HC Deb 18 June 2004 vol 422 cc1001-42
Mr. Forth

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 1, line 8, at end insert— `(2A) Subsection (1) does not apply to any shop where the trade or business consists wholly or mainly of the sale of books.'

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 7, in page 1, line 8, at end insert— '(2A) Subsection (1) does not apply to any shop where the trade or business consists wholly or mainly of the sale of children's toys and games.'.

No. 8, in page 1, line 8, at end insert— '(2A) Subsection (1) does not apply to any shop which meets a prescribed local need. (2B) in this section, "prescribed" means prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State. (2C) In this section, the power to make regulations is exercisable by statutory instrument, and any regulations are to be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'. No. 10, in page 1, line 8, at end insert— '(2A) Subsection (1) does not apply to any shop—

  1. (a) which is a registered pharmacy, and
  2. (b) where the trade or business carried on consists wholly or mainly of the retail sale of medicinal products and medical and surgical appliances.'.

Mr. Forth

The promoter of the Bill, the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), said on Second Reading that the Bill is based on the provisions of the 1994 Act. The Bill will adopt the same exemptions from prohibition as contained in the Act".—[Official Report, 26 March 2004; Vol. 419, c. 1156.] He then went on to list those exemptions. I thought at the time that an opportunity had been missed simply to carry forward the Sunday Trading Act 1994. I understand why the hon. Gentleman wanted to do that: a large part of his argument was that there was an anomaly or a loophole in the 1994 Act and that the thrust of what we are being asked to do now was to rectify it. Given, however, that we have had 10 years' experience in dealing with these matters, it might have been more appropriate to use this opportunity to revisit the exemptions in the 1994 Act to see whether they were still appropriate.

I recall that reservations were expressed in 1994 about the list of exemptions. I could, of course, have gone back through all the debates and rehearsed the speeches all over again today, which might have been amusing, and even slightly informative, but which would have been more than a little tedious. None the less, it is relevant to reconsider schedule 1 to the 1994 Act, which I seek to amend. Some of the exemptions caused puzzlement at the time, and they may still do so.

The first exemption was any shop at a farm where the trade or business carried on consists solely or mainly of the sale of produce from that farm. I suspect that, then and now, that is relatively uncontroversial. Farm shops are unusual in many ways: they are, almost by definition, remote from most community centres; they are largely—if not exclusively—family businesses; and they conduct, again almost by definition, a fairly restricted type of business. That was uncontroversial then and it is uncontroversial now.

11.30 am

The next exemption—concerning any shop whose trade or business consists wholly or mainly of the sale of intoxicating liquor—leads one into all sorts of different territory. In the debates on Sunday trading at the time, I remember people using the phrase, "Why booze, not Bibles?" It seemed odd that we were permitting the sale and purchase of intoxicating liquor on a Sunday, but not of a Bible.

The next exemptions concerned shops involved with motor supplies and accessories, and cycle supplies and accessories. Also exempt were registered pharmacies and shops selling medicinal products and medical and surgical appliances. Shops at designated airports and at railway stations were exempt, as were service areas, petrol filling stations, and, intriguingly, any stand used for the retail sale of goods during the course of an exhibition.

I thought then, and do now, that the list was interesting, puzzling and not a little anomalous. I suspect that it was rather arbitrary at the time, and it seems so now. It raises the question as to how far one seeks to make exemptions to a general provision covering trading on a Sunday, as it was then, or Christmas day trading, which we are discussing now.

The thought occurred to me that we should perhaps seek to remove some of the exemptions rather than carry them forward. I was intrigued that the hon. Member for North Durham did not seek to do so in proposing the Bill. I am not just a closet libertarian, but a full-blown practising libertarian, and I will now revert to that part of my nature.

Mr. Brazier

I am enjoying this morning enormously, but I particularly enjoyed my right hon. Friend's use of the phrase "that part of my nature." I am so pleased to discover that there is also a strongly conservative part.

Mr. Forth

I like to think that I am a conservative libertarian; perhaps that will help my hon. Friend.

We should think seriously today about the list of exemptions in the context of Christmas day; hence my amendments. The first change that I suggest returns to the question of booze and Bibles, but goes wider. Of all the stores that were to be allowed to open on Christmas day, it seemed odd that we were not allowing bookstores to open on Christmas day. That is not just because someone might feel the sudden urge to buy and read the Bible—not a completely unlikely occurrence. Also, someone given a book token as a Christmas gift might like the opportunity to use it to buy a book on Christmas day itself to read to their children, for family entertainment or to fill in those hours of Christmas day during which television is unutterably awful.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con)

Parents could take their children to any church in the land, which they would find open, where they would be able to peruse the Bible free of charge. The following day, having introduced their children to the experience, they could go to an open bookshop—so there is no need for bookshops to be open on Christmas day.

Mr. Forth

That may be the case, but my hon. Friend could not guarantee that the version of the Bible that they wanted to read would necessarily be available at their local church. Despite the fact that I am not a churchgoer, or indeed a practising Christian, I know that there are many splendid versions of the Bible. The local church might be one of those ghastly, trendy, modern ones with one of those ghastly, trendy, modern Bibles. My hon. Friend's constituent might want the authorised version to read.

Mr. Howarth

As churchwarden of the Royal Garrison church in Aldershot, I can assure my right hon. Friend that I shall make it my business to ensure that the King James version is available to all those who believe in the proper rendering of the Bible. In Aldershot all will be well, and I shall try to ensure that the same is available throughout the country.

Mr. Forth

I admire my hon. Friend's assiduity and I am sure that his constituents will be as grateful to him now, and at the next election, as they were at the last. However, that does not solve the problem. We are legislating nationwide, and not allowing local discretion; I rather wish we were, and we may return to that question in future. Given the context of the list of exemptions, it strikes me as peculiar that we are allowed to buy the items I listed but not books.

Mr. Kevan Jones

The right hon. Gentleman's line of argument is interesting, but I wish to question the definition of a shop that sells mostly books. I understand that he has mentioned people buying the Bible, but would large licensed sex shops—which may sell mostly books, but sell other things as well—be allowed to open on Christmas day?

Mr. Forth

The answer would, I presume, be yes. I simply carried forward the wording from the 1994 Act—the hon. Gentleman did the same in his Bill—and that refers to shops whose business consists "wholly or mainly" of the sale of intoxicating liquor etc. The same would apply to a shop whose business consisted wholly or mainly of the sale of books. I make no distinction about the sort of books, because I believe that in a free society, adults should be able to buy any sort of printed material.

Mr. Pickthall

Has the right hon. Gentleman estimated the number of book stores large enough to fall within the ambit of the Bill?

Mr. Forth

Happily, that number is increasing. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of excellent book stores such as Waterstone's, and stores such as Borders, and Barnes and Noble—stores that I visit as a regular visitor to America—which are coming to this country and offering their excellent services to the public. They have pioneered the idea of incorporating coffee shops into book stores—something that had been available in the United States for some time. One can go to a book store and peruse books while enjoying a cup of coffee and, if one is not on the Atkins diet, a cake.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's perfectly fair question is that in future I hope that the number will increase. In Florida, the part of the United States I visit most regularly, I have to drive 40 miles to my nearest book store—but given that gasoline is now $2 a gallon, I may have to think again.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will think again about addressing his comments to the amendments.

Mr. Forth

Yes indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was being seduced by the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) and trying to give a comprehensive answer to his pertinent question.

Mr. Greg Knight

There is a good example in America that supports my right hon. Friend's view. In the Georgetown area of Washington, when all other shops are closed, the bars, restaurants and book stores remain open. They seem to be on to something. If the law says that it is all right for a bookshop in an airport to open on Christmas day, why should the rest of us be denied the opportunity to go to Borders and peruse the books there on that day?

Mr. Forth

That is a fair point. I cannot remember whether the area is K street or P street in Washington DC; it is one or the other. My right hon. Friend has pointed out yet another anomaly. It seems rather unfair on the public at large that those who choose to travel and use a railway station, service area or airport will be able to avail themselves of such services, because of the exemptions that the Bill already contains, while the rest of us cannot do so. I would have thought—surprisingly, this does not appear to be the case—that including books in the list would have been utterly uncontroversial. What could be more innocent, pleasurable, educational and positive than being able to buy a book, even if it is on Christmas day?

A similar argument applies to amendment No. 7, which makes the case for allowing the sale of children's toys and games on Christmas day. I would have thought that that was almost self-evidently reasonable. Let us suppose that someone had inadvertently forgotten, or failed to buy, a toy or game for a child in their family or elsewhere, or was suddenly invited to visit somebody on Christmas day without having purchased a gift for a child. Rather than disappoint the child, would it not be proper to permit the sale of children's toys and games on Christmas day, of all days? I would have thought that that was self-evidently a very strong argument. If one can buy liquor, why can one not buy a child's toy or game on the day of giving?

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab)

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that for children, Christmas day is a day of magic? Most of them think that their presents have not come from their parents or a shop, even though they may have seen them in shops. Is he not suggesting a very functional way of treating Christmas day?

Mr. Forth

I do not know what sort of magic kingdom the hon. Lady occupies, but I think that reality has intruded rather more on many people's lives, and sadly, that is the case even for young children.

Let us suppose that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) were kind enough to invite me at the last minute to join his family celebrations on Christmas day. What would happen if I were more than happy to accept, but I thought that it would be appropriate to take gifts for his children? Given that he has six children, that might a rather expensive proposition, but it would be entirely appropriate to take gifts for his younger children. What would be wrong in my wanting to purchase something appropriate for a child when visiting another family on Christmas day?

Mr. Gerald Howarth

I have a solution for my right hon. Friend. Since motorway service stations and petrol stations are open, and as products that I know are of interest to children will available in such places, he need have no problem. I know that the children of our hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough would appreciate any small gift from my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Forth

On the face of it, that proposition seems to answer the particular case that I made, but it does not deal with the more general case. Where the journey from the visitor to the host does not involve a motorway journey, my hon. Friend's helpful suggestion will not apply.

Mr. Knight

If our hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough were true to his beliefs, he would not accept Christmas presents purchased on Christmas day. So far as the magic of Christmas is concerned, what about the poor family who have a burglary on Christmas eve in which all the presents are stolen? [Laughter.]

Mr. Forth

My right hon. Friend illustrates very well the sort of problem or dilemma that may arise, and I do not for the life of me understand why his suggestions caused such hilarity. On each Christmas day, tragic and difficult circumstances of the sort that he describes must arise throughout the country. I do not see why we should not allow the flexibility that I propose. After all, if we all wake up on Christmas day with a hangover after over-celebrating on Christmas eve and decide that we need a hair of the dog, we can go straight out and buy intoxicating liquor, because the exemptions will allow us to do so.

11.45 am

It is beyond me to understand why hon. Members should resist the thought, as I gather those present do, that we should be able to buy books or children's toys on Christmas day, when we can go out and buy booze. I simply do not understand it. Neither do I understand the apparent resistance to the idea that, having had 10 years' experience of the 1994 Act and the exemptions that it contains, we should be able to look at it again and perhaps add to it or even subtract from it. I cannot see why that is creating such difficulty.

I think that I can understand why the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), who may be able to expand on this point, wanted to slide from the Sunday trading provisions to the Christmas day provisions as uncontroversially as possible. I suspect that he may well be proved right in his judgment some time later this morning. None the less, it would have been helpful if we had decided to look again at the list of exemptions, which my amendments seek to do.

I had thought that in turning to amendment No. 8, I would be moving from simple and uncontroversial suggestions to a proposal that would be somewhat more controversial in a number of ways. The amendment states: Subsection (1) does not apply to any shop which meets a prescribed local need. In this instance, I did indeed want to introduce a much wider degree of flexibility. I confess that in speaking to the amendment, I am trying to edge towards that element of local discretion that I have mentioned once or twice already, to see whether we can pay much more respect to local communities and their needs. The irony is that I have had to approach the matter through a route that I would normally deprecate and be uneasy about. Proposed subsection (2B) states: in this section, "prescribed" means prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State. I confess that that was the only way into this issue that I was able to find for the time being, but I hope that it helps to establish the principle, or precedent.

In a sense, what I am proposing harks back to amendment No. 11, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), which we discussed a short time ago. I am trying to reach out and see whether we can identify communities in which one could well make a case for allowing a particular shop to open on Christmas day for particular local community needs. Such a need could be religious or it could be rather different. In a remote or scattered community, the only store might be a large store that provides a wide range of products and services, but it could be established that it was relevant on Christmas day. Such a store might sell almost all the things that have been mentioned, whether in my amendments or in the existing list of exemptions. I wanted to see whether we could introduce some degree of flexibility, even though, in the case of amendment No. 8, it would be through the discretion of the Secretary of State, in order to help such a community.

Again, I would have thought that that would be relatively uncontroversial. After all, I think that all political parties now claim that they are signed up to elements of local discretion and local decision making. Certainly the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats are fully signed up to the concept of devolution, whatever that may mean. Very much in that spirit, I am suggesting a mechanism, in the context of the Bill—given that it is essentially restrictive—to allow for an easement, which might well be appropriate, so that more attention can be given to the needs of local communities.

Just glancing at amendment No. 10, I was slightly puzzled by its content. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) can explain this, but it seems to me that it is already covered by paragraph 3(1)(d) of schedule 1 to the Sunday Trading Act 1994. I am not sure that I see the distinction between that and the amendment, but that is for them to explain.

Mr. Knight

If my right hon. Friend looks at the 1994 Act, he will see that paragraph 3(1)(d) states that a registered pharmacy is exempt only if it is not open for the retail sale of any goods other than medicinal products and medical and surgical appliances". Amendment No. 10 is drafted slightly wider, and would allow a Boots type of store to open and sell any of the products within its range.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I am sure that he will want to expand on that in due course. It just shows how carelessly I read his amendment, and schedule 1.

I might mention in passing—I will return to this theme on Third Reading—that I have looked at what happens in other countries. Although we should never slavishly follow what happens in other countries, it can sometimes be quite informative. I got the Library to look at what happens in broadly relevant and parallel countries, such as Canada, Australia and the United States—[Interruption.] I deliberately did not mention any European countries, because I do not regard them as in any way parallel or similar to this country in any respect, either politically or culturally. I preferred to look at the real countries of Canada, Australia and the United States, as opposed to the increasingly pseudo countries absorbed into the ever more embracing European Union.

In Canada on Christmas day and new year's day, all businesses affected by the Retail Business Holidays Act must close unless they qualify for an exemption. The exemptions are interesting. I did not replicate them in my amendments, but in a way, I wish that I had. According to the Act, small stores under 2,400 sq ft—note the square feet; the good old Canadians are at least traditional in that respect—with a maximum of three employees, which is a variable that we have not introduced, that sell food, tobacco, antiques or handicrafts, may be open. That is another interesting possibility that we might want to consider at a subsequent stage. Gas stations and garden supply outlets are also exempt from closing requirements. Other exceptions affect businesses including laundromats and car rental offices, which are not defined by law as retail businesses, and therefore not bound by the Act.

I mentioned that in passing, just to illustrate the different nuances that one can get in other broadly similar cultures. They are worth looking at, and we may want to return to them. Perhaps I am just putting down a marker that should I ever come anywhere near the top of the private Members' Bill ballot, which I pray every year I will not, there may be some scope for coming back to the issue of Sunday trading and Christmas day trading and reconsidering the exemptions.

I have just described my little list of exemptions. I hope that the House is sympathetic to it, because by and large, it is pretty innocuous and, in some cases, would be genuinely valuable. I hope that the House will find relevant the fact that a similar approach is taken in other countries—I gave just one example, that of Canada. I also hope that the House accepts that this is an appropriate occasion to reconsider the list, to update it and to make it a bit more flexible to meet the reasonable needs that I am sure can exist on Christmas day.

Malcolm Bruce

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has got himself into some difficulties. I am not sure which way he is coming from. Having been on the receiving end of his taunts about my party, I must say that he seems to be behaving in the way in which he usually accuses Liberal Democrats of behaving, which is to face both ways.

On the more serious matter of the Bill, the starting point is that Christmas day should be special and, in an ideal world, no one would be shopping or doing anything on it. Then we say that we should look at the parallel of the Sunday trading laws to specify what people should and should not do on Christmas day. That is worrying, because the House is making choices about what people should or should not do on Christmas day. The amendments tabled by the right hon. Gentleman demonstrate the anomaly of that position, as it would be all right to buy strong liquor but not books. People talk about the classic values of Victorian Britain, but Scrooge could buy almost everything that he needed on Christmas morning after his conversion by the three ghosts overnight. In Victorian Britain, restrictive trading was not common.

Mr. Sutcliffe

Good legislation is the result of consultation, and this Bill was subject to thorough consultation. More than 90 per cent. of respondents favoured keeping Christmas day special, which is why the Bill has proceeded as far as it has.

Malcolm Bruce

I am grateful to the Minister. As I have made clear, I favour keeping Christmas day special. My family and I, like many other people, treat it as a special day. I am not an avid churchgoer, but I sometimes take my family to church at Christmas. I celebrate Christmas as a family event, but I also acknowledge its religious significance, and I believe that the majority of people in the country want to do the same. I am not hostile to the Bill, as I understand the motivation behind it, but I have some practical reservations. We seem to be saying that big shops should not open but lots of little ones should.

Chris Bryant

We are saying that they can open.

Malcolm Bruce

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, but there seems to be an arbitrary distinction about which shops should open. Are we saying that people should be allowed to work and shop if they choose, but only at places specified on a list? I accept that there has been consultation on the nature of those outlets, but we are nevertheless making a decision about what it is reasonable for people to do. It is one thing to say that we want to observe Christmas day and keep it special, but another to say that as a result only certain shops can open at certain times.

Consultation on the Sunday trading laws showed that while people accept restrictions on the opening hours of supermarkets and other shops in England, many believe that 10 am is a late opening time. If someone wakes early on a Sunday morning and decides that they want bacon and eggs for breakfast, 10 am may be a little late to go out and buy them. I do not know whether that is the reasoning behind their choice, but people would like the shops to open a little earlier. We are therefore in danger of passing a Bill that, in five or 10 years' time—and probably long before that—Members will wish to amend in the light of changing circumstances.

The amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst therefore demonstrate that we are making an arbitrary distinction, which does not make sense in relation to individual choice. I freely concede that I have always taken a libertarian position on the matter, just as I have on Sunday trading.

Mr. Forth

I am slightly disappointed to be getting the blame as I, too, am reluctant to accept the anomalous list of exemptions in the Sunday Trading Act 1994 that the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) has transferred to his Bill. I am simply trying to make that list less anomalous or more flexible, and I should have thought that the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) would approve of that. If he does not like the restrictions in the existing list, can he not go along with my slightly less restrictive list?

Malcolm Bruce

I probably could, but I am not sure what sort of legislation the right hon. Gentleman wants. I am fairly certain what he does not want, but I am not at all sure what he does want I have made my preferences clear, and the majority of my colleagues are enthusiastic in their support for the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones). Keeping Christmas day special commands widespread support, and many people who are not religious or whose faith is non-Christian accept that others wish to do so. However, that does not mean that we should impose a restrictive framework on which shops should open and what people can and cannot do, and the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has highlighted that dilemma.

12 noon

Mr. Gerald Howarth

First, I apologise to the promoter of the Bill, of which I am a strong supporter, for not being present earlier.

The day my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is successful in the ballot for private Members' Bills, in whatever position but particularly if he is in the top six, he may rest assured that on the days on which his Bill appears before the House, the House will never have been so full on a Friday of hon. Members seeking to exact the maximum revenge and subjecting his Bill to the depth of scrutiny to which he has subjected any number of Bills on a Friday. Of course, we all thoroughly support my right hon. Friend in pursuing his parliamentary duty so diligently that he has ensured that much legislation that would otherwise have gone through without the requisite scrutiny has been subjected to proper scrutiny. Nevertheless, we all look forward to the day that his Bill comes in the first six.

As I said, I am a strong supporter of the Bill. Like the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), I believe that Christmas day is particularly special in this country, and that that is the view of the overwhelming majority of people in this country. It is therefore important that we ensure that the special character of Christmas day remains. That is the purpose of the Bill, as much as it is to ensure that those who wish to spend Christmas day with their family are able to do so and are not obliged to work or penalised for wishing to observe Christmas day with their family.

When moving the amendments, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst started by saying that he was looking to repeal some of the exemptions. In fact, all he has done is to add to the list of exemptions. As I am not, like him, a libertarian, although I believe in individual freedom, I hoped he would help us repeal some of the exemptions, but he added more. There must be a question as to whether farm shops ought to be open on Christmas day and whether there is something special about them or about off-licences. The rest of the existing exemptions are there for good reason.

I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the exemptions fall into two categories. The first is emergency services. We would all agree that the availability of medical supplies at pharmacies on Christmas day would fall into that category. Unless we propose to stop trains and cars running, it is important that those facilities should also be open. I am not sure about exhibition stands. I do not see why those should be open on Christmas day.

The other exemptions fall into the second category, which I would describe as facilitating the getting together of families on Christmas day. We live in a society where families are widely dispersed throughout the land, so for many families it is, sadly, essential that they drive on Christmas day in order to be with their relatives. Unless families are fortunate enough to drive a car with good fuel consumption, which I do, even though it is a French car—I cannot help that—they will have to refuel. It is unrealistic to expect petrol stations to remain open but not the shops attached to them. Anyway, those shops fall within the small shop category. So there seems to be a lot of logic in some of those exemptions in so far as they fall into those two categories, but the Government—who, I understand, support the Bill—might usefully consider removing some of the exemptions in so far as they do not fall into those categories, particularly if they are determined to maintain the special nature of Christmas day.

Mr. Chope

What does my hon. Friend think about the rules on stations? Stations are not open on Christmas day because the people who run the railways do not think that there is sufficient demand. They do not buy into his argument that travelling by train on Christmas day is necessary to facilitate families' getting together.

Mr. Howarth

As train services do not run on Christmas day, there is no need for railway shops to open. I am glad to have my hon. Friend's support.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Howarth

Does my right hon. Friend wish to support me as well?

Mr. Forth

I was slightly disappointed that my hon. Friend sought to criticise me for not seeking to reduce the list of exemptions. He had ample opportunity, did he not, to table amendments to the Bill, but he saw fit not to do so; so I find his criticism rather misplaced.

Mr. Howarth

I did not realise that my right hon. Friend was so sensitive. He is one of my very closest friends, and I have clearly hurt him. I really do apologise to him. I will buy him half a pint of beer to make amends. Of course, he is on rather stronger ground in so far as he is quite right: I should have tabled some amendments to give expression to our mutual desire to reduce regulation.

Inevitably, the list is arbitrary—the point that my right hon. Friend is making—and it is pointless to pretend otherwise. We are trying to achieve a proper modus vivendi, whereby we can facilitate people travelling to their families on Christmas day and provide emergency facilities for people. Those are the two criteria that should apply. In so far as any of the exemptions does not fall within those criteria, it could usefully be excluded. Perhaps that is, unfortunately, for another day. I hope that my right hon. Friend will see fit to withdraw the amendment in due course.

Mr. Greg Knight

I rise to speak primarily to amendment No. 10. I would welcome hearing what the Minister has to say about that amendment because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has said, it is similar to the exemption in paragraph 3(1)(d) of schedule 1 to the Sunday Trading Act 1994, but it does not mirror that exemption. The 1994 Act exempts

any shop that … is a registered pharmacy, and … is not open for the sale of goods other than medicinal products and medical and surgical appliances." That could cause a difficulty for large stores, such as those in the Boots Group, that are primarily chemists and pharmacies, but which over the years have started to sell other products. One can imagine, for example, a pensioner going into one of those shops on Christmas day to get some urgently needed pills and wanting to buy a shower cap while in the store. As I read the original 1994 Act, those in the shop would commit an offence if they sold a product that could not be described as a medical or surgical appliance while trading on Christmas day. In this day and age, it would be unrealistic to expect the owner of such a large pharmacy somehow to block off or cover certain stalls. Does it really matter if an item that is not strictly medical is bought as an ancillary purchase?

Ms Coffey

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that 3,000 sq ft is a large area? Many Boots shops are smaller than that and current Sunday trading laws do not apply to them. The Bill would not apply to them, either. He gave an example of a pensioner who goes to a store. She would be more likely to go to a small store, which could open if Boots wanted it to. The area of 3,000 sq ft is large and we are therefore considering large Boots stores that are sometimes located outside town centres. We should bear that in mind.

Mr. Knight

I accept that, but the local chemist may decide that he does not want to open. Anyone who has to go out for a medicinal supply on Christmas day must shop around. As the hon. Lady knows, chemist's shops often put notices on their doors to help their customers, explaining that they are closed on Christmas day, but that store X at Y street is open. The amendment would ensure that a large pharmacy that opened would not run the risk of being prosecuted for selling goods other than the medicinal products that are mentioned in the 1994 Act.

Mr. Forth

I did not want to let the hon. Lady's intervention pass without pointing out that 3,000 sq ft is no bigger than an average-sized detached house. We are not used in this country to measuring house sizes in sq ft but I assure my right hon. Friend that a house of 3,000 sq ft is no bigger than average. Such a store would not therefore be very large.

Mr. Knight

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I hope that the Under-Secretary accepts that amendment No. 10 is not a wrecking amendment, but seeks a modest relaxation of the rules simply to ensure that the large pharmacy that goes to the trouble of opening on Christmas day does not have to monitor the items that it sells through the till. I therefore hope that he will react favourably to amendment No. 10.

Amendment No. 8, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst tabled, is interesting. First, it goes against everything for which he has argued in the past: giving Ministers the power to prescribe regulations that the House does not supervise. In other words, the amendment would give a Minister carte blanche. Secondly, if I understand the amendment correctly, it would mean that a Minister would be in order to say, "I now have the power to make the regulations. I do not think that the measure needs to be widened and I therefore decline to make them." It would appear to give a Minister the opportunity to take the power to widen the scope of the Bill without giving hon. Members a commitment that he intends to use it.

The power is useful because it would mean that we did not have to go through the process again if any further minor adjustments were deemed necessary in future. Oppositions do not normally like giving Ministers such a power. However, in the case that we are considering, the Minister might want to reflect on it and decide to accept it even if he has no intention of using it today.

The hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) made several attacks on my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. For example, he said that, a moment ago, my right hon. Friend opposed new clause 1 but now advocated amendment No. 8, and that my right hon. Friend did not support giving Ministers powers to make law through regulations but now proposed that. My right hon. Friend based much of his speech in a bookshop He reminds one of the character in literature called Jan us, given that his arguments have changed since the earlier part of the debate to the view that he has now reached. However, I am delighted to support amendment No. 8.

My right hon. Friend has not persuaded me about amendments Nos. 6 and 7 because of the point that the hon. Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) made. My point about chemists was different and I believe that if one wishes to buy a book on Christmas day, one does not need to have recourse to a large bookshop. I am therefore sorry that my right hon. Friend has not carried me with him on amendments Nos. 6 and 7.

12.15 pm
Mr. Kevan Jones

I accept that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is trying, with his amendments, to open up the debate on exemptions. The problem with framing this Bill, as with the 1994 Act, has been that whatever we add to the list of exemptions will create difficulties. The right hon. Gentleman is correct in asserting that I do not want to reopen the entire debate on the 1994 Act, because I was not a Member at that time, but I know I hat there was much heated debate and horse trading to get it enacted.

Turning to the points that have been made on amendment No. 6—for example, on books—the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) is quite right to say that there are many outlets for access to a Bible on Christmas day. Someone can view a Bible in a church, for example. In the smaller bookshops that still exist and have not been taken over by larger retailers, Bibles can be purchased, along with a whole range of books. On the point about being able to buy gifts convenience stores, railways stations and other outlets have a range of books available. In all honesty, I would not consider the ability to purchase a book as an essential service, unlike access to a pharmacy.

Mr. Forth

What about booze?

Mr. Jones

That might be essential for the celebration of Christmas in some people's eyes, although I would not agree.

We come back to the point that several Members made eloquently on Second Reading: are we suggesting that, with all the trading days that we have in the year, Christmas should be just another trading day because people cannot plan their Christmas shopping during the lead-up to Christmas? That period already sees not only every Sunday being used for shopping, but late-night opening and other ample opportunities for people to buy everything, including booze and Bibles, that they wish to purchase.

There is a similar position with children's toys and games. I know that the family of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) will be waiting in trepidation for a visit on Christmas day from the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, but I am sure that, should he arrive, he would have had ample opportunity on the way to Gainsborough to purchase small gifts for them.

Chris Bryant

The right hon. Gentleman would be a present in his own right.

Mr. Jones

Obviously, some people would agree with that. The right hon. Gentleman would certainly make an entertaining Christmas day for the family of the hon. Member for Gainsborough and, no doubt, others. There is opportunity, in smaller convenience stores and other outlets, to purchase emergency supplies or presents on the way to Gainsborough.

I understand that, under amendment No. 8, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst seeks to recognise the fact that there are certain needs and conditions in some areas, especially rural ones, that do not exist in large cities. However, there would be problems in implementing the amendment. How would the right hon. Gentleman define "prescribed local need", and who would make the decision on what that need was?

Mr. Forth

The Secretary of State.

Mr. Jones

I am sorry, but I should not like to give the Secretary of State such wide-ranging powers. I foresee great legal challenges if he allowed a store to be exempt in one area but not in another. The amendment would be expensive and bureaucratic to implement, and it might go against what the Bill is trying to achieve—to keep the special nature of Christmas day—and turn that day into just another shopping day if we had the extensive use of "prescribed local need." No doubt, many large shop owners and companies would describe the service that they offer the local community as meeting a clear need. Furthermore, in most communities, there are extensive local convenience stores, which are mainly family-run, that are not covered by the Bill and will be allowed to open on Christmas day. As for the person on their way to Gainsborough who finds that they have forgotten a packet of stuffing or cranberry sauce, they will find that in most communities there are well-run convenience stores providing that type of service. I reiterate that the Bill will not restrict that.

The issue of pharmacies is interesting, because there are many small local pharmacies. My village, Sacriston, in Country Durham, has a local pharmacy, and local pharmacies come to an arrangement on Christmas day opening that is published in the local newspaper. They cater for a specific local need on Christmas day, as people wish to get prescriptions or other medical supplies. I accept the point made by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) about larger stores such as Boots, but they tend to be located mainly in out-of-town retail outlets or large shopping centres. I accept that under amendment No. 10 the trade or business carried out would be

wholly or mainly of the retail sale of medicinal products", but there would also be a call for pharmacies located in large supermarkets to be able to trade. They would ask, "Why are we treated differently just because someone who uses the pharmacy picks up a packet of crisps on the way?" In my local community, however, local pharmacies open and provide that essential service.

Mr. Forth

I am puzzled about why the hon. Gentleman seems to be so resistant to any changes to his Bill. It is normal for the House to seek at one stage or another to amend Bills, for this or that reason, and it is perfectly normal for promoters to accept this or that amendment. He seems rigidly unwilling to accept amendments, however. He is not being leant on by the Government by any chance, is he? He is his own man, is he not?

Mr. Jones

The right hon. Gentleman does not know me very well if he makes that assertion. The point is that this is a simple Bill to close the loophole in the 1994 Act. I am trying to ensure that we do not make that difficult by opening up the Act, and creating problems. Some of the issues that have been raised require discussion, and we might need to revisit the 1994 Act on certain issues. That would require a wider Bill, however, than this small but well-crafted and concentrated one. We are in danger of straying on to a wider agenda.

As for whether points that have been made today need to be addressed more broadly, I think that the answer is yes. Society has changed since the 1994 Act. Clearly, people's shopping habits and lifestyles are changing. I am not sure whether any Government or private Member's Bill would address that. Last time, a lot of controversy and heated debate was created. Clearly, there are many issues in relation to Sunday trading. I supported the Sunday Trading Bill when I was chairman of licensing on Newcastle city council, and, overall, it has worked. It took away the anomalies and expense with which local councils were left by the Shops Act 1950. I hope that this Bill, if it receives the House's support today, will close one small loophole that most Members who spoke on Second Reading, and who were Members of the House in 1994, thought that it covered anyway.

I sympathise with the views of the right hon. Members for Bromley and Chislehurst and for East Yorkshire, and my attitude to the amendments is not one of resistance. We have had a good discussion on a range of issues. which may lead to their being discussed again at a later stage. That does credit to Members and the House. If something further comes out of today's debate, we shall have done a service not just to the House but to the quality of Sunday trading legislation generally.

As I have said, I have some sympathy with the amendments, but because of practical difficulties that would arise from them I hope they will not be pressed.

Mr. Leigh

I thought that one of the most interesting speeches was that of the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), who drew attention to the logical inconsistencies in both the 1994 Act and the Bill. He is right: there are only two entirely logical, neat solutions. Either we adopt a wholly restrictive point of view and prevent any shops from trading, or we adopt a wholly liberal point of view and say that in a free society people should be allowed to do what they want.

Unfortunately, when we deal with legislation we must deal with the art of the possible and with compromise—shoddy compromise. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is impossible to construct a Bill that is perfect in terms of its logical application. As a supporter of devolution and the devolution Acts, he knows that that legislation is not entirely logical. He is well acquainted with the West Lothian question—the fact that the Scots are allowed to vote on our legislation but we cannot vote on theirs. He supports that, because he believes in the general principle that Scottish people should be able to govern their own affairs.

The 1994 Act is a similar shoddy compromise. It proclaims the principle that we should keep Sunday special. This Bill says that we should keep Christmas day special, but we are realistic. We cannot take an absolutist view, and therefore we must allow some exceptions. We must allow people to call into their local filling stations to fill their cars with petrol; in the days when trains ran—in most cases, they no longer do so—we had to allow people to go to railway shops.

We were very weak in 1994 in the case of the exemption for off-licences, but that too was a shoddy compromise. For some people an off-licence is as essential a local commodity as the local filling station. I remind my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) that we allowed pharmacies to remain open because we recognised that people have medical needs, but we did not want to accept the principle that pharmacies could sell non-medical commodities.

All this is just a compromise. I oppose the amendments because I think the aim is to move away from essential relaxations of the law allowing people to get around the country and buy essential medical supplies—to move the goal posts. Why toys, why books?

To be fair to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, I should say that he made one good point. Everyone laughed at him when he asked what would happen if the presents were stolen on Christmas eve, but friends of mine were burgled on Christmas eve and the burglar took all the presents that were under the tree. However, it is possible to devise any number of scenarios in favour of being able to shop on Christmas day. If we accept these amendments— starting with books, then exempting toys and who knows what else—we shall have no legislation left at all. We might as well scrap the 1994 Act and the Bill, and have a free-for-all.

Mr. Forth

That may well have been the hidden wish of some of us, but if my hon. Friend shares my view that the intoxicating liquor exemption was somewhat odd and anomalous in 1994 and remains so, was he never even slightly tempted to try to amend the Bill to eliminate that exemption for the purposes of Christmas day?

12.30 pm
Mr. Leigh

No, because I hope that I am a politician who recognises political realities. It simply would not be politically realistic to try to get an amendment through the House that would remove that exemption. In any event, the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) has made the point perfectly well that if he is to have any chance of getting his Bill through, he has to make it as simple as possible. It has to be introduced on the back of the 1994 legislation, and if he were to try to create a separate structure that was in any way different from that legislation, he would never get it through the House. One thing that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has achieved is to ensure that hon. Members who introduce legislation nowadays come to the House with very modest and restricted Bills because they realise that, if they try to make them wider and to create new principles—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should address his remarks to the amendments.

Mr. Leigh

Of course I accept that injunction. I was simply trying to answer the question that my right hon. Friend had put to me. Incidentally, I would welcome a visit from him bearing gifts on Christmas day, especially if he were dressed as Santa Claus.

If the amendments were to be passed, starting with toys and books, it would create a new structure for the Bill that would be totally different from the 1994 legislation. That would drive a cart and horse—or perhaps a sleigh and reindeer—through the Bill and create something totally different from what the hon. Member for North Durham wants to achieve. I therefore oppose the amendments.

Mr. Chope

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) is right in recognising that this is an illogical Bill and that it comprises lots of shoddy compromises. The amendments try to make it less illogical and less shoddy. I particularly ask the promoter of the Bill to consider amendment No. 10, which relates to registered pharmacies

where the trade or business carried on consists wholly or mainly of the retail sale of medicinal products and medicinal and surgical appliances. The argument against that is that there is no point in having a large shop of more than 3,000 sq ft to provide those services. If that argument is correct, the existing exemption, which covers only registered pharmacies, would be meaningless. That would mean that the promoter of the Bill recognised that it would be impossible to have a registered pharmacy of some 3,000 sq ft, and if he recognised that, why should that exemption be transposed anyway? Surely it would make more sense, if we recognise the importance of access to pharmacies on Christmas day and other days, that those pharmacies that can be included can be of any size, provided that the trade or business that they carry on

consists wholly or mainly of the retail sale of medicinal products and medicinal and surgical appliances.

Amendment No. 6, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), is one that I find attractive. It relates to the sale of books, and as he said, there is now an increasing number of specialist bookshops, and that can have the effect of exciting readers, young and old, and giving them the idea of picking up a book and reading it. Let us couple that with the fact that many people, give book tokens as Christmas presents. When can those book tokens be converted into real books? What could be better than for a father or mother to say to their child on Christmas day, after their auntie or granny has given them a book token, "Let's go off to the boot shop together, as a family, and choose some books." I am sure that even my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough would not find that suggestion unreasonable, anti-family or anti-Christian. Surely this is a sensible way of recognising the reality that, since the 1994 Act, much larger and more attractive specialist bookshops have opened. There is also an increasing national crisis in that a whole generation of people apparently do not want to read books for pleasure.

Ms Coffey

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that such large bookshops, which serve excellent coffee, are exciting, but people can visit them 364 days a year. He paints a very nice picture of a family going together to the bookshop on Christmas day to spend the book token that they bought for their children, but what about the family of the employee who has to work in the bookshop on Christmas day?

Mr. Chope

The hon. Lady seems to be concerned only about the families of employees who work in large bookshops; she seems not to be concerned about the families of those who work in small ones. I am afraid that the more I listen to this debate, the more I realise that it is totally illogical to try to separate small bookshops from large ones, small pharmacies from large ones, and so on. However, that is what we are discussing today, and I hope that the hon. Lady accepts that, for the reasons that I have set out, it is sensible to treat large bookshops in the same way as small ones.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend will be aware that I had tabled an amendment that, sadly, could not be selected because it was not covered by the Bill's long title. The Bill cares so little about the protection of employees that its long title does not even allow for an amendment that sought to provide such protection.

Mr. Chope

My right hon. Friend is rightly critical of the Bill's promoter and sponsors, who were doubtless aided and abetted by Government Front Benchers who wanted to restrict the Bill's terms as much as possible. In effect, they wanted to do so to prevent us from dealing with matters of much greater concern—a lot of time has been available today to do so—and to address the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough made about all the legislation on this issue being an illogical and shoddy compromise.

If we are concerned about reading habits, why can we not allow the big bookshops to open on Christmas day? We are not saying that they must open; we are simply trying to give them the option to do so. At the moment, the opportunity to browse in a large bookshop on Christmas day arises only if one is travelling by air. Frankly, where is the logic in allowing people to fly on Christmas day? Why can they not complete their journeys on an earlier or subsequent day? Why should they use our airports on such a day, given that many of our airports employ far more people than are employed in large shops? Why should such employees have to work on Christmas day?

One can advance all sorts of arguments as to why Christmas day should be kept so special that nobody works at all, apart from priests and the emergency services, but that is not the position of the Bill's promoter and sponsors. They are saying that many other people should be able to work on Christmas day for various reasons, but for some reason that cannot include anybody working in a large bookshop. That ignores the importance of being able to excite those who have received book tokens as Christmas presents from members of their family into the habit of reading.

It is surely in the national interest to allow large bookshops to open on Christmas day, and I hope that the Minister addresses that issue in his response. Perhaps it would also be in the national interest to close down all the television services, apart from those that produce the Queen's Message. Most families would accept that the presence of a television in the living room is more intrusive and destructive of a family gathering than anything else. So let us promote the family and promote education. Let us keep the bookshops open on Christmas day, and perhaps close down the television services.

Mr. Sutcliffe

I am slightly worried about some of the responsibilities that would be placed on my shoulders were I to accept the amendments tabled by various Members. That said, we have had a good debate on some of the issues that needed to be examined.

I shall deal with the various amendments quickly, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) has already dealt with them. On amendment No. 6, the list in question is an arbitrary one and we do not want to revisit it. We are being asked to add books to that list, and although we all want to raise standards and ensure that people become more literate, there are perhaps other ways of doing so than by opening bookshops on Christmas day. So for that reason, we do not want to add to the list.

On amendment No. 7, people say that Christmas day is already over-commercialised and toys are not an essential item. We do not want to deprive children of their mums and dads who work in shops on Christmas day, if we can help it, so we are not inclined to support the amendment.

In respect of amendment No. 8, we talked about bureaucracy earlier and I was chided on Second Reading and when we debated the money resolution for being over-bureaucratic in attempting to apply the Bill. However, there are no criteria for local need in the Bill and we want to avoid going down this route, which would create more problems.

I am more concerned about amendment No. 10. I acknowledge the principle behind what the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) suggested. I do not accept the exact wording of the amendment, but I acknowledge the spirit of what the right hon. Gentleman said and want to reflect further on whether the Bill meets the criteria that he outlined.

Mr. Greg Knight

May I say that, thus far, the Minister has behaved in an exemplary manner? His attitude and approach should be a model for all Ministers. On the basis of his undertaking that he wants to achieve what amendment No. 10 is designed to achieve and will reflect further on the wording, I will not press my amendment.

Mr. Sutcliffe

I am grateful for that. We want to get the Bill right. I hope that, with that assurance, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Forth

It is always disappointing, when one tables amendments in good faith in order to seek to improve a Bill, to find that they do not gain support from any quarter of the House. In that case, far from seeking to test the will of the House—I do not propose to do so on this occasion—I will say merely that an opportunity has been missed here.

It is all very well for everyone—the promoter, my hon. Friends, the Minister—to oppose the amendment, but what we have before us is very unsatisfactory. The provisions are full of anomalies and difficult to justify, yet we are supposed to give up the opportunity to put the Bill right. That is the gist of what has been said. I fully understand the rationale—I, of all people, could hardly disagree—that in order to keep the Bill tight and acceptable to the widest number of people, we should not put it at risk through amendments. In normal circumstances. I find that argument attractive and not a little tempting. On this occasion, having listened to the debate and gained an understanding of the House's intent—very much in the spirit of what my right hon. and hon. Friends have said—I shall withdraw the amendment in the hope that we may be able to return to some of the issues on a different occasion. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Forth

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 15, at end insert— '(5) In its application for the purposes of subsection (2), Schedule 3 to the 1994 Act (loading and unloading at large shops on Sunday morning) has effect as if the reference to Sunday were a reference to Christmas Day.'.

This is another occasion on which I find it puzzling that a provision in the Sunday Trading Act 1994 has not been carried forward into the Bill. Given the intimate connection between the 1994 Act and the Bill, I would have hoped that the promoter would examine the positive and good features of the earlier Act to ensure that they were carried forward to the Bill in the spirit of bringing Christmas day into line with Sundays. I was very disappointed—I shall return to the point on Third Reading—that the opportunity was not taken to carry forward an element of proper protection for employees who do not wish to work on Christmas day, and to reflect it in both the short and the long title of the Bill. I mention that only in passing now, but I will raise the matter again on Third Reading.

My amendment deals with a very precise measure in the 1994 Act, which could and should be carried forward into the Bill. It refers simply to loading and unloading at large shops on a Sunday morning, and I now wish to apply the same provision to Christmas day. Surely, to the extent that the acts of loading and unloading are viewed as undesirable on Sundays, they must be viewed as equally or even more undesirable on Christmas day. For the life of me, I cannot see why that provision is not incorporated in the Bill.

12.45 pm
Mr. Greg Knight

Is it not the case that greater nuisance, annoyance, menace and disturbance are often caused to residents from loading, particularly from container lorries that service big shops, than from the act of trading from those shops?

Mr. Forth

My right hon. Friend makes the point better than I had hitherto been able to, for which I am grateful. He is right, and that must be why the loading provision with reference to Sundays was included in the 1994 Act. From the varying experiences of our different constituencies, we all know that loading and unloading can be a source of great unhappiness and distress. It is an essential part of our modern life, and our retail trade is probably one of the most efficient in the world in its arrangements for supplying stores How rare it is to see—if, indeed, one ever sees them these days—empty shelves in our stores large or small, and that is a great tribute to our systems of distribution. I pay tribute to all involved in the distribution business, but—it is a big but—there are considerable social considerations governing the hours and days of the year when that may be done.

My challenge to the House is simple: it seemed sensible and desirable to include the loading provision in schedule 3 to the Sunday Trading Act 1994, and my amendment seeks simply to carry that provision forward into the Bill. If it is deemed undesirable that loading or unloading should take place on a Sunday, that must equally, or even more so, be the case on Christmas day.

Mr. Chope

Will my right hon. Friend address the point that if vehicles need to be loaded or unloaded outside large shops, employees in those shops must attend to deal with that event?

Mr. Forth

Yes; my hon. Friend beats me to the point, for which I am grateful. That is self-evidently the case. We must not forget—I do not wish to be misunderstood here—that loading and unloading involves not only the driver of the vehicle and his or her assistants, but the employees of the receiving store, whatever size it may be, who must open the premises, who may have to assist with loading and unloading, and who must certainly receive the goods being delivered. If the point is not covered in the Bill, as my amendment seeks to ensure, there will be, at the very least, a risk—I put it no higher—that the employees of the distributing company, or of the distribution element of the retailing company, will be involved, and others, perforce, must also be.

I do not want to belabour the point; it almost makes itself. I hope, therefore, that the Bill's promoter will see fit to recommend to the House that a measure included in the 1994 Act can and should be carried forward, through my amendment, to the Bill.

Mr. Brazier

I should have made it clear earlier that I speak today in a personal capacity on a matter that has long been entirely a question of conscience in my party.

I hope that the Bill's promoter, the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), will be able to agree to the amendment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) spoke with considerable eloquence, and I am glad to support him. The amendment should come as no surprise to those on the Government Front Bench following Second Reading, when the argument was raised by several people, including me. Sympathetic noises were made at that time, and it seems an extraordinary anomaly that a little piece of the original legislation has been left out of the Bill.

My right hon. Friend referred to the large numbers of employees involved in loading. I confess that although I am concerned about them, as the representative of a major regional shopping centre I am more concerned about people living immediately round those premises. I suspect that any large store would be able to find without any difficulty a small number of employees who would be happy to work on a Sunday.

In my constituency—we sometimes have 15,000 people on the high street, which shows the scale of our shopping centre—there are substantial numbers of people, many elderly, who live close to our largest stores. I will mention one of them: my parish priest, who has completed 40 years in the priesthood and lives next to the largest store in Canterbury. He has not raised the issue with me but, in 1994 his curate pointed out the problems caused by unloading.

As has been pointed out, loading can be a bigger problem for people living next to a store than shopping, with the sound of those wretched heavy lorries with their bleepers going off when they reverse, the sound of enormous doors being slid to and fro, and the banging and so on, sometimes very early in the morning. I do not see why on two days of the year—the other, of course, being Easter—people should not be exempted from that. Let me be clear: none of the department stores in Canterbury is a problem in that regard, but they all make the point that if one or two stores broke the line, it would put the others at a competitive disadvantage. There was sympathy for that view on Second Reading.

The promoter of the Bill has steered it through the House extremely skilfully, and his interchanges with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst have become more and more touching at every stage, revealing sides that one hardly knew were there. This is an excellent amendment. Everyone understands why it is needed and I hope that both the hon. Gentleman and the Government will support it.

Mr. Knight

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and I have had some differences this morning, but we have now reached agreement. I accept the force of his arguments. The original restriction in the Sunday trading legislation applies to any large shop, and prohibits loading or unloading before 9 am on a Sunday unless consent has been sought from the local authority. I would have gone further than my right hon. Friend. I think there should be no loading, full stop—not just early loading—on Christmas day.

Luckily, I do not live near a large store, but a few years back I was taking part in a classic car rally and made the mistake of booking into a hotel adjoining the car park and loading bay of a large store. I was rudely woken up at 7 am by two delivery employees who bore more than a passing resemblance—certainly in how they behaved—to the screen comics Laurel and Hardy, in that they seemed to take great delight in throwing around metal pallets and anything that would make a noise to create disturbance. [Interruption.] I hear someone saying, sotto voce, that they must have known I was there.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. I wish the right hon. Gentleman had not heard that comment. I wish it had not been uttered.

Mr. Knight

I do not think that those involved knew that I was staying at the hotel. What happened brought home to me the unnecessary intrusion that many people who live near to such supermarkets must suffer in what is supposed to be their private home life. Although they must often bite their lip and live with such activities during the week, I think that they could do without such a nuisance on Sundays and on Christmas day.

If the Minister is unable or unwilling to accept the amendment today, I hope that he will do what he did in respect of amendment No. 10, which I tabled—recognise that an issue needs to be addressed and undertake to look at the matter and amend the Bill during the remainder of its passage.

Mr. Forth

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the rather unusual schedule for private Members' legislation this year—the final day for considering it in the Commons is 15 October—presents us with an opportunity? If the promoter or the Minister is unwilling to accept the amendment, there would be an opportunity for them to seek to amend the Bill in the Lords, after which it could comfortably return to this House by 15 October for us to deal with the matter then. Unusually, that opportunity exists; indeed, I understand that that is one of the reasons why the Government schedule private Members' Bills to run so late in the year.

Mr. Knight

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for pointing out to the House the opportunities that exist for making such an amendment. I do not mind how the Minister does it, but I hope that he will do something to alleviate the problems and nuisance that this loophole will undoubtedly cause.

Mr. Kevan Jones

The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) summed up the effects of unloading and deliveries on those who live close to large out-of-town retail outlets. The disturbance will often occur at very unsocial hours. Such problems are bad enough for people who live in city centres, but many people who live in what used to be semi-rural areas are now suffering the effects of early morning deliveries, and I sympathise with them. I also sympathise with the amendment, because the main thrust of my Bill is to keep that one day of the year, Christmas day, special not only for shop workers, but for people's enjoyment. Peace and quiet on a Christmas day should be a right.

I am told that the drafting of the amendment means that is it not technically possible for it to achieve what it seeks to do, so I ask the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) to seek leave to withdraw it. The only fear that I have—although I accept the remarks of the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), who has more experience of such matters—is that if the Bill goes to the other place in that way, it will run out of legislative time. If we have full cooperation in all parts of the House, it should not be beyond our wit to come up with something that could meet aspirations that I would sympathise with, as would all Labour Members.

Mr. Chope

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if an amendment were carried in the other place, it would be the first business when the Bill returned to this House on 15 October, because Lords amendments will take priority over everything else?

Mr. Jones

As the hon. Gentleman knows, my main interest is to get the Bill through. With active cooperation from Opposition Members, I think that such a process would be a way forward. I know from the comments that have been made by Opposition Members that the Bill has their support and sympathy, as well as that of Labour Members. If we can come up with a proposal, I would hope to see a way forward. However, it would be sad if the Bill were to fall on one technicality. The active support arid co-operation of all hon. Members would be needed.

Mr. Knight

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The promoter of the Bill has made a number of fair comments about his concern that if the Bill is amended in the way in which I think all hon. Members wish it to be amended, it may fall. The Minister has a team with him, although I know that we are not supposed to see them. Would you be prepared to accept a manuscript amendment on this matter, so that it can be dealt with today?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I would want to hear from the Minister before I adjudicated on such a question.

1 pm

Mr. Sutcliffe

We do have a difficulty, which has been identified. I want to meet the spirit of the amendment, but it is technically deficient and would not achieve what the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) wants it to achieve. I am also aware of what my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) said about the procedural situation. Amendment No. 10 is different because it can be covered in guidance. Amendment No. 5, however, is about prohibition and would need to be on the face on the Bill. I am sympathetic to the amendment and look to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. for guidance on how we can get round the problem. I am prepared to consider the amendment, but I do not want to commit to a course of action that would cause us to lose the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If it is the general will of the House to overcome what might otherwise be seen as a technical difficulty, the Chair is prepared to accept a manuscript amendment, but it will have to be presented very quickly indeed if it is to be dealt with in an orderly manner before the House moves to Third Reading.

Mr. Knight

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Further to your ruling, would the answer be for the House to adjourn for 15 minutes so that those involved with the Bill can draft the manuscript amendment?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No, I do not think that I can afford to prejudice the laid down business of the House by an adjournment of that kind. Some swift action has to be taken. I am sure that it is not beyond the ingenuity of right hon. and hon. Members to allow a few moments for further consideration of the matter while appropriate wording is formulated.

Mr. Forth

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It would be very helpful if the Minister gave us an idea of the extent of the variation in the wording that would be required to bring it into order in a way that he would find acceptable. If my wording needs to be altered only very slightly, rather than more radically, that could be done quickly in the form of a manuscript amendment. We look to the Minister for guidance on whether my amendment can be manually tweaked and laid before the House.

Mr. Sutcliffe

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Members for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) held ministerial positions under the previous Government and know that officials become jittery when Ministers try to accommodate the will of the House on the hoof at the Dispatch Box. Officials want to ensure that we meet the requirements of parliamentary counsel. The difficulty is that tweaking the words may seem appropriate to us, but may not be helpful for parliamentary counsel. I understand that information is being checked with parliamentary counsel. Although I accept the spirit of what we are all trying to achieve, it would be wrong of me to undertake to alter words without the support of legal and parliamentary counsel.

Mr. Chope

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the Minister sat down now, would it be possible for him to get leave to speak again if, in the intervening period, other people who wish to speak in the debate were to do so?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That would be a matter for the House. I think that I should refine my earlier ruling. In making it, I was not aware of exactly how procedurally easy and technically correct it would be to identify the correct wording. There will be a further opportunity, if a formulation can be found, for an amendment to be introduced in another place if there is a clear indication that the Minister intends to respond to the wishes of the House in that respect. It would not be appropriate for me to hold up the business of the House to facilitate something that cannot be done very quickly and in a way that satisfies all the tests that legislation should pass. This is not the absolute last-ditch time that we can put right a matter that the House wants to see effected in the Bill.

Mr. Knight

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. No doubt the whole House is grateful for your ruling. If my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) catches your eye and speaks for a few minutes when the Minister finishes his remarks—he may have already finished; I am not certain—perhaps the Minister could take that opportunity to find out whether the manuscript amendment is in order. In that way, we may still be able to dispose of the matter today.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister has said that he would like to be satisfied that he has the clearance of parliamentary counsel and his advisers before he commends a particular wording to the House, even though there is a general intent to get it right. It is important that it is technically correct, so that the legislation is not in any way defective. As I have told the right hon. Gentleman and the House, if there is the will, there is another way that would be effective in achieving that without detriment to the legislation.

Mr. Knight

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Without wishing in any way to challenge what you have said, it would be helpful to know whether the Minister is seeking to contact parliamentary counsel now, or whether that is impossible. If that is happening at the moment, some hon. Members would wish to continue our debate for a short period while inquiries are taking place. If they cannot take place now, it would be helpful to know that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. So that we may be clear, I did not accept that the Minister had finally concluded his speech. He still has the floor, and if he wishes to resume his speech to clarify any further points, I call upon him to do so.

Mr. Sutcliffe

I apologise but, in the spirit of what we are all trying to achieve, it will not be possible to get the clearance and cover that I seek in the available time scale. I prefer the route via the other place that you suggested, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with the caveat about not losing the Bill. I certainly want to reflect the spirit of hon. Members' suggestions in any subsequent amendment, and urge the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) to withdraw his amendment on that basis.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful both to the hon. Member for North Durham and to the Minister for their extremely positive approach, which is a good example of the proper use of procedures for the scrutiny and consideration of Bills. It has emerged that my modest amendment has support on both sides of the House, and the general will is that it should be pursued. I do not wish in any way to jeopardise the Bill at this stage, and in that spirit, I join the Minister in hoping that he and the hon. Member for North Durham will find a way of accepting in the House of Lords an amendment of the nature that we have discussed and broadly agreed, on the understanding, if my procedures are correct—that is not always the case—that such an amendment could come back to the House of Commons, either on 16 July or on 15 October. Unusually, we have more time then than we have had in previous years.

Mr. Sutcliffe

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, as I want to be absolutely clear about what we are doing. If he is right about the procedure, and that can be done, there is no problem as far as I am concerned. However, if it cannot be done, we need to deal with the matter appropriately.

Mr. Forth

The Minister is a man of integrity, and I very much accept the spirit and letter of what he has said. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

1.8 pm

Mr. Kevan Jones

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I pay tribute to everyone who took part in the debate on Report, which was very good and well natured. As the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said, we have tried to improve the Bill, and with Members' good will it will, I hope, complete Third Reading and become law in another place. I am pleased that it has reached this stage, and I pay tribute to hon. Members who contributed to Second Reading and served on the Standing Committee. I thank the Bill's sponsors, including the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey), the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby). I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who piloted a similar Bill in the last Parliament. However, that Bill ran out of parliamentary time, and she put a lot of time and effort into achieving the aims in my Bill.

I thank my friend, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) for his support, and also my hon. Friend the Members for Warrington, North (Helen Jones), and my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), who worked hard on the Bill and has worked closely over a number of years for the rights and interests of shop workers. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) and the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) for their sponsorship of the Bill.

On Second Reading and on Report, we heard that the Bill was about protecting shop workers. That is correct. It will help 2.6 million shop workers in Britain to keep one day of the year special for themselves and their families. The Bill has also been supported by Church groups and others and by the general public. The number of letters that I have received from members of the public saying that the Bill seems a sensible way forward shows that it has universal support across the country.

I pay tribute to USDAW, the shop workers' union, for its campaign, and particularly to Sir Bill Connor, the retiring general secretary, who has worked tirelessly to promote the Bill and the interests of shop workers over many years. Through his active participation in his union and the trade union movement generally, he has ensured that working conditions for shop workers are better than when he joined the union as a young official.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab)

My hon. Friend is entirely accurate when he describes the good work done by USDAW. When I introduced my private Member's Bill this time last year to afford protection to shop workers in Scotland, I found USDAW to be an extremely effective campaigner on behalf of its members, which is not true of all trade unions.

Mr. Jones

I concur with the first part of those remarks, but as a former full-time official of the GMB, I cannot concur with my hon. Friend's remarks about other trade unions.

I pay tribute to the Keep Sunday Special campaign, which has worked to promote the Bill. Its work has widespread support. The Bill also received wide support in the House. Early-day motion 327, which I tabled in December last year, had support across the House. Both on Second Reading and in the debate today we saw that although hon. Members may support the Bill for different reasons, it has cross-party support, irrespective of political differences—for example, it has the support of our libertarian friend the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). I know that he is often criticised for being destructive and he was vociferously attacked by a fellow Opposition Member on Second Reading, but he has been extremely constructive as regards the Bill and the amendments that he moved today will improve it.

The Bill will stop the domino effect that would have occurred among large shops. Once one large shop opened on Christmas day, market pressures would have forced others to follow. It is interesting that in the consultation that took place, the Bill was supported not only by trade unions, religious groups and the public, but by major retailers, which do not want to be forced into making Christmas day just another trading day. Although the debate today on ethnic minorities was important, it is also important to remember that during the consultation there were no major objections to the Bill as framed.

As I said on Second Reading, the Bill is supported by Mr. David Rae, the chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores. If it becomes law, it will assist some of the small corner shops and convenience stores that are so vital to many communities. I always describe my constituency as rural with urban problems, and many of the convenience stores in the small villages in North Durham are the life and soul of those communities, so it is important to support them. They meet a social need that will not be affected by the Bill, which will help them in trading on Christmas day.

The wider debate, which has been touched on but is perhaps for another day, is about whether the Sunday Trading Act 1994 needs to be reconsidered. Given that we are nearly 10 years on, perhaps that needs to be done, but it would have been ambitious, to say the least, to take my private Member's Bill into the minefield that surrounded that Bill in 1994. However, the Government need to consider ensuring that we have a structure and laws that people want and that cater for local needs.

In conclusion, I thank again all hon. Members who support the Bill and have taken part in today's debates and Second Reading. The Bill has cross-party support and widespread support in the country. I also pay tribute to the Minister for playing a vital role in ensuring the Bill's passage through the House. He has not taken the rigid view that Ministers or officials sometimes take. He has tried to reach the necessary compromises. I apologise to his officials if I have been a bit abrupt with them on occasion. I hope that, with the amendments and good will that have been apparent today, we can ensure that the Bill becomes law when it returns from the other place.

1.17 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), with whom I have had the pleasure of serving for two years on the Defence Committee, for introducing the Bill with cross-party support. I am delighted to support the Bill; I believe it to be important. I recognise that there is an element of the handout in the nature of the Bill—it enjoys the support of the Government—but there is no harm in that; it ensures that something that most hon. Members agree is an important measure will be placed on the statute book. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and others on the work that they have done in bringing it to this point.

As the hon. Gentleman rightly said a few moments ago, the Bill has been introduced not just for the benefit of shop workers, although that is an important consideration in itself. There is no doubt that shop workers, even if they have the protection of the law, nevertheless feel that if they say that they will not work on Christmas day, just as perhaps some say that they will not work on Sundays, they will be discriminated against in an imperceptible fashion That would be most unfortunate. The Bill will serve to give them that protection.

As the hon. Gentleman also said, however, the Bill will proceed to the statute book with the support of the major retailers. One might argue that it is a shame that they feel the necessity to have the force of law to protect them from themselves or, indeed, from the venal nature of their customers. Nevertheless, the support of major retailers and, indeed, widespread public support for the Bill is another reason for accepting it.

The Bill also benefits the country because it reinforces the special nature of Christmas day in this country. Easter and Christmas are our two great Christian festivals. Anything that detracts from their observance detracts from the integrity of our country. Freedom of religion in this country separates us from many other countries. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law worked in the middle east and the same ability to follow one's religion as Muslims find here does not exist in Muslim countries. That is because Christianity is an especially tolerant religion.

However, it is important to send a clear message that this is a Christian country not only because Christianity is a tolerant religion but because it is the basis on which the country has been moulded. It is the basis for all the laws that we pass. The Christian code of conduct—the ten commandments—is probably the best summary of how to live one's life. All our legislation should be based on the Christian code, which has forged the nation over the years. There is no doubt that it is under threat.

I do not go to church every Sunday but when I drive there I see the new religion expressing itself in a variety of forms, not least the car boot sale. Thousands of people go to car boot sales every Sunday. If they do not do that, they are often on the football pitch. I believe that people should be entitled to do what they want in this country—I am a high Tory, not a libertarian. However, I believe that it is important to ensure that the Christian nature of this country is reinforced, not diminished. The Bill conveys that clear message and also protects shop workers.

For what purpose does the Bill protect shop workers? It protects them for the purpose that we, as Christians, believe to be necessary: to enable them to be with their families. We accept that not all members of the emergency services can be with their families but we must ensure that we make it easier for people to spend Christmas day with their families. The Bill will secure that.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). I know that he shares my convictions and I congratulate him on the part that he has played in supporting the measure not only from the Opposition Front Bench but in multifarious ways, to ensure that we do all that we can to preserve the nuclear family as the building block of our society. I commend the Bill to the House.

1.23 pm
Mr. Pickthall

I begin by declaring an interest in that I have been a member of USDAW for a long time. I shall make a couple of brief points. The Bill deals with working people in businesses that do not need to be open on Christmas day. We fully understand that some workers, such as members of the emergency services, have to work on Christmas day. We also understand that some people choose to work on Christmas day, especially those in small retail outlets that serve immediate neighbourhoods—garages and so on.

However, not only do the large stores not need to be open on Christmas day but they do not wish to do so. The only large retailer that would make some extra profit would be the first one to open on Christmas day. The following Christmas day, all the other stores would be open as well, so each would then take only a proportionate share of its usual customer spend on that particular day—spend that would otherwise have been taken on Christmas eve or Boxing day.

Mr. Kevin Hughes

Does my hon. Friend agree that when the consultation was done, it was the fear of the domino effect that concerned most retailers? Most did not want to open on Christmas day but thought that if their opposition were opening on Christmas day, they would have to. I do not know whether my hon. Friend will agree, but this literally comes down to the suggestion, "For Christ's sake, have a day off!"

Mr. Pickthall

I should not have put it quite like that, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that there is a relentless process of follow my leader in the supermarket business, in which all the supermarkets are inescapably locked. None of them dares to step an inch out of line for fear of losing an inch of market share, and the workers are simply dragged along in the slipstream unless we are careful to protect them. On Second Reading, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) summed up the point extremely well when he said that the retailers seemed to be saying to us, "We do not want to open, so please legislate to prevent us from opening."

Of course, this debate is essentially about protecting retail workers for one day a year—just one day, the day when, as has been said over and over again, most families want to be together to celebrate, relax and have a good time. That seems to be a modest thing for us to ask and to legislate on. Just to illustrate that point, I came across a comment by Sylvia Bew, an USDAW member in London who works for Sainsbury's, in an USDAW document on the subject. She pointed out that last Christmas Sainsbury's decided to open some of its London stores but did not announce that decision to its workers until Christmas eve. It is hard to imagine anything more disruptive to a worker's life, or more callous, but it is the inevitable result of a firm's trying to steal a march on the follow-my-leader structure that I described a moment ago—something, however, that they can do only once. It is the inexorability of that process that the Bill is trying to end.

I finish by heartily congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) on the immense amount of clever work that he has done on the Bill over many months. That has been a fine example of how to pursue a private Member's Bill, and not only my union but his will be very proud of him.

1.27 pm
Malcolm Bruce

It is interesting that employees and major traders support the thrust of the Bill. Of course, the very fact that major traders want the Bill shows that there are people who would like larger shops to be open on Christmas day, so I wonder whether, in the end, it will slow, rather than stop, the process. As I have said in interventions, there are anomalies about the things that we think that people can and cannot do on Christmas day. We cannot protect catering workers on Christmas day, for example, because many people want to go out to hotels or restaurants for their Christmas dinner or lunch, and no one is suggesting that those workers should have their right to be at home with their family protected. We are taking an arbitrary view that shopping is something that should not happen on Christmas day, while many other activities may go on.

I am not against that, and I understand the reasoning behind it. I have already said that I share the view that Christmas day is, and should be, special. I simply make the observation that I suspect that in a few years' time there will be pressure on the House to introduce more liberal trading laws for Christmas day. I am not sure that the House can stop that process indefinitely, although clearly, after consultation, there is a mood at this time to preserve the current status of Christmas day and the existing role of large traders. Were traders to take a different view, and begin to want to open on Sundays, considerable pressure would be brought to bear on Members to change the law.

At the moment, traders seem to make the simple analysis that because there is only so much trade to be had, opening on Christmas day and having to pay extra rates would not increase the total amount of trade, so if they all agree, or if legislation requires them all to agree, they can protect the status quo. I give as an example the independent line that John Lewis took on Mondays. To give its partners a two-day weekend, albeit not at the weekend, John Lewis maintained Sunday and Monday closing for many years. In recent years, the forces of competition have increasingly put pressure on it to open on a Monday, and I am not sure whether any John Lewis store still closes on a Monday. I know for a fact that only in the past year or two has the store in Aberdeen yielded, which demonstrates the pressures.

This is an English Bill and, as a Scottish Member, it is not my job to oppose or resist it; I simply make a contribution to the debate. The Scottish Parliament is considering a similar Bill, and this debate will help to inform it. If the Bill proceeds in Scotland, I hope that the debate on the previous amendment on loading, and the difficulties in that regard, will assist the legislative process. Clearly, the issue is not different north and south of the border.

I accept that it is an ironic unintended consequence that the recent divergence that has developed between the position in England and Scotland is as a result of an anomalous situation—Scotland, having a much tighter observance in the past, did not have the legislation. As the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) rightly pointed out, however, Christmas was not celebrated vigorously in the Presbyterian tradition, although I can testify that Christmas day is now celebrated in Scotland every bit as enthusiastically as in the rest of the United Kingdom.

There are real issues of debate. I am not trying to rain on anyone's parade, but when we pass legislation we should recognise that it is a compromise—not a very tidy one—and that many of the issues behind it will not go away. It is right to keep the issue simple and in line with Sunday trading. Clearly, as the Bill operates on that basis, it has widespread acceptance, and deserves to get the support of both Houses. Therefore, in spite of my reservations I congratulate the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) on his Bill, and wish him well. I know that he has the enthusiastic support of many of my colleagues.

1.32 pm
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op)

Having been present for the Second Reading debate but unable to make a contribution, I want to make a brief one now. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) for all the work that he has done to bring the Bill to this stage, and for keeping those of us who have been keen to support it briefed throughout.

There are probably several thousand shop workers in most of our constituencies. In city centres such as Plymouth, there are probably more than the average. It is not surprising, therefore, that I and others have had hundreds of letters in support of the Bill from shop workers, who are particularly affected, but not solely from them—as others have said, a much broader range of people have also written. In particular, I want to pay tribute to USDAW, which is an active and lively union, not just on this issue but, particularly at the moment, on the "Freedom from Fear" campaign, which most Members support. The district officer, John Crick, has enabled me to have good-quality contact with his shop workers in relation both to that and to this Bill and what has led up to it.

There are also those who want to keep Christmas special, either for a religious or other motive. I was reminded just now, when the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) spoke, of when I moved down to England from Scotland. It is true that Christmas day celebrations in Scotland were much more low key. Having responsibility for a small office in Plymouth back in 1979, I had not been used to the big build-up to Christmas. I was sitting there at 3 or 4 o'clock on Christmas eve, and my small staff of about five were beginning to get restive. It was my first Christmas there, but I learned very quickly that the staff were used to being allowed to leave early. Around us, all the celebrations in the city centre were beginning. In the many subsequent years during which I had the pleasure of working there, I was wise to the fact that Christmas had a special place for people, irrespective of whether their backgrounds were religious.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham mentioned the domino effect and the follow-my-leader effect. We should also bear in mind the commercial pressures that can arise from just one or two people breaking ranks, and the fear that that could drive a coach and horses through the wishes of the many.

I am glad to have been present for much of the debate, and I hope the spirit that has pervaded it will continue in the other place. I hope that the Bill will have a smooth passage, and that those of us who have played a small part in it—and my hon. Friend. who has played a significant part—will be able to feel when we enjoy Christmas in the future that those Christmas days are still special because of what we have been able to do today and on other occasions.

1.36 pm
Mr. Chope

I share the pessimism of the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce). I do not think that this is a great event for those of us who are Christians and want to keep Christmas day special. Ten years ago people thought that it would be kept special by convention, without the need for legislative intervention—just as we expected Good Friday to be kept special as a Christian festival. As the Department of Trade and Industry's consultation paper made clear, what was envisaged 10 years ago has not come about. A dam is being placed in the stream to prevent Christmas day from being completely wrecked by the opening of large shops, but I do not share the enthusiasm of those—perhaps including my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth)—who think that this is a red-letter day for those of us who want to keep Christmas festivals in this country special.

An early-day motion tabled by the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) calls for legislation to

protect Christians from being compelled to engage in commercial activities on Good Friday and Christmas Day. Relatively few Members have signed it. What could be described as an irreligious early-day motion tabled by the Bill's promoter, the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), which refers not to Christianity but to the convenience of shop workers, has received much more support.

I do not think that those of us who want to maintain the traditions of a Christian country have anything to celebrate. We should reflect on the fact that it has been estimated that more than 800,000 people regularly work on Christmas day. More small shops are opening on Christmas day, fewer aspects of the day are treated as being special, and an increasing amount of commercial activity is taking place. Although I shall support Third Reading, I do not believe that the Bill will succeed in fighting the tide and preventing the undermining of our Christian society. I feel sad about that prospect, but it is hardly surprising, given that the census shows a rising proportion of people who do not profess to be Christians or who adhere to another religion.

Those of us who want to keep Christmas day special and maintain Christianity at the core of our cultural heritage will have to do a lot more in our everyday actions and encourage others to do the same, rather than trying to defend the current position with late legislation. The Bill has major limitations, although I suppose that in the overall context it is better than nothing.

1.40 pm
Ms Dari Taylor

I rise to support the Bill with considerable gusto. I want to say to my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) that, in my constituency, he gets wholehearted support. I have not received one letter that in any way objects to his Bill, but I have had a bucketful that say, "Get in there, Dari, and support him." So I am more than pleased to be here today and to have this opportunity to speak.

I am much more of an optimistic Christian than the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). I believe that the Bill is a sign of the times, and I do not say that with ease. Profit, rather than people, has become far too great a focus in our lives, and the Bill registers clearly how important it is for those of us who are Christians that Christmas day should be a special day. There should be many special days on which we are allowed to enjoy our religion and share our religious practices with others.

I have two reasons for supporting the Bill, apart from the views expressed by my constituents, whose serious support I have witnessed in a great deal of correspondence. The first, which I have already mentioned, is that I am a Christian. I always want to maintain special days in the year on which my family and I have an opportunity to celebrate together, and I want such opportunities to be available to all people. We are attempting to achieve that today. The celebrations are about giving, and often about picking up a phone, and having the time to do that. On Christmas day, I phone many people and I have virtually a 100 per cent. success rate. They are nearly all at home, and I am pleased to speak to them. I have time to do that, and so do they. That is an important moment for me and my family, and I hope that it is for others. I also hope that that will be the case for more and more people who do not at present share my Christian beliefs. I should like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham that the letters that I have received have not all come from Christians. In fact, many have come from people who are not Christians, but who have said that they enjoy British Christian traditions and being part of the festivities.

My second reason for supporting the Bill is that I am a very principled trade unionist. I have been one all my working life and I shall always maintain that position. It is crucial that we understand that many people are coerced into working in these circumstances. Heavy-handed persuasion is often used, and veiled threats are invariably made to people who are not prepared to comply with their employer's requests. Employers have a job to do; I do not deny that. I know, however, having worked with trade unions for many years, that people feel that their non-compliance will impact on their working lives. So it is also as a principled trade unionist that I stand here today. To USDAW, I say loud and clear: "Well done! You have run a very good campaign." I also want to thank my own trade union, the GMB, for the tremendous support it has given me.

We in this House enjoy the right to choose what we do on Christmas day, and to choose how we behave at that time. That is an inviolable right, and it should exist for others too. The Bill—in a small way, no doubt—extends that right to them. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) described with some passion our British society as a Christian community. I totally applaud those sentiments. I was brought up in a Baptist home, and I have always lived in a Christian home. I live in a Christian society and I am incredibly proud of our Christian heritage.

Sometimes I despair of some of the things that we do in the name of Christianity, but I believe that our country should always be prized as a Christian society, and that we should be prepared to defend it and to share it with others. I, of course, welcome the fact that people from around the world come to this country to live with us. I enjoy multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism, but for me the straight statement is that we are a predominantly Christian society. That should never be undermined, and we should never keep our lips sealed when we feel that we have something proud to say about our existing religious institutions.

The hon. Member for Christchurch—if it was not you, it was the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight)—made great statements to the House today. I am very sorry; I feel ashamed that I cannot remember whether it definitely was you. You said that 29 per cent. of people in Great Britain claim that they are not Christian, or are of a different faith. I have to tell you that the other side of the coin—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady's peroration but she must remember to speak in the third person; otherwise, she is referring to me.

Ms Taylor

I accept your correction, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was simply pointing out that the other side of the coin is that more than 70 per cent. of people clearly want to be regarded as Christian and identified as such. We should never underestimate that fact.

I wish the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham a swift and successful passage in the other place, and I believe that that will be achieved.

1.46 pm
Helen Jones

I do not wish to detain the House for long. We have had a very interesting and good-natured debate, and I want to commend the work of my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) in piloting this Bill through the House. It constitutes excellent use of private Members' legislation and enjoys widespread cross-party support in the House.

This is probably the third occasion on which we have debated Christmas day trading, following the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who should also be commended for her work on this issue. My view has not changed throughout those debates, and I support this Bill for a number of reasons. First, it is right to extend to others the privilege that we ourselves enjoy of being at home with our families on Christmas day. I do not accept the view of the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) that because we cannot extend that privilege to everyone we should not seek to extend it to anyone. That is not an argument in respect of such legislation.

I commend the excellent work that the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has done on this Bill, but we should also remember that many shop workers are not members of trade unions. They are often poorly paid women workers who, if this Bill is not enacted, will be put under tremendous pressure to work on Christmas day once stores start opening. The same situation arose with Sunday trading. The premiums started to disappear and the right to opt out was gradually eroded, am for that reason people get less and less time to spend with their families.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) referred to profit and people, and it is true that there has been too much emphasis in our society on commercial activities and too little on other worthwhile things, such as spending time with one's family. As I said when my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich introduced her Bill, a society that defines itself only by how it shops is a very poor society indeed. Some things are far more important, and preserving Christmas day is one of them—and not simply because it is a Christian festival, although that is the prime reason for doing so.

To emphasise our own Christian heritage in no way denigrates that of other religions; indeed, to value other religions one must first value one's own. We should also preserve Christmas day because it is a day on which those who are not Christian can spend time at home with their families. It is a day on which to value those things that are more important than buying and selling. No one ever starved to death because large stores were closed on Christmas day, but families can very easily fall apart without the necessary time to spend with one another.

This is an excellent Bill and I commend it to the House.

1.49 pm
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab)

I shall be very brief. I congratulate, as will the shop workers of Cleethorpes, my hon Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) on steering the Bill through the House. There has been much detailed discussion today, but for me, the Bill is simple. When the Sunday Trading Bill became law, people believed that it covered Christmas day. However, there proved to be a loophole, because Christmas day was covered only if it fell on a Sunday. What we are trying to achieve today is simple—to close the loophole, deal with the anomaly and give people the right to spend Christmas with their families. Many hon. Members have eloquently articulated the argument today. I wish the Bill success in the other place and I hope that it becomes law as soon as possible.

1.50 pm
Mr. Brazier

The Bill is excellent and I congratulate its promoter, the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), once again. We often hear platitudes about the House operating at its best on Fridays, but I genuinely believe that we have seen that happening today. Two useful and worthwhile concessions have been made to my right hon. Friends the Members for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

The Bill does not protect retail workers alone; more importantly, it protects their families. Whatever one's religious inclination, Christmas day is a day for families—and family cohesion matters. Christmas day has a special place in the life of the nation. Remove it, as could easily happen if the opening of large stores became a widespread practice, and community cohesion would suffer. I make no apologies for supporting those hon. Members who pointed out that this is a predominantly Christian country—that is nothing to be ashamed of.

I hope that you will indulge me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, while I cite a small story from history. When the Duke of Wellington arrived in Portugal with his army—one that was almost entirely Protestant-officered—he sent out a message to the officer corps, reminding them that they were in a Catholic country. He expected every officer to be punctilious in saluting religious processions as they passed in the streets. There is no reason why a Christian in a Muslim country cannot show respect for Muslim customs, and no reason has ever been put to me by any members of any minority faith in my constituency—I have some in my Conservative association—why they cannot support a measure such as this.

Almost 10 per cent. of the work force—and almost 13 per cent. of women—work in the retail sector. I believe that that is one of the reasons why we have one of the highest proportions of people anywhere in the developed world who answer surveys saying that they work more hours than they would like. I am also convinced that that is one of the causes of family breakdown in this country. Our divorce rate is much higher—almost 50 per cent. higher—than the European average. Of course, this one small measure will not roll that back on its own. Nevertheless, as an old-fashioned Conservative, I believe that symbolism is important. By showing that we regard the two most important religious days of the year—Easter, which was covered in the 1994 Act, and Christmas, which we are dealing with today—as special, we are doing a real service to family life and the wider nation.

I do not want to detain the House any longer, but I want to emphasise again how grateful I am for the concession that was made to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. In major retailing shopping centres in Canterbury, the issue of loading and unloading—with all the noise that it brings with it, early in the morning—is a significant one for many of my constituents, particularly the elderly.

It is a good Bill and we have had a good debate. Speaking in a personal capacity—this is a conscience issue for my party—I am delighted to support it from the Dispatch Box.

1.54 pm
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab)

I very much support the Bill, which may explain why I have taken a Trappist vow as it has passed through its various stages, rather than behaving as I usually do on Fridays in welcoming or opposing Bills at somewhat greater length than I shall now. I shall also speak briefly because of the other important business timetabled today, for which I have been waiting for some time. I have made good use of that time, as the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) will shortly discover.

Retail is one of the most important employers in my constituency. Brent Cross employs thousands of people, full time and part time. In addition, people from my constituency work in retail throughout London. They will be greatly pleased by the Bill's passage, and I do not mean only those who are Christians, because the Bill is a measure for every person of every faith who works in retail. It is important to respect Christmas day as the one day that is special to the whole country, no matter which faith people profess. The Bill is therefore important and I wish it all the best in its future passage through the other place.

1.55 pm
Mr. Sutcliffe

As the Minister with responsibility for consumers, competition and employment, I welcome the Bill in every aspect. [Interruption.] As the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) suggests, it sometimes seems like I am the Minister for everything!

This has been an excellent debate. I am beginning to be worried by the fact that I am coming to like Fridays, although I am sure that it will pass fairly quickly. Fridays give the House an opportunity, through the private Members' Bill process, to consider issues in detail, sometimes properly and sometimes, perhaps, with a bit of filibustering, though that was not so today.

It was important to get the Bill right and to get it through the House. This was not the first attempt to put the Bill's provision on the statute book: my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) tried to do so, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes), who, I am pleased to see, is in his place and who will be pleased to see the Bill achieving support on Third Reading.

We must pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) for his work on the Bill. He has steered it excellently through negotiations with officials at my Department, and I am pleased that they have helped him to move it in the direction that he required. I have taken great pleasure in working with him on Second Reading and in Committee as we have tried to get it right.

I acknowledge that the amendments debated this morning raised some areas for consideration, and hon. Members will note my assurance that we shall try to achieve what they asked for in the way that I set out earlier.

Mr. Greg Knight

The Minister should never say that he likes Fridays when he is in the presence of a Whip.

Will the Minister do two things? He has handled the Bill very well, and he kindly indicated that the concession that he intends to make in respect of amendment No. 10 will be covered, he hopes, in guidance. Will he send me a copy of that guidance when it is finalised? Secondly, will he write to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and to me to let us know when he has made a decision on the loading problem?

Mr. Sutcliffe

Those are perfectly fair requests, and I undertake to do all that at the appropriate time.

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has been referred to. I have been pushing for a long time for unions to be modern and relevant to their workplaces. USDAW has achieved that in the way in which it has run its campaign on Christmas day trading. The Bill is not all about USDAW, however: it is about the nature of Christmas day and how we preserve it for the family by making it a special day of the year. The Bill goes a long way to doing that.

The Bill applies to England and Wales but not to Scotland, where the Scottish Executive are considering the matter. Enforcement of prohibitions and other matters in the Act will be the same as for the 1994 Act and will be operated by local trading standards authorities.

The Bill is necessary. We are often accused of regulation for regulation's sake, but that is not the case here. The domino effect was a real consideration; the retailers told us that if a competitor opened up, they would have to do the same, and they thought that regulation was appropriate.

Further important Bills will follow this one, so I shall not detain the House much longer. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham for his work. I accept that the Bill is not yet the perfect piece of legislation, but it is an attempt to try to put right a mistake that was made when Christmas day was included in the previous legislation only if it fell on a Sunday. I hope it passes through the other House with due speed, and I commend it to this House.

2 pm

Mr. Forth

I have said throughout the day that I would want to speak on Third Reading, and this is my big moment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman if I did not immediately call his name, but as he had not given a previous indication in my hearing, I was slightly surprised. I would never seek to deny the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I like to spring the occasional surprise, even on you.

On Second Reading I said that I was not happy with the Bill. There was a rather half-hearted attempt by USDAW to get people to write to me. In the end about 30 did, and there were a couple of phone calls, one rather abusive. That made no difference to my views, and it did not say much for USDAW and its organising ability.

I changed my mind for two reasons. First, I had a look at what happened in other countries that I regard as culturally comparable with ourselves—Canada and Australia, mainly. But the thing that incensed me and made me change my mind was an article in The Sunday Telegraph on 9 May that referred to a 99-page document published by the Commission for Racial Equality setting out draft guidance on how companies should prevent discrimination against religious and racial minorities. The most controversial proposal was that employers should have to provide prayer rooms and to give time off to non-Christians to mark their own religious holidays.

That is what changed my mind about the Bill. Other speakers have mentioned this matter, but I will put my own very different interpretation on it. I am normally incensed by anything the CRE says, and the sooner we abolish it the better. However, the fact that it had the impertinence to say something like that convinced me that the Bill would be a small but significant symbol of the need to reassert the fact that this country is, and remains, essentially a Christian country. We have an established Church. Her Majesty is the head of that Church, as well as being our head of state. For the race relations industry to have the cheek to come forward with such a statement was an insult, and something that should be dealt with firmly. The Bill has provided us with the occasion to do something about it.

Instead of seeking to oppose the Bill I shall support it with alacrity, for that reason. It is time we in this country put down a marker in defence of our culture and what is still our religion. That is not to say that we should not be perfectly tolerant of people with other views, or no views. Reference has been made to the census, which revealed that a significant proportion of people in this country now feel that they have no religious affiliation, or decline to say what their affiliation might be. We must respect them as well.

None the less, it is important that in our institutions and, where necessary, in our legal framework, we assert, and reassert where necessary, where we believe this country should place itself in terms of its religious affiliations. That was the main reason that brought me, unusually—it is not something that I do often—to change my mind. I am happy to say that the Commission for Racial Equality has had that effect on me, and will be able to claim at least some of the credit for the fact that the Bill will make progress today. Good for the CRE; that is the only time you will ever hear me saying that.

I have here a letter from the Minister for Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women and Equality—she is in her place now, and I welcome her to the debate. The letter, which she kindly wrote on 4 May, said: There is no automatic entitlement for employees not to work on Christian holy days or on holy days of any other religion. This is a contractual matter between employees and their employers. However, the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, which came into force in December last year, make it unlawful for employers to treat staff from a particular religious group less favorably than those from other religions when considering requests for leave, or requests to refrain from work on particular days.

That is a very fair statement of the Government's position, but it sits slightly at odds with the tenor of this debate and of the Bill. Perhaps the Minister for Industry and the Regions and her colleague should have a quiet chat to see whose view will prevail. We have heard the Minister who has just spoken welcome the Bill, USDAW and all its works, and so on, while the Minister for Industry and the Regions took a slightly more neutral position. It seems that the Government are of two minds. [Interruption.] The right hon. Lady is getting excited; she is welcome to intervene if she wants to elucidate—but, obviously, she does not want to emphasise her remarks in any way I understand that.

As I said, the other reason why I changed my mind on the Bill is what happens in other countries, but before I deal with that point I want to express again my disappointment that the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) did not seek to include in the Bill any sort of explicit protection for workers to ensure that they were not forced to work on Christmas day. I sought to secure such protection in an amendment that I was advised could not be selected, simply because the long title of the Bill would not allow it. That is not an excuse. The long title of the Sunday Trading Act 1994 allowed schedule 4 to that Act to provide protection for workers who did not want to work on a Sunday. I am appalled that a Bill that is supported by a trade union—USDAW, no less—has such a restrictive long title that it cannot be amended to provide proper protection for workers on Christmas day.

Frankly, that undercuts all the words of praise that have been said today about that union and all its works, and about the wonderful role that it has played in such matters. I think that it has been in gross dereliction of its duty not only to its members, but to workers at large. I was the one who sought to table an amendment to protect workers, but my amendment was denied because of the shoddy way in which the long title of the Bill had been drawn up. My praise for the hon. Gentleman is therefore somewhat tempered by the fact that he and the union have been in dereliction of what the latter normally regards as its duty to its members and workers at large.

I make those remarks because I hope that somebody may want to return to the matter some day. If we are serious about all the words that have been said in the Chamber today about how special Christmas day is, the need to protect the workers and so on, why cannot we include in legislation a provision that seeks to give proper protection, as we did in the Sunday Trading Act 1994? That remains a mystery to me. I hope that it will be corrected one of these days.

I have in my hands some information about the great province of Ontario in Canada. In Ontario, employees of most retail businesses generally have the right to refuse to work on a public holiday, and they do not have to give reasons for declining to work on a public holiday. Furthermore, employers in Ontario cannot punish such people for not working on those days. Such provision exists in other civilised parts of the world, and I would have thought that it should exist here. I regret that this opportunity to introduce such provision has passed us by.

Although I support the Bill and wish it well, for the reasons that I have given, I, like my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), hope that the Minister will be able to tell us in due course that he has been able to incorporate the amendments that the House has generally supported, particularly with regard to loading and unloading. I hope that he will ensure that that issue is dealt with in one way or another.

All in all, I believe that the hon. Member for North Durham has done a service to our society and to its workers in introducing the Bill. Defective though it may be, I believe that it is good enough to have the support of the House today.

2.9 pm

Mr. Kevan Jones

With the leave of the House, I thank hon. Members for their kind words. The debate has been good hearted, as it was on Second Reading. It will ensure that we make a small move towards protecting Christmas day for workers and making it the special family day that it is for people, irrespective of their religious beliefs.

I note with interest the point made by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth); he is obviously a loss to the trade union movement. It seems that in selecting the subject for a private Member's Bill and in achieving the consensus to get it to this stage, the more limited the scope, the more chance it has of succeeding. For that reason, I concur with some of his points.

Today's amendments were sensible and passionately argued. I am glad that we can improve the Bill, which is important. I thank all hon. Members who supported it and I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your indulgence in allowing me to make my small contribution to the legislative programme.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Back to