Sir Roger Gale
Member of Parliament for North Thanet (Margate, Herne Bay & The Villages)
Gale's View - Sunday Trading
September 30th 2015
Sunday Trading is once again on the political agenda.
It is a matter of record that I have opposed each and every attempt to first introduce and then to expand the right of shops to open on Sundays. I was one of twelve who confronted Margaret Thatcher over this issue in the Yellow Drawing Room at Downing Street many years ago and I understand that my name was carried on the “handbag list” throughout her remaining years on office. She was right over so many issues but on this matter I believe that she was quite simply and profoundly wrong.
Of course many people have to work at the weekend –I am frequently required to do so myself – but I still believe that insofar as is possible the concept of a family day of rest and relaxation, into which context “retail therapy” does not in my opinion fall ,is an essential pillar of our society and one that we remove at our peril.
I suppose that following the selective relaxation of the Sunday Trading Laws as a “temporary measure” to accommodate the purchasing urges of foreign visitors during the “012 London Olympics it was inevitable that those whose dream is to secure 24-hour-a-day seven-day-a-week shopping should have had their ambitions emboldened. It was always pretty clear that the “Olympic experiment” was a cynical ploy to pave the way for powerful retail interests to dominate the debate.
There is, within any family`s budget, only a certain amount of money that can, after all the demands for housing, utilities, transport, clothing and so on have been met, be spent upon the purchase of new curtains, carpets and sofas.. The idea that we are all now so busy that we cannot, somehow, find time within six days of virtually round-the-clock shopping in the High Street, the Mall or on line, buy all of the goods that we can possibly afford (and probably also goods that we have no way of paying for) is retail rubbish. We have, nonetheless, already added in a chunk of Sunday for those incapable of organising their diaries to accommodate the retail urge on any other day. Is that not enough?
Neither do I accept that the argument that we are now a “multi-cultural and secular society” in which, for many, The Lord`s Day is no longer recognised, can or should be allowed to hold sway. The United Kingdom remains a Christian country with an Established Church of which the Monarch is the head. It surely also has to be right that as many people as possible, of all faiths or none, should be able to enjoy, simultaneously, one “day off” in the course of the working week.
Experience has shown that while some shop workers are not averse to toiling on Sundays many others, who feel coerced into going to work for fear of losing their jobs to other more compliant members of staff if they do not do so, would, given a choice, take Sunday as their day of rest.
Mine, though, is not a plea on behalf of the Unite Union: it is a genuine appeal on behalf of what I believe to be a strong and silent majority that includes a huge number of hard-pressed small shopkeepers struggling to compete with out-of-town supermarkets that we should at the very least settle for the status quo and not do further harm to a society in which family life is already buckling under the stress of changing cultures.
Under Blair`s administration and a policy of “people who are shopping are happy” it was not only the national but the domestic debt burden that ultimately led the United Kingdom to the brink of bankruptcy. “Never before had so much been owed by so many” ….. to credit card companies and to banks. As a constituency MP holding advice surgeries I have listened, over too many years, to tales of misery arising from personal indebtedness and I find it hard to believe that it is a Conservative Government that I support that once again wishes to drag the country down the primrose path to the ever-ringing till and the land of plastic promise.
Whether there are enough of us to defeat this proposal only time will tell but we shall try.