HC Deb 01 November 1994 vol 248 cc1512-6

Lords amendment: No. 15, after clause 19, to insert the following new clause—Repeal of remainder of the Shops Act 1950. In the Shops Act 1950

  1. (a) Part II (conditions of employment), and
  2. (b) section 67 (business of hairdresser or barber not to be carried on in Scotland on Sunday),
shall cease to have effect.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Mr. Norris.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

With this, it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 40, 168 to 174 and 178.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

This is another important group of amendments and it causes us a great deal of anxiety. The Sunday Trading Act, which the House passed recently, extended trading hours greatly in the retail sector. I think that the Act received Parliament's support because it responded to the requirements and needs of consumers in the 1990s and, critically, it provided a great deal of protection for retail workers, who can in law decline to work on Sunday, or, if they undertake such work, they can undertake it on grounds of their own choosing.

Within months of that legislation passing through the House, and being accepted on both sides of the House on that basis, it is wrong for the Government now to bring before the House proposals to remove the remaining controls and provisions of the Shops Act, which should not be swept away without any thought or concern for the hundreds of thousands of shop workers directly affected by them.

I should like to place on record the fact that I am sponsored by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. We oppose the amendments and will divide the House on them.

It is hard to see any demand or justification for the controls that the Minister proposes on weekly trading hours. Even those who have pressed for liberal Sunday retail trading are not pressing to be allowed to trade any later in the evening than is currently permitted. There is no substantial evidence of a consumer lobby seeking extended weekday trading. The Government's move towards that extension shows their blinkered and narrow ideology and not the wishes of the public or even of many people in business.

The real cost of accepting the amendments will be borne by shop workers. Many Conservative Members are worried about the impact on family life of extending Sunday trading. Such concerns apply to weekday trading too. The impact could even be greater during the week because there is only one Sunday but several weekdays when shop workers—usually women—are drawn into evening work. If the amendments are accepted, many women will be forced to work in the evening and will see less of their families—often at critical times in the development of their families.

Staff face other dangers. Violence towards retail staff is rising, and it ranges from verbal abuse to physical assault. Staff are in the firing line and often have no security. People who work late at night are often the victims of violent incidents. A survey carried out by USDAW found that more than 30 per cent. of the violent incidents that shop workers reported to it occurred after 5 o'clock in the evening—the period that the amendment seeks to force shop workers to work. It is clear that the Minister's proposal to abandon controls on late-night working would place workers under even more pressure.

Not only workers but the police would be affected. I understand that the Association of Chief Police Officers has voiced concern about the total deregulation of shopping hours. The Government propose to abolish some provisions of part II of the Shops Act 1950, to the detriment of shop workers and the public. The legal requirement of a half-day holiday per week for shop workers is to be abolished.

Until 1986, millions of working people who were covered by wages councils orders were entitled by law to annual holidays and holiday pay. The Wages Act 1986 abolished that for workers covered by wages councils, and now Britain's workers have no statutory entitlement to holidays or holiday pay. That is a return to pre-Victorian values, because at least in the latter years of the Victorian era people recognised the need for workers to have paid holidays. Our lack of statutory entitlement puts us out of step with our European counterparts. For all those reasons, it is important to oppose the amendments.

Likewise, we are concerned about the Government's sanction, which gives employers the ability to abolish the statutory right to rest and meal breaks. That is one of the terrible problems with such a catch-all Bill as this.

Interestingly, the very concerns that have been expressed to us by shop workers, by USDAW and by others are reflected in recent evidence published by the Department of Employment. The Employment Gazette, published last November, made it clear that management grades were increasingly having to work on Sundays on an unpaid basis.

2.30 am

The problems that have been highlighted by the police, by shop workers and by those representing them are echoed by council members of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. They are concerned that the interests of public order and safety and the prevention of crime would be harmed by the removal of the requirement on shops to close. That is why a number of councils have made representations to the Minister and to the Government seeking powers to enable them at least to step in where there are problem areas, not just to grant a licence for shops to open for 24 hours, irrespective of the harm that might do the community or the costs of policing it.

In Sheffield, for instance, Ministers were told that areas where night cafes were opening were already proving a magnet for louts. Under this tranche of amendments, a council could not impose restrictions on shops that were causing a problem.

In its submission to the AMA, Newham council said that the knock-on effects of the amendments could well mean an increase in night-time crime, robbery and so on. The problem was again voiced to the AMA by the Association of Chief Police Officers; the majority of its members were concerned that unrestricted opening might place an extra demand on their stretched resources—for instance, traffic movements and other nuisances such as I have already outlined.

We are asking the Minister to justify the total deregulation of shop hours and to explain why Ministers were able to say in the spring and early summer that they would maintain safeguards and protection for shop workers who did not wish to work long hours, especially on Sunday. How can Ministers justify now seeking to remove all the protections that they were so keen to reassure their Back-Bench colleagues would be in place? Why are they now so keen to remove them? Ministers must come clean to the House tonight and reassure hon. Members that the problems that I have mentioned will not occur. The sad truth is that they cannot assure us of that because they are interested not in the small corner shop but in the big multiple stores that have been pressing for the change in legislation and that sponsored the change in legislation earlier in the summer, spending tens of thousands of pounds on lobbyists and campaigners.

It is wrong that the Government should have deceived the House—as did those companies—into accepting changes intended to bring us into the 1990s, only now to propose that shop workers and others should be robbed of all the entitlements that have been established in the past century, taking us back to previous centuries when there were no rights and people were ruthlessly exploited.

Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 138, Noes 29.

Division No. 335] [02.34 am
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Alexander, Richard Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) French, Douglas
Amess, David Gallie, Phil
Arbuthnot, James Garnier, Edward
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Gill, Christopher
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Gillen, Cheryl
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Gorst, Sir John
Baldry, Tony Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bates, Michael Hague, William
Biffen, Rt Hon John Hampson, Dr Keith
Booth, Hartley Harvey, Nick
Boswell, Tim Hawkins, Nick
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Hawksley, Warren
Bowden, Sir Andrew Heald, Oliver
Bowis, John Hendry, Charles
Brandreth, Gyles Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Brazier, Julian Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Bright, Sir Graham Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Browning, Mrs. Angela Jenkin, Bernard
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Jessel, Toby
Burt, Alistair Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Carrington, Matthew Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Cash, William Knapman, Roger
Chapman, Sydney Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Clappison, James Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Coe, Sebastian Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Colvin, Michael Legg, Barry
Congdon, David Lidington, David
Conway, Derek Lightbown, David
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Luff, Peter
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John MacKay, Andrew
Couchman, James Maclean, David
Day, Stephen Malone, Gerald
Devlin, Tim Merchant, Piers
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Dover, Den Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Duncan, Alan Neubert, Sir Michael
Duncan-Smith, Iain Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Elletson, Harold Norris, Steve
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Ottaway, Richard
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Page, Richard
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Pickles, Eric
Fabricant, Michael Porter, David (Waveney)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Rendel, David
Forth, Eric Richards, Rod
Robathan, Andrew Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Thurnham, Peter
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Tracey, Richard
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Twinn, Dr Ian
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shaw, David (Dover) Viggers, Peter
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Waller, Gary
Speed, Sir Keith Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Spink, Dr Robert Waterson, Nigel
Spring, Richard Watts, John
Stephen, Michael Wells, Bowen
Stewart, Allan Whittingdale, John
Streeter, Gary Widdecombe, Ann
Sweeney, Walter Wilkinson, John
Sykes, John Willetts, David
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wood, Timothy
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Temple-Morris, Peter Tellers for the Ayes:
Thomason, Roy Mr. Timothy Kirkhope and
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Mr. Simon Burns
Barnes, Harry McAllion, John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) McMaster, Gordon
Chisholm, Malcolm Miller, Andrew
Clelland, David Olner, William
Cunliffe, Lawrence Pike, Peter L.
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Purchase, Ken
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Salmond, Alex
Godman, Dr Norman A. Skinner, Dennis
Graham, Thomas Spearing, Nigel
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Turner, Dennis
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Welsh, Andrew
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Wicks, Malcolm
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Wise, Audrey
Jamieson, David Tellers for the Noes:
Kilfoyle, Peter Mr. John Speller and
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Mr. Jim Dowd

Question accordingly agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

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