HL Deb 06 February 1986 vol 470 cc1343-56

8.15 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

The Deputy Speaker (Earl Cathcart)

My Lords, before I call the next amendment, I should announce a correction to the number of those voting in the last Division, Division No. 2. The number should have been: Contents, 56, not 55; and Not-Contents, 86. So the Not-Contents have it.

Lord Gallacher moved Amendment No. 3: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

("Late opening on week days.

.—(1) Transactions carried out in shops after 9 p.m. on week days and 7 p.m. on Sundays may take place in accordance with provisions to be included in an order to be made by the Secretary of State. Such an order shall not come into effect until a draft has been laid before and approved by an affirmative resolution of each House of Parliament.

(2) Variations to an order made under subsection (1) above may be made at any time by the Secretary of State by order. Such an order shall not come into effect until a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

(3) Orders referred to in subsections (1) and (2) above shall specify the names of enforcing authorities as well as a scale of fines for non-observance of the provisions of this section by any occupier of a shop found guilty of contravening these orders.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment has as its purpose the writing into the Bill of statutory closing times for shops on weekdays and also on Sundays. Having said that, I would also claim that the closing times which are proposed are so liberal and so much in advance of what are currently in the 1950 Act that the Government should have little difficulty in accepting this amendment—that is to say, if they are disposed to accept in principle the idea of statutory closing times at all. I would assume that, if there is a rejection of the times proposed in this amendment, we can take it as being fairly definite that, so far as this House is concerned, Her Majesty's Government's mind is closed, and that this is in fact an "open all hours" Bill.

First, perhaps I may tell your Lordships that on Mondays to Saturdays at the present time shops may open until 8 o'clock and 9 o'clock on the so-called late night. The purpose of this amendment is to make 9 o'clock the universal closing time on all six weekdays, so that by itself this particular amendment will increase the legal shopping hours by five hours per week.

I should say in passing that the Auld Committee received no great requests for much in the way of an extension of the existing week-night opening hours. In fact, I can recall that only one major retailer asked for an extension beyond 9 p.m., and on examination it was found that only two of his 240 stores were opening later than 9 p.m., and those stores were in highly specialised locations in central London.

It has also been suggested that the problem of enforcement would be easier if, instead of having one late night which is variable from retailer to retailer, the late night closing was universal so that retailers could not say, when asked why they were open after 8 p.m., "This is my late night" when they had also probably been open the previous night after 8 p.m., calling that the late night. Therefore, 9 p.m. would facilitate the enforcement process.

Turning to Sundays, it has been my contention throughout the piece—and I make it again this evening—that the Auld Committee received no great request for Sunday night shopping. Equally, I concede that there was demand for shopping on Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon, and by choosing 7 p.m. on Sundays I think we have met all the evidence which the Auld Committee received, and are in fact providing a major change in the law of this land.

Furthermore, if one assumes that 7 p.m. is selected I think one can say that this would meet most of the demand which is likely to ensue. It meets the present practice of the law breakers; I refer to the DIY stores and the garden centres, most of which are closing at 6 p.m. It allows a closing time for shops to coincide with the opening time of pubs, which I think should facilitate life for those people who find Sunday boring in that they can move from shopping to drinking. I think that in other ways it meets with the general demand which the Auld Committee received.

If we take together the proposals in the amendment, and pay attention to the fact that there is no statutory opening time for shops in Britain, and if we assume that most shops are now open by 8 a.m. on weekdays and can remain trading throughout until 9 p.m., we are talking of a 13-hour shopping day, six days a week, a total of 78 hours. If we assume that on Sunday business starts a little later and shops decide to open around 9 a.m. and remain open until 7 p.m., we have a 10-hour shopping day, which give a shopping week of 88 hours.

For a country which is enjoying the benefit of a five-day 39-hour week, to most people that would seem quite reasonable and would certainly legalise shopping hours to an extent which is probably greater than in most parts of Western Europe. If in addition to that one adds 56 hours' sleeping time—eight hours a day, seven days a week—one gets a total of 88 plus 56, 144 hours. Effectively, there would, under the amendment, be only 24 hours in a week when shops should be closed. But in point of fact shops need not be closed during that period of time because the amendment provides for shops to open provided they are not selling goods other than those specified in the schedules which the Minister will be empowered to make under the Bill.

You may say to yourselves, "Why close at all?" I would say, first, to protect those who live near shops from the problem of nuisance. I would say, further, to minimise the demand on the police, transport authorities, and other enforcement bodies arising from having to provide a service which may, or may not, be required but which in law should be available throughout the total period that shops choose to remain open.

There is also the important point made by the Association of County Councils that although the county council is not the enforcing body for shop hours it is in fact the enforcing body for a wide range of consumer protection legislation. Given the strain which will be placed upon the enforcement authorities as a result of the extension of hours, it is fair and reasonable to suggest that there should be a limit to the period of time during which county councils are expected to enforce the law.

I asked the county councils to tell me how much law they were expected to enforce. I have a list showing that there are 52 Acts of Parliament designed to protect the consumer and enforceable by county councils. The county councils make it clear that not all those Acts of Parliament are enforceable within the shop, but many of them are. In addition to that there are 1,007 statutory instruments to be enforced as well as 100 European Commission regulations.

Among the legislation which has to be enforced are the Trade Descriptions Acts 1968 and 1972; the Fair Trading Act 1973; the Consumer Credit Act 1974; the Prices Acts 1974 and 1975; the Food Act 1984; the Farm and Garden Chemicals Act 1967; the Medicines Act 1968; the Weights and Measures Acts 1963, 1976 and 1979; the Consumer Protection Acts 1961 and 1971; the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974; and the Consumer Safety Act 1978.

That is a fairly formidable corpus of legislation. If one bears in mind the undoubted problems which retailers will have in maintaining service throughout the extended trading hours, and in particular the supervisory problem for management, I would submit that protecting the consumer becomes more important under the proposed Bill than it did under the Shops Act 1950.

There is also the important point that if there is no statutory closing time at all in shopping legislation one has a conflict between that legislation and the licensing laws. We read in the press that the Government are perhaps minded in the next Session of Parliament to do something about implementing the report by the noble Lord, Lord Erroll, which was produced in 1972. I cannot believe that in implementing that report, whatever form the implementation takes, the Government are going to have a situation in which public houses need never close. If, therefore, you have a situation in which there is a closing time for pubs and no closing time for shops, then you have automatically created yet another anomaly, and for that reason I would suggest that there is merit in having a closing time for shops in this Bill.

So far as shopworkers are concerned, I am referring here not to those covered by wages councils but to those covered by agreements between fairly large bodies of employers and the trade unions. My experience of labour relations has been gained entirely on the employers' side, so I know very well what the trade unions are likely to do so far as the existing agreements are concerned.

They will say—and quite rightly, in my opinion—that the existing agreements are based on the Shops Act 1950, and that if you have a situation in which shops may be open for 24 hours a day then there is a need to conclude new agreements covering those workers. I think that will be used by the trade unions—and again I have no objection to this—as a justification for saying that in every case where other workers are obliged to undertake shift work, to work on Sundays, and generally to have the social inconvenience which these liberalisations will mean for them, that is recognised in the agreements which they already have with employers, and I think they would have little difficulty in convincing any independent chairman of an arbitration tribunal that a major increase in wages is justified as a result of the changes which this Bill now proposes.

That can only mean higher prices for consumers. It may not have entered the heads of the National Consumer Council, or indeed of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, but it is the harsh reality of life and something that ought to be taken into consideration so far as the protection of consumers is concerned in this Bill.

So far as concerns the owners of small shops, the problem is perhaps less acute. But even here where the family is asked to man the counter there is a justification for not allowing, perhaps, a bossy father to tell sons, or even nephews—as in the case of "Open All Hours" with dear old Granville and Mr. Arkwright—to perform all hours of the day, and so on. There is a case for a closing time there.

In my opinion the problem of opening well into the late evening will become a difficult one. It will place employers who would not normally open so late in the position of having to make a decision as to whether or not they must continue to open in order not to lose trade to competitors who are forcing the pace regarding closing hours.

The amendment will allow for shops to remain open until 9 p.m. on six nights, and 7 p.m. on Sundays. It will permit the Minister to make, by statutory instrument, a list of goods which can be sold after those times on those seven days. It will further permit the Minister to amend that list by statutory instrument as and when changes in shopping habits, or other reasons, make such changes seem desirable.

Finally, the Minister would also be able, within the some legislation, to provide for the rate of fines which he was going to ask the courts to impose on conviction for non-observance of those hours, and also to specify the enforcing authority. Here I would suggest to the Minister that, if the amendment is of any interest to him whatsoever, there may be a case for taking away enforcement in England and Wales from the Association of District Councils and offering it to county councils, because then consumer enforcement and shop hours enforcement would be under the control of a single authority, and on balance that might prove economical from the point of view of the taxpayer. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I have rather more sympathy for this amendment than for most of the amendments moved by noble Lords on the Opposition Benches, but only a little more sympathy, given the way in which this amendment is presently drafted. The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, referred to the possibility of 24-hour shopping. As a matter of fact I believe that for shops to open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in non-residential areas would actually add to the gaiety of the nation—I use the word "gaiety" in its correct sense, assuming it is still legal to do so. Equally I would concede that for shops to open for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in residential areas would tend to add to the misery of the nation, and I agree therefore that some local authority control may be needed so far as residential areas are concerned.

But why go over the top and propose such early closing hours? Nearly all the Asian-owned and Asian-run grocery shops and mini-markets in the part of London where I live are open until 11 p.m., or possibly 10.30 p.m., every day of the week. Certainly nobody I know in my street, or anywhere near where I live, has any objection to this at all—quite the opposite. Why should they object, because, after all, the pubs are open until 11 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on Sundays? If the pubs, or indeed the Asian-run shops, were to stay open until midnight, people might well think differently: they might be deprived of sleep, and a genuine nuisance would have resulted. If the amendment referred to 11 p.m. closing on weekdays and to 10 p.m. on Sundays, to bring shops into line with pubs—it was, after all, the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, who referred to a possible anomaly in this respect—I could bring myself to support the amendment, but certainly not as it is drafted at present.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, it has been a curious feature of our debates on this Bill that noble Lords on the Benches opposite seem to have a craving to restrict the opening of shops wherever they can. It leads one to wonder why they adopt so restrictionist an attitude. The tendency in this country in recent years has been to extend the hours during which shops are open and available to the public. We owe a good deal of this to immigrants from the continent of Asia, from where come hard-working people determined to make a success of their business in the best possible way by providing the service which the public wants. Many of them have prospered, deservedly in my view, because they have studied the needs and wishes of the public and they have sought to serve them. There has been a considerable liberalising of the hours during which shops are open.

I see no reason to restrict it, either as this amendment proposes on week days—which seems to take it outside the general scope of the Bill, which as I understand it is concerned with Sunday opening—or, still less, to close at 7 o'clock on Sundays. There would have to be all kinds of exceptions. There are the all-night chemists, which are essential in case of emergencies; and there are the shops at airports, which have to cater for the arrival and departure of aircraft at all sorts of unseemly hours. In the light of that, there does not seem any point in imposing this restriction.

Indeed, it would hit another rather praiseworthy aspect of our life. Certainly in central London, if bookshops stay open late at night, as they do, lawfully or not, one finds that people, particularly young people, go there without intending necessarily to buy a book but to browse among the books, well into the evening, educating themselves. If the shopkeeper wishes to keep his shop open to serve this purpose, I cannot see why Parliament should intervene to stop it.

The only argument that the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, seemed to adduce was that it might lead to excessive hours for shopworkers. He made this wonderful calculation, that shopworkers would theoretically be working for a whole week minus 24 hours. The amendment does not deal with that at all, because it gives no indication of the hours at which the shops concerned would open. The concern of the amendment is only with the time that they would shut. There are shops in the centre of cities which regard their main trading time as being in the evening and which therefore do not open early. Any speculation about the length of workers' hours seems wholly irrelevant because one has left out the other factor—that of opening.

Finally, it is worth remembering that this tendency to later shopping reflects the social tendency in this country under which more and more married women work. If they work in the day, as do their husbands, they can only do their shopping at week-ends—the main advantage they gain from the Bill is Sunday opening—or in the evenings. In both those cases they can do their necessary shopping, and do it very pleasantly with their husbands, who, after all, are very useful, as some noble Lords know, to carry the packages home. Some of us have experience of this.

I cannot see why we should seek to impose these further restrictions. I hope that on reflection the noble Lord will see the point of this and will withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher. I do so because I am concerned about the conditions of shopworkers. I have received representations from unions affiliated to the TUC and from other associations looking after the interests of shopworkers. I have had some submissions from a staff association representing numbers of shop employees. They are concerned that the Shops Bill will greatly encourage late-night trading. Because late-night trading seems so much more likely, they believe that there is a much greater need for workers to be protected, particularly against dismissal, if they do not want to work late nights. They also make the point that most shopworkers are women. They need to be home in the evenings to look after their children, to prepare meals, to do the housework and so on. Unrestricted late-night trading and late-night working will destroy jobs in retail shops for married women because they will not want to do that work.

There is another point we should bear in mind when we talk about late-night working. Late-night working means that people have to return home at a time when other people have already gone home. This greatly increases the fears women have of being attacked on their way home.

During the debate we had earlier, several noble Lords referred to the fact that things have improved. Although we are now in an agnostic era, things are much better and more tolerant than they used to be. That may be so, but in certain respects, unfortunately there has not been an improvement. One of those respects is the safety of women at night on our streets. Regrettably, people are now frightened about being out late at night. I live in an area of North London where there have already been several unsolved crimes against women at night, and even I feel a certain amount of unease if I am out very late at night. Public transport is not what it was, and there are real fears when women have to work late at night and go home late. Thus this will increase the dangers.

Lord Monson

My Lords, would not exactly the same thing apply to women who work in pubs and cinemas?

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, it probably does, but why increase the numbers at risk? This is the point I am making. Why should we have a situation in which as a matter of course shops open late at night with no restrictions? Indeed, the amendment proposes liberal hours. It provides that shops can open until 9 p.m. on week days and 7 p.m. on Sundays. If shops are to stay open all hours—much later than that—without any restrictions, the pressures will be on for everybody to trade in that way and far more members of the workforce will be exposed to the risks. Of course some people are exposed to risks. People who work in night clubs or other places where they have to walk the streets in the evening on their way home late at night are at risk, but we do not need to increase the numbers. Although there is much to be said for freedom for people to trade and freedom for people to shop if they wish to do so, that freedom must be restrained or restricted to some extent if, in so doing, we are risking the exploitation of another section of our population.

As I said earlier in debate on the Bill, if we want to extend shopping facilities either on Sundays or late in the evenings we have to ensure that we do not do it at the expense of a vulnerable section of the population, and shopworkers are vulnerable. The Auld Committee said they were vulnerable, and we agree on all sides of the House that they are. In these circumstances, it is up to the legislators to see that this vulnerable section of the workforce is adequately protected. I therefore commend the amendment to your Lordships.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for his kind and sensible references to late-night trading in bookshops. It just so happens that we close our bookshops at 7 o'clock on Sundays, purely because trade is thinning out at that time in the evening. Why should we have to close our shops at 9 o'clock, on week days? On week days most of our bookshops in central London remain open until 10.30 in the evening, because there is sufficient trade to justify staying open until that hour. In so staying open we make a profit, the employees are well recompensed and the public is served. It is good for the publishing industry and good for the hook selling industry.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, did I understand the noble Earl to say that bookshops, of which he has knowledge, open until 10.30 p.m., which at the moment is against the law? If in fact it is against the law, and this law has been flouted in that way, how does the noble Earl expect us to believe that future laws will be obeyed?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I do not think that we are breaking the law. I think that one is allowed to trade until midnight.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, we can all learn from experience. If the noble Earl genuinely believes that it is legal to open until midnight then, with great respect, I believe he is wrong. But not only, with respect, would traders be wrong to want to do so; we come back to the local councils who have a spokesman in this authority who knows that they ought not to do so but yet he does not enforce the law. The question remains. If the present law is being broken and not enforced by people who are urging that it should be abolished, what laws are those people going to enforce in the future?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I apologise if I am wrong in this respect. I thought I was right but I am sure we can find out at a later date. But I can assure your Lordships that we do not stay open until half-past ten at night purely because it is nice to see the lights twinkling in our bookshops. Furthermore, I predict that it will not be too long before we have 24-hour trading in London, and we really ought to get used to that strong likelihood. I just wonder if the noble Lord has taken that into account.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, perhaps I might say a few words in support of this amendment. Perhaps I could start by saying that I think there is a very great difference in the ways that this whole issue is being argued from these Benches and from the Benches opposite. The difference is that we are always arguing in a wider context. Many of the arguments that are coming from the Benches opposite are in support of the consumer. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, was quite right when he said that it is very nice for a woman shopper to have her husband with her to carry back her shopping. We are not arguing about that; we are saying that this is the case. What we are talking about is the sacrifice that is being made so that the consumer has wider choice. That is what we are trying to present in these amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked why it should be 9 o'clock and why not later. We feel that 9 o'clock is the limit for shopworkers. One must remember that shopworkers are predominantly women, and one must therefore surely look at the situation in a different way. We are worried about how women are going to get home. My noble friend has made this case. I am quite sure that any of us who have daughters worry about them when they come back very late and we wonder whether there will be any public transport for them. They are in a vulnerable position. I do not think that one can brush this aside and always argue in favour of the benefits that the consumer will get.

I should like to support this amendment because I think we have thought it out and it would suit the consumer who wants a wider choice. After all, 9 o'clock is of extra benefit to shopping. It means that there is a long time remaining after people have left their offices in order to shop together. At the same time, it does not mean that there will be too many inconveniences and hazards for those shopworkers on whom we all depend to offer a greater choice to consumers.

The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, gave the example of the Asian family and their industry. I do not think this is entirely relevant. Here the family is very often working together and in many cases the woman would not have a serious problem in getting to and from work. As my noble friend has asked: why increase the number of women who are going to be in some form of risk?

I hope your Lordships will look at this amendment favourably. I think it has been thought out very carefully, that it has got a balance in it, and there is something in it which should please everybody. I hope that it will get support from your Lordships.

8.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, I am sorry that I shall have to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, for the following reasons. The major purpose of this Bill is to give shopkeepers the chance to serve their customers at the times they choose, the times at which they think there is a demand—a point well brought out by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. This amendment stands in direct opposition to that purpose and seeks to reimpose limits on retail trading hours. Shops would only be able to open after 9 p.m. or after 7 p.m. on Sundays where the Secretary of State has made an order approved by both Houses of Parliament.

There is no principle discernible in the amendment on which the Secretary of State could base his decision on whether to allow opening after these times. Is it to be done on a local or a national basis? The amendment does not say. How could the Secretary of State be expected to make orders on a local basis? The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, expressed fears about increased late-night trading but shops are allowed legally at the present time to remain open until 8 p.m. and until 9 p.m. on one night a week. But how many do so?—a minority.

My noble friend Lord Arran might have to be reminded that he had it slightly wrong and that shops at the present time may legally reopen at midnight. They are not allowed to stay open legally until midnight at the moment.

I think it is worth asking the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, who spoke about sacrifice, why she should use such an emotive word? Why is the noble Baroness so keen on nannying and preventing a great deal of women from doing what they want to do? It is not only in the dark that women have need to be frightened for their safety, I am sorry to say. I would also remind her that many women throughout the war worked night shifts in every kind of trade and factory, and did so willingly.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I am sure the noble Baroness will agree that the security on our streets has very much deteriorated since those days?

Baroness Trumpington

No, my Lords. To return to the subject, there is no indication that shops that are open after 9 p.m. on weekdays or after 7 p.m. on Sundays at present cause any significant problems from either the residents' or the workers' point of view. Those shops opening so late are really so few and far between, catering largely for the sale of food and wine. They are often used for "topping up" where an item or two suddenly becomes immediately necessary: because visitors have arrived or something has been forgotten from the weekly shopping trip. The excellent services provided at all hours by these small corner shops is what makes them so valuable in our community. And it is from trading at unsocial hours that they derive much of their income.

I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, should support this amendment. He has in previous amendments argued for special protection for small shops. This amendment would seek to deprive them of one major source of income. These small shops tend to be in the larger cities, often in small shopping parades, not in residential neighbourhoods where they might be a disturbance or cause the nuisance that the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, feared. Where the shops that open do exist, they are very welcome to many people, not least, I would submit, to the staff and Members of this House who work jolly long hours. One can understand why controls have been thought necessary for places open for entertainment and refreshment after 10 p.m. and for take-away foods shops after mid-night; but it hardly seems appropriate that ordinary shops should be liable to restrictions beyond the hours specified in this amendment. I believe the House should reject this amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the noble Baroness chides me for having on one occasion urged protection for small shops, while on this amendment I support the principle, regardless of the size of shop, that they ought to be allowed to open longer than they do at present. This is all part of a piece of the defence mechanism of the noble Baroness and those who support her complete abandonment of any regulation. It goes along the lines that, if you start off with the premise that you wish for no restriction at all and on Second Reading have accepted the principle that you do not accept any restriction, there is no amendment of any kind that is tolerable. If it is the case that every time you put up any variation from complete deregulation it can be argued "We have already agreed that we will have none", and if, every time we try one way, it is pointed out that it is contrary to another amendment, then that is completely against not only parliamentary procedure, but also good debating practice.

Of course, there are best solutions and there are less than best solutions, and what those of us who are opposed to complete deregulation are about is trying to get the best solution that we can. This will not be the ideal solution. It certainly is not the one—given the range of options, of which there have so far been a dozen—about which I could have said "If I can have one, this is it." But it is the best we have. At five minutes to nine on a very cold night, this is the one that we have in front of us and we shall argue it. It will not be the last one because there will be others. There are also other stages and there is the other House, too.

I am not saying that the noble Baroness ridiculed the amendment, but it is interesting to note that one of the defences of noble Lords opposite is that something is contrary to arguments used earlier. What we are being criticised for is seeking a compromise. It may be that the noble Baroness and her supporters believe that it is not only "all or nothing at all" with the Bill, but also that once you have accepted the principle there is no way in which one can possibly try to ameliorate the position or live with it. We shall have to remember that on some other occasion.

The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, asked: why stop at nine? This has been the argument on other amendments. Why have 1 o'clock on Sunday? Why stop at six on Sunday? Why do lots of other things? I think the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, pointed out that in his area Asian shops sometimes stay open until 10.30 or 11 at night. I can tell your Lordships that if noble Lords are basing their opinions about the future under a changed law on what is happening under the present law, they are sadly mistaken. Sainsbury's at Croydon are open till 10 o'clock at night. It is against the law, but they do it. If they had a choice, they would open late every night and not open on Sunday. But they are breaking the law with impunity from the point of view of enforcement.

If the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, believes in a situation where, in the main, the late-night opening shops are the Asian shops, and all the big shops are closed because they are observing the law or are waiting, it needs only one of them—maybe Sainsbury's, maybe the Co-op, maybe Presto, maybe Tesco—to decide, "We can now open not merely till 8 o'clock, but till any hour." So they decide to open and lots of the trade which at present goes to the Asian shops will go to the big stores. Then the little shops will say, "This is terrible". That is the argument for protecting the existing small business or shopkeeper. But it is not the only argument.

The noble Baroness asked: why are we stopping shopworkers, and women shopworkers, who want to work, and in this instance want to work late? If the shop is open late, why do we want to stop them?" Many of them will not want to work, but many of them will work because they must. I do not mean just because their jobs are at stake, but because there will be all sorts of arrangements in respect of payments. Most people work because they are paid for it, and not because they want to work. They will work because it is worth their while.

If an entrepreneur decides that it is in his interest to open later—and he is in business only because of his interest; he is not there just to serve the customers and provide employment; he is there to make money, which is the nature of business—he will have means of saying to his employees, who are mostly women and part-time, "I now require you to work till 10 or 11 at night." The women will say, "We have to think about this because our jobs are at stake. We will continue to work."

As regards what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, about being restrictionist, I ask: why not think about the consequences of having restrictions or of having no restrictions? Although noble Lords opposite think that they cannot be wrong—I believe that I can be wrong—I consider that where there are no restrictions it will be at the cost of certain groups. My noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs used the word "sacrifice" which is appropriate. There are groups whom the deregulators are not prepared to take into account. One group is the residents who are affected by late-night shopping. The noble Lord opposite tells us that we have to get ready for 24-hour shopping in London. If that is the case, it will be to the detriment of what London is and of London as we know it.

I know of little communities where I live, and in general shops do not open in the morning because there is no trade. By and large, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. is the time-scale for shops now. But competition in the retail trade gets fiercer every day, never mind every week. Once you have lifted the restriction—and, apparently, noble Lords opposite are not even prepared to consider in three years' time whether it is right or wrong—we shall have a situation where, in the very nature of being a good entrepreneur, someone will say, "Nobody else's business in this area is open beyond six or 7 o'clock. I will be the exception and I will take a risk." It is that person's business and he may open till 9 o'clock.

There are some stores now that open till 8 o'clock because that is the legal limit, but when there is no limit they will open until nine, 10 or 11 p.m. and believe that they are entitled to do it. Noble Lords opposite will say "We do not believe in restricting them"; despite the possible adverse consequences for the workers, for the residents, for the cost of goods and for the general ambience of the community.

My noble friend Lord Gallacher made a very powerful case against those who say that the present law does not allow adequate time for shopping. He said that counting the hours of sleep at eight hours a day, there will still remain more than 80 hours when people can shop legally under this amendment. I know that if you close a shop at 6 p.m. you get people coming along at 6.5 p.m., and if you close the shop at 7 p.m. they will come along at 7.5 p.m. There are always one or two on the margin.

I looked very carefully at the idea that the Asian family is anxious, able and willing to work until all hours. I shall simply tell noble Lords what my theory is. They are working until all hours again not because they want to but because they have to. They come to this country and they have the kind of fibre which makes them say, "If we have to survive, we will work all hours", and they do. But I have news for the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. The sons and daughters of those families who have worked all hours, when they are mature and educated, will reflect on whether they want to work all hours and there will be a change. There will be a change in the attitude of those who have to work all hours.

9 p.m.

I think that this amendment is very reasonable and I am very sad indeed that the noble Baroness has once more demonstrated that, whatever interest the Government serve, it is not that of the consumer. In future the noble Baroness will hear the evidence which she refused to take into account. It will be given to her by a great many forces, not least by her own eyes, and will show that what she is party to is a destruction and dereliction of a character and a kind of life in this country which we ought to try to protect. This amendment has been a very simple attempt to do just that.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, I found the reply of the noble Baroness more than a trifle disappointing. She had nothing to say about the protection of consumers over a 24-hour shopping period. Presumably it may happen—the last time this was raised I remember the noble Baroness made a remark to the effect that it was all tinned beans that were sold out of hours. I hope that she will not persist in those arguments because undoubtedly there is a body of law for the protection of consumers which was put on the statute book only with great difficulty and which it is essential should continue in force so long as shops are open. It serves the cause of consumers very little to say that you may shop 24 hours a day but that you will have very little protection during those hours when county council inspectorates are not available to enforce the law.

I turn now to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Arran. I was quite mildly amused to think that someone who has the protection of the net book agreement is the man who is currently breaking the law. I can only say that, if bookshops are as prosperous as he makes out and if they are able to operate the extended hours which he makes out and presumably pay a reasonable wage to their employees for those hours, it may be that the justification which the restrictive trade practices court accepted so many years ago for the continuance of the net book agreement should be re-examined in the light of modern conditions. If we are to have competition, let us have it across the board and let the book trade face the same kind of competition that other retailers are having to face since the abolition of retail price maintenance.

I turn now to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I think it is pretty obvious that, even in the 24 hours when shops should be closed, the purpose of the amendment is to allow the Secretary of State to permit sales to continue during those 24 hours in the same way as Schedules 2 and 5 to the 1950 Act allow sales to be made. It will be a matter for the judgment of the Secretary of State to decide what is to happen at airports, railway stations and places of that kind. It is quite misleading for anyone to suggest that in point of fact we are asking the Secretary of State to make individual orders for every nook and cranny of this country. He would obviously make orders covering the whole nation and in that way the situation for trade after 9 p.m. on weekdays and after 7 p.m. on Sundays could be effectively regulated.

My noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton has dealt with the impact of this on the small shop. I think the Government proceed from the assumption that it is going to be like Scotland and that not a lot of use will be made of the freedom which the Bill proposes. I examined the evidence to the Auld Committee and I am satisfied that 50 per cent. of the multiple retailers are simply waiting for the law to be changed. Once that happens, their competitors will have no option but to open alongside them. What we are getting is a major change not merely in the retailing life of this country but, I believe, in its social life. I am grateful to my noble friends who have tried to point that out to the Government. I believe that their minds are closed, and since that is the case I see no reason why I should delay your Lordships any longer in trying to persuade them to take a more liberal view of the proposition before the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Airedale)

Amendment No. 4, Lord Graham of Edmonton.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am conscious of a number of factors which one minute of your Lordships' time will help to resolve. It is quite clear that the Government are certainly not prepared to look remotely on some very good amendments that have been moved so ably. I am looking at the rest of the amendments on the Marshalled List, Amendments Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, which precede the amendments relating to Clause 2. I very much hope that when we get to Clause 2, noting what the Minister has already done, there will be scope not only for satisfactory amendments to be moved but for a better response to them from the Government.

I am also conscious of what I understand are the difficult weather conditions outside. With the approval of the House, I should like to indicate that I shall not be moving Amendments Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. I believe we have an understanding that at this point the present proceedings on the Report stage will be adjourned.

[Amendments Nos. 4 to 8 not moved.]

Clause 2 [Removal of restrictions on opening hours of adult shop assistants etc.]:

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

House adjourned at eight minutes past nine o'clock.