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The first element of the order deals with amendments to the notification procedures currently required under the Sunday Trading Act 1994. These are matters which fall to the Department of Trade and Industry. By way of background, shop opening hours were regulated by the Shops Act 1950, which consolidated all previous legislation on Sunday trading. However, the law was considered contradictory and was widely ignored.
Following extensive consultation and input from a wide range of interested parties, those problems were addressed in the enactment of the Sunday Trading Act 1994. The result was that, under the provisions of that Act, the opening hours of large shops, defined as those with internal floor areas of more than 280 square metresfor example, larger supermarkets and superstoresare limited to a maximum of six hours' continuous trading on a Sunday within the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Large shops are also required to give advance notice to the relevant local authority of their planned Sunday opening hours, or any change in those hours, and local authorities are required to maintain a register of those notifications and make it available for inspection by members of the public.
It is worth mentioning that the impetus for this regulatory reform order came from the retail sector and was supported by local authorities. The retail sector suggested that the notification procedures were an unnecessary burden and should be removed by means of a regulatory reform order. Preliminary consultation with local authorities indicated that, in their view, maintaining registers of notification was an unnecessary burden and that they would prefer to focus their resources on other important issues, such as enforcement of the Act.
Subject to approval by Parliament, this order will therefore amend the Sunday Trading Act 1994 in order to remove the burden on large shops to give advance noticethat is, 14 days' noticeof their Sunday opening hours or any change in their opening hours. It will also remove the burden on local authorities to maintain a public register of notifications. The order applies to England and Wales.
I want to emphasise that the order will not alter the permitted range of hours nor the current maximum of six continuous hours within which a large shop is permitted to open. In addition, large shops will still be required to display their Sunday opening hours conspicuously both within and outside the relevant premises thereby allowing the local authorities to continue to enforce compliance with the Act itself.
The second element of this RRO aims to remove the archaic and unnecessary restriction on the sale of methylated spirits on a Sunday. Noble Lords will wish to note that this matter falls within the responsibility of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. In short, anyone who sells methylated spirits on a Sunday is currently breaking the law and could be prosecuted for doing so.
For background, Section 26 of the Revenue Act 1889 formed part of the control system that applied to licensed retailers of methylated spirits. It was introduced to address a problem of people purchasing and drinking methylated spirits on a day when dutiable alcoholic liquors were not readily available. These days dutiable alcoholic liquor is widely available to purchase on a Sunday.
Subject to the approval of Parliament, this RRO will repeal Section 26 of the Revenue Act 1889 that prohibits the sale of methylated spirits on a Sunday. Section 26 applies throughout the United Kingdom. The order will repeal it for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland the repeal is a matter for the Scottish Parliament.
There has been extensive consultation on both proposals. On the opening hours proposal a large majority of respondents were in favour of the removal of notification procedures and removal of maintaining a register of notifications.
On the proposal to remove the restriction on the sale of methylated spirits, all respondents who gave a view were in favour of the repeal of Section 26 of the Revenue Act 1889. These proposals have been closely scrutinised by respective parliamentary scrutiny committees and their responses noted.
In your Lordships' House the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform concluded that the proposals remove burdens, within the meaning of the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, and do not create any new burdens. The department also demonstrated to the satisfaction of the committee that the proposals will neither confound any reasonable expectations nor reduce any necessary protection.
The committee in the other place also concluded that the proposals removed a legal burden and would not remove any necessary protections or any rights or freedoms, which a person might reasonably expect to continue to exercise. The committee unanimously recommended that the order be approved. I commend the order to the House.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of these new regulations and for the brief but clear statement by his department. This clarity is essential in view of the sensitivity of the issue of Sunday trading, and the many opponents to it.
Noble Lords will recall the objections that were raised when the Sunday trading laws were drastically revised by the former government, and the dire predictions about the break-up of family life if people were tempted to go shopping rather than to church or
As we now know, Sunday trading has been welcomed, as the noble Lord said, by the vast numbers of the public who vote with their feet by going shopping, often en famille, on Sundays. It is also a help to those who, because of work or other personal commitments, have limited time in which to shop. Shop staff, in turn, are pleased, without coercion, to accept the overtime or time off in lieu that they get for working on Sunday. The fact is that those who object to going shopping on Sunday are not obliged to do so.
The reform contained in the first proposal of the order is to remove the requirement for the owners of larger shops, who are restricted to six hours of opening on Sundays, to make an announcement to the local authority of what their opening hours will be. In turn, the local authority is currently required solemnly to record those hours.
At present, if a store wants to change its opening hours from, say, 11 am to 5 pm to 10 am to 4 pm, it has to give 14 days' notice. The proposed alteration is to remove that registration requirement on the basis that, after 10 years, it has been found that the shops can be trusted not to cheat. The Government are removing an unnecessaryperhaps "obsolete" or "redundant" would be better wordspiece of bureaucracy and the attendant costs on local councils.
The issue of Sunday or Christmas Day trading is, so far as the Conservative Party is concerned, a matter for the conscience and religious beliefs of individual Members of Parliament or Members of your Lordships' House. We shall therefore leave it to our colleagues on these BenchesI am not sure where they are tonightto respond to this part of the draft order.
The second proposal is to remove the restriction on the sale of methylated spirits on a Sunday. As the noble Lord indicatedhe did not use quite these wordsthis is a relic of the Victorian era when methylated spirits were a symbol of the demon drink. Meths was the crack cocaine of its day. It was cheaper than gin, which in all conscience was cheap enough then, but gin, rum or other spirits were not available on Sundays. Meths was deliberately coloured purple, as distinct from its natural clear colour, supposedly to make it less appetising. But the so-called meths drinkers who used to abound in seedier parts of towns now unfortunately can find the stimulant or oblivion that they seek by other means and elsewhere than in hardware or chemist shops.
According to Customs & Excise, which was responsible for collecting the licence fee for selling methylated spirits, which has long since been abolished, and for enforcing the 1899 Act which rendered illegal its sale on Sundays, no one can recall
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