'special' shops such as newsagents, garden centres and filling stations to be allowed to open up to 1pm on a Sunday, with total deregulation thereafter.

He defended the amendment, along the lines of one he proposed in 1986, as a 'commonsense' way of preserving a Christian Sunday while recognising modern-day demands to work on the Sabbath.

Because it is an amendment, rather than one of the three options contained in the Sunday Trading Bill, Sir Peter's proposal may be called for a vote first.

The three existing options, on which the Government has promised a free vote, are: total deregulation, allowing shops to open at any time on a Sunday; partial deregulation, favoured by the Shopping Hours Reform Council, letting small shops open at any time but limiting large ones to six hours; and limited relaxation of controls, favoured by the Keep Sunday Special Campaign, closing most shops on a Sunday but allowing all to trade on the four Sundays before Christmas.

Michael Morris, the deputy speaker with responsibility for handling this part of the Bill, will announce this afternoon the order of the votes - and whether Sir Peter's amendment should be called. If a vote is carried, those coming after it are automatically lost. The least likely winner is total deregulation.

A further amendment from Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat MP for Southwark and Bermondsey, has put down an amendment seeking to place Sunday trading on the same footing as Welsh Sunday licensing laws, giving councils the choice of option after referendums. This may be ruled out of order because of its financial implications.

The Shopping Hours Reform Council and the Keep Sunday Special Campaign both claimed an impending victory yesterday.

A Shopping Hours Reform Council spokesman said outright supporters, plus a number of those switching from total deregulation after that was voted down, would produce a 'good' majority.

Ray Powell, Labour MP for Ogmore and de facto leader of the Keep Sunday Special Campaign in the Commons, said his pledges indicated a possible victory by a majority of up to 20.

Mr Powell has reckoned that between 70 and 75 Conservatives support the limited deregulation cause, not far off the number who helped defeat Margaret Thatcher in 1986. Gillian Shephard, the Minister of Agriculture, was rumoured to be among them.

Mr Powell played down fears that Labour MPs were likely to drift towards the partial deregulation camp following the defection of Usdaw, the shopworkers' union. 'People are not impressed with ratting on an agreement because of pressure from Tesco and other large employers,' he said.