§ Mrs. Jacqui Lait ( Beckenham)
I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 2, line 7, at end insert—'( ) No Statutory Instrument shall be made under this section for three months after the Act has been passed.'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 10 [Clause 3], at end insert—'( ) No Statutory Instrument shall be made under this section until a further Regulatory Impact Assessment has been undertaken.'.
§ Mrs. Lait
Once again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) on introducing the Bill. I assure him that we have no desire to stop it passing into law and we hope that it has an equally easy passage in the other place. Some 588 important issues arising from Second Reading, Committee—and, indeed, from the consultation—need to be teased out further, and they are embodied in the amendments that we have tabled.
One of our main concerns—it is not a criticism of the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde—was that the regulatory impact assessment came out later than usual. Some Scottish organisations made the point that, if the Government are committed to better regulation, a late regulatory impact assessment is unhelpful. When the time is compressed, it is difficult to secure responses in time for the Committee stage. We felt that it would help businesses to have more time to examine the issues more closely.
Our amendments are focused on creating more time for employers to examine their practices and assess the impact of the changes. That applies particularly to amendment No. 5 on transitional arrangements, whereby no statutory instrument would be tabled untilthree months after the Act has been passed".We do not intend to press the amendment to a vote, but it would be helpful to bracket statutory instruments with commencement of the Act—the main point of our amendments.
Employers need more time to consider the impacts, which can be many and various. For example, employers in rural areas might find it much more difficult to replace people who decide that they no longer want to work on a Sunday. We are all aware that small shops are the lifeblood of many villages—thank goodness for all of us, they open on a Sunday. Suddenly, their core worker—for all sorts of good reasons that we all support—decides to spend Sunday with their family. It can be extremely difficult in rural areas to find someone else to replace that key worker. Once replaced, the new worker will require training.
§ Andrew Selous
My hon. Friend raises an issue that is at the heart of the debate. She has spoken about the tremendous usefulness to all communities, and particularly small rural ones, of having shops open on a Sunday. However, does she agree that none of us has an inherent right to goods or services on a Sunday for the sake of it? I am delighted that people are able to receive goods, services and leisure services on a Sunday if they want to avail themselves of them, and that people are able to provide those services if they choose to do so for pleasure or to earn more income. However, it is important to establish the principle that, when we avail ourselves of any goods or services on a Sunday, we should do so only if the suppliers are willing. No one has an inherent right to demand them at the cost of other people's lives and family relationships on a Sunday.
§ Mrs. Lait
I Have great sympathy with my hon. Friend's point. We are all well aware of his concern that people should not be obliged—in any way, shape or form—to work on a Sunday. We are all agreed on that: it is the principle of the Bill. I am merely teasing out some of the practicalities. I wish to reassure my hon. Friend that I have no intention of insisting that people work on Sundays. Rather, I am trying to help employers 589 find replacements for people who decide not to work on a Sunday. It is crucial that that is by agreement between willing employers and willing workers.
§ Mrs. McGuire
What does the hon. Lady believe would help employers to find alternative staff for Sunday working? Is it a matter of time, or some other factor?
§ Mrs. Lait
I apologise to the Minister if I have not made it clear that the key point for us is time. That is why we tabled the amendment to prevent statutory instruments from being introduced until three months after commencement. If the Minister will concede that point, I will be happy to move on to other issues. We look forward to hearing from her, and hope that she will offer good news for employers. As I said, the difficulties are particularly acute for employers in rural areas, and that matter should be part of any further study if the regulatory impact assessment is rewritten, or part of any further consultation with employers.
I should like to deal with the broad reason why we believe that the regulatory impact assessment should be in one shape or form, though I am not saying that it should necessarily be a rewrite of the consultation or the draft regulatory impact assessment sent out at the time of the consultation. There should, however, be further consultation on the impact on employers.
The responses to the initial consultation revealed concerns, not so much from the Scottish CBI, the Institute of Directors or the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, but from organisations representing smaller businesses, such as the Federation of Small Businesses, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and the Scottish Retail Consortium. For example, the Federation of Small Businesses was concerned that a balance needed to be struckbetween effective protection for workers and placing unnecessary regulatory burdens on businesses in Scotland".It believed that the proposals would place an unnecessary burden on businesses.
§ David Cairns
I am interested in the hon. Lady's case. However, the legislation has been in force in England and Wales for seven years, so, unlike most regulatory impact assessments, it is not theoretical. Before drafting the Bill, I had discussions with the Federation of Small Businesses, which expressed no concerns about the application of the legislation in England and Wales. The Federation of Small Businesses may have some concerns in Scotland, where the legislation does not currently apply, but the Federation of Small Businesses in England and Wales is effectively saying that those concerns have, in practice, proved groundless.
§ 10 am
§ Mrs. Lait
I am delighted to hear that the FSB in England and Wales believes that the measure will not have a significant impact on Scottish businesses, but the Scottish FSB has said that it believes that there could be an impact on business. The Government's own impact assessment set out the number of employees who are employed by small retail businesses with fewer than five 590 employees. Most of us, on both sides of the House, know from our constituents the general level of concern that exists among small businesses with fewer than 50 employees—although in the present context we are talking about businesses with fewer than five employees—about the impact of extra regulation on those businesses. It is the employer, of course, who sits down in those useful two hours between 2 am and 4 am to deal with all the regulation—the form-filling, the response to consultations and so on—that imposes such a burden on employers and distracts them from running their businesses.
§ Mrs. McGuire
Can the hon. Lady tell us what additional form-filling will be entailed when a member of staff of a small business elects not to work on a Sunday?
§ Mrs. Lait
I was referring to the impact of all the regulations, not necessarily form-filling, in this case as a response to Government. It is up to the employer whether to change the rostering or whether it is necessary to employ somebody else to cover the Sunday. The measure should not have any impact on the outgoings in terms of salary, but it could well have an impact in terms of claiming national insurance and claiming tax credit for a new employee—all the implications of hiring a new employee or re-rostering.
It is the sheer practicality of running a business that the measure will affect. It is so easy, when one is in Government, to say, "It will take only five minutes of somebody's time to do whatever the measure entails," but the five minutes add up. The CBI recently estimated that since 1997 the total impact of all the Government's new regulatory measures is costing the economy £20 billion a year—a sum that would buy an awful lot of schools, hospitals, teachers and all the better services that we all want. Meanwhile, businesses are paying less in tax, because they have to pay it out in a different way as a result of the costs of regulation.
That is one of the Opposition's concerns. Another is the cumulative effect. The regulatory impact assessment is a good idea, but it tends not to take into account the cumulative effect of all the various regulations. We need to examine closely the impact of the measure on businesses. I have cited a few of the potential problems that could arise when employees are given the choice whether to work on a Sunday or not.
I alluded earlier to the effect on small businesses of national insurance contributions, pension contributions and tax credits. Many of the employees in question may earn no more than the national minimum wage. One of the topics discussed briefly in Committee was the impact of the measure on people's pensions and national insurance. The Minister undertook to write to members of the Committee if she thought that there would be any impact on pensions. I have not seen any letter from her, but when I was thinking about the regulatory burden, one aspect that intrigued me was what would happen to part-time workers who decided, for all the right reasons, that they did not want to work on a Sunday. The employer is under no obligation to make up those hours for the purposes of contributions.
Many workers are on the cusp of paying national insurance. As everybody knows, national insurance kicks in at the rate of the personal tax allowance. A 591 worker may work, say, between 16 and 24 hours a week, on the national minimum wage. The current national minimum wage is £4.20 an hour. People are eligible for national insurance contributions if they earn £77 a week.
According to my dodgy arithmetic, a person would have to work only 18 hours a week to be eligible for imputed national insurance payments, and 22 hours before they started paying national insurance. If they decided that they did not want to work on a Sunday, they would suddenly fall below national insurance contribution level, which would mean that they had a gap in their employment record. As we learned in the past few days, the Inland Revenue has forborne for the past five years from alerting people to that problem. Regardless of that, there is still the problem in principle of people having a broken national insurance contribution record. If they cannot make up those contributions in the future, their state pension is affected.
I think that I am right in saying that not only would that person's basic state pension be affected, but they would not be eligible for the state second pension, and companies with fewer than five employees have no obligation to offer a stakeholder pension. So we are speaking about a fair number of people on the cusp of having their pensions affected by the proposed change.
As I have said all along, I have no intention of pressing the matter to a Division, but we need to work through such examples much more closely in this place or in another place, or as we suggest, in a further regulatory impact assessment or further consultation.
§ Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire)
I welcome the hon. Lady and her party's conversion to the introduction of a national minimum wage. May I remind her that both the Federation of Small Businesses and the CBI objected and actively campaigned against the introduction of a minimum wage?
§ Mrs. Lait
The hon. Gentleman may well remember that we said some time ago that we supported the national minimum wage, provided it was at a reasonable level. I am working through the existing situation so that hon. Members realise that there is a potential problem for the sort of people who we are all concerned should continue to work and be rewarded for it, and in their retirement should have access to a proper state pension. Without getting too technical, we all know that with the minimum income guarantee and the pension credit, their income will be made up anyway, but most people would prefer to feel that they had earned their state pension, rather than having it imputed to them. The change would cause them concern, and we need to make sure that they are aware of it.
§ Andrew Selous
The hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) used the word "conversion" and my hon. Friend has also talked about conversion in relation to our party. Does she agree that, sadly, there seems to have been something of a conversion on the Labour Benches? Back in 1994, the Labour shadow Home Secretary was very much in favour of people not having to work on Sundays, but when I proposed a small and simple amendment to the Local Government Bill to prevent council employees 592 from being forced to work on a Saturday or a Sunday, it was robustly attacked by Ministers and not taken up. On this issue, the Government seem, sadly, to have undergone a conversion in the wrong direction.
§ Mrs. Lait
My hon. Friend would probably agree that a fair number of conversions on all sorts of subjects are taking place on the Government Benches, but, tempted as I am, we will not go into those, as I suspect that the Chair might become a touch twitched.
I have covered pensions exhaustively, but the effect of the measure on tax credits is a related problem. It will be no news to anyone in the Chamber that the introduction of tax credits has been less than smooth. I have received complaints from constituents who cannot get through on the phone and who have not yet been paid.
§ Mrs. Lait
As my hon. Friend says, the system is in chaos. Without going into detail about those current practical difficulties, there will be problems for people who decide not to work on a Sunday and cannot make up those hours, or for people whose income is reduced as, although they could make up the hours, they are not paid as much, because Sunday working may involve special deals, with double pay or time and a half. We should not, of course, interfere in their decisions, and I have no difficulty about that, but the employer could still be left with form-filling changes and the employee might have to reclaim tax credit and fill in the forms again.
I am sure that in the best of all possible worlds, which we all want to see, the chaos would merely be temporary, but those of us who listen to our constituents in our surgeries week after week know that the problems are not temporary—they tend to turn up regularly.
§ Mrs. Lait
The hon. Lady may shake her head, but I have been a Member of Parliament for 10 years, representing two very different areas, and I can assure her that the same problems turn up week after week after week, because one or other state organisation cannot cope. For example, without reverting much to the subject of pensions, I heard this week from a constituent who has been trying to get her basic state pension for at least a year. She has received letters saying "We don't know your national insurance number" even though the number was printed at the top of the page, which leads one to reflect that the Inland Revenue's "temporary" problem with tax credits may not be solved in the short term.
There is a fluctuating situation as regards tax credits and there are implications for the measure.
§ Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw)
Did any of the constituents who visited the hon. Lady's surgery tell 593 her that they did not really want the tax credits and that they were a bad idea? If they did not, why did she vote against tax credits?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We do not need to explore that route further. Let us go back to the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait).
§ Mrs. Lait
I am happy to take your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I hope that you will agree that the general issue of tax credits is relevant to the amendment, as well as to the regulatory burden and the need for further exploration of the implications of what may seem a simple change.
As we are not all instant experts on these subjects, I hope that the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde will be able to reassure us that he will take those points into account. They could affect not only employers, but also organisations such as USDAW. They, too, may want to be consulted further on the implications of the proposals. I am sure that anybody involved in wealth creation will be extremely concerned about the direction that we are, unfortunately, taking. With the lack of competitiveness of our businesses, we are all reliant on the retail industry. Despite the point made, rightly, by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) that people should not have to work on a Sunday unless they volunteer to do so, nobody would want further burdens to be placed on businesses, either in rural areas or in town or city centres, whose existence may be marginal.
The extra burdens produced by the change could precipitate a proprietor's desire to retire early and, suddenly, a crucial shop could close and we all know how much that can affect communities, wherever they are. Things could spiral down to a vision of dereliction and deprivation that none of us wants to see. As a law-making body, we should be wary of taking action that could drive businesses into closing down, with proprietors deciding to give up the game as it is no longer worth carrying on.
The Government have put huge layers of regulation on to businesses. The implication even of the few issues that I have raised is that further regulatory burdens will be laid on businesses. I hope that the Minister will indicate not only that there will be time for the transition arrangements to be worked through, but that the issues that I raised will be teased out so that everybody is aware of the implications and can adjust in plenty of time, if they need to do so.
§ David Cairns
I am in a slightly invidious position. Although I am steering the Bill through the House, the effect of the amendment would be to call on the Government to do various things, so I must await the response of my hon. Friend the Minister.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) suggested that she did not wish to press the amendment to a Division, but is using the classic probing 594 amendment technique that I have come to know and love during the passage of the Bill. While remaining in order at all times, she showed remarkable ingenuity in covering such contemporary issues as national insurance contributions and pensions. I was wondering how she could get the euro, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) and whether Celtic or Rangers would win the premier league into her speech. I look forward to hearing whether the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) is backing Celtic or Rangers for the title—[Interruption.] He must answer.
The narrow effect of amendment No. 5 would simply be to delay the commencement of the Act by one month, which does not seem to present a huge problem. If the Government are happy to give that assurance, I should be happy to agree to the proposal.
With regard to the amendment proposing a further regulatory impact assessment, there is a slight irony in the position of Opposition Members; they want to spare businesses from form-filling and from having to respond to yet more Government initiatives by sending businesses even more forms to complete and consulting them yet again. It may take only five or 10 minutes but, as the hon. Lady said, those minutes add up. It is a peculiar wish to want to spare people from something by giving them more of it to do.
The hon. Lady's points were well made, and I understood them. However, this legislation has one key element: the fact that it actually exists. It has been working since the passage of what became the Sunday Trading Act 1994. These proposals are not just theoretical. When we are thinking of introducing a new piece of legislation and are not sure of its effects, of course regulatory impact assessments are crucial. One makes assumptions, which may or may not be shown to be accurate, so it is necessary to probe the limits. But this legislation exists: it is up and running.
The hon. Lady posited the hypothetical example of a person who, having worked for 22 hours a week, drops to 17 hours a week and falls below the national insurance threshold. She is concerned about how that will affect that person's pension. Presumably, that happens day in, day out in England and Wales. I should not have thought that it was as widespread as the hon. Lady implied, but it must be happening and it does not appear to be presenting insuperable problems for those individuals. At the end of the day, it is an individual choice. We are telling people, "You have the right not to work on a Sunday but there will be consequences to that right."
§ Mrs. Lait
I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the current problem has arisen because the Inland Revenue decided not to—as opposed to forgot to—write to people who had fallen into that position, to ask whether they wanted to top up their contributions. These things do not happen in isolation. Obviously, as it now appears that the Inland Revenue had decided not to write, it does not care too much. I suspect that most people do not realise. I am concerned about any increase in the number of people who will not have access to a full state pension.
§ David Cairns
I do not wish to break the relatively convivial and non-partisan nature of today's debate, but 595 I could remind the hon. Lady of the decision taken by the previous Government to change the rules of the state earnings-related pension scheme, and not tell people who were going to lose out very badly that they had changed the rules on inherited SERPS—an extremely costly blunder, which the Labour Government had to make up. We did not go back to people who lost out arid say, "I'm afraid you will have to make it up." We inherited that disaster and we made it good. The hon. Lady must acknowledge that the Conservative party does not have an unblemished track record on changing rules and not communicating with people about the change.
It would be out of order to discuss what did or did not go wrong, and whether it was planned, in terms of informing people about their national insurance breaks. My simple point is that a further regulatory impact assessment will not alter the situation one jot. It will make no difference to those people. That is the situation for everyone who is affected in this regard, whether or not they work in the retail sector, or are local government employees, or whatever. That matter must be dealt with separately. It does not impinge to such a degree as to render a further regulatory impact assessment necessary.
I am not, as the hon. Lady suggested, an expert on all these matters and in every field. The draft regulatory impact assessment, of which I have a copy, which she has seen and which has been widely available, is extensive. It makes a range of assumptions, which are quite prudent, and contains a range of cost options. However, we can base the assessment on the practical reality of the legislation as it has been operating in England and Wales for several years.
§ Andrew Selous
The hon. Gentleman said that the legislation was up and running and working in England and Wales. I wonder whether he would share with the House his more general thoughts as to the real effect and impact of the legislation in England and Wales. As far as I am aware, only one tribunal case in England and Wales has cited the 1994 Act since its provisions came in, in 1996. My worry is that the reality for most shop workers is that they are scared of losing their jobs and of the hassle of going to a tribunal and everything that is entailed in that process. They are scared of taking up their rights, particularly because, as the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do, the norm in the retail trade is to have variable five-out-of-seven-day flexible contracts, which do not guarantee that any of the two days off will happen to fall on a Sunday. What are his thoughts on the effectiveness of the current legislation?
§ David Cairns
I thought that I had partly addressed that issue in the previous short debate. The hon. Gentleman may have a point; I have not sought to deny that. When I said that the legislation was up and working, I was referring to the narrow point that the hon. Member for Beckenham made.
On the general principle, when I spoke to USDAW, the union that represents most of the people that the hon. Gentleman mentions, its officials did not say, "There is no point in replicating this legislation across the border. It does not work and there has only been one tribunal case." They said, "This is exactly what we want." Obviously, when a case reaches a tribunal, the 596 process has gone beyond the stage where it can be settled amicably between the employer and employee directly. Perhaps—the hon. Gentleman does not know this any more than I do—many of these issues have been settled at a lower level and the fact that there has been only one tribunal case is not an indication that the legislation is ineffective. It may be, and perhaps we need to look at that, but I would not say that it automatically follows that it is ineffective.
§ Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)
I agree that there may be a case for reviewing whether the lack of tribunal cases is an indication that the legislation is not working, but the fact is that because of the 1994 Act, many of the major employers have almost divided their work force and they specifically recruit some people for weekend work and other people for weekday work, so the issue does not arise for many individual employees. The choice is made when they are recruited. That would not have happened if that legislation had not come into effect.
§ David Cairns
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that valid point.
Although the hon. Member for Beckenham was right to table the amendments to probe the legislation, focusing on small shops with five or fewer employees, the majority of people who work in this sector on a Sunday work for larger businesses—businesses that have bases and operations in England and Wales. It would not be an enormous administrative burden for them to extend the practice, with one qualification, given their understanding of how things work in England as opposed to Scotland.
The difference is that in Scotland, Tesco in Greenock can, and does, open 24 hours on a Sunday, whereas Tesco in England and Wales, because of the 1994 Act, opens for only six hours. That was one of the issues on which there was consultation. One issue that must be taken into consideration as part of the regulatory impact is that shops that open 24 hours on a Sunday must find more staff than those that open for only six. There is a clear difference there. When we were discussing the draft of the Bill and considering regulatory impact and consultation, I bore that point very much in mind. That is self-evident.
The consultation went out to businesses, including the large companies, and as far as I am aware—the Minister may correct me—they did not make that argument in their response. I do not think that Tesco said, "We cannot apply the law in Scotland because we have a 24-hour operation as opposed to six hours in England and Wales." Tesco appears confident that it could make the provisions work in Scotland, should the House be pleased to grant the Bill a Third Reading. Such businesses do not appear to think that it will be an insuperable problem.
§ Mr. Peter Duncan
Surely the point is that, by its very nature, business is flexible and all businesses will adapt to new circumstances as they arise. The amendment would allow more time for them to arise. The hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) suggested that 597 staff were recruited purely for weekend and Sunday working, so surely time needs to be given to recruit staff who want to work then.
§ David Cairns
I accept that. The hon. Gentleman is actually saying that, because of the Government's outstanding success in lowering unemployment and because we have more people in work today than ever before, the economy—which is under the excellent stewardship of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—is growing at a faster rate than that of any other G7 country. However, there may be a relative shortage of available labour, so I take the hon. Gentleman's praise of the Government's economic policy in the spirit in which he offered it. [Interruption.] He may be naively optimistic in thinking that the policies that are emanating from the Conservative Benches would address that situation.
We have a three-month window of opportunity before the proposals kick in, so I simply do not believe that shops cannot adjust to them and find the necessary labour. It may be that, when people realise that they have such a right, they will take it up, but I suspect that the vast majority will not. They certainly have not in England and Wales, so Tesco in Greenock will not suddenly have to recruit 1,000 people—would that they did. The hon. Gentleman is right to probe the issue, but I do not think that it will present the obstacle that he suggests.
§ Jim Sheridan
Does my hon. Friend agree that both Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen have concentrated only on the effect that the Bill could have on business, without mentioning the benefits to the workers? Will my hon. Friend remind the House that the rationale behind the Bill is to protect workers and stop discrimination and exploitation in Scotland?
§ David Cairns
I agree with my hon. Friend. I was attempting not to goad Opposition Front Benchers into rash action, and I am pleased with their assurances hitherto. Although my hon. Friend will of course continue to make his case, I will not use his phraseology, other than to say that, in welcoming the Bill, all parties—it has received backing from all parties—acknowledge that the freedom to shop on a Sunday should go hand in hand with the freedom not to work on a Sunday for those who are employed in this sector. Those words were used by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during the consideration of the Sunday Trading Act 1994. They are as true today as they were then, and they are as true in Scotland as they are in England and Wales. I accept the assurances that these are probing amendments, and I look forward to hearing the wise words of my hon. Friend he Minister.
§ Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh):
I rise to make one brief point. I assure the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) that I listened carefully to his argument. He was at pains to point out his belief that the Bill will predominantly apply to large businesses in Scotland. I assure him that I am mindful of that point, but I want to make a related point about the impact of regulation—the specific subject of the amendment.
589 In the two years since I was elected to the House, I have become increasingly aware of its tendency to place greater legislative burdens on business. The Bill is arguably regulatory. We parliamentarians sometimes make the mistake of assuming that whatever regulations we pass will affect only relatively large businesses with the resources, time and people to understand their implications and administer them across their businesses and for all their employees.
We must remember that much of the business base in the United Kingdom, including Scotland, is made up of small and medium-sized businesses. Some of them are run by owner-managers, and they do not always have sufficient resources to deal with an increasing tide of regulation. They do not have personnel departments to administer all this stuff. In effect, they are the personnel department, as well as the finance department, the credit control department, the marketing department and the management department.
I am mindful of what the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde said, but as Members of Parliament, when we pass measures, we should avoid a mindset that thinks automatically of large businesses with personnel departments that can cope. Our mindset should include medium and small businesses, including owner-managers, for whom every measure passed by the House represents one more thing that they have to deal with.
§ Mr. Peter Duncan
My hon. Friend has not yet visited my constituency—I greatly look forward to such a visit—but when he does, he will learn that 95 per cent. of all enterprises in my constituency equate to fewer than two employees. That shows the scale of the problem that we are talking about. The enterprise balance is heavily skewed towards those who employ only family or one other member of staff.
§ Mr. Francois
I thank my hon. Friend for that point, and I sincerely hope to visit his constituency at some point. He reiterates effectively a point that I am seeking to make because I have seen the creeping tide of extra burdens on business in many areas.
I understand the issue that the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde wishes to address. I think that he will find from the debate that the Opposition are not necessarily antithetical to his view, but I feel that this is one of those occasions when one should stand up for the small business man and ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to remember that, when they discuss something that has an impact on business, the practical reality often boils down to someone who runs a business sitting in their study late at night, burning the midnight oil, trying to deal with the impact of what we have come up with. We as parliamentarians should bear that in mind more often, particularly as a number of hon. Members have no experience of running businesses before being elected; I did.
§ Jim Sheridan
Listening to the hon. Gentleman is like taking a trip down nostalgia lane because I heard the same arguments used during the introduction of the national minimum wage, when it was said that it would have a disastrous effect on small businesses. It is time that Opposition Members took a leap in the dark and started thinking outside the box.
§ Mr. Francois
I understand that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about the national minimum wage; he has 598 reflected that in his comments this morning. He knows that Conservative party policy on the minimum wage has changed, but I caution him that a classical argument about the minimum wage concerns its effect during a recession as well as when the economy is doing well. Fortunately, the UK economy is not in recession, although the economy is not doing as well in Scotland as in the rest of the UK. The real test of the minimum wage is what happens when the economy is in recession, when its impact may bite more heavily at the margin. I do not want to see the United Kingdom in recession any more than any other Member, but in such economic conditions, the minimum wage tends to bite the hardest, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that counterpoint.
Before the hon. Gentleman leads me too far down that alley, I should like to summarise my remarks by pleading with hon. Members on both sides to remember that, when we pass legislation that affects employees and employers, many employers, who create wealth for the benefit of the economy, have to deal with the stuff and that many of them do not have a big personnel department to cope with our bright ideas. It is incumbent on all of us as parliamentarians to have that in the forefront of our minds before we pass legislation.
§ Mrs. McGuire
I will continue in this atmosphere of consensus. I must admit that I had to pinch myself, however, when the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) was creating an image of the ruination of rural and urban communities because of what her right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has accepted is an excellent little Bill going through the House this morning. I congratulate her on her ingenuity in managing to bring just about everything into her contribution.
I also want to reassure the hon. Member for Raleigh—
§ Mrs. McGuire
I apologise. One of these days, I shall ask the hon. Gentleman to spell Milngavie. I reassure him that the Bill is intended to deal with a lacuna in a piece of legislation that was passed and whipped as Government business in 1996, under the Government whom I assume he would have supported had he been a Member at the time.
I want to deal on behalf of the Government with one or two issues that were raised today. Amendment No. 5 seeks an assurance that no statutory instrument shall be made under clause 2 for three months after the Act has been passed. We recommend that the amendment be resisted. We welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Beckenham that it is a probing amendment, and, by convention, we would not normally commence within two months of Royal Assent anyway. I am happy, however, to give an undertaking that the provision will not be used in Scotland within the three-month period, which I hope addresses the point that she highlighted.
I reassure the hon. Member for Beckenham that employers, whether urban or rural, will receive at least three months' notice of opting out of working on a Sunday if an employee wants to take that route. Taken with my commitment that we will not enact this Bill until at least three months after Royal Assent, I hope that that reassures her.
600 I want to echo some of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) on pensions and the knock-on effect on tax credits and other aspects of an individual's income. If somebody elects not to work on a Sunday, it is a personal decision. There will be implications for individuals as a result of taking that decision that will not come about only as a consequence of this legislation. That is something that anyone who decides to alter their working hours will have to factor in. It was appropriate that the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) made the point that, nowadays, many employers adjust their recruitment practices to take account of the way in which people want to work. Although I know that some in this House would not want anyone to work on a Sunday—or at least would reduce the options for working on a Sunday, which is a legitimate positionfor many people, working on a Sunday fulfils their needs in terms of family or other commitments. I hope that the hon. Member for Beckenham will accept that any decision must be made with a personal responsibility for the implications.
§ Andrew Selous
I am not sure whether the hon. Lady's remarks were directed to me; she looked at me as she spoke, so they may have been. To clarify my position, at no point have I said that I do not want people to work on a Sunday. The point that I have made consistently throughout this Bill and others is that many workers who are not covered by this Bill choose not to work on a Sunday. I could mention Mr. Copsey, who lost his job in January in Norfolk because he did not want to work on a Sunday. He had worked for the same employer for 14 years and was a model employee but was told that he had to work regularly on a Sunday and lost his job. I want the House to consider such people. When the Minister responds, will she say whether the Government think that we should consider the matter more generally to take account of people such as Mr. Copsey?
§ Mrs. McGuire
I am sorry if, by looking at the hon. Gentleman—quite fondly, as I know that he is a real hon. Gentleman—I gave the impression that he wanted to be over-restrictive. As a result of consultation with some organisations in Scotland, we know that some would prefer that nothing happened at all on a Sunday. I hope that he will not feel embarrassed if I decide not to look at him again for the rest of my contribution, in case he intervenes. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde have a community of interests, and I leave it to them to determine how they want to pursue that. As the House will know, however, the Department of Trade and Industry is consulting on Christmas trading, and I am sure that that will provide opportunities if hon. Members wish to take advantage of them.
On the regulatory impact assessment, like my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde, I am perplexed that the hon. Member for Beckenham spent so much time talking about regulations and red tape for businesses. She is asking for something that would tie up 601 businesses, even if only for the 10 or 15 minutes that it would take to answer an impact assessment. I reassure the House that the RIA was published on 7 February, and the closing date for comments was 14 March. An assurance was given to the House on Second Reading that any comments as a result of the RIA would be made available in time for Committee, which they were. There was no comment that the RIA was not adequate or that it did not cover all the relevant issues. Only one organisation raised concerns about the lateness of the RIA—the Scottish Chambers of Commerce. We are not aware of any other organisations that raised that issue.
To confirm the point, the RIA is no longer a draft: it was published on 7 February and is in the House of Commons Library. It was not based on the situation in England and Wales but on the impact in Scotland. It contains the best estimates for business and the impact on business in Scotland. Of the businesses in the sector affected, 97 per cent. are defined as small businesses, as the hon. Lady said. They employ only 12 per cent. of the 264,000 employees working in the sector, however, which is approximately 30,000 workers. The cost for small businesses in total range between £212,000 and £797,000. We have given a generous spread of estimates, which is the equivalent of between £11.03 and £41.48 per enterprise, not per employee. The costs for the employer are predominantly transferable.
As I am sure that the hon. Member for Beckenham will be aware, there is absolutely no obligation on employers to make alternative arrangements for hours and so on to accommodate a worker who decides not to work on a Sunday. Only one of the 139 responses raised regulatory burden as an issue. The only additional paperwork—I congratulate the hon. Lady on making rather a lot of this point—will be the initial changes to rotas and shifts, which are probably the stuff of organising a small business.
On those grounds, we ask that the amendments be resisted. We do not think that a further RIA before commencement of the legislation would serve any purpose because more accurate estimates would still be difficult to produce. Clearly, however, in such a piece of legislation, we must estimate. It is not clear, and the hon. Lady has not made it clear, to what use a further RIA could be put after the Bill has been passed. With those few comments, I advise my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde not to accept the amendments.
§ Mr. Peter Duncan
It gives me pleasure to wind up for the Opposition in our short debate on amendments Nos. 5 and 7. I welcome the pleasure with which the Minister greeted the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Bedfordshire—
§ Mr. Duncan
I apologise. My thoughts automatically go to the north-west of anywhere. The Minister obviously recognises my hon. Friend as an honourable man and deserving of kind glances across the Chamber. I am beginning to get slightly offended that those glances always evade me, particularly as they were also 602 cast in the direction of my colleague when he diverted attention away from the Minister's mobile phone in Committee.
Although I did not have an opportunity to say this earlier, I appreciate my hon. Friend's campaigning work on this issue. He speaks for a good constituency, not just geographically but in terms of interest groups throughout the United Kingdom. The issue is of great concern to many of my constituents, as it is to everyone in the Chamber and beyond. He speaks well for them, and long may he continue to do so.
The amendments seek to amend what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) described asa classic private Member's Bill".—[Official Report, 7 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 572.]I note that the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) has recovered from that compliment. He has steered the Bill courageously through its early stages in the House.
The Bill deals with what are essentially twin freedoms. The first is the freedom to shop on a Sunday; but it has to be right that the Bill confers also the freedom not to work on a Sunday if one does not wish to.
These issues are important for the Scots economy. We have an important and thriving retail sector, and part of the reason for our tabling amendment No. 5, which would delay the implementation of the Bill, is that we recognise the importance of that sector. The Scots retail sector has had a dramatic effect in driving the Scots economy, which has been all but stagnant for the past 18 months. How much worse matters would be without a thriving retail sector that includes not only conventional businesses such as Marks and Spencer in Braehead but the sale of football tickets in retail outlets across Scotland and the retail exchange of sterling and the common European currency. [Interruption.] Hon. Members must have known that I would mention that somewhere in my speech.
Amendment No. 5 on the transitional arrangements is important because we appreciate the importance of the retail sector and the seriousness with which representative organisations have responded to the consultation. We endeavoured to respond to their views in the amendment.
The aim of the Bill is to equalise rights across the UK, and no one can quibble with that aim as far as it goes. However, the Bill will self-evidently add to burdens. I accept that those burdens are faced by businesses in England and Wales, and Scottish business can expect to have to meet them over time. But they are burdens none the less and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) said, we do not take lightly the prospect of adding burdens to business, small or large. We will never do that lightly in considering legislation, whether we agree with it or not.
The retail sector is particularly dependent on very small enterprises. The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde referred at some length to Tesco in Greenock, an outlet with which I am all too familiar. In fact, my wife's credit card is all too familiar with it, too. A wide spread of businesses will be affected by the Bill, 603 and Tesco at Greenock is at the top of that list. However, there are many small enterprises in Greenock and throughout Scotland that employ very few people.
§ David Cairns
Such businesses are not open for 24 hours a day. My point was not about the size of an operation, but about the length of opening its hours. Tesco in Greenock opens for 24 hours, but the small businesses do not.
§ Mr. Duncan
I take that point entirely. I simply observe that the hon. Gentleman focused many of his remarks on Tesco and that there is nothing to say that small enterprises could not open for 24 hours. A couple of petrol stations in my constituency—in Galloway and Upper Nithsdale that represents quite a large proportion—open for 24 hours, and they are small businesses. The point about 24-hour opening does not apply only to large businesses.
A wide range of businesses will be affected by the Bill, and amendment No. 5 seeks to focus attention on how the most vulnerable of them will be affected. The issue is about the dissemination of information to small and medium-sized enterprises. That will require guidance notes to be issued, and owners of such businesses are already swamped with red tape, guidance notes and advice from Government agencies. The Bill will add to that general trend.
There is a twin requirement as regards the passing on of information. First, the Government will have to send guidance notes to businesses in Scotland. Secondly, businesses will be required to pass on to their employees information about their entitlements. All that has implications for administration. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh pointed out, people often have to deal with such things in their studies late at night as they deal with their incoming and outgoing mail. That added administrative burden is not an issue that we take lightly.
I am grateful that the Minister recognised that we are simply asking for time for businesses to adjust, to realise their new obligations and to make allowances for that. Sunday working places a burden on family businesses, and Sunday is traditionally the day for family gatherings. In passing, it is fair to point out that that is not necessarily the case for people of other religions, but I would not want to tempt you to call me to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by discussing issues that are outwith the amendments. However, it is worth pointing out, in fairness to the other religions, that the Bill does nothing to address the desire of those of other faiths who wish to exercise similar rights, in due course, on Fridays, Saturdays or other days. Although the Bill will make good law, it does not address all the problems of all faiths in the multicultural Scotland that we welcome.
Working on Sundays can place a burden on families, but businesses of all sizes often roster ahead for Sunday working. Businesses recognise that Sunday is the family day and, as a result, more attention is often paid over a longer period to rostering for Sundays. That is why we suggest that we should have more time to implement these provisions.
In previous debates, I have told the Minister of my experience in small business in the retail sector. In a small chain of retail branches, we rostered a long way in 604 advance for Sundays, because we recognised that working on Sunday was an imposition. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous knows, Sunday opening represents an imposition on people's family day and perhaps their religious beliefs—although, sadly, it seems from yesterday's figures from the Church of Scotland that the number of people who hold such beliefs is declining. In my work, we rostered ahead, because we recognised the imposition. In fact, Sundays in December, which have a particular focus in terms of family demands, were actually rostered year to year.
The picture that I am painting shows that, whereas it is difficult to envisage that businesses will be hugely affected by the Bill, many of them will be affected to a significant degree. We want to recognise that fact by giving them slightly longer to adjust. Part of the reason for insisting on the extra time is the way in which the Government have enforced other regulations. I am afraid their track record on implementing regulations has left businesses poorly prepared.
Let me give an example of the sort of situation that we want to avoid. As the Minister knows, over the past six months, the Government have decided to regulate the sale and distribution of paraffin much more tightly. A business in my constituency that sells paraffin first received news of the new regulations with its VAT notes in the third week of February. The regulations were to be introduced as of I April but there was no guarantee that applications to register to distribute paraffin could be approved in time if they were received after 20 February. Although regulations are easy to introduce, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh pointed out, due cognisance is sometimes not taken of possible problems with their implementation. The Government's sad track record shows that they have implemented regulations that do not take account of the administrative difficulties faced by the smallest of businesses.
The amendment is also a response to concerns raised by those who were consulted on the Bill. The Scottish Retail Consortium in particular summed up the reasons behind the amendment when it said:Smaller retailers may have different issues concerning the implementation of this regulation, so issues surrounding the transitional arrangements may need to be clarified. Transitional arrangements is an area that needs to be clarified. How long would employers have to write to employees notifying of them of their new rights? What guidance would employers, particularly small businesses receive on the new legislation? It is often difficult to communicate changes to regulation/legislation to employers, especially in the SME sector, so assistance in this regard would be beneficial.The Government all too often introduce new regulations without giving businesses sufficient time to implement them. The response by the Federation of Small Businesses concentrates on the effect of the Bill on smaller businesses. It says that the regulatory impact assessmentsuggests that 'employers within these sectors will be able to adjust staffing levels in a number of ways i.e. by re-allocating duties, by increasing the number of hours worked by part-time workers, by adjusting rotas etc.We are concerned that this may not reflect reality for the smallest businesses, with only I or 2 employees"— 605 the very businesses to which I referred when I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh. The FSB continues:To say that 'scope must exist' to identify new employees willing to undertake Sunday working does not take account of those areas where there may be a shortage of suitable employees, for example, in rural and remote areas. In this respect, we believe that the impact of these proposals upon small businesses may have been understated, particularly in terms of time lost to the employer."That is why we believe that more time is required for implementation and although the Minister will not accept the amendment, I welcome her undertaking to abide by our three-month suggestion.
The hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) pointed out that some workers are recruited to work on Sundays, and it is certainly my experience that there are people who want to work on Sundays. That desire might be payment induced: the income earned in four or five hours on a Sunday afternoon is equivalent to that earned for several more hours' work during the week. Alternatively, the desire might be connected to lifestyle. One developing source of labour is made up of students who have to work to pay their tuition fees and who may only be available for work at weekends. That requires businesses to adjust their rosters and recruit new people, and the extra time offered by the Minister will be welcomed in that respect.
I shall reinforce my point in relation to remote areas. If businesses such as the garage in my constituency were faced with a person who did not want to work on a Sunday, finding a replacement for the opting-out employee might well take a considerable time.
Amendment No. 5 reflects the concerns expressed by businesses during the consultation. The Scottish economy, and the retail economy in particular, is dependent on the smallest of businesses, so we should give them more time to adapt.
I turn to amendment No. 7 and the Minister's comments on the regulatory impact assessment.
§ Mr. Duncan
It will be easier for me to call it the RIA, as the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde suggests.
The RIA was released before the end of the consultation, as was noted by one of the respondents. It is arguable that it was not published early enough to inform the consultation, yet not published late enough to be informed by the responses to the consultation—perhaps one or the other would have been more helpful. I understand that timings had to be moved owing to the deliberations of committees, but the timing of publication was still unfortunate.
The RIA is deficient in several respects. For example, the word "rural" does not appear in it, and that is a surprising omission. That factor should have been taken into account, not least because it was cited in several responses to the consultation. The publication of another RIA would benefit the process.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) said that the RIA examines the incremental effect of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh 606 said that the measures represent only one small step, but it is another small step that must be taken. Estimates of compliance costs taken from the RIA—before netting off the effects of reducing unfair dismissals—range from £34.59 to £129.80 per enterprise. I should point out that those are the costs before net benefits are taken into account because I see that the Minister does not have a fond look on her face—she always gives a fond look to my hon. Friends but not to me.
Although the costs are small, they are further costs above and beyond the increasing number of costs, such as those incurred for processing data protection forms every month. Although registration costs only £35, all the costs are incremental and must be paid by real people running real businesses and struggling to manage their bank balance at the end of the week. The Federation of Small Businesses suggested that a balance should be struck between providing increased freedom and a genuine level playing field throughout the UK, and imposing administrative burdens on businesses of all sizes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham made a well-disciplined point—and kept well withinorder—on the tax credit chaos and the marginal effect on pension and national insurance liability for those who opt out of Sunday working. She has a long-held interest in the matter and knows much more about it than me. The current tax credit chaos has meant that 160 of my constituents have contacted my office in the last couple of days because their tax credits have not been paid. We need to examine the Bill in the context of a system that requires reform.
§ Mr. Francois
My hon. Friend makes, or rather reiterates, a valid point. These days, Government Departments regularly use computer systems and call centres to assess benefits. The software used is often bad at coping with anomalous situations. Anything that is slightly unusual and does not conform to the established norm throws the system. However worthy the anomaly, Departments may be thrown by it in calculating benefits such as tax credits. The Child Support Agency's attempts to calculate overtime also come to mind. That is just one example—
§ Mr. Duncan
I saw the look you were giving my hon. Friend, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It was certainly not the same as the look given by the Minister.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. People will not opt out in huge numbers. Those people at the margin, who hold beliefs like those of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire, who prize their family time at weekends are most likely to opt out—and who are we to argue with that? There will be an effect at the margin for those people who work full-time on Sunday and a few hours one day mid-week. If they opt out of working on Sunday, there is no obligation on the employer to offer them another day, but if they are able to work instead on, say, Tuesday and Friday that may have an effect on their national insurance and pension entitlement. Given the Government's record on 607 advising people of the need to top up their national insurance contributions, we are concerned about the problems that that might cause. We do not think that they will have a cataclysmic effect on the British national insurance system, but as the benefit system gets more complex, the changes that my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh mentioned will have an effect.
I want to flag up one issue to the Minister. The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde said that marginal tax, pensions and national insurance issues will be dealt with separately. I do not know how or when that will be done. Perhaps he has received a guarantee or undertaking from the Government.
§ David Cairns
None, other than the guarantees that were given in the Chamber that people will be written to later in the year. However, the problem of national insurance is not germane to the Bill because it affects people who work in every sector.
§ Mr. Duncan
I accept that. The way in which the hon. Gentleman phrased his comments made me think that he may have received a particular undertaking from the Government. I know that he has strong links with people in high places. I thought that perhaps he had more to tell us.
We tabled amendment No. 7 because we thought that the regulatory impact assessment was deficient and did not do enough to address the issues that affect remote rural areas. We also thought that the timing could be better. The RIA was not early enough to inform the consultation nor was it late enough to be informed by that consultation, so we thought it reasonable to table the amendment. I accept that the Minister will not give way on that and we will not push the amendment to a Division. However, perhaps the Scotland Office could consider it in future legislation.
We will not press amendment No. 5 to a Division either. We accept the Minister's word that she will hold true to a three-month period before the measure is implemented. That will give our smallest and most vulnerable businesses that bit longer to adjust. The measure is not groundbreaking. For many businesses, it will not be a matter of life or death, but for some it will have a critical impact. Those businesses that it will affect need time to adjust.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Order for Third Reading read.11.14 am
§ David Cairns
Given that it has been an interesting and illuminating debate, and given the general consensus that the Bill achieved on Second Reading and in Committee, I do not propose to dwell too long on Third Reading.
It has been the most enormous privilege to promote the Bill and to have steered it thus far. When I visited the United States last year with colleagues, we met the newly elected members of Congress. One of the ways in which they refer to themselves is as lawmakers, which is also what the press and the body politic call them. Perhaps we do not think of ourselves in that way. We certainly do not use that term when we describe ourselves. As a 608 proud Back-Bench Member of a party that has formed an outstanding Government, the opportunity to initiate legislation is curtailed. [Interruption.] I do not know whether the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) is one of my friends in high places, but I welcome his support.
To play the role of a lawmaker in this small but important regard is the most enormous privilege any Member of Parliament can have. I am extremely grateful for the support of colleagues in every department of the House, including Members and the Clerks office. It has been invaluable. I shall refrain from making further reference to Celtic and Rangers. I believe that I have thrown the valiant souls in the Official Report into utter confusion because they do not appear to know what I am talking about.
Essentially, the Bill is simple. It extends the scope of legislation that was first enacted in 1994, consolidated in 1996 and applied to England and Wales. A separate legislative route was taken to apply similar measures in Northern Ireland. It was a quirk of history that the measures were not extended to Scotland in 1994, although as I have said throughout my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) predicted that we would have to do that at some stage. Unfortunately, his wise words were not heeded at the time, which is why we are debating the Bill today.
Should someone who works in the retail sector not wish to work on a Sunday, they should not be discriminated against for making that choice. They should certainly not lose their job for making that choice, which happened in one case last year. I have not laboured that point, and the company's name has not been mentioned today, because I am clear in my mind that the Bill's purpose is not to punish a particular company, however unwisely it may have acted. Instead, the Bill is about extending legal protection to all employees throughout the UK so that everyone enjoys similar levels of protection. Whether those levels of protection are brilliant or whether the law is being enforced as the lawmakers intended back in 1994 when they framed the legislation are relevant considerations, but they are for another day. The purpose of today's debate is to ensure that everyone starts from the same basis and the same level playing field.
I am pleased to inform the House that should it grant the Bill a Third Reading, Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld has undertaken to steer it through another place. His experience, coupled with that of business and trade unions in that place, will ensure that its measures are probed, as the Opposition rightly did today to flesh out some of the issues that will arise.
§ Andrew Selous
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, will he clarify one matter that I am not clear about? There have been many references to the fact that there is no obligation on an employer to offer hours other than those on a Sunday. Am I correct in thinking that if an employee starts a full-time, five-day-a-week job with a commitment to work Monday to Friday, and his employer later wanted to change that to include working on Sundays, the employee could effectively be 609 forced to take a 20 per cent. pay cut if he refused the change, even though he had started out believing that he would have to work only Monday to Friday?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That was far too long an intervention. If the hon. Gentleman wants to catch my eye later and develop an argument, that will be the appropriate time to do so.
§ David Cairns
As a non-lawyer, I will take refuge in the traditional lawyer's answer, which is that it would depend on the contract. The initial contract signed by the employee would say whether the employer had the flexibility to extend that person's hours. Ordinary employment legislation and the tribunals that implement it—as opposed to those that consider unfair dismissals—continue to apply, irrespective of whether we are talking about Sunday working.
The Minister made the case very well. If people choose not to work on a Sunday when that might be a reasonable option for them, they may have to pay a price. We cannot say that everybody will get consistent legal protection at absolutely no cost to them. There will be a cost, and people will have to make a judgment as to whether they want to pay it. Of course, the best way for employers to get people to work on a Sunday is to make it worth their while—to use pay to induce them to do so.
During the passage of the Sunday Working Bill amendments were tabled that would have imposed a statutory obligation on employers to offer time and a half for Sunday working. The amendments were not accepted because it was thought that such decisions were best left to individual businesses. We are not attempting to revisit that argument now. The case posited by the hon. Gentleman would really depend on the employee's contract, but I am not denying that some people may have to accept a reduction in their wages if they opt not to work on Sundays.
I repeat that it is fundamentally wrong that employees in Greenwich enjoy rights that those in Greenock do not. The Bill seeks to redress that wrong.
§ Mr. Roy
I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the Bill, which is important to many Scottish workers. Does he share my disappointment that the Scottish National party, which says that it speaks for Scotland, has not turned up for Scotland today, to help to protect those workers? This is a time when many SNP Members' ex-colleagues in the Scottish Parliament will be signing on and looking for a job, perhaps in a shop—or as a part-time worker, like their Westminster friends.
§ David Cairns
If I see Lloyd Quinan stacking shelves in Tesco, I will pass on my hon. Friend's best wishes to him. I once said that if there were a working MPs tax credit, SNP Members, with their rates of attending and speaking in the House, would not reach the qualifying threshold.
It is fundamentally wrong that employees in Wigan enjoy rights that employees in Wishaw do not. The Bill will redress that wrong, and I commend it to the House.
§ Mrs. Lait
I congratulate the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) on his masterly handling of the Bill, and I wish it all success in the other place. It is unusual to find someone for whom we have changed the law to allow him to become a Member of this place rapidly thereafter managing to create his own law, and we congratulate him on that.
We welcome the Bill's intentions, but now that we are extending the protection of the law to employees in Scotland who may work on Sundays, I am waiting for English workers to ask whether they can work 24 hours, like those in Scotland, because we will have to have another private Member's Bill to accommodate that. In my part of the world there is significant demand for shopping on Sunday outside of the six hours that is currently allowed, and thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), I am sure that people will have that choice.
I congratulate everyone who has taken part in the proceedings on the Bill. I was about to make exactly the same point as the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy). On Second Reading, the only contribution from the SNP was a suggestion that the Bill become a European matter, which was really relevant to the proceedings—about as relevant as the party is becoming, as we can see since the Scottish Parliament elections of a couple of weeks ago.
I congratulate and thank my hon. Friends the Members for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) and for South-West Bedfordshire, who took part in the Committee proceedings. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger), who unfortunately is not here today because he is on constituency business, also did a sterling job in Committee. I thank all hon. Members from other parties who contributed to those brief proceedings and those who have spoken today to make sure that the Bill is properly scrutinised.
Both in Committee and on Report we have raised points that are worthy of further consideration. I echo my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale in thanking the Minister for accepting our argument about transition. It is important that there is sufficient time for everybody to adjust; that was argued by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and the Bill's promoter accepted the force of that argument. We are grateful to everyone who has, in the course of the debates, improved the Bill, even if there have been no amendments.
The interesting point that has emerged, particularly during today's discussions, is that there is a fundamental need for the Government to consider regulatory impact assessments. I entirely accept the argument of the promoter and the Minister that our amendment would have put greater burdens on employers. As Members are well aware, the amendment was purely a device to debate the subject. Although all legislation has an accompanying regulatory impact assessment, there is no reference—this may be an oversight—to the cumulative effect of such regulation as each assessment is made.
611 The Minister referred to the wide-ranging costs identified by this particular assessment. We can all cite the cost of other measures. During the proceedings on the Pensions Bill, we found that the cost of offering a stakeholder pension was £5 per employee. That is in addition to the cost to which my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale alluded. There is no assessment of the incremental effect of regulation that we pass in the House on so many occasions.
If nothing else results from the proceedings, I hope that the Minister, whose Government say that they are committed to better regulation, will pass on to the Better Regulation Task Force the message that there is a need to keep a running total of the costs posed to business by extra regulation. At the margin, those costs can make a huge difference. The Bill probably operates at the margin, in regulatory terms, and I was grateful to the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde for indicating how he thought the issues that we had raised would be dealt with. We hope that that will be so when the impact of national insurance changes on pensions and tax credits is considered more widely. We must make it clear that the Bill will have a marginal impact on regulation and will not have a huge impact on business, except at the margins.
I welcome the fact that employees in Scotland will have the same rights as those in England and Wales not to work on a Sunday. I believe absolutely that anyone who wishes to opt out should do so. I entirely accept the point made by the hon. Member for Moray—
§ Mrs. Lait
My sincere apologies. How could I possibly accuse a long-standing member of the Liberal Democrats of being a Scottish nationalist. I apologise abjectly. I entirely accept the point, made by the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, about people's lifestyle decision to work on Sundays if they wish.
The Conservatives welcome the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde. We look forward to his continuing contribution in the House, and we wish the Bill a speedy, if thoroughly debated, passage through the other place.
§ Malcolm Bruce
I congratulate the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) both on bringing forward the Bill and on gaining support for it across the House. It clearly was necessary; as I said on Second Reading, constituents of mine were directly affected by the lack of the protection that it provides. They will be grateful to him for bringing the law into line.
I suspect that this debate is part of a process of steps. There is, though it is not central to the Bill, an anomaly, so far as the rights of people to shop are concerned, between the law, as it applies in Scotland, where it is more liberal, and as it applies in England. The Bill equalises the rights of employees to decide not to work on Sunday, and to accept the consequences, while their employers must accept their right to decide, but that anomaly may well be revisited in a different way.
612 We have heard arguments, which may need further investigation, about how effective legislation is. In my view—not just a hunch, but formed on the basis of discussion with major, though not smaller, employers—employers have said that they can have two separate work forces and that that is how the law applies. That reduces the circumstances in which anyone can take a case to tribunal because the contracts are, as the hon. Gentleman said, entirely separate.
The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) used his personal experience usefully to highlight the fact that there may be problems of adjustment for some smaller businesses. I hope that he will none the less accept that if the law is about the rights of employees, it should apply to smaller businesses. Often, smaller businesses are the worst employers of all, because people employ themselves and their families, who voluntarily negotiate less favourable working circumstances than anyone would impose on a third party. That is the whole tradition of working all hours, and family businesses are about people working extremely hard for their own benefit. I certainly would not wish that to be prevented in any way, and the law should not intrude too much in that area.
The Bill, extremely usefully, clarifies and extends the law to create parity. I commend the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde not just for bringing the Bill forward, but for the dignified way in which he has done it and for his recognition that it must be confined to bringing the law into line. If he had stepped beyond that, he might have opened up a can of worms, and it would have been more difficult to obtain unanimity. We shall probably have to return to some of the issues that have been aired, but he was absolutely right to confine the Bill to what it does. In so doing, he has, I think, guaranteed its passage through this House and the other place.
§ Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley)
I add my pebble to the great mound of congratulations that the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) has already had for a sensible measure that brings Scotland's law into line with provision already in force in England and Wales. He told us that he is pleased that he is about to become a lawmaker, and I congratulate him on joining the tradition of great lawmakers such as Hammurabi, Solon and Moses, who made laws on this very subject. That is the single point that I wish to stress: since the dawn of time, this subject has been a fit subject for law.
One of the Bill's attractions, by the hon. Gentleman's own admission, is that it will not make much difference. It will not bite very hard on businesses or employees in Scotland, and that may be may be a good thing. In so far as it does make a difference, however, it will make a good difference, providing an important psychological condition. It will help to fix it in people's minds that there is indeed something special about our division of the week into seven days, and something special about Sundays. That hebdomadal structure, dividing into four the 28 days of the lunar calendar and allocating one day to be special, is an ancient thing, probably pre-dating the Hebrews, probably going back to the Sumerians. It was not only the Hebrews who had special days; every civilisation has always decided, by law, that some days should be special.
613 The House will be familiar with the introduction to Plato's "Republic", in which Glaucon and, I think, Socrates decide whether to go to Piraeus to take part in the pan-Athenaic procession, which was a regular festival, like the many that took place in ancient Athens that were times when the common people did not have to work and were protected by law from working. They could not be coerced into working in ancient Athens on those days, and those days were fixed in law.
The House will also be familiar with the fasti of ancient Rome, the days that were kept holy. Now, the fasti were controversial. Cicero, a good conservative, did not like any monkeying around with the fasti. Important businessmen and powerful lawyers in ancient Rome sometimes wanted to transact business on the fasti, and it was important to decide whether business could, or could not, take place on the fasti. There was a sort of "Keep Fasti Special" campaign in those days.
My point is that, since the dawn of human civilisation, some days, usually on some hebdomadal rhythm of the kind that we have in our Christian culture, have been reserved for holiday and have been kept special. The vital thing is that protections have been enforced by law. Since the dawn of time, those protections have not simply been cultural, but have been enforced by law and by politicians. In a way, Sunday, and the hebdomadal system, sanctify a human necessity. It is not just a question of devotion. In our culture we acknowledge that there must be at least one day when everybody can knock off and, above all, when our fellow wage slaves are not driven by someone else to try to get one over us on that day. Since the dawn of time, the importance of such measures have been commonly acknowledged as protecting people from abuse and oppression and preventing coercion.
I was interested to hear the case adumbrated by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). It was wrong and shameful of Mr. Copsey's company to make him accept a contract that forced him to work a seven-day week. It is right that we as legislators should extend the protection that Mr. Copsey enjoys in England and Wales to the people of Scotland, and I am glad that the latter-day Hammurabi who has introduced this Bill has chosen to do so. I listened with great attention to the speeches of my hon. Friends, and marvelled at the tour d'horizon from my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), who dealt dutifully with all the potential pitfalls of the legislation. I also admired the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) and for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). I share their concern that we must guard against the danger of excessive legislation, and I speak as a Member of party that is successfully opposing a Government who are barnacling the British economy day after day with more and more legislation and regulation. We have slipped in the competitiveness league from ninth to 16th and, according to the CBI, £1.5 billion-worth of extra regulation has been heaped on this country since 1997. The micro-economic measures that the Government have introduced will not serve this country well when the economy starts to experience a downturn.
614 It is right that we should draw attention to those risks now, and I salute my hon. Friends for doing so. Their amendments, of course, were probing amendments, and I am satisfied with the explanation from the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde of the way in which the Bill will apply. As he said, employers will continue to have the right not to hire someone who says that they do not want to work on Sundays—that essential freedom will be protected. As the Minister said, people who decline to work on Sundays must expect a lower pay packet. I may be traducing her, but I believe that that was the gist of what she said.
§ Andrew Selous
Suitably admonished by you earlier, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall make my intervention as brief as possible. For the sake of accuracy in the Official Report, Mr. Copsey is not a shop or betting shop worker, so he would not be covered by the Bill if he worked in Scotland. We therefore still need to go further in that area.
§ Mr. Johnson
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I did not mean to imply that Mr. Copsey's case was concluded. He deserves the fullest protection, and let us hope that a future lawgiver, perhaps my hon. Friend himself, will find the means to give him the protection that he deserves.
No one will be forbidden by the Bill from working on Sunday—that is an elementary point, but it is worth making. We should not forget that some people are only too happy to work on Sunday. We should provide protection for people like Mr. Copsey or fathers who want to stay at home, but many people want to go out and work on Sunday. Indeed, in my experience, many fathers are happy to get away from the house on Sunday and go to the office. The desires of those people are not impeded in any way by the new law.
In conclusion, I want to reinforce the point that I made at the outset and emphasise the status of the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde as a lawgiver and lawmaker. It is an ancient and hallowed custom in all civilisations that some days are preserved as special. My hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale was prescient in pointing out that in a multicultural society we must acknowledge that other communities and groups will want to preserve other days as special days. Anti-discrimination measures are to be introduced that will oblige us to protect those days too, and I see no harm in that whatsoever. Those things were protected by law in ancient Rome and Babylon, and have been acknowledged since time immemorial. It is right that we, too, should protect them.
§ Angela Watkinson (Upminster)
It is customary to thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for being called to speak, and I do so. However, I am in the invidious position of following my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), who was as entertaining as ever. You will have heard the term, "After the lord mayor's show", Mr. Deputy Speaker, and my offering will be 615 somewhat more prosaic. However, I must say that I had difficulty following my hon. Friend's reference to abdominal systems.
§ Angela Watkinson
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
May I add my congratulations to those already given to the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) on introducing what he described as a small Bill? However, it must be gratifying for him to have introduced a Bill that will have such a happy sendoff to another place, and I am sure that we all share his pleasure. None the less, it with some regret that I support the Bill—as a Conservative I am a supporter of small or arms-length government, low regulation and minimal interference in people's lives. It is a great pity that the Bill will create more regulation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) said, but it is necessary to deal with the anomaly or loophole highlighted by the dismissal at Argos of 11 employees. It is therefore necessary to regularise the law on Sunday working in Scotland and bring it into line with the rest of the country.
The problem particularly affects the capacity of sole traders and small businesses, as was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), who has experience of running a small business. Having to absorb yet another regulation will fall more heavily on the shoulders of such employers, but having agreed that it is necessary, we must move forward. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce has said that a voluntary arrangement has been working perfectly well for a long time, and regretted the need for a new law. It said:Scottish businesses have seen no evidence to suggest that there is indeed an issue requiring action".There is therefore resistance from the body, which said that it would likegreater explanation… as to why it is felt necessary at this time to pursue this additional bureaucratic burden.However, having established that the measure is necessary, we must press on and look at the freedoms of businesses that we must protect, including their right to trade on a Sunday if they wish. There is enormous demand for a range of businesses to open on a Sunday. The matter of other religions has also been raised. Sunday is not a special day for other groups, including Muslims, Jews and people of many other faiths.
There is also the right of shoppers to be able to shop on a Sunday. For some people, Sunday is the only day that is available to them to get to shops or other trading places because they work during the rest of the week. However, we must protect the freedoms and rights of workers, and that is what the Bill is about. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) said, problems arise when an employer wants to change the terms and conditions of an employee's existing contract, or the employee, for various reasons, wishes to withdraw his or her availability on a Sunday. The necessary arrangements need to be regularised for the benefit of both parties.
616 Others have spoken about a trip down nostalgia lane. I hope that I shall be forgiven for a small trip down that lane, in saying how different Sundays are today from the Sundays that I remember as a child. I remember dreading Sundays because they were so quiet and boring. To me, nothing seemed to happen. The highlight of the day was to be allowed to go to Sunday school in the afternoon. During the rest of the day I was expected to play quietly indoors and not be a nuisance or cause any disturbance.
Sundays are very different now. The world outside is bustling almost as much as it is on every other day of the week.
§ Andrew Selous
I am a little worried by one phrase that both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) have used, and that is "the right to shop". I think that people should have the opportunity, not the right. Will my hon. Friend reflect on the philosophical difference between the two?
§ Angela Watkinson
I think that it should be voluntary on both sides. I would not like to see anyone coerced into working on a Sunday against their will, but, these days, the opportunity to shop on a Sunday is needed because it is often the only day that people have on which to do it. Indeed, it often becomes the family entertainment of the week, because, given that it is the only day when the family can be together, the supermarket trip is used to combine shopping and leisure.
Lifestyles have changed almost beyond recognition, and not only in terms of working patterns. In most families both parents have to work; Sunday is often the one day of the week when one parent can stay at home to look after the children while the otherwise non-working parent can go out to earn a little extra to boost the family income. We must accommodate changes in lifestyle but at the same time we must protect everyone's interests.
People taking on a new job need to examine carefully their contract or the terms and conditions being entered into, so that they know without any doubt whether they will be required to work on Sundays. If they are not willing to do so, they can make it clear at that stage. If the employer needs to have people working on a Sunday for the purpose of his business, that also needs to be made clear. The two parties need to be absolutely sure that the terms and conditions will meet the requirements of the other so that future problems are not stored up.
It is a question of balancing the freedoms and needs of employers and employees while trying to minimise the burden of regulation on businesses, and protecting everybody's interests and ensuring that there is a fair deal for everyone.
§ Mrs. McGuire
I shall wind up the debate on behalf of the Government on this small but important piece of legislation. I advise the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) that they speak of nothing else in the 617 streets of Bannockburn but fasti. He is definitely a credit to Eton education. He also saves us buying The Daily Telegraph or The Spectator when he speaks.
On a more serious note, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) for taking the Bill forward with dogged conviction, drive and determination. He has piloted the Bill in an exemplary way. He has co-operated with colleagues across the Floor, and has made sure that this significant but modest measure will, when it completes all its stages, change for the better the working lives of about 260,000 workers in Scotland in the retail and betting sectors.
I shall comment on the activities of other hon. Members because we have had a very good response to the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) deserves a special mention—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde will not object to that—because he took the case forward initially. If my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde has shown dogged determination, so, too, has my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North.
I pay a special tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I think that many of us would have loved to be a fly on the wall when she had a conversation with the people from the company who breached the voluntary guidelines. Certainly she realised quickly that there was an injustice in that Scottish workers who thought that they had some protection under the current voluntary agreement had none. She made sure that the issue was highlighted.
I know that the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) contributed to the consultation early on. I mention also my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald). I am not sure whether you are aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that 5 per cent. of the population of the Western Isles signed a petition in support of the Bill. That may not seem a significant number because it comes to about 1,500 people, but it is of truly Chartist proportions. If we extrapolate that figure to the United Kingdom as a whole, it would mean that about 3 million people support the Bill. All credit to my hon. Friend.
The Bill will allow employees in Scotland who wish to opt out of Sunday working, for whatever reason, to do so in the safe and certain knowledge that that will no longer mean losing their jobs. I should have mentioned another Member, but given some of the ribbing that I have taken this morning, I am almost reluctant to mention him. Perhaps the hon. Member for Henley will whisper in the ear of the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) that I wish sincerely to thank him for the positive contribution that he has made to the debate. Perhaps later we shall have a duet with "Some Enchanted Evening". If the hon. Gentleman works his way through the words, he will find out what that means.
As we have heard, my hon. Friend's Bill will take its own place alongside Government policies aimed at ensuring fairness and dignity in the workplace. It is fair to say that we have had, on the whole, a very constructive exchange of ideas and information about Sunday working in Scotland and beyond, including the 618 likely benefits and impact of the Bill. However, I should like to take this opportunity to remind the House exactly where the Government stand on the basic principles of this measure. As I think hon. Members will remember, the issue arose as a result of action taken by one company in Scotland that changed tack and breached the voluntary agreement to require its employees to work either regularly or occasionally on a Sunday, even where individuals had objected. Stores in north-east Scotland were especially affected, and, as I have said before, I pay tribute to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North in bringing the matter to the attention of the House.
I make no criticism of the management of the company for seeking to arrange cover in its stores on a Sunday in a way that suits the needs of the business. Neither would it be appropriate for me to comment on any commercial considerations relating to its departure from the voluntary agreement that had existed in Scotland and prevailed until last year. However, the issue highlighted a difference between the rights of workers in Scotland and those in the rest of the United Kingdom.
We have rehearsed the background to the legal position during this debate and in others Upstairs, but it is worth stressing that it was necessary to act because doing nothing would have meant that, as competitive pressures increased, more employers in the Scottish retail sector would have reviewed their Sunday working practices. There was a risk that shop workers and betting shop workers in Scotland would be discriminated against in comparison with their equivalents in England and Wales.
With those few words, I wish the Bill a fair passage in another place. I am delighted to hear that Lord Hogg will take the Bill through its various stages in the House of Lords. I was parliamentary agent to him when he served with distinction in this House, and I know that the Bill is in safe hands. I wish it well.
§ 12 noon
§ David Cairns
With the leave of the House, I understand that it is the protocol for an hon. Member in my position to say a brief word of summing up and thanks.
I thank sincerely all hon. Members who came to the Chamber today and made this a well-informed, interesting and good-humoured debate, like those in Committee and on Second Reading. In particular, I thank the Front-Bench contributors, who spoke well and with conviction, and highlighted the need for the Bill.
I point out to the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) simply that I wish to view myself as a lawmaker and not a lawgiver. There is an important theological distinction, which I shall not expand on here, but I do not aspire to become a lawgiver; a lawmaker will do.
It has been an immense privilege to play a part in putting this measure together. As someone who does not have any children, I suppose that I see my Bill heading off to another place as a parent might see their child heading off to school for the first time. I am sure that it is in very good hands with my noble Friend Lord Hogg.
I thank hon. Members who have come along today and supported the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has been tremendously 619 supportive throughout, as has my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. As I have mentioned at every stage, USDAW has done a first-class job in representing its members and arguing very coherently that its Scottish members should enjoy the same protection as those elsewhere. I am immensely grateful to it.
For the last time, I hope, I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.