HC Deb 05 April 1995 vol 257 cc1775-84

22. In the following provisions of the 1978 Act—

section 129 (remedy for infringement of certain rights),

section 141(2) (employee ordinarily working outside Great Britain, and

section 150 and Schedule 12 (death of employee or employer), any reference to Part II of the 1978 Act includes a reference to paragraph 10 of this Schedule."

Mr. Howarth

We debated this issue on Second Reading and in Committee, although not in connection with the new clause. The new clause would introduce a new schedule to the Licensing Act 1964, which would be inserted between schedules 14 and 15, which refer to the rights of bar workers in respect of Sunday working. The purpose behind the new clause is a matter of conviction for my hon. Friends and me—the belief that workers who are expected to work on a Sunday and who will be covered by the changed arrangements implicit in the Bill should be protected from being forced to work on a Sunday by the Bill, or, more importantly, by their employers.

The new clause defines a protected bar worker, so that such workers can be included, or in some cases excluded, from our proposed new schedule. We also provide an objection procedure whereby those who are covered by the new arrangements have the opportunity to give notice in writing to their employer that they object to working additional hours on Sundays, and a procedure whereby employers can state their position.

Proposed paragraphs (6) and (7) provide protection for workers who object, so that they cannot be dismissed or have punitive action taken against them by their employers because they have lodged an objection to working on Sundays under the conditions implicit in the Bill. The proposed new schedule also provides for statutory rights for those workers, and a framework in which those statutory rights can be operated. It also provides for transitional arrangements, especially for maternity cases. Many people will agree that there should be some limit, and that pregnant women should be treated slightly differently.

I will not detain the House long, because I realise that everyone is desperately eager to be about business other than discussing the Bill; we have had plenty of opportunity to discuss it elsewhere. There is, however, an issue of principle involved.

I support—some of my hon. Friends did not—the general thrust of the Bill on the basis that Sunday is a family day, which gives the opportunity to enjoy a range of leisure facilities. Equally, we believe that those who are expected to work to provide those additional leisure facilities during the extra hours that will be available should have rights, and that the two sets of rights need to be brought into balance. That is the purpose behind our proposed new schedule.

Those who have to work on a Sunday should have the option of being able to set aside some part of the week or some part of Sunday to spend time with their families—perhaps to spend time visiting a bar facility, under the new provisions, or a restaurant. All we are saying is that two sets of rights have to be considered. We believe that new clause 1 and the new schedule that it would introduce are one way in which to do that.

We do not want to create disharmony. We believe that the Minister has made concessions on other matters, and that he will make some others later this afternoon. We feel, however, that this is an important issue, and we hope that, even at this late stage in the proceedings, the Government will accept that there is a proper case to be made, and that we have made the proper case that the rights of workers who are expected to work on a Sunday should be taken into account.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

I rise to declare that I am a consultant to the Society of Licensed Victuallers, and the legislation will apply to the majority of its members. They would be wary of a Bill passing through the House without any objection.

My only objection is that, too often, it is the employees who are mentioned. The average licensee has a living to earn; he has to pay high wages these days. He will certainly have to pay much higher wages for Sundays, Christmas day and Good Friday. I am surprised that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, needs to introduce the Bill, because surely deregulation is the name of the game. We should free up the hours completely, not necessarily have a nibble at them from time to time.

5.30 pm

I have already led a delegation to see my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. The retailer—I shall call him that, for that is what he is—is over-legislated for in this sector. I can understand the fears about the employees, but they have an easy means of presenting their fears—by withdrawing from their work.

I cannot see why we need more regulation in an industry that uses mainly part-time workers for the busy times of the business week. If the landlord can induce his staff to keep working throughout Christmas day, Sundays or Good Friday, it is up to him to see whether he can achieve that through local negotiations. I cannot see why the state needs to become so involved in the legislation.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware of the fact that, in London and other large cities, there are many illegal immigrant workers, particularly Australians, who work without a licence and are therefore prepared to work for low rates lest they be reported?

Mr. Hill

I am sure that the Home Office has a way of dealing with illegal immigrants; I am sure that it is constantly sending out people to identify them. That is not the way that the landlord of an establishment would care to operate. He does not have to ensure that someone has a work permit if he comes to work two hours on a Sunday afternoon. That is up to the Home Office, which has abysmally neglected that part of the labour market.

This country's immigration policies are lax. I am surprised at that, because my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is generally at the cutting edge of the right, and does not always stand back. The immigration problem is another problem—it is not something that the landlord can do anything about. All he can do is employ people to work the hours.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Michael Forsyth)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for going away—I am sorry, for giving way. That was a Freudian slip. The Bill meets my hon. Friend's aims: it deregulates the position in respect of Sunday afternoons. It may not do as much as my hon. Friend would wish in terms of the evenings. While I agree that the new clause would be regulatory, I should have thought that my hon. Friend would want to give the Government some credit for having extended consumer choice, and for introducing what is generally a deregulatory measure.

Mr. Hill

I thank my right hon. Friend for those few words, but the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) clearly said that the Home Office, indeed the Minister of State, would be making other concessions. I was not too clear about what they were.

Mr. George Howarth

I do not want to test the hon. Gentleman's patience, but I was not expecting any concessions from the Government on new clause 1. The Government may make concessions on other parts of the Bill.

Mr. Hill

I am reassured by that. Bills can be dangerous, as they can be added to in future by other political parties that do not necessarily have the same leanings as my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. The fewer pieces of legislation there are—this is one Bill that I should have thought was not needed—the fewer restrictions there are. I do not know whether we need a giant prayer against every bit of legislation that affects the licensee.

If there is anything to be done to ensure that the licensee and the employees have a future, preventing the illegal importation of vast quantities of drink along the south coast would be a good thing. I would be more than satisfied if a Bill were introduced on that subject.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) has his own very strange interpretation of the Bill. Even those who have criticised it on the grounds that it greatly extends the hours for which public houses are open, without resolving some of the problems associated with that, would have to concede that it is undoubtedly a deregulatory Bill. It sweeps away restrictions on the times at which licensed premises can open on Sunday afternoons, Good Friday and Christmas day—a subject on which the Government have said that they will make a concession.

I am in the strange position of having my name attached to every amendment on the amendment paper today, for a series of different reasons. In the case of the new clause, it is because it follows very much the lines of a new clause that I moved in Committee, which was designed to secure some protection for people who will be obliged to work on Sundays.

A minute or so ago, the subject of illegal immigrants working in the licensed trade was mentioned. A employer has some responsibility to satisfy himself that someone he employs is legally entitled to be so employed. The Department of Employment also plays a significant role, so the position is not quite that described by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test.

The primary concern of the new clause, as with the new clause that I moved in Committee, is the large number of people, including licensed house managers and bar staff, who feel extremely vulnerable to pressure to work on Sundays, when they want to set aside at least an hour or two to be with their own families. That fear is genuine and cannot be discounted. The Minister of State and Conservative Members must weigh that fact against the advantages that they see in deregulation.

The Minister and Conservative Members had to make a similar consideration when the House removed most of the restrictions on Sunday retail trading. At that stage, the House decided that it was necessary to make provision—at least to protect those who entered the retail trade without knowing that they could be legally required to work on Sundays.

When those people entered the trade, it would not have been legal for them to be required to do so in a great many of the larger shops. That provision was included in that measure. The Bill contains similar provisions in relation to Sunday afternoon trading in pubs, clubs and off-licences. We are looking to see whether we can provide some protection for the staff involved.

It is unfair and complacent to ignore the feelings that have been expressed. The National Association of Licensed House Managers has been the strongest in expressing those views and has pointed to the contractual obligations under which managers will be required to open their premises for all the legally permitted hours. Bar staff comprise a much less organised group; some of them are part-time and some are dependent on that income. Many of them are women, who are perhaps supplementing a severely diminished family income by working in pubs and clubs. They may want to keep their job, but not have to give up family time on Sundays. That is why some of us thought that such protection was a necessary feature of the Bill.

I am glad that we have returned to the subject now, and I urge the Minister of State to think carefully about the position of those who do not enjoy the genuine freedom of choice that he seeks to give to consumers. I can understand the Minister's desire to give consumers that freedom of choice and, to a point, landlords are being given greater freedom of choice in so far as the landlord has a real freedom to decide whether to open his premises.

However, some landlords will not want to be left behind if a neighbouring premises opens on Sunday afternoons. In that case, the premises that opens on a Sunday afternoon may attract the clientele that the other premises attracted earlier in the day, because those people will know that they can stay for longer in the public house that is open all afternoon. Some landlords may feel pressure to open on Sunday afternoons.

Some people may have freedom of choice, but when the Bill is finally enacted, many people will lose a freedom of choice which they possess at the moment. That is the freedom to spend a limited amount of time on Sunday afternoons with their families, or doing whatever else they want to do on a Sunday afternoon. As the law does not currently allow pubs to be open on Sunday afternoons, they know that they cannot be required to work then.

The Bill reduces some people's freedom. Ministers must recognise that. One way to do that would be to include provisions along the lines of new clause 1.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

I repeat the registered interest, which I still have in the licensed trade, that I declared on Second Reading and in Committee. I am still a non-executive director of the family company I disposed of at the end of last October. As I have said before, I still have a vestigial interest in the licensed trade. I am also the vice-chairman of the parliamentary beer club, which I believe is the largest all-party group in the House, as it now has nearly 200 members.

Mr. Beith

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the parliamentary group which takes an interest in non-profit-making members' clubs is a larger group still, by quite a margin.

Mr. Couchman

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth), who moved the new clause, is seeking to attach the provision to the Licensing Act 1964. That is a very curious mechanism to use through the vehicle of this small and quite limited Bill. The hon. Gentleman has tried to attach to the back of this small Bill a major change in the employment conditions that would apply to bar staff, licensed house managers and tenant licensees.

Anyone who comes to work in the licensed trade fully expects to do so on Sundays. I accepted in Committee that there is a change with regard to Sunday afternoons, but the new schedule applies to the present restricted opening hours on a Sunday.

People who work in the licensed trade are aware of the present Sunday opening hours. I can see no possible reason why the draconian new schedule should be included in the Bill in order to give rights which were specifically excluded when the House debated Sunday trading during the last parliamentary Session.

I was one of the first people to initiate such a protection with regard to Sunday trading, when I introduced a private Member's Bill two years ago. I had the first schedule for protection for workers in my Bill. I recognised that people who were suddenly confronted with the possibility of working on Sundays, when they had been taken on to work six days a week, should have some protection and a right not to work on Sundays.

If the new schedule is included in the Bill, we would make life very difficult for the licensed house managers and tenant licensees if they found that all their staff wanted to opt out of Sunday working. Under the terms of the new schedule, as I understand it—perhaps the hon. Member for Knowsley, North will correct me if I am wrong—all bar staff throughout the country would be given the right to opt out of Sunday working. I am sure that it is not intended that pubs should close on Sundays, but that would be the effect if the staff opted out of Sunday working.

In Committee, we discussed at some length what would happen to the people who work in pub restaurants, who may well work through Sunday afternoons at the moment, as restaurants serving full meals may open during the afternoon break on a Sunday. Waitresses, waiters, kitchen staff and chefs would not be covered by the proposal. We would have a curious situation, whereby the kitchen and dining room staff would not be covered, but bar staff would be covered. The bar staff could opt out of Sunday working, but the catering staff could not. As some people will do both bar and catering work during the week, deciding which is which on Sundays would be a problem.

The new schedule is a very good try on the Opposition's part, but it is not a realistic proposition to be added to this small Bill.

5.45 pm
Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth), I supported the Bill on Second Reading because it makes perfect sense for Sunday licensing hours to be liberalised. I support the new clause and the new schedule to the Licensing Act 1964, for several simple reasons. First, it creates a better balance in the Bill between the rights of consumers and the legitimate rights of people who work in the bar trade on Sundays.

The proposal also creates greater consistency between people who work in on and off-licence premises. As the Minister accepted in Committee, there is at the moment an anomaly between people working in on and off-licence premises on a Sunday. A person working in an off-licence premises on a Sunday currently has the protection afforded to workers under the Sunday Trading Act 1994 not to be compelled to work on a Sunday against his or her wishes.

At the moment, that protection does not extend to people working in on-licence premises. The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) said that it was important to have consistency and not to create too many anomalies. Without rehearsing our arguments in Committee, my point is that, unless the Bill is amended in the way that we propose, it will simply add further anomalies and inconsistencies to the law. That is a bad thing.

It is right in principle, for the reasons given by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), that, when we, through our law-making powers, change the employment conditions of workers who currently cannot be required to work between 3 pm and 7 pm on Sundays, and make it likely that those people will be required to work those hours, we must produce a framework of protection which will allow workers, for whatever reasons—and hopefully for reasonable grounds—to decline to work those hours and to say to their employers that it is not feasible or practical for them to work those hours. People may have other commitments, perhaps of a religious, social or family nature, which would make it difficult for them to work such hours. Those are the points which the new clause and the new schedule seek to address.

For those reasons, I support the new clause and the new schedule, and I hope that the Minister will have something positive and constructive to say about those issues.

Mr. Enright

I support the new clause, and I want to give a practical example. I also recognise that, no matter how we do this, there are bound to be anomalies with deregulation. However, I want to describe an anomaly which should not arise.

As a concrete example, I refer to Hemsworth Conservative club. That club has more members than voters by quite a considerable margin. The club steward was once nearly sacked for putting my poster in his bedroom window, but fortunately good sense prevailed, because the committee was controlled by good Labour men at the time.

However, people like that club steward are going to be controlled by small committees, be it the Hemsworth Conservative club or the Pontefract RAFA club. Small committees will say, "Thou shalt work on a Sunday afternoon," when clearly the terms of the contracts of the people involved were for very limited hours of working, particularly in some of the smaller clubs. That will no longer be true, because the clubs will get greedy when they see what the next-door club is doing. Similarly, when clubs see what the adjacent club is doing, they will do the same. So I certainly give my full support to the new clause and the new schedule.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

As the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) expected, I am not sure whether I can assist him by accepting his new clause. I must confess that I was slightly alarmed when my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) began to speak, because I thought that he was attacking the Bill rather than expecting me to accept the Opposition amendment. I hasten to reassure my hon. Friend, because I had no idea that my reputation with him was such that he thought that I would give in so easily, even before the hon. Member for Knowsley, North had been offered the support of his hon. Friends.

I am interested to hear from the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) that not only is the Leader of the Opposition embracing Conservative policies, but the men of Hemsworth are embracing the Conservative club—a reverse takeover of truly alarming proportions.

Mr. Enright

May I reassure the Minister by telling him that, when I applied for membership, I was instantly refused?

Mr. Forsyth

Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman were to read out the speeches that the Leader of the Opposition has been making in support of the policies that we Conservatives have espoused for some time, and to say that he adhered to those principles, he might yet be able to join the Hemsworth Conservative club. He could even go a stage further, and vote for the Conservative candidate there when the time comes.

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North made the case for the new clause persuasively, as he did in Committee, and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) cited the protection already given to people who work on Sundays as a result of the Sunday Trading Act 1994 and the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, the former of which provided protection for shop workers, and the latter for betting shop workers.

However, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will recall that, during the passage of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act, we debated whether the right should be extended to stable lads as well as betting shop workers. We decided then that it should not, because stable lads could be expected to work on Sundays anyway. That is the distinction here too.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) said, people who work in the licensed trade already expect to work on Sundays, so they are in a different position from shop workers in England, if not in Scotland, who could not have expected to do so. For those reasons, I do not think that there is a parallel, so it would not be right to extend employment protection as has been suggested.

The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) put forward an ingenious argument by pointing to the anomaly between the treatment of employees in off-licences and those in other licensed premises.

I now come to the part of my brief marked, "Use only if pressed". There is an anomaly, and the hon. Gentleman is right to mention it, but the people who work in off-licences are shop workers, and as such already have the right to decline Sunday work. It would be irrational for the law to pretend that employees in pubs, restaurants, hotels, sports clubs and so on are shop workers and should therefore have the same rights, simply because the premises in which they work happen to have liquor licences.

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the difference, but it stems from the fact that we dealt with the previous set of anomalies that arose in relation to shop workers, when it was felt that it would not be right to distinguish between people because of the differences between the products sold in the various shops. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in the end the distinctions in the Act, such as they are, were made according to the size of premises.

Mr. Hutton

While the Minister is dealing with my argument, will he also deal with the fact that workers in off-licences, who now have the protection of the Sunday Trading Act, could legitimately have been asked to work on a Sunday before enactment, as well as after? I am afraid that his argument does not hold much water.

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman's argument was that we must avoid anomalies, yet he seeks to create another. In so far as an anomaly exists between workers in off-licences and others, it does so because the House took the view that it would be wrong to distinguish between the rights of workers on Sundays according to the nature of the product being sold—in this case, alcohol in off-licences. The hon. Gentleman proposes that, because the distinction exists as a result of the previous legislation, we should create another anomaly in the Bill, covering a particular period.

Incidentally, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham was not quite accurate in his description of the amendment. The proposal is not that all workers in pubs on Sundays should be protected throughout their day at work; the amendments relate only to the period between 3 o'clock and 7 o'clock in the afternoon. If they were accepted, we should have put on to the statute employment protection for workers in pubs between 3 o'clock and 7 o'clock.

Some years on, when everyone had got used to the change in the law, some people may look upon that as rather an oddity, just as, in the context of this debate, people who make a careful study of the legislation, such as the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness, may find an oddity in the treatment of people in off-licences, which under the Sunday Trading Act are shops.

Therefore, ingenious though the hon. Gentleman's argument is, it is not sufficiently persuasive to enable me to commend the new clause and the new schedule to the House. I ask the hon. Member for Knowsley, North to withdraw the new clause rather than pressing it to a Division, so that we can make progress. No doubt he will already have considered my arguments and the reasons behind them.

Mr. George Howarth

There is a difference of approach between the Minister and ourselves, which is to some extent exemplified by what his hon. Friends have said. The kernel of the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test seems to be that there is an equal relationship between bar staff and the breweries, managed houses or whatever that employ them.

However, whatever the nationality of the bar staff, all too often the relationship is not as balanced and equal as the hon. Gentleman implied. Especially nowadays, when one cannot walk out of one job into another, rights need to be protected in those circumstances. It is not a simple matter of a discussion between employees and employers, because such discussions never take place on an equal footing.

The hon. Member for Gillingham did not quite understand my amendment. I can understand why, because it is extremely complicated to deal with deregulation of the licensed trade on an incremental basis. But if the hon. Gentleman reads the new clause and new schedule again, he will discover that, as the Minister conceded, the new schedule would apply only to the additional hours covered by the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman has a wider objection, which has been well rehearsed, but the specific point that he made on this occasion does not apply to the amendments.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

I was taken with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham, to which no one has yet responded. What about the thousands of people employed in restaurants within pubs between 3 o'clock and 7 o'clock on Sundays? There appear to be no problems or difficulties with those people, so why should there be problems with people employed to dispense drinks? I cannot see the difference.

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Member for Gillingham and, seemingly, the hon. Member for Wirral, South, assume that, if the protection were to become law, all the workers covered would inevitably try to make use of it. Most workers will probably simply accept the extra hours, but for the minority of people with a valid objection, our suggestions set out a procedure that they can go through, and even provide opportunities for employers to state the terms on which objections are not acceptable.

All that is covered, but amending deregulation legislation as it goes along is a complicated business, and we understand how confusion can arise when people hear what we are saying. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enfield) made some useful points, particularly in relation to the Hemsworth Conservative club. It is perhaps representative of the feeling all over the country that the Hemsworth Conservative club is a bastion of Labour party support.

6 pm

Mr. Michael Alison (Selby)

For the purpose of clarification, as the Yorkshire neighbour of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enfield), I should point out that the hon. Gentleman was refused membership of the Hemsworth Conservative club not because he is a member of the Labour party, but because control of that club has fallen into the hands of the Militant Tendency.

Mr. Howarth

One of my party pieces is to discuss in some detail Trotsky's theory of transitional demand—which, by the way, I do not support. In the present circumstances, I think that it would be straying too far from the terms of the legislation to enter into a discussion about the Militant Tendency. While my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth continues to represent that constituency, the Militant Tendency will never be allowed in the Labour party. The right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) will have to make his own arrangements about dealing with that group in the Hemsworth Conservative club.

I do not think that we should take too much to heart the fears that Government Members have expressed. The Minister's remarks have not changed my views, and I do not think that they have changed those of my hon. Friends. However, with leave, I will withdraw the new clause, safe in the knowledge that our colleagues in another place will take the opportunity to raise the issue again when it comes before them.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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