Smith rebukes whip on Sunday trading: Labour leader angered by personal battle against shops Bill

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JOHN SMITH, leader of the Labour Party, has given Ray Powell, the party's powerful pairing whip, a severe and unprecedented dressing down for using his influence to further his own personal opposition to Sunday trading.

Mr Smith summoned Mr Powell to his office to register his concern that Mr Powell, an adherent of the Keep Sunday Special campaign, had defied party policy by continuing his campaign against the Sunday Trading Bill during its committee stage.

The move is a rebuff for Mr Powell, who was re-elected for this session by a relatively narrow majority after strong complaints by a number of Labour MPs that he used his patronage as pairing whip and chairman of the accommodation sub-committee to bolster his political influence.

As the party manager responsible for allocating offices to Labour MPs in the overcrowded House of Commons he is said by opponents to enjoy considerable patronage over Labour backbenchers. He also makes pairing arrangements between Labour and Tory MPs and decides on which nights they can be implemented - thus allowing Labour MPs a night off.

Although the Labour whip on the committee, Mr Powell collaborated with David Alton, the Liberal Democrat MP, in framing an amendment designed to neuter the Bill. There have also been complaints from Labour MPs that he tried to 'pack' the commitee with members hostile to the Bill.

The Labour front bench, while seeking to build in safeguards of worker protection, decided to support the relaxation of shopping hours on Sunday once it had been approved in a free vote. Mr Powell is sponsored by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, but came into conflict with the union when it gave conditional support to an extension of Sunday shopping.