Parliament and Politics: Sunday trading may split Cabinet

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Indy Politics
KENNETH CLARKE, the Home Secretary, expects the Cabinet to be split over Sunday trading when the Government introduces legislation to clarify the law.

The Home Secretary believes that some Cabinet ministers may vote against parts of the Bill to reform Sunday trading laws, as a matter of conscience, on a free vote in the committee stage.

It is expected that the Prime Minister will allow members of the Cabinet and backbench MPs a free vote on key issues and MPs may be offered alternative clauses on the extent of the reforms.

The Government is committed to reforming Sunday trading laws, and believes it can secure a majority with the new intake of MPs. Many of the new Tory MPs are regarded as more Thatcherite than their predecessors. The experiment with Sunday trading is also expected to sway MPs in support of the legislation.

The precise details of the legislation will not be agreed until after the European Court of Justice makes a final judgment on a case brought against B and Q, the DIY store, by two city councils, which is due in the Autumn.

An interim judgment last week failed to clarify the law, but the Government made a commitment in its election manifesto to reform the Sunday trading laws. It is unlikely any legislation will be introduced before autumn 1993, because the bill to ratify the Maastricht treaty will block the available time in the current session, if the Government fufils its promise to reintroduce it.

The Home Office is expected to use the intervening period to encourage a more energetic campaign in support of reform of Sunday trading.

The Home Office failed to organise any pro-reform lobby the last time the Government tried to reform the laws, and lost its bill in the face of a vigorous, well-organised anti-Sunday trading campaign.

To limit the opposition from the trade unions, Mr Clarke is considering a concession to the shop workers.

He is considering the possibility of allowing existing employees a legal opt-out from Sunday work, if they are currently not required to work on Sundays.

However, he is against legislating for other forms of employment protection, including overtime pay for Sunday work, which could make Sunday opening unprofitable. Mr Clarke has told officials that he personally favours total deregulation of the Sunday trading laws, but does not believe this would command a majority in the Commons.

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