MPs vote for tighter Sunday trading law

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THE STALEMATE over the Sunday trading law is unlikely to be resolved for at least another year it became clear yesterday as 214 MPs voted for a Private Member's Bill that would put large retailers at risk of imprisonment if they opened on Sundays.

In one of a succession of passionate speeches in support of the Bill, David Alton, Liberal Democrat MP for Liverpool Mossley Hill, said: 'It takes a stand against the cult of materialism and the sheer greed which motivates so many other decisions today.'

Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, has promised a government Bill setting out a range of options for reform of the widely flouted Sunday laws. But Peter Lloyd, the Home Office minister responsible for the legislation, told MPs he did 'not hold out much prospect' of introducing it before the next parliamentary session opens in November.

The large turnout of MPs on a Friday to vote for a Bill which tightens the law considerably surprised Home Office officials. Mr Clarke favours total deregulation, but on yesterday's showing this is the least likely option to be accepted by MPs. With Labour MPs pledged to vote against any proposal that does not include protection for employees - guaranteeing premium pay and a right not to work on Sunday - and many Tories opposed to liberalisation, the Government may have to compromise.

In 1986 the Government was embarrassed when its attempt to deregulate through the Shops Bill was rejected by 296 votes to 282 - the only Second Reading defeat under Baroness Thatcher.

Tory party conferences have continued to demand total deregulation of Sunday shopping - the opposite change to that supported by MPs yesterday. By 214 votes to 41 - a majority of 173 - the Commons gave a Second Reading to the Shops (Amendment) Bill sponsored by Ray Powell, Labour MP for Ogmore. It is supported by the Keep Sunday Special Campaign and Usdaw, the shopworkers' union.

The Bill would impose a tight general ban on Sunday opening while allowing exemptions for certain categories of shops, including leisure outlets, garages and possibly garden centres. Retailers who broke the law would be liable to a fine of up to pounds 50,000 and up to a year in jail.

Though the Bill can be blocked by the Government in a tight parliamentary timetable, the vote will be studied by ministers for what it portends for their own Bill - 36 Tories voted with Mr Powell.

Mr Clarke's Bill will offer MPs a choice between total deregulation, the Shopping Hours Reform Council proposal allowing small shops to open at any time but limiting larger stores to six hours, and the Keep Sunday Special Campaign proposal.

Michael Schluter, director of the Keep Sunday Special Campaign, said the Government was in 'quite a tight corner'.