Caroline Flint has accused the Government of saying one thing and doing another on Sunday Trading. The MP told a Commons Committee examining the Enterprise Bill: "On two occasions, senior figures in our political system — the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister — have seemed to say one thing to get the support of the House and the electorate, and then down the road it seems they have changed their view. Perhaps that was already their plan."
Read the full speech below.
Caroline Flint’s speech against Government plans to change the law on Sunday trading. Thursday 25 February - the final sitting of the Enterprise Bill Committee.
Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Sir David (Amess). This debate saddens and disappoints me. I remember when the previous Government came to the Commons to seek support for extending the opening hours during the Olympics. I, along with others, listened in good faith to the arguments presented by the Government. Like Members of all parties, I was concerned that giving the green light to the extension would be the start of something much wider in England and Wales.
I am also saddened by the fact that in April 2015, USDAW received a letter written on behalf of David Cameron stating that the Government had no plans to relax the current legislation. The letter was written on behalf of the Prime Minister in 2015, and we have the same Prime Minister in 2016. However, a review was subsequently announced in June 2015, after the election. On two occasions, senior figures in our political system—the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister—have seemed to say one thing to get the support of the House and the electorate, and then down the road it seems they have changed their view. Perhaps that was already their plan. As my hon. Friends have already outlined, we have what it is fair to call a great British compromise. It is not the case
Anna Soubry: It is not “British”; the Scots have a different system.
Caroline Flint: I will come on to Scotland shortly. I am proud of being English; in England we do not have to do everything that they do in Scotland, and vice versa. That is the beauty of devolution. Sometimes we are right and they are wrong—and, to be fair to Scottish National party Committee members, sometimes Scotland gets it right and we get it wrong. I pay tribute to the fact that the Scots chose to go ahead with the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces before England did. As public health Minister, I went to Scotland to learn from its success. It was a good example of seeing where things could be done differently and how we could learn from them.
I think England is very different from Scotland when it comes to the retail sector. No offence, but England is a much bigger country with a much larger population. The density of our cities and their proximity to each other—putting aside Glasgow and Edinburgh—means that the changes the Government are suggesting could end up, as my hon. Friends have outlined, having a mushrooming effect as one city makes one decision under one local authority and that leads to pressure on others. I worry about that.
According to a survey by USDAW of more than 10,000 shop workers, the vast majority work at least some Sundays. Most work every Saturday. Perhaps there is a reason why the Government want the changes. My hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central made an interesting point: he said we need to tighten up the protection of workers’ rights in this area because 35% of staff in large stores would like to work fewer hours on a Sunday. That indicates, along with other evidence, that undue pressure is already being put on workers in retail today. Regardless of whether our Parliament decides to go ahead with the Government’s proposals, I hope that the Government will extend the protections under the existing arrangements to retail workers who work on Sundays.
I happen to think that not every day of the week should be the same. It is good to have something a bit different and a bit British. I am old enough to remember the halcyon days when we had half-day closing on a Wednesday. My grandparents were publicans. My parents worked in pubs, and I have worked in pubs. I remember when we opened at 12 o’clock on a Sunday and closed at 2 o’clock, then did not open until 7 o’clock that night. There are some issues around the opening hours of that sector as well.
I also remember when banks were first allowed to open on a Saturday. In fact, it was on a new Saturday opening of the NatWest branch in Richmond when my husband and I happened to go in with our children to get some pocket money for them and we managed to foil an armed bank robbery. Having done that and the robber having been apprehended by the police, my husband and I were put on alert that we might have to give evidence in court; on that particular Saturday, staff had been brought from another branch and had forgotten to put the cameras on inside the branch. As a result, there was no evidence, so my husband and I were the only persons who could put the armed robber in the bank and outside the bank at the relevant time.
There is often confusion about what the opening up of these arrangements means for staff. How ironic it is that all these years later, after all that extension of banks’ opening hours, we are now seeing bank closures. Throughout the villages in my constituency, I see banks closing from Monday to Friday, when consumers would like to see them open.
According to a statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills: “The current Sunday trading rules are restrictive, stifling business efficiency and competitiveness and inhibiting consumer choice and reducing the ability of our major cities to compete for international tourism.”
In the words of Victor Meldrew, “I don’t believe it!” I happen to have in my constituency the excellent Yorkshire Wildlife Park, which is one of the fastest growing tourist attractions in Yorkshire. You are very welcome to visit, Sir David, if you happen to be in south Yorkshire on a weekend.
Mary Creagh: I thank my right hon. Friend for enlivening our afternoon deliberations with her armed robbery-foiling story, which I have heard many times. I heartily recommend the full version; I am sure we can all adjourn to Strangers’ at the close of the Committee to hear the unexpurgated version. However, she neglected to mention the meerkats at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, which is a gross injustice to that excellent tourist attraction.
Caroline Flint: I thank my hon. Friend for that added promotion of the park. May I return the favour by mentioning the excellent Yorkshire Sculpture Park in her constituency of Wakefield?
The BIS statement says that these measures will somehow improve international tourism, but do you know what? I want people to come to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park on a Sunday. I want them to go to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on a Sunday. I want proper measures to support international tourism outside London and the south-east, and we can do that by ensuring we have good transport links, good support and promotion and marketing of those wonderful assets and jewels in our tourism crown. In a few months’ time, we will have the Tour de Yorkshire, which will come through my constituency and is a major event to raise money and create jobs. What is this shabby deal we are being offered? Nobody is asking for this.
Jo Churchill: I am just wondering: do these wonderful tourist attractions have any souvenir shops?
Caroline Flint: Yes. To be clear, we all acknowledge that there is provision for Sunday opening. In England and Wales, stores that are larger than 280 square metres are allowed to open for six continuous hours between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm. Small stores—those under 280 square metres—do not have any restrictions on Sunday opening.
Mary Creagh: In her enunciation of the highlights of Wakefield, my right hon. Friend unforgivably neglected to mention the Hepworth Wakefield gallery, which is open on Sundays. It has an excellent café/restaurant and a shop. Both the shop at the Hepworth and the shop at Yorkshire Sculpture Park are open on Sundays because they are classified as small shops.
Caroline Flint: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am happy to take other interventions on how we support the UK tourism industry and do not undermine it by further encouraging people to shop even longer in the major shops in our cities and towns. I really do not think we need that.
David Mackintosh (Northampton South) (Con): Will the right hon. Lady give way?
Caroline Flint: No. I am going to finish my point before I take another intervention. I do not think a change to Sunday hours is necessary, and there is no evidence for it. We certainly do not have the impact assessment with the evidence to support it. What is shabby about this whole debate is that none of this stuff was in the Bill on Second Reading. Nevertheless, Ministers spent an inordinate amount of time trying to explain what the proposal was all about and why it should go ahead. [Interruption.]
Catherine McKinnell: My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. From a sedentary position, in response to the important point she makes about small shops and other businesses that can take advantage of the existing Sunday arrangements, the Minister asks why that should not be available for larger stores. Does she share my concern that the Government just do not get it?
Caroline Flint: I do not think that they get it. We already have a flexible system that gives ample time for people to shop on a Sunday if they so wish, but within a framework that tries to make Sunday different from every other day of the week. Further extension of Sunday trading will not only put huge pressure on people who are currently working in large stores, 35% of whom would like to work shorter hours than they currently are, but undermine the fabric of what a Sunday should be about and the opportunity for families to be together.
I am a vice chair of the all-party group on women and work. Earlier this week we were discussing the big problems of childcare—and that was just from Monday to Friday, let alone the impact of having to find more childcare support on a Sunday. In the UK there are already too many families, some of whom I know and have met, in which the parents are working shifts to cover their own childcare because they cannot afford to pay for it or get it at a time that suits them. I do not want to be part of adding to the problems of those families.
David Mackintosh: We have heard a lot about interesting tourist attractions. Do people work at them on a Sunday?
Caroline Flint: Honestly, with the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is stupid. Nobody is not acknowledging the changes there have been in the working hours of the retail sector. In some cases, the arrangements make common sense, and compromise has happened. Nevertheless, to further extend the possibility of workers in the retail sector working ever-increasing hours from Monday to Sunday is a mistake. It is not just about the money; it is about how we see things and a way of life that is threatened by the Government’s proposals.
It concerns me that promises have been broken. It concerns me that we could see the domino effect, to which my colleagues have referred, whereby one city feels that it has to move in this direction and others follow suit. I hope that we would all agree that our high streets face major challenges in terms of internet shopping and how they can keep ahead. One of the biggest problems for the shops on my constituency’s high streets is that the landlords who own the properties that retailers rent are not keeping them up to standard, which has a massive effect on communities in the many villages and towns that I represent in Don Valley.
I also want to say—I was thinking about this during an earlier speech—that if we are to have longer retail hours on Sundays, what will the impact be on policing? How much more will the police have to deal with antisocial behaviour and crime in busy retail areas during opening hours? It happens too often and shop workers are often the victims. What impact will the change have on the amount of litter that accumulates during the longer opening hours? Has any thought been given to all the service areas that are so important to successful businesses and retail outlets? Will there be any knock-on effect on their responsibilities and duties?
I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter. There is cross-party opposition to the proposals. If something is not broken, why try to fix it? I was going to say that we have a British compromise, but it is a very English compromise, and I am going to stand up for England—and Wales.