Peers condemn Welsh Government's 'arbitrary' ban on sale of non-essential items

Peers have criticised the Welsh Government's "arbitrary" decision to ban the sale of non-essential items during the country's firebreak lockdown.

Conservative peer Baroness Altmann said the instruction could "risk high street jobs", while Baroness Fox of Buckley questioned how people can follow the guidance to shop early for Christmas when in Wales "they cannot shop at all".

Business minister Lord Callanan admitted he "almost felt sorry" for the Welsh Government having to "navigate their way through this self-imposed error".

It comes as retailers in Wales said they want customers to be "trusted to make their own decision" about whether an item is essential, following a weekend of confusion around the policy which saw aisles selling non-essential items cordoned off in supermarkets during the 17-day firebreak.

Baroness Fox said: "Would the minister inquire with colleagues in the Welsh Assembly (whether) the distinction between buying essential and inessential retail goods is a scientific distinction or an arbitrary political one?"

Lady Fox added: "You (Lord Callanan) say shop early for Christmas - not if you're Welsh, where I'm from, because you're not allowed to shop at all, apparently."

Baroness Altmann added: "Could I, following up on the question by Baroness Fox, ask whether there are discussions between his department (the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), the Department of Health and Social Care and the Government in Wales regarding the sale of non-essential items and the risk to high street jobs that that poses when those that might otherwise have purchased non-essential items in the high streets are then driven to buy them online?"

Lord Callanan replied: "I think the noble lady makes a very powerful point and I would point out, of course, that we don't have these restrictions in England - and I almost felt sorry for the Welsh Government yesterday in trying to navigate their way through this self-imposed error."

Tesco was forced to apologise for wrongly suggesting sanitary products were "non-essential" and so could not be sold due to the new measures in place in Wales.

This forced the Welsh Government to meet with retailers on Monday to "review the regulations."

They are due to publish "revised guidance" on Tuesday after what they described as "positive discussions" with the sector.