HL Deb 26 April 1982 vol 429 cc706-14

3.4 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. The time has come for me to wish my Bill Godspeed as it leaves the calm waters of this House for the more stormy seas in another place. I can think of no better pilot than the honourable Member for Plymouth, Drake, and I pass my Bill over to her with pride because it is not only a good Bill, but also long overdue.

Your Lordships will recall that this House has divided only once during the passage of the Bill. That Division was caused by an amendment to allow shops to open until 1 p.m. on Sundays. It also included a schedule of exemptions. The fact that the amendment was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, who represents the interests of the Co-op in this House, was not only a remarkable tribute to his powers of persuasion, but also a very real advance on the attitude of the Co-op from their previously entrenched position against all Sunday trading. That amendment was defeated by a huge majority of 118 to 46 votes.

I should at this stage like to thank most warmly all those noble Lords from all sides of the House who have supported me by their votes and by their constructive and eloquent speeches throughout the passage of the Bill. My sincere thanks must also be expressed to the Department of the Home Office for their great assistance in the redrafting of the various schedules, et cetera. The help given by the Home Office has been invaluable, because, by reason of the various alterations and tidying-up measures which they suggested, it has been possible to end up with an unamended Bill which repeals the strictures—I knew it came in somewhere—imposed on shops in England and Wales while continuing to protect shopworkers. I was going to say that I felt sure that I could count on my noble friend Lord Elton to pass on my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Belstead, but, as I see that he is here himself, I should like to thank him most warmly for being my unofficial guru on the matter of shops trading until he left the Home Office for another place, or, rather for another department. My jokes are unintentional this afternoon!

I must underline the fact that the Bill, unlike its predecessor, is going to another place unamended. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, tabled his amendments with the best of intentions. I did not support them—not because I did not support the principle involved, but because I felt that my Bill was not the place to provide legislation which deals with conditions and terms of employment, apart from the safeguards which are already incorporated.

What, therefore, has surprised me above all has been the lack of opposition from the union USDAW. I realise that the climate of opinion against Sunday and late night trading has shifted positively in support of repealing the 1950 Act. However, I must confess that, although I realise that many people would be all too happy to be able to earn those extra few pounds on a Sunday, I had expected formidable opposition from the union. Instead, and much to my delight, opposition from the union was voiced only once during Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Fallowfield, quite contrary to my expectations, did not bring forward any amendments at the Committee stage or again at the Report stage. I can only think that this must represent a change of opinion on the part of the union in line with the general feeling among customers and shopkeepers alike throughout the country. If the article entitled, "Union eases line on Sunday trading" in The Times today and in other newspapers is accurate, then that is indeed so, and I greatly welcome the evidence that USDAW is looking to the future. This, my Lords, is timely and exciting news.

My final thanks are most certainly due to the representatives of the National Consumer Council, WHICH and JGW Government Relations for their tremendous help and enthusiasm. Their belief as well as mine was summed up I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, at the Report stage, when he said: all this Bill does is to create a greater freedom for those who prefer it "—[Official Report, 19/4/82; col. 410.] I should like to finish on a personal note by saying that I very much hope that this Bill will succeed in another place, not only because I believe so passionately in its principles, but also because it would be nice if the honourable member for Plymouth, Drake, and I, might be remembered by our friends as joint Mothers of the Free. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time. —(Baroness Trumpington.)

Lord Sainsbury

My Lords, I was unable to take part in the Second Reading debate on this Private Member's Bill as I was abroad at the time. Therefore, I should like to make a brief statement, but I shall not detain your Lordships long. The subject of trading hours affects so many people—shopworkers, consumers and those who live in the neighbourhood of high streets and shopping centres. For example, in the light of the changed social circumstances over the last 30 years since the passing of the Shops Act, I feel that the subject calls for a proper independent inquiry, where evidence can be taken from all those interested and affected parties. After this inquiry the Government should, in my opinion, cease their benevolent neutrality and introduce the necessary Bill. Therefore, I cannot support the present Bill.

3.12 p.m.

Lord Jacques

My Lords, first, I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness on the way in which she has piloted her Bill through the House. I think that it has met with admiration on all sides, not only among her friends but also among her opponents. Next I should like to ask the Minister a question. I think that we were told on Second Reading that there was an understanding between the department and the trade union that before any general legislation was introduced, the trade union would at least be informed. There was an implication that they would be given an opportunity to put their point of view and that it might go as far as consultation. I should like to know whether that applies to this Bill, as the Government have been so benevolent in their neutrality.

I would also follow the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, in pleading with the Government to have regard to the views which have been put forward by the employers' associations in the retail trade. The employers' associations in the retail trade come under the umbrella of the Retail Consortium. The Retail Consortium has made representations to the Government and it is seeing a Minister of State of the Home Office at an early date. The consortium is asking that, before there is this kind of radical change in law, there should be a proper inquiry as to the wider implications; for example, the implications for local authorities' refuse collection and libraries, the implications for transport, the implications for the Post Office, for banks, and so on; but, above all, the implications for family life in an industry where such a huge proportion of the workers are married women.

Like myself, the consortium does not accept that the pattern in England and Wales will follow that of Scotland. The position is quite different; there is a quite different population distribution. Furthermore, there is a puritan influence in Scotland which does not spread very far over the border, and it is the puritan influence in Scotland which has kept back Sunday trading without the need for law. That influence is not here and the pattern that is likely to come here will be different. Both the consortium and I believe that it is much more likely that if we have the free-for-all which is given by this Bill, we should have a pattern like some of the states in the United States; that is, their biggest shopping day would be Sunday and they would commence their sales at two o'clock on a Sunday afternoon.

We believe that, because of the pattern in this country, what will probably happen will be that shops will open all day on Sunday and close on Monday. I believe that that is a very great possibility if this Bill ever becomes law. I am confirmed in that view when I look at first-hand at the trading that was done last Good Friday in department stores and hypermarkets which were open. I am convinced that if they are free to open on Sundays, hypermarkets would open on Sundays and close on Mondays.

In conclusion, I am very glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, in his place. When he spoke in support of this Bill it passed through my mind that shopkeepers do not have the long waiting lists of the courts, but the people who work in the courts can go home on a Friday night and forget their work until Monday morning. Shopkeepers already work on Saturdays and now they will be expected to work on Sundays if we ever get this Bill. I still regard this as a bad Bill, a Bill which lacks compromise and a Bill which is one-sided. I hope that it will never see the light of day.

3.16 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Trumpington on having reached this stage with this Bill. I am particularly anxious for my noble friend the Minister to enlighten us as to the position which was briefly referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, when we last discussed the Bill. At that time the noble Lord said that he believed that fear would drive the shopkeeper to open and that fear would drive the employee to work. As I understand it—perhaps my noble friend will correct me—is it not a fact that if an employee's contract of employment is to be altered to include some element of Sunday working, and if he or she fails to accept that change and is dismissed, there would be a case of wrongful dismissal to go before a tribunal. If a potential employee applied to a company and said, "Yes, I should like to work for you as you have advertised, but I am afraid that I have certain religious or other scruples and am not able to work on a Sunday", and the job is then refused by the potential employer, would that applicant have a case under any of the discrimination laws that apply as regards religious beliefs?

There is a point with regard to the Retail Consortium which I think needs mentioning. It has been said that the Retail Consortium, the umbrella under which the majority of traders operate—it is almost like a trade association; indeed, it is one—is divided among itself as to the wisdom of trading. Of course I hope that this Bill proceeds through the other place and ends up on the statute book, but there is no compulsion either for members of the Retail Consortium or for anybody else. It seems to me that it is ridiculous that people in certain areas cannot take advantage of the trading pattern. If it means working on Sunday or opening the shop on Sunday and closing on Monday, Thursday, Friday or whatever, I do not think it matters at all. I think that one must meet the demand. Whether they are small businesses, medium businesses or large businesses, I do not believe that anyone will be so foolish as to be driven to opening for extended hours over seven days a week because there is a law that so permits.

I am sorry again to pick on something that the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, has said. Of course, I do not mean it personally. He thought that we might get to a state reminiscent of America. I believe that we are far more likely to get to a state reminiscent of the Continent, where Sunday trading, or trading over seven days, is quite the usual pattern. Indeed, in many of the small towns much of the trade, whether in foodstuffs or clothing, is done by small businesses controlled by families, and they fill a need. They have fairly long lunch-hours for which they stop working fairly early in the afternoon. I can see that kind of thing happening here, and I think it is to be welcomed. It will certainly give further opportunities of employment in a service industry. We need both—the employment opportunities and the service that that kind of industry would provide. I hope that my noble friend's Bill proceeds firmly on its way.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, may I say a few words in support of my noble friend's Bill, which was well argued at Second Reading. The same sort of arguments were produced from certain members of the Opposition, but I am delighted to say not from too many. I hope that this Bill gets the support that the House has clearly given it through its various stages, and I wish it well.

3.22 p.m.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, I feel that we are all grateful, as indeed other noble Lords have intimated, to the noble Baroness for her initiation of this measure dealing, as it does, to some extent with the anomalies of the Shops Acts. They have been detailed at some length. It has involved for her a great deal of work, and she has helpfully given publicity to something which urgently needs a comprehensive review—this was a point made by various noble Lords in this debate—certainly if it is to be done in such a way as not to create even more anomalies. Noble Lords have put forward various suggestions. I suppose with a Bill concerning Shops Acts you might call them "counter proposals"!

As I pointed out during previous stages of the Bill, it is a matter which needs the widest consultation and consideration; certainly something which would exceed what might be expected of a Private Member's measure. Various noble Lords have made contributions. I do not need to reiterate the list of tributes which the noble Baroness has rightly given, but I would draw attention to the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, who, like many of us, was concerned about the change in the pattern of family life and domestic life. This is a factor of great importance to our nation. My noble friends Lord Jacques and Lord Allen of Fallowfield made contributions concerning the interests of the workers in shops and of the unions concerned.

I would say to the noble Baroness that USDAW and other unions are opposed to this measure as it is, although they recognise that some changes are necessary in the light of the present situation. If the matter is to get detailed examination within many organisations, then much work will be entailed. It seems clear with regard to the Bill that all the bodies connected with the Shops Acts' requirements have not had close consultation. I make no criticism of the noble Baroness on that point, because it entails a great deal of work whether by a Private Member or the Government. Without that there will be discontent and possibly further anomalies.

I have already mentioned the undoubted effect which these, and indeed any other changes in the shops legislation, will have on other trades. This is a point which has not been followed up nationally, as it should have been. One tends to say that if we do not work in shops it does not affect us. But if shops do open longer hours and at different times, then of course other trades and professions and bodies will also be affected by such a measure.

The noble Baroness claims that people should have the freedom to open shops when they like. There was a great deal of support for that, as the poll has shown by a clear majority. I am not sure whether some of the people who said that they would like shops to open would have been so keen if, as shop-workers themselves, they and their families were going to be affected by the consequences of that change. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, referred a few moments ago to the concern of the Retail Consortium with regard to this. It is also interesting that the butchers' organisation has now made an announcement that butchers do not like the prospect of working on Sundays. I wonder, with regard to the butchers, whether the noble Baroness has had a joint meeting, if that is the term to use, with the butchers to discuss their views on this.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the noble Lord is still going on the assumption that I am saying "must" instead of "may".

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, other noble Lords have made it clear that if some shops may open on Sunday they may find that they must open then because their competitors have decided to do the same. Therefore, there is very little freedom. The freedom to open on Sunday is not quite the kind of freedom that one would anticipate. I am not against Sunday opening, but I believe that it should be done after widespread consultation. I am sure that the noble Baroness would think very little of a housewife who left getting the Sunday joint to, say, 11 o'clock on a Sunday morning. She knows, as we all do, that with freezers and refrigerators the storage of food long-term, or for shorter periods, should enable shopworkers to have a day off when their families are not obliged to work.

Lord Reigate

My Lords, may I intervene? I only want to stop this rather wandering on to this butcher thing. I live in a neighbourhood with five food shops open within five minutes walk, and not a single butcher open within 20 minutes walk on a Sunday morning.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, I think that the butchers' organisation was concerned that if there was a general trend towards opening with some of their members and also other trades, the butchers would have to come in line. The other aspect is that if we have the right to shop when we like then we can equally ask why not the right to bank, or withdraw cash from the banks, to require the services of the post office, the right to go to a chemist, the dentist, the optician, or to an accountant and other professions at the same time?

Indeed, it may be necessary when certain shops are open for other ancillary trades and professions to provide back-up services. It would certainly apply to the transport services needing to refill the supermarket shelves. It would also involve car park attendants. This would involve consultation with local authorities. I only mention the point that this should receive much wider interest than it has had because it goes beyond the opening of shops.

The purpose of my short intervention is to express gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for her action in raising the matter and spotlighting the anomalies and inconsistencies of the present shops' legislation. I suggest that at least, whatever the future of her Bill, she has really made a case for the Government to intervene. A quick look at some of the Bills which have come before both Houses of Parliament in the last quarter of a century indicates that. There was a Shops Bill in 1956–57 introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. It had five days of your Lordships' time. There was the Shops (Airports) Bill 1961–62, a Private Member's measure in the other place, and also the Shops (Early Closing Days) Bill 1964–65 in the other place. There was the Shops (Sunday Trading) (No. 2) Bill introduced here by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent. There was the Shops (Sunday Trading) Bill 1970–71 also introduced by the same noble Lord. There was another measure, the Shops (Holiday Resorts—Sunday Trading) Bill 1975–76 introduced by my noble friend Lady Phillips, and the Shops (Sunday Trading) Bill 1978–79 introduced by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, when I raised this matter of the Government taking action for a comprehensive review, said in a previous debate on this subject that the Government do not wish to intervene on a matter where there is not general public agreement. If that is the case, then of course the Government will withdraw the Employment Bill and the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill, and quite a few other measures. This would certainly add to the House's indebtedness to the noble Baroness for introducing this Bill. I finish on the theme that there is a real and urgent need for a wide review and wide consultation with all concerned with this matter. I feel sure that noble Lords will wish Her Majesty's Government to reconsider their present policy of leaving such matters to the inevitably piecemeal efforts of Private Members.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I too wish to congratulate my noble friend for the very determined way in which she has piloted her Bill through its stages in your Lordships' House. Although I was not present for the earlier stages, the reports of those debates are of great interest, and her reference to the tranquil waters of this House left me surprised by the notable ripples which we have encountered since she sat down. The discussions we have had on this complex and emotive subject have been well-informed and useful.

I am sure noble Lords will join me in expressing thanks to noble Lords who have brought to the discussion both their experience and their expertise, and I would mention in particular the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Harris of High Cross and Lord Robbins, who spoke on the Bill's economic implications; those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, who were right to remind us of the important part religion plays in our national life; that of the noble Lord, Lord Young, who spoke for the consumer; and those of the noble Lords, Lord Jacques and Lord Sainsbury, who have long experience of the retail trade, and Lord Sainsbury added a footnote of great interest to the debate a few moments ago.

To the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, I would say that no Government habitually consult with trade unions on other people's Private Member's Bills, but we should be glad to consider any views which USDAW might like to put forward. As to the undertaking of the Government in regard to consultations before a Government Bill, should a Government Bill come forward, that undertaking would of course hold good. We are also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, for his contributions during the progress of the Bill. There can be no doubt that the discussions have shown that there is at least a concensus that the legislation in this area is outdated and needs reform. At the same time, they have shown that we still lack total agreement on how that reform should be devised. The noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, thought that might be a recipe for inanition to be spread to all areas of Government policy. I must disappoint him in that respect. But we note that the shopworkers' union and sections of the retail trade are opposed to my noble friend's Bill on the grounds that it goes too far and could have unfortunate consequences for shopkeepers, their employees and consumers alike, and the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, was eloquent in that respect.

On Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Belstead outlined the conclusions reached by the Government. On behalf of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, he said we found no point of principle for opposing my noble friend's Bill, but because of the strength of opposition to it by many retailers and by the union, we felt it would not be appropriate to introduce a Bill of our own at this time. However, the Bill has given us a valuable opportunity to consider the whole subject and, whether or not it makes further progress in another place, I am sure the House will agree that the policy to which it seeks to give effect at least merits the fullest parliamentary discussion. I again thank my noble friend for having given us this valuable and extended opportunity for debate.

On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.