HL Deb 29 March 1982 vol 428 cc1156-64

2.54 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Trumpington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Repeals]:

Baroness Trumpington moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 5, after ("III") insert ("except sections 44(2), 45 and 46").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 1 and for the clarification of your Lordships, and with your Lordships' leave, I shall be speaking to Amendment No. 2 as well. The purpose of these amendments is to propose certain rights of shopworkers under the provisions of the Shops Act 1950, so far as that is possible, consistent with the main object of the Bill which is to repeal the restraints which exist under the present law on the hours during which shops may open. It is no part of our purpose to reduce unnecessarily the rights of shopworkers. Under the existing law, the rights of workers and the rules requiring shops to be closed at certain times are woven together. We need to unweave them and, in doing so, a certain amount of legislative tidying up becomes necessary. It is that tidying up which these amendments bring about.

The Bill repeals with one bold gesture Parts I, III and IV of the Shops Act 1950 which deals with hours of trading. I must refer at this stage to Part II of the 1950 Act which is headed, "Conditions of employment", because it is left on the statute book and it is not our intention to remove safeguards for workers provided by law under that heading.

Turning to Amendment No. 1, as the Bill stands at present, Sections 44(2), 45 and 46 would be swept away with the rest of Part III of the 1950 Act. On closer inspection it now transpires that this would not be appropriate. My amendment preserves those sections and concerns special cases. First, Section 44(2) concerns post office business. The effect of this amendment would be to continue the existing exemption that post offices have from the requirements of Sections 17 to 20 of the 1950 Act. These sections cover such things as the entitlement of shop assistants to weekly half-holidays and meal intervals, with special requirements applicable to young persons. Post offices have for a long time enjoyed immunity from those requirements of the Shops Act, so it is appropriate that we should continue that immunity.

Next, Section 45 concerns: any fair lawfully held or any bazaar or sale of work for charitable or other purposes from which no private profit is derived".

The same goes for non-profit-making libraries. Perhaps some of your Lordships will be surprised, as I was, to learn that a fair or bazaar could, in law, be considered a shop. Such, however, seems to be the case. So by amending the Bill in this way we succeed in preserving the immunity they already enjoy, together with non-profit-making libraries, from these requirements and which I am sure we would all want to see continue.

Finally, we get those enterprises enjoying immunity from the provisions about half-day holidays and meal intervals by virtue of Section 46. This, I venture to guess, is even more remote from the everyday experiences of your Lordships. It covers: any library which, on the first day of January nineteen hundred and thirty-six, was carried on by a society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, 1893 to 1928".

I must confess to being unable to acquaint your Lordships of the number of libraries that still exist within that description. I dare say there are a few. Since they were exempted when Parliament last addressed its mind to the subject in 1950, it is right that we should continue their exemption from what will be left of the Shops Act 1950, when we have repealed those parts of it which cover shop opening hours. Therefore, with a view to preserving the exemptions currently enjoyed by those kind of places—post offices, fairs, bazaars and libraries of the kind that I have outlined—this amendment has been tabled.

For this amendment and for the others tabled in my name, which are largely of a technical character, am greatly indebted to my noble friend Lord Belstead and to officials of his department for the help they have given, and in particular for their advice and drafting expertise. The whole Committee will be indebted to them for the improvements to the Bill which will thus be brought about. Whatever views individual noble Lords may have about the merits of the main proposals of the Bill, I am sure that all of us want to see a Bill which is technically in good order. I thank my noble friend most warmly for his help.

I now turn to Amendment No. 2 standing in my name. Amendment No. 2 seeks to add to the Bill certain repeal provisions to supplement those already in the Bill. The first amendment adds a repeal provision to Clause 1 and the other adds, after Clause 2, a schedule to the Bill setting out in detail the provisions which are to be additionally repealed. They fall into two categories. First, it repeals those words in the surviving parts of the Shops Act 1950—in fact, Parts II and V—which need to be repealed in order to enable those surviving parts to make sense now that we are repealing the remainder of that Act. We need to remove from Part II cross-references to the provisions of the parts of the Act that we are now repealing, and that is what is achieved by the references in the schedule to the Shops Act 1950.

Secondly, and consistent with that principle, there are provisions in other enactments—the London Government Act 1963, the Post Office Act 1969, and so on—which carry references to those parts of the Shops Act 1950 which we are now proposing to repeal and which need to have deleted from them those references. That is what the rest of the schedule does. They are essentially consequential repeals. However, as their purpose is to preserve workers' rights effectively, I hope that the Committee will bear with me if I attempt to describe their effect in a little more detail. I think that this will serve to illustrate the general tenor of the policy of those of us who have prepared and promoted this Bill.

Your Lordships will observe that included among the repeals arising from these amendments are three affecting Section 22 of the Shops Act 1950. This section, which I emphasise is to be retained and will remain part of the law, deals with Sunday employment. Your Lordships will know that under the existing law some kinds of shops—just a few—may open on Sundays. They are listed in the Fifth Schedule to the 1950 Act and include a curious variety of establishments. They range from shops which may sell intoxicating liquors to the sale of fodder for horses and mules; fresh fruit and vegetables; and meals also are included. There are a few others.

Section 22 makes special provisions for safeguarding the rights of shopworkers who, under the existing limited provisions, may work on Sundays. It requires that a shopworker who has to work more than four hours on a Sunday must have a whole day off in lieu at some other time during the week. One who works four hours or less on a Sunday must be given a half day off in lieu during the week. There are back-up provisions to enable this to operate effectively. It is the intention of this Bill that these provisions protecting shopworkers should continue to apply.

As your Lordships will readily appreciate, these provisions will have considerably more significance once this Bill goes through, if it does, because then any shop will be able to open on a Sunday, instead of the restricted list of shops allowed to open on Sunday at present. So in future the provisions allowing shopworkers time off in lieu will have far more importance, as they will bite on a far wider range of shops than at present.

However, there are some parts of the Sunday employment section—that is, Section 22—which ought to be trimmed off in order that it should make sense in the new situation. Thus, in subsection (3) we find a provision requiring shops open on a Sunday to keep proper records of the names and of the hours worked by shopworkers on Sundays. The subsection refers to the shops open: …by virtue of any provision of Part IV of this Act, other than section sixty-two".

That refers to the existing provisions allowing the limited range of shops to open on a Sunday. Now, of course, all shops will be so allowed to open, so we need to remove the reference to Part IV and so on from the section in order that it should bite, as it now will, on any shop open on a Sunday.

The result will be that every shop which opens on a Sunday, as allowed by this Bill, will have to keep proper records of who are employed on a Sunday and of the hours worked. This will help to ensure that those shopworkers who work on Sundays will get their entitlement, on a comparatively generous basis, to appropriate time off in lieu during the week. What is more, such workers will be allowed to work only on two Sundays a month. That is also found in Section 22 (1) (a) (ii) and, in fact, is preserved. Your Lordships will also notice that the amendment would have the effect of repealing subsection (5) of Section 22. The reason for that is as follows. It is a little complicated.

Under the present law an ordinary butcher's shop is not allowed to open on a Sunday. The only exception is a kosher butcher's shop, which falls within the special provisions of the existing law allowing Jewish shops in certain circumstances to open on a Sunday instead of on the Jewish Sabbath. Those kosher butchers who open on Sundays at present are exempt from the requirements under the present law to give workers who work on Sundays time off in lieu during the week, and from keeping records. However, when this Bill comes into force a different situation will arise. Then any butcher's shop will be allowed to open. It is considered that it would be an anomaly if butchers' shops as a whole were treated differently in these respects from other shops. There is no reason why they should be. So we have brought all butchers' shops, including kosher butchers, into line with other shops. They, too, will be required to give time off in lieu and to keep the necessary records. This, we have to accept, will impose a new burden on kosher butchers' shops, for at present they can open on a Sunday without having to meet these requirements. But in future they will have to do so.

I have been given to understand that the Board of Deputies is not opposed to this. No doubt the reason is that other Jewish shops—that is, shops other than kosher butchers' shops—already have to comply with the provisions of Section 22 when they open on a Sunday. So it is not asking too much of kosher butchers' shops to step into line in this respect. In effect, it is an extension of the existing provisions protecting shopworkers, and I am pleased to be able to do this as I am keenly mindful of the interests of shopworkers.

Finally, there are the repeals from enactments other than the Shops Act 1950. Let me mention two of them. Your Lordships will see that they include Section 88 of the West Midlands County Council Act 1980. This deals with the National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham which, by that provision, is exempt from the requirements of the Shops Act 1950 as regards weekday and Sunday trading restrictions. This will no longer be necessary once this Bill goes through, so the provision is repealed. The same goes for the Earl's Court and Olympia Exhibition Halls covered by the Greater London (General Powers) Act 1981. These exhibition centres will no longer need to be dealt with by special exempting provisions, as they will be covered by this Bill. I beg to move.

3.10 p.m.

Lord Bishopston

I am sure that the Committee is grateful to the noble Baroness for the way she has moved her amendment and for the detailed explanation she has given in justification of it. So far as the amendment itself is concerned, I believe she is right in saying that this is a tidying-up amendment. I ought to say that, while I speak for the Opposition, by the nature of this Bill my noble friends will of course themselves consider the matters drawn to their attention and decide and vote accordingly. From my own position of what is a new term of benevolent neutrality, if there are Divisions, I may not be noticeable in the Division Lobby.

The noble Baroness is bringing before the Committee an issue of great importance. Indeed, the noble Lord the Minister, in the Second Reading debate on 9th February, at column 166, said: I…genuinely thank my noble friend again for giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue, which is of major social and commercial importance I am sure your Lordships' Committee would not wish a matter of that dimension to pass through without having certain assurances and information regarding the background of the noble Baroness's investigation into the matters which she has drawn to our attention. Indeed, she has just said that she is keenly mindful of the interests of shopworkers. That kind of comment is reassuring but it would be useful, and helpful to her in my neutrality, if she would give the Committee a little more information about the background.

In her Second Reading speech, the noble Baroness said that she claimed the right of freedom of shops to open and close when they wish. That of course is inherent in the measure. The noble Baroness will appreciate that there are at least three parties in a business partnership. They include not only shopkeepers but the workers in the shop, who are involved in the enterprise as well as the customers.

On the last occasion, when we debated this on Second Reading, we had information regarding the views of some of the consumers from the National Consumer Council. At the same time, customers are also workers, and they include many people who are members of families and who may wonder how this measure will change the pattern of their family life if they have to work—because there appears to be very little choice about whether one works later in the evenings, or has any religious or other scruples about working on Sunday. Regardless of the religious or other dimensions of the matter, it could substantially change the pattern of family life as we know it in this country. While we want to enjoy to the maximum leisure and other facilities, we may not, as workers, wish to contribute in the way the measure may demand and where we may have no choice.

The dilemma facing your Lordships' Committee is that the present law is indefensible and is unenforceable. This point, I thought, had the unanimous support of the House when the noble Baroness brought forward this Bill on Second Reading. As the Government have refused to give us what I, and many, think is a long-needed and comprehensive review of the present position, we may feel inclined to think that this is the only alternative to that situation and that we ought to do something about it on this occasion.

There are a number of other important amendments before the Committee which are not contrary to Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 of the noble Baroness, and undoubtedly those who have tabled the amendments will be speaking in support of them when the time comes. When we debated the matter on Second Reading, several questions were put to the noble Baroness which still require a reply. One important question concerned consultation which the noble Baroness has had, or not had, with the industry and the trade itself. This Bill will radically affect the trade and all those involved in it, whether as employers or employees, or as customers. Have all the trading and business organisations been consulted and are they happy about the prospect of unfettered trading? What about the Churches? What about the representatives of the Jewish and other faiths?

The noble Baroness mentioned the Board of Deputies. I am not sure how much consultation there was before the amendment was tabled. What about the retail trade? Of course there is more than one category. It includes the small shopkeepers, the medium-sized people, businesses generally, and the multiples. Are they all happy about the prospect, if some of their competitors wish to open late at night, or to have an all-day Sunday opening of shops, that they will be able to compete without any undue effect on prices, with overtime, energy and other costs which may be involved? It would be helpful if we were to be told of the consultation which has taken place with the trade.

Then, what about the men and women who work in the shops? Has the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, which has nearly half a million members, been consulted? What observations has it made to the noble Baroness, apart from the letters which some of your Lordships have had since the Bill was first tabled early in the year?

I noticed that, in a letter of 29th January of this year, USDAW says: It is the considered view of the union's 440,000 members that there is no real or genuine need for the abolition of the major part of the 1950 shops legislation as proposed in the current Bill". It goes on to claim that many shopworkers would be placed at a social disadvantage when they are required to work on Saturdays and Sundays. They go on to refer to the important economic and social consequences which a measure of this sort would bring.

These are some of the misgivings which have been expressed. I think your Lordships would not wish it to be thought that we passs legislation of this sort without some assurance that all those who may be affected have been asked to give their views and that the views expressed have been taken into account. I suggest that the TUC might have been consulted. It is not only the matter of the shopworkers, the people who work behind the counter, that we are considering here today. There are the supply units: the people who drive the lorries and the vans to re-fill the shelves in our supermarkets; the people in the banks who will have to cash cheques and provide the money and collect the takings. I know that there are often means whereby this can be done without human intervention, but these are some of the services which may be affected. The Post Office, which is mentioned in the schedule among the changes, may be required later when the pattern of trading changes to provide their services. The transport services are important; the security aspects; the police and fire brigades, and others.

The local authorities are affected, too, because we shall have the need for car parks to be open on Sundays when people buy their bedroom suites on a Sunday evening and other goods at a later time in the day, or all day Sunday when the facilities become available. Car parking attendants are involved. A wide range of people will be affected if this legislation goes through.

Although the noble Baroness claims that the number of hours overall which workers work may not be affected, to a football enthusiast who wants to see a match on a Saturday afternoon the prospect of having Tuesday off is not something which is likely to make him feel very pleased. Without straying on to some amendment which we shall discuss later, even in matters of conscience it is difficult to define the areas of loyalty relating to various aspects of our lives. Therefore, we have other areas of conflict as well, all of which require certain assurances that a wide range of organisations and representatives have been consulted by the noble Baroness.

If people are to shop later and if business hours generally are to be unlimited, then the prospect, for instance, of people wanting to drink in public houses at later hours may require those establishments staying open until midnight or even later. I do not know whether publicans and the licensed trade have been consulted about that. Just as some publicans dread the thought of one or two drinkers sipping their pints until gone midnight, it may be that those who supply other needs in shops may not wish to stay open late simply because their competitors are open.

I question whether the totality of goods and services provided will be any greater because shops are open much later, when, if we knew they were closing earlier, we could get our shopping done earlier, with no great inconvenience to those who have to serve us in those shops. On the other hand, the tourist trade must be taken into account—the changing pattern of needs throughout the country—and in some areas the tourist trade makes special demands which are not being met in an altogether satisfactory way at the moment, as the noble Baroness and others have said as a justification for the proposed change.

Those are a few questions on which it would be helpful if the noble Baroness could give some indication of the action that has been taken already. Many noble Lords will be sorry that the Government have said they are unable to take any action at present on a matter which many consider requires a comprehensive review. It may be that after the present stage of the Bill the Government will reconsider their view in that respect. In the meantime, it would be helpful if the Committee could have replies to some questions, of which I gave notice on Second Reading, about what the Government have rightly described as a matter of major social and commercial importance.

Lord Derwent

I had not intended to intervene in the debates on the Bill in any way, although I was occupied with the subject for many years. I suggest, with respect, that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, was in the nature of a Second Reading speech. Accordingly, if my noble friend Lady Trumpington tried to answer all the questions asked by the noble Lord we might get into a muddle. Nearly all the points he raised arise on later amendments and therefore it would be of help, certainly to me—it would stop me, and possibly the Committee, from getting muddled—if my noble friend dealt with those points when we come to those later amendments.

Lord Bishopston

I had considered raising those points on the clause stand part, but by then a number of amendments would have been discussed and the noble Baroness might have been at a disadvantage, wondering whether some of the points I put had been taken into account.

Baroness Seear

We on these Benches greatly welcome the amendment. The reservations we expressed on Second Reading were due to the fact that we were not sufficiently reassured about the position of workers, and the amendment goes a long way to allaying those fears.

3.25 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

It might be convenient if commented on the two amendments which the Committee is discussing, because my noble friend Lady Trumpington was good enough to express appreciation for help with the drafting. On Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, drew attention to certain deficiencies in the drafting of my noble friend's Bill, particularly references to parts of the 1950 Act which are to be repealed as well as references to parts which would remain if the Bill were enacted. The point was reinforced by my noble friend Lord Mottistone, along with the suggestion that the Government might give my noble friend help with drafting, should she wish to have such help. The amendments follow discussions I had with my noble friend.

In very simple terms—I say this because it is a few minutes since my noble friend explained the effect of the amendment—as I understand the position, Amendment No. 1 will preserve certain exemptions and Amendment No. 2, taken with the schedule which is Amendment No. 7, will extend some protections for terms and conditions of service. The drafting of all those amendments is in line with the undertaking I gave on Second Reading—they tidy up the drafting—and, like the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, I do not think need spend more time on that.

I should like to comment, however, on the question of consultation because Lord Bishopston was really asking my noble friend with whom she consulted before bringing the Bill before your Lordships' House. While cannot, of course, answer for my noble friend on that, I am sure she had in mind the fact that when the Home Office conducted their review—it was a departmental, not a public, review—we had discussions with certain interested parties. Discussions were held at official level with interested parties who heard about the review and got in touch with us; the Retail Consortium, British Multiple Retailers, National Federation of Meat Traders, Institute of Shops, Health and Safety Acts Administration, Board of Deputies of British Jews, Lord's Day Observance Society, British Tourist Authority and the English Tourist Board. An omission from that list is the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, but we have made it known to that union that the Home Office would not embark on public legislation unless we had warned the union that we were intending to do so.

It was as a result of that departmental review that my right honourable friend decided—indeed, announced in the House of Commons—that, with regret, he could not embark on public legislation because he did not think there was sufficient agreement among all interested parties and the general public for the Government to introduce a public Bill. However, on behalf of my right honourable friend I made it clear for the Government on Second Reading that we found no point of principle as to why the Government should not be benevolently neutral—indeed, as friendly as possible—towards my noble friend's Bill. The reason for that was that the Home Office review had thrown up the fact that in Scotland the same situation regarding Sunday trading did not apply. The Home Office review had borne out the conclusions of the recent inquiry conducted by the National Consumer Council that the current pattern of trading in Scotland was very similar to that in England and Wales, the only difference being that in Scotland it was being carried on solely within the law.

It was for that reason, almost more than any other, that we felt we wanted to be as helpful as possible in debate with my noble friend. That is why I say, with respect, to the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, that a great many of the questions he asked fall. If the sort of legislation that my noble friend Lady Trumpington has in mind were to reach the statute book, I do not think that many of the problems the noble Lord foresees would in fact come to pass.

Baroness Trumpington

I welcome the noble Lord's benevolent neutrality. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, I am certainly not ducking any of his questions but I would ask him whether we may stick to the point of the two amendments with which I have dealt so far. If at any later stage he wishes to come back on any point, I shall be glad to answer.

Lord Bishopston

Before the noble Baroness sits down, will she accept from me that I believe that her contribution and the Minister's comments a few moments ago will be helpful to her and to the Committee as background when we discuss other amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Trumpington moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 8, at end insert— ("(3) The enactments specified in the Schedule to this Act are hereby repealed to the extent specified in the third column of the Schedule.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Avon

I think that this might be a good moment to take the Private Notice Question. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.