The Conservatives in Brighton: MPs 'to grasp nettle' over Sunday trading legislation

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT intends to try to settle the issue of Sunday shopping by presenting Parliament with a range of possible solutions and let MPs make a choice.

Confronted, once again, with a strong demand from the conference for a liberalisation of the law on trading on Sundays, Peter Lloyd, Minister of State at the Home Office, admitted yesterday that it was 'a nettle too long ungrasped'. But the solution, which Kenneth Clarke, Home Secretary, will detail in a statement to the Commons before Christmas, effectively passes the decision to others.

A Home Office Bill will offer MPs a menu of options from total deregulation to the tighter, but clearer, law sought by Keep Sunday Special campaigners. A Private Member's Bill intended to stop high street stores opening on Sunday is due for a Commons Second Reading debate in January but has little chance of reaching the statute book.

Mr Lloyd said there was no way in which the Government could take its own preferred solution of deregulation back to the Commons on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. 'We did that in 1986 - in the Shops Bill - when we had a majority of 140 and went down to defeat. I cannot pretend that I think we would do better in 1992 or 1993 with our current majority of 21.' He did not believe there was any possibility, except on employee protection, of getting a consensus between the campaigning groups, or of getting an agreed formula out of the retail traders.

But Mr Lloyd added that the sight of the law being flouted was 'offensive', and retailers who wished to obey the law were disadvantaged by those who ignored it.

The Rev Percy Gray, from Southwark and Bermondsey, giving 'a word from the vicar', said that 'strangely' he supported Sunday trading. Poverty, not prosperity, was the evil, he said. 'Any policy that enhances the prosperity of the realm in a sense must be good. I think this policy of freeing Sunday trading would so do.'

Later, the Keep Sunday Special campaign welcomed the Government's intention to tackle the problem, but said the 'open-all- hours extremists' would not get their way. David Blackmore, operations director of the campaign, said: 'More and more business sentiment is swinging our way and on a free vote in the Commons we believe the type-of-shop approach will win.'

Roger Boaden, director of the Shopping Hours Reform Council, said: 'It's a tremendous victory for shoppers who will soon have the freedom to shop when they want and for shopworkers, who will benefit from the protection that the Government has promised.'

The main shopworkers' union Usdaw accused the Government of being unfair to shopworkers by refusing to move quickly on Sunday trading. Bill Connor, the deputy general secretary, said: 'Whatever happens, we want to ensure that most shops are closed on Sundays and that any Sunday working is voluntary and is paid at double time.'