Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Twenty-Eighth Report


PROPOSAL FOR THE DRAFT REGULATORY REFORM (SUNDAY TRADING) ORDER 2004

INTRODUCTION

1.  This is a "first-stage" proposal laid before Parliament on 14 October 2003. A Statement by the Department of Trade and Industry ("the Department") was laid with the proposal ("the Statement") under section 6(1) of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 ("the 2001 Act"). The order consists of two proposals.

Proposal 1

2.  The first proposal is to amend the Sunday Trading Act 1994 ("the 1994 Act") so as (a) to remove the requirement for large shops[2] to give 14 days notice of their Sunday opening hours or any change in their opening hours to the local authority, and (b) to remove the requirement on local authorities to maintain a register of notifications and to make the register available for inspection by members of the public. The proposal does not change the number or range of hours within which a large shop is permitted to open on a Sunday (six continuous hours between 10am and 6pm).

Proposal 2

3.  The second proposal is to repeal section 26 of the Revenue Act 1889 ("the 1889 Act") so as to remove the prohibition on the sale of methylated spirits between 10pm on a Saturday and 8am the following Monday. The Department, at paragraph 20 of the Statement, describes the provision at "an out-of-date piece of legislation" under which, as far as they know, no prosecutions have been brought in recent years. Indeed, the Regulatory Impact Assessment, at Annex D to the Statement, suggests that many retailers appear to be unaware of the provision.

REMOVAL OF BURDENS

Proposal 1

4.  The first proposal purports to remove two burdens: the burden on large shops to notify the local authority about Sunday opening hours, and the burden on the local authority to maintain a register of such notifications (see paragraphs 28 and 29 of the Statement). It is estimated in the Regulatory Impact Assessment of the proposal (see paragraphs 8 and 9 of Annex C to the Statement) that the administrative cost of handling each notification is about £10 to £12.50 for both the businesses and the local authorities. Each local authority, of which there are about 300 in England and Wales, handles about 10 notifications each year, making the saving to both businesses and local authorities about £30,000 to £37,500 (a total of £60,000 to £75,000) annually.

Proposal 2

5.  The second proposal purports to remove the burden arising from the restriction on the sale of methylated spirits. The restriction affects both the shops which sell methylated spirits and consumers who wish to buy methylated spirits (see paragraphs 29 and 31 of the Statement). The Department suggests (at paragraph 21 of the Statement for example) that because the prohibition is often breached by retailers, either deliberately or because they are unaware of it, the proposal would help traders who are at a competitive disadvantage because they act within the law.

6.  The Committee accepts, with regard to both proposals, that the provisions to be repealed impose burdens within the meaning of the 2001 Act and that the effect of the proposals is to remove these burdens. We observe in passing, however, in agreement with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's response to the consultation, that enabling business to achieve "a level playing field" with businesses which operate unlawfully is not, in itself, a persuasive reason for the proposal.

NECESSARY PROTECTION

Proposal 1

7.  This is dealt with in paragraphs 34 to 36 of the Statement. The Department suggests that the first proposal would "produce a theoretical disadvantage for consumers" in that they would no longer have the right to inspect the notification register held by the local authorities. The Department argues, however, that since (a) the evidence indicates that the register is rarely or ever consulted and (b) other enforcement requirements will remain in place (such as the requirement that large shops should continue to display their Sunday opening times), no protection is afforded by the notification procedure and therefore no necessary protection is lost as a result of its abolition.

8.  One consultee, Blackpool Borough Council, suggested that the proposal would reduce the protection of shop workers because the removal of the notification requirement would enable large shops to change their Sunday opening hours at short notice. In reply, the Department argued that the tendency for this to happen would be off-set by the need for the shops to ensure that they have adequate staffing and to ensure that customers had advance notice of the shop's Sunday opening hours. They concluded that the impact of the proposal on consistency of working hours was likely to be "minimal". We noted, however, in contrast to this reply, that the Department's Regulatory Impact Assessment (Annex C to the Statement at paragraph 8) suggested that the first proposal would "allow large shops to adjust their opening hours at much shorter notice than currently because they will not have to give two weeks advance notice of changes in planned opening hours. This may be of benefit to businesses and consumers".

9.  In a letter dated 7 November, we invited the Department to explain this matter more fully and to state whether the proposal would cause any loss of necessary protection to shop workers working in large shops (see Annex 1). The Department, in their reply (see Annex 1 also), suggested that the abolition of the notification requirement would not remove any present (statutory or contractual) protection of shop workers. The Department also repeated their view that it would not be in the interests of shops to change their hours at short notice because of the need to give consumers sufficient advance notice and the need to ensure that adequate staff were available.

Proposal 2

10.  This is dealt with in paragraph 37 of the Statement. The Department takes the view that the provision prohibiting the sale of methylated spirits from 10pm on Saturdays to 8am on Mondays is "obsolete" following the passage of the 1994 Sunday Trading Act and that it affords no necessary protection.

11.  The Committee accepts that neither proposal would involve a loss of necessary protection.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION

Proposal 1

12.  The Department, at paragraphs 38 and 39 of the Statement, suggests that although the proposal takes away the right of the public to inspect the notification register, since that right is rarely or ever exercised, the proposal would not conflict with any reasonable expectation to continue to exercise a right or freedom.

Proposal 2

13.  The Department, at paragraph 40 of the Statement, suggests that the second proposal similarly would not conflict with any reasonable expectation to continue to exercise a right or freedom; indeed, it would increase the freedom to buy and sell methylated spirits.

14.  The Committee accepts that neither proposal would interfere with any reasonable expectation to continue to exercise a right or freedom.

CONSULTATION

15.  The consultation is described in paragraphs 46 to 53 of, and summarised in Annex B to, the Statement and the list of those consulted is in Annex A to the Statement. The consultation took place between 18 March and 27 June 2003, thereby satisfying the 12 weeks recommended by the Cabinet Office. (We note the second proposal was also the subject of a consultation exercise undertaken by the Her Majesty's Customs and Excise in October 2000.)

16.   Responses received after the closing date were also taken into account. A range of organisations made submissions, including representatives from retailers, businesses, business associations, local government, professional organisations and individuals. Almost all consultees who commented on the first proposal supported it; all consultees who commented on the second proposal supported it. The Committee is satisfied that the consultation was adequate.

CONCLUSION

17.  The Committee concludes that the proposal is an appropriate use of the 2001 Act and meets its requirements.


2   Large shops are those with an internal floor area of over 280 square metres. The proposal does not affect small shops which, under the 1994 Act, are free to trade at any time on Sundays (see paragraph 14 of the Statement). Back


 
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