§ 5.6 p.m.
§ House again in Committee.
§ Clause 2 [Removal of restrictions on working hours of adult shop assistants etc.]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 16A to 18A not moved.]
Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 18B:
Page 1, line 13, leave out ("eighteen") and insert ("sixty five").
§ The noble Baroness said: I beg to move the amendment standing in my name on the Marshalled List. I should like to commence by telling the Committee that my own position with regard to total deregulation when it comes to shop hours is resolutely against. I personally believe that the tradition of keeping one day a week in some sense special is valuable. I say that even though I am not a religious person or a churchgoer. If the special status of Sunday disappears, it will have a spin-off effect upon a far wider number than just those who work in shops and their prospective customers.
§ There is a complex infrastructure of production, distribution and administration which is responsible for the goods reaching the shops so that they can be sold. People working in this infrastructure will inevitably also be affected. I do not think that it will be to their advantage. That is my personal view.
§ However, I acknowledge that arguments have been made earlier in discussions on this Bill in favour of greater freedom of choice for the consumer. Such arguments have their attractions. Even so, I am quite sure that there are many in this Committee who will agree, irrespective of their views on deregulation as such, that freedom for one section of the population should not be bought at the expense of exploitation of another.
§ This is where I commend my amendment to the Committee. There is no reason why it should not attract support even from those who disagree with me about deregulation. What does it seek to do? It seeks to retain for all shopworkers the very limited protections in the Shops Act 1950. Indeed, the retention of this protection could be achieved without prejudice to the main purpose of the Bill. For what minimum protections does the Shops Act 1950 provide? It contains the following rights for all shopworkers, and I emphasise "all": the right to at least one half-day off per week; lunch breaks of at least 45 minutes in the shop or one hour outside the shop; a dinner break of at least 30 minutes and breaks of at least 20 minutes every six hours at other times; lunches to be between 11.30 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. and dinners between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and the right to days off in lieu for Sunday workers, although there are some exceptions in certain trades.
§ If the Bill is enacted unamended, all those fairly basic and far from generous rights will be restricted to 16 and 17-year-olds alone. Why only them? Around 2 million people work in shops. They are among the lowest paid sections of the workforce. In 1984, 83 per cent. of female full-time workers earned less than £100 a week, and one quarter of women full-timers received 145 less than £75 per week. Nearly 40 per cent. of shopworkers are part-timers, and many will already be disenfranchised from mainstream employment rights anyway because they work less than 16 hours a week.
§ The proposed repeal of the employment protection sections of the Shops Act, together with the proposed removal of many important aspects of wages council provision, will leave shopworkers wholly unprotected against the possibility of exploitively long working hours. As the Shops Bill stands now it will rescind both the trading hours restrictions and most of the employment safeguards contained in the Shops Act 1950.
§ It should be emphasised that Section 22 of the 1950 Act does not of itself prohibit Sunday employment. All it does is to give shopworkers the modest right to equivalent time off in the following week to balance the time worked on Sunday. The Act also limits the numbers of successive Sundays that an employee has to work by restricting Sunday working to two Sundays a month. These are reasonable protections for shopworkers, most of whom already work a five-day week, and the protections do not interfere—and I emphasise "do not interfere"—with the main intentions of the Bill.
§ As to the other sections of the 1950 Act, given that many shopworkers work from Monday through to Saturday, it is difficult to see what objection there can be to the right to a weekly half-day. The same can be said in relation to Section 19 of the Act, which gives a minimum 20-minute break for workers employed for more than six hours, as well as a legally enforceable lunch break and a meal break for early evening working. If that section is repealed it will mean that there will be no legislative protection governing breaks at work.
§ In case it should be said that there is no case for treating shopworkers in any special way and for giving them special legislative protection not accorded to other groups of workers, let me say that there has been a long tradition in this country of giving special protection where there is special vulnerability. That is why we have developed wages councils. They are currently under review, but nevertheless they have provided the poorest paid and least well organised with some basic protection in the past.
§ In case it is said that the regulation of terms and conditions of employment in this industry, as in so many others, is a matter between unions and employers, let me say that this is a difficult area in which to organise. It is very poorly organised indeed. There are many transient workers, there is a high turnover, and in any event the unions do not now currently have much legislative provision when it comes to helping them to organise and to gain recognition for workers once they are organised. It is a difficult area, and poorly organised. The repeal of the sections of the Shops Act in relation to all workers will have far reaching effects on the quality of life of nearly one in 10 of the workforce.
Again I stress that protection could be achieved without damage to the main thrust to Clause 1 of the Bill. There has been repeated reference during the debate to the Auld Report. May I quote one section of
the Auld Report? This is what the committee said in 1985.
Shopworkers need their protection … as much as ever, in fact more so now when jobs are harder to find and the already low membership of unions in the retail sector is declining. We have all been struck by how poorly paid many retail workers are.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
I am sorry to intervene, but I did not get what paragraph the noble Baroness was quoting from.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
I am afraid I cannot tell the noble and learned Lord that. I do not have the reference.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
I hope that we are not going to be less compassionate, less civilised, and less caring today than our predecessors were in 1950 when the Shops Act was passed. For that reason I commend this amendment to your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran
I should like to support the amendment so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden. With the committee's consent, perhaps I may quote the words of the Auld Report in relation to the effect of total deregulation upon questions relating to shopworkers, their exploitation, and their employment.
I shall ask your Lordships kindly to have regard first to the opening two lines of paragraph 277, which is entitled, "Shopworkers". The report says this:The likely effect that any change in the law might have upon shopworkers has been one of the most worrying questions of our Inquiry.It then goes on to analyse it, by quoting what happened in Massachusetts some years ago. It then goes on to its final conclusions, which deal with wages, in paragraph 287.We set great store by the preservation of the role of Wages Councils in fixing statutory minimum weekly rates, holidays and holiday pay for the retail trades. Shopworkers need their protection in this respect as much as ever, in fact more so now when jobs are harder to find and the already low membership of unions in the retail sector is declining.It is a privilege to me to be able to assist the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, on his intervention in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, because when I was proposing an amendment at the beginning of the Committee stage of this Bill the noble and learned Lord intervened several times most helpfully in my speech. I am therefore able to tell him that the passage quoted by the noble Baroness was in paragraph 287 of the Auld Report.
I now come to the last paragraph in this section, which is called "Areas for Concern". This is paragraph 288, which is of great support for this and similar amendments concerned with conditions of shopworkers. The Auld Report says this:We understand that the Government has been considering the abolition of Wages Councils without replacing them with any similar machinery. If this were to happen, we believe that there would be a strong likelihood of exploitation of some shopworkers in the form of lower wages, particularly for unsocial hours of work, and possibly in a longer working week.147 The committee then says that no doubt good employers would behave themselves.but in the rapidly changing and uncertain conditions that might follow de-regulation of shop opening hours, if our recommendations were to be adopted, we cannot be sure that all employers would do so. Accordingly, although it is not directly within our terms of reference"—and may I pause there to emphasise that the committee, chaired by Robin Auld, one of Her Majesty's Counsel, thought this matter of such importance that, having taken all the evidence it could, was not satisfied on this question as to the effect of deregulation on shopworkers and therefore stated:Accordingly, although it is not directly within our terms of reference,"—and the next passage is in black, full print—we strongly urge the retention for retail workers of the machinery of the Wages Councils for the fixing of satisfactory wages and premium rates. Retention of Wages Councils is no adequate protection unless their orders are properly enforced. Accordingly, we also urge that there should be proper enforcement of the Wages Council Orders, by an adequately staffed Wages Council Inspectorate.I hope that the Front Bench of the Government will not dismiss what I have said because the chairman, Robin Auld, has said that those observations were outside the scope of his terms of reference. That would be a technical approach to this matter of great significance to shopworkers. Therefore, I should like to ask the Minister what the Government are proposing to do to safeguard the position of shopworkers, whose situation was pointed out by the chairman of the Auld Committee, having regard to the Government's avowed intentions of abolishing the wages council?
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
The problem of safeguards for shopworkers following deregulation is a matter of concern. It was a matter of concern, as has been said, to my friend Mr. Robin Auld. It was a matter of concern to the noble Lord, Lord Jacques. When he expressed this as long ago as 1982 I rose briefly to support him. It is a matter of concern today. This concern is in no way inconsistent with the principle of the Bill, the principle of deregulation. It is merely a matter involved in the implementation of that principle.
If Sunday working is to be truly optional, safeguards are required to ensure that it should remain optional. In the retail trades the unions are relatively weak compared with other sectors of industry. A large proportion of the workers are not members of any trade union. Irrespective of trade union membership or none, the workers are surely entitled to a measure of Government protection. Sunday is not the same as any other working day and should never be so regarded unless the workers concerned so choose to regard it.
While supporting the principle of the Bill, I repeat the very short point that safeguards of this nature in no way conflict with that principle. I should have been anxious to support, as I said, an amendment along the lines of Amendment No. 11, which was not moved, for the simple reason that subsection (2) of the proposed new clause in Amendment No. 11 would place on the face of the statute a measure of protection which would be vastly superior to the discretion of any industrial tribunal on such matters. But that amendment is not before us. I only hope that the 148 Government will consider broadly in what way it might be possible to meet this concern, which is a genuine concern and in no way conflicts with the spirit of the Bill.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
I take very much the same point of view as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. It is now very many years since I could claim to have any acquaintance with the problem. In fact, it was on the Shops Bill 1956. But I can remember then being left with the impression that shopworkers were a vulnerable class of employee who needed special protection. In any case, it seems to me that we who take our stand on the argument of the Auld Committee cannot really pick and choose. I do not think we can disregard what was said in the two paragraphs that have been quoted—one by the noble Baroness and the second added by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd. The only question is: are there sufficient safeguards?
I wrote to the noble Lord the Minister, who understandably passed my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Young, the Secretary of State. A day or two ago I received a reply, of which I sent a copy to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, with the consent of the Secretary of State. If I had known that the noble Baroness would move this amendment I should have sent her a copy, and one to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, as well. What the Secretary of State said was this:The decision was therefore taken to remove young people from the wages council regulation"—to facilitate their employment—but to enable councils to continue to protect the two central elements of pay—a minimum hourly rate and overtime rate for workers aged over 21".The first thing that strikes one is that there seems to be a lacuna between the age of 18, which will be the concern of the shops inspectorate for young persons, and the age of 21 mentioned by the Secretary of State.
The second question is really more fundamental. It is whether those two types of control are sufficient protection for a vulnerable class of employee. Your Lordships were probably struck by a speech—I do not remember at what stage it was made—of the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, who described with his great local knowledge what went on in Scotland. I gathered from that that the overtime rate was sufficiently generous to restrict a good deal of Sunday employment. That may be part of the answer.
The third question I wanted to ask is a purely managerial one. It seems a bit cumbersome to keep on the shops inspectorate for young persons and the wages council regulations for adults, which also require an inspectorate. I should be grateful if the noble Lord the Minister could deal with those three matters in due course.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord McCarthy
I should like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, in her amendment. There are several reasons one can give for this, some of which have already been given. The first is that the strongest arguments which have been made in the Committee for the Bill have related to the modifications in the Sunday opening provisions. All the arguments about anomalies—fish and chip shops and only being able to buy the Bible at London Airport—and all the 149 arguments about the difficulties of enforcement and pressures coming from the consumers, have related to the case for modification of the existing Sunday opening provisions. That argument is out of the way. That, in terms, has been agreed. But virtually no arguments have been advanced—least of all, I would go on to say, from the Auld Report—for repealing Part II of the 1950 Act.
As the noble Baroness has said, this is a series of very small-scale protections for a very underpowered, under-organised group of 2 million or so workers. The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, at Second Reading—and I should like to ask him to tell me what he meant by this—said:I should like to say a little about shopworkers. Conditions for them have changed enormously for the better over recent years".—[Official Report, 2/12/85; col. 1065.]What is the evidence that conditions for shopworkers have changed enormously over recent years?
When the Shops Act was introduced in 1950 the level of unemployment in this country was less than 2 per cent. The level of unemployment now is over 13 per cent. Shopworkers are far less protected in terms of the labour market than they were in 1950 and the level of trade union organisation among shopworkers is as bad now as it was in 1950. Because an increasing proportion of shopworkers will be part-time workers, they will become (as the noble Baroness has said) increasingly difficult to organise.
What is the case for suggesting that they are so well looked after by the market or by the unions or in some other way, that we do not need these very elementary protections that were advanced in 1950? I would put it to the Committee that no argument has been made and that no argument was made by the Minister and, in particular, that no argument was made in the Auld Report. There have been a number of quotations from the Auld Report. I should like to make my quotation. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, wants to know the source of the quotation, it is from paragraph 285, page 65, where the Auld Report says,In our view, it would be unfortunate to remove all the protection that shopworkers now have at the very moment when, if our recommendations were to be adopted, they would feel at their most vulnerable".So that the Auld Report does not say that they are immeasurably better off than they were in 1950. It says that they remain at their most vulnerable.
I go on to quote from further down in the same paragraph, where they say:It may be that the answer lies"—that is to say, to the general protection of shopworkers—in the continuation and extension of the role now exercised by the Wages Councils to ensure not only adequate pay but also satisfactory conditions of employment for shopworkers".So the Auld Report is saying that if we were to wish to introduce any diminution in the protection of shopworkers in this Bill, we ought first to do something to extend their rights under the wages councils. But this Government propose precisely the reverse. This is the difficulty. This Government propose that workers in general should come out of the protection of the wages councils. That is not what the Auld Report suggests. This Government propose that in general 150 those workers who remain under the protection of the wages councils should only be young people up to 21, and that even then—
§ Lord McCarthy
No. I am referring to the wages councils. It is 18 in this Bill. Even then, as I was saying, all kinds of things which the wages councils can now do which might enable the wages councils to look after young workers (including the half day off, and so on), should be taken away from the powers of the wages councils.
What the Government are going to do is to introduce legislation which will mean, contrary to what the Auld Report is saying, that there will be no protection—no protection not simply for workers who are not young workers, the workers in general, but no protection for young workers through the wages councils in the very respects that the Auld Report says are particularly important. What this Government are proposing is in no way justified by what has been suggested by the Minister; it is in no way justified by the Auld Report, and it is in no way connected to the general movement, legitimate though it may be, to free Sunday trading. This is something added to the Bill which has no place whatever in the Bill. That is why I would support the amendment.
§ Lord Denning
May I say just one word in support of the amendment? To understand it you have to go back to Section 17 of the 1950 Act. This is what it says:Subject to the provisions of this Part of the Act, on at least one week day in each week a shop assistant shall not be employed about the business of a shop after half-past one o'clock in the afternoon".I have heard no reason whatever why that provision should be repealed. There is nothing in the Auld Reort about it. What the Bill itself says is that it is still to apply but only for the purpose of regulating the employment of people who have attained the age of 18. Why should there be any difference between one and the other? In other words, I have seen no argument in the Auld Report or otherwise for repealing that section or the other sections in Part II of the Act. Therefore, I would support the amendment.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I should like to ask the noble Baroness who moved this amendment in such agreeable terms one question as to what she has in mind. As I understand the effect of her amendment, it is that the protection given by the various sections of the 1950 Act to shopworkers, instead of going when they have attained the age of 18, should continue until they have reached the age of 65. My question is this. Why does she draw the line there? I need hardly say in this Chamber that there are a good many people over the age of 65 who work. One needs only to look around to see the number of extremely distinguished examples of that.
I should have thought that if the protection of these sections is required for middle-aged workers, it is even more required for those who are over 65 and therefore in the ordinary way of nature probably less physically enduring and less fit. Therefore, I would have understood it if the noble Baroness had moved to remove this provision altogether. But deliberately to retain the protection only up to 65 and leave the over 151 65s unprotected seems, from the point of view of social legislation, very odd indeed.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask for clarification whether I am to understand that if the amendments that were not moved earlier today to delete Sections 17, 19 and 22 of the 1950 Act—amendments which do precisely what the noble Lord has just said—were to be moved at a later stage in the Bill, he would support them?
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
The noble Lord knows that that is a hypothetical question. He need not have worried about saying "Before the noble Lord sits down …" because we are in Committee so I can reply to him. If any of those amendments are moved, I shall listen to the arguments for them. I am not at the moment convinced of their validity; I am not convinced that there is any necessity for them but I hope that I am as fairminded as anyone of your Lordships and I shall listen to any arguments that may be adduced.
The noble Lord has committed the unkindness to the Committee of provoking me to continue longer than I was going to do. I only hope the Committee will forgive him. I would make the general comment on this debate that it is curious that noble Lords are saying, on the one hand, that shopworkers are increasingly in need of protection and, on the other hand, that they are less and less being represented by trade unions. It seems to suggest that the shopworkers themselves are not perhaps as conscious of this need for protection as noble Lords opposite seem to think.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
The Government have to be consistent. I do not think they can accept this amendment. I recognise how seductive are the arguments. The word "compassion" is used by the noble Baroness. Are we going to be less compassionate in 1985 then we were in 1950? Compassionate attitudes and a desire to do the right thing are just as acute now as they were then. You are not necessarily being compassionate and kind if you continue to do what we have done in the past, and that is to bring in legislation which is a shambles.
The reason we have this Bill at all is that by adding to the various pieces of legislation over 500 years we had reached the position in which the whole thing was in an unholy mess. It was not only unfair to the people trying to run their businesses: it was also making a nonsense of the law itself. The Auld Report went into the whole position and it stated, to paraphrase, that the situation was such a mess and such a shambles that we ought to wipe the slate clean, because it was not possible to go on amending and counter-amending, as had been done previously. Therefore, by our Second Reading vote we said we accepted that and, rather than have this jumble of contradictory legislation which brings the law into contempt and which does not bring about the sort of efficiency that we need in our retail industry, would wipe the slate clean and completely de-restrict.
We are only at the very beginning of this Bill, but if at this stage we start trying to retain some sections of what I have described as "the old shambles" I believe 152 we shall be on the way to retaining something that was not working, that was unfair and (in legal terms) a mess, and we shall be retaining it with that risk. I think, personally, this Bill is absolutely right. I think it is good sense; and I believe that in the long run it will be more compassionate to let this Bill go through with complete de-restriction. I do not fear, as many of your Lordships do, that people will be taking advantage of it or exploiting people on anything like the scale that has been suggested. What I have in mind is that the people who run businesses—those who are what I would call the potential exploiters (if that risk is there at all)—have already seen what happens where they virtually provoke legislation in order to give protection when they take undue advantage and, as I have said, where they exploit.
I believe the very fact that it would be possible for Parliament to come back and reintroduce some of these things will create an atmosphere which will make it quite unnecessary. I believe that the outlook of people in industry and in the retail industry is quite different today from what it was fifty years ago. They have seen what happens when Parliament is provoked into bringing in legislation. As a consequence of that, I think a lot of it will not be necessary.
Nor have I the dismal outlook that the noble Baroness has as regards the effectiveness of the trade unions. I believe we are now getting back to a position where the trade unions are going to be more effective in the future than they have been in the past, because they have gone through a phase where they have lost a lot of their influence because they had shown bias and extremism in many areas. That is being removed over the whole of the trade union movement in this country, and I believe that if any protection is needed it will be able to be obtained by codes of conduct, with the influence of the trade unions and with the altered outlook of the people who will be the employers. I do not think there is any need to think that the only answer to these problems is to bring in more legislation; and in this particular instance, if we pursue what we started when we recorded our vote on Second Reading, and if we wipe the slate clean, I am certain that, with the experience of the past, there as an inducement to do the right thing, and we shall find that we get greater efficiency without in any way interfering with fairness or in any way reducing the sort of compassion that we want.
If I am wrong on that, if my judgment is wrong and we do get people who, because of the absence of legislation, will exploit or try to take undue advantage, then I and others who will sit on these Benches both here and in another place will bring legislation back to deal with those conditions. Parliament is continuing: it has done that in the past, and will do it in the future. I believe that, like a lot of businesses, we have got ourselves into a mess. I have called it a shambles. Let us get that clear; and if it turns out that the lessons of the past do not have their influence on the future, then Parliament would have a duty. But if they did have to bring in legislation because my judgment was wrong as to whether or not there would be a need for it then the duty they would have would be to bring in new legislation with the knowledge they had at the time at which they were bringing it in, and not to keep in existence legislation which, enacted even as recently as 1950, is 35 years old.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Therefore, I would ask my noble friend to resist the very seductive and well-presented arguments that have been put up and, indeed, which have come from the Cross-Benches, too, rather surprisingly. I do not think that the consistency will do anything but good, and I would ask my noble friend to resist this amendment. I am certain the outcome will be that we shall have a more sensible arrangement in our retail industry in the future than we have had to tolerate over the last 50 years.
§ Lord Mishcon
Before the noble Lord sits down, for the benefit of the Committee would be explain why he thinks that the section in the Shops Act which is in force is not working properly? Would he like to produce that evidence to the Committee? He is talking about "shambles", and if he could explain that it would help us all to consider his speech in another light.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
Nobody knows better than the noble Lord that in terms of the law being applied through the courts and everywhere we had got to the point where it was a shambles. All these things added together: you did not know where you were; you knew that certain things that were supposed to be illegal were being disregarded and were not being brought before the courts; and you knew that it was being unfairly applied in one part of the country as compared to another. Nobody knows better than the noble Lord that that was the situation; and I do not believe that we shall get clear of that until the slate is wiped clean so that the thing is allowed to find its proper level, instead of foisting on Parliament legislation based on old-fashioned ideas which bear no relation to the times.
§ Lord Mishcon
Purely in order to get a logical argument before the Committee—and when the noble Lord presents it we always want to listen to it and see what force there is in it—the part that was the shambles that he was referring to is the principle of closing on Sunday, and deregulation. We are dealing now with labour provisions. Could he kindly tell the Committee, if he wishes us to take his speech as seriously as I am sure he would, what was a shambles about the labour provisions in the Shops Act 1950, and, specifically, what was the shambles in this section?
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
I do not know how many retail shops the noble Lord has owned or had to operate—
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
Just a minute: the shambles arose because the inspection of the terms of employment in shops was unfairly applied. On one occasion it was said that there were not enough inspectors in one area while in another area the inspectors were showing bias. I believe that the fairness being shown to the people who had to run the retail shops, because of the emphasis that was put on what 154 was being done in one area as compared to another, justifies the description "shambles" that I have given to it. If the noble Lord had had to operate it and had had to come face to face with it on some occasions, he would very likely have been of my opinion.
§ Lord Murray of Epping Forest
The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, addressed himself at the opening of his speech to the issue of consistency. Let me take the same theme and ask where the consistency is in the proposals which are before your Lordships' Committee. Great play has been made, quite properly, of the advantages which it is said consumers and customers will gain from this measure. A picture has been painted to us of them rushing out and maximising their satisfaction on Sunday mornings in a way they cannot do at any other time in the week. So be it.
What of the owners? Those who own shops and decide to open them on Sundays will do so because they expect and intend to benefit and to gain from it. Although not all owners, particularly owners of the larger shops, will themselves have to stand behind counters on Sundays serving half pounds of bacon or metres of cloth, they will gain.
But who will lose? The burden of Sunday opening will fall upon those who are employed in shops. It will fall upon those who have no option. I will come in a moment to the issue of the option which is apparently offered to those who are already in employment. The burden will fall upon those who will not be able to secure compensation and whose lot will be not as it is now, but worsened by this provision of the Bill.
Historically, as we have heard, workpeople in this industry have been in a weak negotiating position. That is why successive governments have introduced and have maintained the provision of wages councils. That is why, as we have heard, the Auld Committee emphasised the need to maintain and improve the wages councils provisions, and emphasised the need to increase inspection, which is the Achilles heel of wages councils.
Now, on top of what is proposed in the Bill, we are threatened, as has been said by my noble friend Lord McCarthy, with the weakening, or possibly even the repeal, of wages councils themselves. Certainly, there is no proposal whatsoever, so far as I know—and the noble Lord who is to reply will correct me if I am wrong—from the Benches opposite that we should increase the rate of inspection and enforcement by wages councils, or increase the numbers of inspectors in the wages councils inspectorate? If I am wrong, I shall be delighted to hear it.
So the very least we can do is to leave in place the existing meagre protections of the Shops Act which this amendment seeks to do. The alternative, if these are removed, will, I suggest, be an extension of the hours which people in shops are expected to work. But we are told that those who are in employment already will have the protections offered by the schedule which we have yet to discuss. I would not give you tuppence for that schedule in terms of the ability of not the more reputable, but the less reputable, employers to put pressure on their employees. Indeed, I should hope that this amendment would command the support of the good employers—among whom I count the noble 155 Lord, Lord Sainsbury—in order to protect them from the invidious and unfair competition which will be adduced by employers of the other kind. In introducing the amendment, my noble friend Lady Turner talked about this as a modest amendment. I regard it as pitifully little, but as the very least that this House can do on behalf of those who otherwise will bear the burden of the consequences of this legislation.
§ Lord Glenarthur
We have had a long debate on this issue. It is the first of many concerning shopworkers—a different theme from that which has occupied us in the earlier two days in Committee, and indeed earlier this afternoon. The amendment is similar to the next amendment, No. 19, in that it seeks to reinstate the employment restrictions of the 1950 Act for shopworkers, but I suggest is much more lavish in that it seeks to reinstate the restrictions for all shopworkers up to the age 65, not just those up to the age of 21 to which we shall no doubt come later. This would, in effect, mean that the current employment provisions of the 1950 Act will continue to apply to the vast majority of shopworkers, not just to those aged between 16 and 18 as the Bill intends.
But this amendment seems to smack of something of a contradiction and I think that what I shall say now bears out much of what was said earlier by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. If it is a basic principle that the statutory employment provisions of the 1950 Act are deemed necessary for shopworkers, it is difficult to see why they cease to be necessary merely because an employee is over the age of 65.
In the distributive trades, some 5 per cent. of male employees and 7 per cent. of female employees are aged 65 and over. What of them? The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, began her remarks by using the words "caring"—indicating that what we are proposing indicates less care—and "compassion". I really cannot see that there is much care or compassion, at any rate for those people over 65, so far as the amendment is concerned.
But let me return to the main strand of the argument. The Government believe that the statutory employment restrictions of the 1950 Act are simply outdated and unnecessary nowadays; and this, perhaps, is an answer to the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, who quoted what I said on Second Reading. The provisions merely set shopworkers' meal breaks and require weekly half-day holidays and time off in lieu of Sunday working. Those amendments have not been moved. I could elaborate on them. But I cannot feel in 1986 that tea breaks, for example, are the kind of matters which should be written into primary legislation in the way suggested now—
§ Lord McCarthy
Is the noble Lord saying that tea breaks and lunch breaks do not matter to these workers, or is he saying that they get them without the law?
§ Lord Glenarthur
What I am saying is not at all that they do not matter to the workers. I am sure that they matter to the workers. They matter to all sorts of people. What I am saying is: is it the kind of matter which should be written into the law in the way that exists under the 1950 Act, and is it not something 156 which could be negotiated reasonably between the people who are working in shops and those who employ them? I shall continue to develop that theme—
§ Lord Glenarthur
My noble friend Lord Stockton makes the valuable point that it has existed for many years. What I am trying to suggest to the Committee is that just because it has existed for so long it is not necessary now to maintain it, because the conditions have changed. I am endeavouring to explain that circumstances have changed, and to develop the argument so as to explain precisely why they have changed. The fact is that they are ineffective in controlling the length of the working week or day because they do not set maximum hours for adults. Here I am talking about the provisions which already exist. As I have said, there is no reason why shopworkers, like their counterparts in other sectors of the economy—and probably many of us have direct experience of precisely this—should not settle their conditions of employment with their employers. This is a theme which was developed by my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls. I now turn to the question of the wages councils—
§ Lord Mishcon
Before the noble Lord leaves that point, which is so important and which the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, has so rightly brought to our attention, will be please deal with this matter? Everybody has said that the shopworker is the worker who, unfortunately, is least protected by trade unions. Therefore, is it not proper that we protect those workers by primary legislation, because to a large extent there is nobody who can negotiate for them?
§ Lord Glenarthur
I am not sure that the noble Lord is right in saying that there is no one to negotiate for them. Let us take some of the instances which we shall need, to explain the situation. Let us take, for example, meal breaks under, I think, Section 19 of the 1950 Act. Are we really to believe that adult shopworkers are unique among employees in that they are unable to sort out their tea and meal breaks with their employers? Are we really to believe that they want or need the full weight of an Act of Parliament to determine those points—
§ Lord Glenarthur
—and an army of officials to see that they are enforced? I fundamentally disagree. This kind of restriction is totally unnecessary nowadays. The adult shopworkers, like their fellow employees elsewhere, are quite capable of deciding that kind of thing.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He has made a fundamental point. The noble Lord the Minister has put forward the view that this should be pursued by negotiation. This is very important. If the noble Lord found from the debates on this Bill and elsewhere that 157 shopworkers had difficulty in getting some employers to negotiate, would he advise his right honourable friend to bring in suitable legislation to support a right to bargain for such workers?
§ Lord Glenarthur
What I can say is that from Scotland we have some experience of the way the situation works. Perhaps I may develop that theme. If it is the view of noble Lords opposite that working on Sunday or working at any time of the day and meeting these needs is so difficult a matter that this has to be enforced by the kind of legislation which is being suggested, how is it that the system works so well in Scotland? How is it that there are those who actually prefer to work at odd times? How is it that it has become popular not just for the normal weekdays but presumably for Sundays as well?—because, of course, the same needs might apply there in regard to breaks and to conditions of the sort we are talking about now.
Perhaps I may develop my argument slightly, or we shall not get very far with this amendment. I should like to bring in the question of the wages councils, because that is a matter central to the argument we are discussing. The noble Lords, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran and Lord McCarthy, dwelt on this issue. They quoted from the relevant paragraphs of the Auld Report. They are quite right to say that consideration of the role of wages councils was not directly within the terms of reference of the Auld Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, was good enough to suggest that they themselves recognised that. The Government, however, took account of all the points of view expressed during the extensive consultation on the operation of the councils, not least the effect of their provision on employment.
The Government concluded, first, that the system of wages councils should be retained; but, secondly, that the system as it stands imposes unacceptable burdens on employers and that it inhibits the growth of employment, especially for young people. Young people are those whom it is often suggested may suffer most. The Government therefore intend to limit the powers of the councils to setting a single minimum hourly rate and overtime rate for those aged 21 and over. As the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, indicated, this decision has already been announced, and a Bill will shortly be laid before Parliament giving effect to it. This is in keeping with the broader strategy of deregulation, and against this background there could be no question of extending the role of the wages councils.
The Government also accept that there may be a case for continuing the restrictions on the hours of work of young people. That is why they have left the provisions of the 1950 Act intact for those over compulsory school-leaving age but under the age of 18. The 1950 Act and preceding legislation clearly distinguished between those shopworkers aged 18 and over and those who are younger. It provided much more detailed restrictions for young shopworkers. It is sensible and quite logical to leave those restrictions well alone until a detailed review can be made of this and other legislation governing young people's hours of work. The Shops Act contains provisions very similar to those in the factories and related legislation, 158 and it would be premature to tackle one lot in isolation from the rest and in advance of the review's findings.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, raised the question of enforcing authorities and why those authorities should be kept as separate pieces of machinery. I hope I have that point correctly. I can tell the noble and learned Lord that it seems sensible to leave the enforcement of the provisions of the Shops Act with the local authorities and the enforcement of the orders of the wages councils with the wages inspectorate. Each authority naturally has its own particular expertise and experience. I do not suppose that the noble and learned Lord would disagree that individual experience of how these pieces of machinery operate in each field is necessary for their proper operation. Secondly, with regard to young people, the Government are conducting a review of all the legislation governing young people's hours of work, and it would therefore be premature to alter the enforcement provisions in advance of that review.
Times have changed. It is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and other noble Lords who support him to suggest that that is not the case, but the fundamental arrangement whereby people who go to work in shops and in other occupations come to arrangements with their employers has changed in 35 years since the 1950 Act came into force. It would be totally unrealistic to think otherwise. Conditions have changed in dozens of areas, and conditions have certainly changed here. As I said earlier, I do not believe that they any longer require the kind of backing that is provided by this Act. It is a fundamental part of this Bill that this change should go ahead. I have listened with care to the arguments that have been expressed from the Benches opposite, obviously with considerable feeling, but I have to say that I am not persuaded by a single one of them. That is why I must ask the Committee to reject the amendment.
The Earl of Stockton
I must say frankly that I do not like this Bill at all, but we settled that point at Second Reading. I do not like it out of a traditional feeling that we are sacrificing, by what I can only call a sort of Pakistani relief Act, a very old tradition—because that is the chief object of the Bill: to make a lot of small shops legal which are now illegal. We are sacrificing a very old tradition. We are making another move in the gradual secularisation of our people and in abandoning the old principles which made our forebears great and kept them powerful. However, that is not the point now; we have done that.
What I do not see is the argument which my noble friend Lord Glenarthur and my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls and others have introduced: that we ought somehow to go on a quite different issue, a purely economic issue, to this new extreme which seems, greatly to my regret, to have inspired part of my party. There are no longer the principles of Lord Shaftesbury, Mr. Disraeli or Mr. Churchill. We are reverting to a form of neo-Cobdenism based upon the worst elements of the Manchester school, supported by aphorisms that would have done honour to that popular writer, Dr. Samuel Smiles. The paternalist elements and traditions of the Tory Party that come from its very roots are now unpopular. We are making a great error. It is because the people as a whole trusted 159 those whom they regarded as their natural leaders to help them, support them and protect them that we have had the great authority in the past in our country.
This Bill is meant to regulate Sunday trading—that is all right—to make it all legal. We have just rejected an amendment that I thought was attractively argued, which would have meant that shops would have to close on Sunday afternoon. I would have been much happier if the amendment had said that shops should be closed on Sunday morning. But this Bill is quite different. It is saying that because it is impossible to please or satisfy some opinions, and in order to please some strange new doctrine of liberalisation, we should adopt all the worst elements of the liberal Victorian tradition, which has somehow infiltrated my old party like some kind of disease. Are we to abandon a principle that has nothing to do with the main purpose of this Bill?
I do not know the details of the Shops Act because I have only been able to pick them up as I have followed the debate. It may be that some of the provisions of this Bill may be altered. It is said that some will not apply to employers after the age of 65. Sixty-five is a tuppenny age; a 65-year-old is quite a young person!
The Earl of Stockton
It is rather a pettifogging argument to say that the drafting stops at the age of 65. I should have thought that there would have been no difficulty about a phrase that made it clear that the provisions covered the whole of a person's working life.
I just feel that we should have in this debate an opportunity for the Government either to accept the spirit of this amendment or to tell the Committee that they will approach this whole problem with a rather more constructive purpose. The Bill is meant to make it possible for people to trade freely on Sundays. Whether or not they will do so on a great scale we do not know. But that is what this Bill is for. It is not meant to make life more difficult for shop assistants. It is not meant to make the conditions of their labour worse. I am not talking now about the kind of shops that probably will not open on a Sunday anyway; great employers of large, well-managed institutions. Or if they do, I am sure that they will not try to exploit their workers. Of course they will not. But there are many small shops that will take advantage of this legislation. They will be just the kind of people who will try to exploit the weak and often transient population who are kind of people likely to become shop assistants.
I would have thought that given the present state of unemployment, especially north of the Trent, such people needed more protection than ever before. As one noble Lord has pointed out, there was 2 per cent. unemployment in 1950. In my old part of the world that I knew so well, it is now more like 13 or 14 per cent. People in such areas are more easily exploited. I do not imagine that the unions there are any stronger or are likely to become any stronger, because in a situation of perpetually moving employees, it is difficult to achieve union recruitment.
160 Perhaps my noble friend will say to the Committee that this amendment may not have very good legal effects. He may say that it has some anomalies but that before this Bill leaves this House, the Government will make sure that we will preserve all the protection that now exists for the people who will be working under it. We may make people free to buy or sell on Sundays, in the mornings or afternoons, because that is what this Bill is for. But it is not meant to do anything else.
Let us remember that the great commandment that was handed down to God's chosen people was perhaps the greatest social reform in the history of civilisation; the concept that every man or woman, however humble, should have at least some period of rest. That was an enormous advance. We hardly realise what it has meant to the history of the world. Let us have our Sunday trading—as much as we like. We know that there have to be many anomalies now. Many people working in the social services, in the police and in other essential services, and in industrial operations that use hot metal all have to work day after day without intermission. But we should so far as we can preserve the existing protection. If this amendment is not the right method then we should find some other way of enclosing in this Bill a clause that will make it perfectly clear that the Bill does no injury at all, and is prevented from doing any injury at all, to the rights that have been so long-won for the humbler people in our country; won as much by both parties but conspicuously as a result of the old Tory tradition. Those rights were won for people who could not protect themselves and who had least power.
Your Lordships should make sure that before this Bill leaves us it incorporates a clause or clauses that will reinstate, in whatever form the draftsman thinks is right, the whole system of preserving rights and of preventing the exploitation of a large class of people who are perhaps among the weakest in our great industrial and commercial system. I beg your Lordships to do that. Whether or not we agree upon this Bill from a sabbatarian point of view is not the issue. It should leave at least this domain with everyone determined that nothing should flow from it that may do some injury to any—and especially to the weakest class.
I fear that I ought not to have intervened, but I listened to the whole debate and I was moved by it. I remember that when I led my party in the House of Commons, I warned young Members that on no account should they attend Committee stages of Bills. I told them that if they did so, they would always want to vote for the amendments because the arguments put up by the Government would not convince them. I told them to stay in the Smoking Room and to come out and vote when the bell rang. I am afraid that I have not followed my own advice today.
I just make this plea. Whether or not one intends to review other possibilities and the suggestions of other organisations, one should not let the fact that something is confusing or untimely serve as an excuse. The sole purpose of this Bill is to allow one to buy and sell on Sundays. Everything that we have built into legislation during the long struggle for the uplifting and benefiting of the mass of our people, and every other right, should be strictly preserved, and if necessary legislatively restated.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My noble friend Lord Stockton has given us a powerful example of the very important feelings which lie behind so much of his enormous experience. He was quite right to intervene after listening to the arguments, and I am sure that we are all grateful to him for expressing his views with such clarity.
With respect to my noble friend, much of what he said went wider than the amendment we are now dealing with. He touched on all sorts of areas concerned with the Bill. That is, of course, quite understandable because, as he so rightly says, the Bill encompasses a great deal when one is talking about the whole philosophy not just of Sunday trading but of weekday trading, too, and those who work in shops as well as go to the shops to buy whatever they wish to buy.
On this amendment I am afraid there is no question of advising your Lordships that there is any hope that I can take it away and come forward with anything better on the principle involved. We shall come to other amendments in due course and I shall listen with great care to what is said on them. As arguments develop there may be some scope to try to find some sort of way forward. What my noble friend Lord Stockton said in encompassing the whole question of employment in this Bill is that he hopes there is some way of protecting shopworkers in some form.
My noble friend did not, if I heard him right, seek to suggest that this was the only amendment in which there may be scope; but he encompassed the whole employment side of the Bill. We shall have to take those amendments on their merits and no doubt my noble friend, with his great experience, will listen to the arguments that are put forward by those who promote the amendments and to the response from this Dispatch Box.
However, I rest where I did before my noble friend Lord Stockton intervened. Times have changed however much we may regret that they have. There have been changes for the better in many fields that affect shopworkers, shoppers and all concerned. There may be some changes for the worse; and we all have personal views on that. I believe that what we are trying to achieve with this Bill, in allowing for the fact that those changes have taken place over the past 30 years and the way shopworkers come to arrangements with their employers, is not dissimilar from the way that workers in other fields have come to arrangements with their employers. I do not think that it is realistic to suggest that shopworkers are peculiar in the respect that they require this extraordinary and weighty approach to their problems.
I do not detract for one second from their importance and the valuable part that they play in our national life. I support much of what is said on their behalf, but I cannot believe that to proceed along these lines is anything other than an outdated approach to the problem and one that, in the end, will serve neither the country nor those employers in the way that both, in due time, would like to see.
§ Lord Mishcon
I can well understand the noble Lord's embarrassment after the very eloquent and telling intervention which brought back old memories 162 of an old party that was respected by this Opposition as well as by others.
I merely record this. The noble Lord the Minister has not answered the noble Earl's main point—that is, that this Bill should not in any way decrease the protection given to workers under the 1950 Act. That is not supposed to be the purpose of this Bill. Talk in terms of times changing and suggestions that shopworkers can negotiate with employers were answered very clearly by the noble Earl when he said, as is the truth, that this is a largely unprotected system of employment in our country and that the employees in the industry are even less protected now than in 1950 because of the unfortunate level of unemployment.
That must be faced by the noble Lord the Minister. If he persists in saying, "No, I will not take this away to consider whether 'sixty-five' should be inserted or whether we ought to have an age limit at all; and I am not going to sacrifice my opposition to Clause 2 going out of the Bill", then I say to the noble Lord the Minister that he has painted for himself and for his Front Bench an even worse picture than the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, painted.
§ Lord Glenarthur
In responding to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, may I say that on this particular amendment I do not in all honesty see scope for taking it away and coming back with an alternative either in principle or in detail? What I said, and the noble Lord did not refer to this, was that I would consider the other amendments that come forward—and there are some down in the names of my noble friends which may have some scope and I shall need to listen very carefully to the arguments—before I decide what can be done. I did not rule out—and this was very much the theme of the admirable speech of my noble friend Lord Stockton—that there may be some scope in due course.
We are now in the position of debating one amendment which relates to one particular aspect and which proposes the age of 65. The next amendment brings us down to the age of 21. What we must do, and what I shall do, is listen with great care to what is said on the other amendments concerning this theme and others before deciding how to proceed. In the meantime, it is only right to stick to what I said on the principle, even if the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, does not like it, that times and circumstances have changed and that what we are doing is not unfair and is perfectly correct and reasonable.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
There are many of us who wish the Bill well but have expressed unease on this amendment, though we do not necessarily or at all wish to cling to modes of protection which are out of date. What we ask is to be reassured that any system that may now supervene will give this class of worker, whom we regard as peculiarly vulnerable, protection which is at least as good as other ways they have heretofore had under statute. If the noble Lord can give that assurance and convince us, speaking for myself, I should be very well content.
§ Lord Glenarthur
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, asked for an assurance. I should 163 certainly like to study what he said, and I shall do that, anyway. But what I cannot give is an absolute assurance from this Dispatch Box now without studying the point that he made. I shall certainly study what has been said. Many valuable points have been made. However, perhaps the noble Baroness would now like to wind up from her side.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
Thank you. I have listened very carefully to what the Minister said. However, in view of the fact that he has not found it possible to give the assurances that I seek, I have no alternative, I fear, but to press the amendment. The reason I say that is that I cannot accept the argument that things have changed and we do not now need the protections that were thought necessary in the Shops Act 1950.
I refer to the Auld Report. It says in paragraph 284:outside the retail trade this sort of protection"—that is the Shops Act—and often very much better, is usually to be found in collective agreements. In the case of shopworkers, with their weak bargaining position, protection can only be given in this statutory way".That was written in 1984, which is not long ago.
We have to press the amendment if we are to preserve the minimal provisions in the Shops Act 1950. I think that that was the main thrust of the wonderful speech of the noble Earl, Lord Stockton. He was saying that we should not do away with existing protection in order to provide liberties of a different kind for a different section of the population; and that was the main burden of my speech in moving the amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, made the proposition that in my amendment I was not looking after people over the age of 65. That age was written into the amendment because it is the state retirement age for men and one hopes that people have pension provision after that age. If the noble Lord moved an amendment on Report to extend the age beyond 65, I should be happy to support it.
The main contention remains. We wish to preserve the minimum protections for people working in shops. As I said earlier, that is one in 10 of the population. I regret to say that there is inadequate trade union organisation among that large group of workers. I repeat that it is not easy to organise a workforce where there is a high turnover and where there is not much legislative assistance to unions to organise and, once people are organised, to get their employers to recognise them. For all those reasons, I wish to press the amendment.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 18B) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 112; Not-Contents, 120.165
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Airedale, L.||Bacon, B.|
|Amherst, E.||Blease, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Bledisloe, V.|
|Aylestone, L.||Blyton, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Longford, E.|
|Brentford, V.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||McNair, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Mar, C.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Collison, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Crawshaw of Aintree, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|David, B.||Mulley, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Denington, B.||Ogmore, L.|
|Denning, L.||Oram, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Parry, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Eldon, E.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Ennals, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Rea, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Robertson of Oakridge, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Glenamara, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]||Sainsbury, L.|
|Grantchester, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Grey, E.||Serota, B.|
|Grimond, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Heycock, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Hunter of Newington, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Ingleby, V.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Jeger, B.||Underhill, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Vernon, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Kagan, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Whaddon, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Kissin, L.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Winstanley, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Cork and Orrery, E.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Cox, B.|
|Allerton, L.||Cranbrook, E.|
|Ampthill, L.||Davidson, V.|
|Auckland, L.||Denham, L. [Teller.]|
|Bauer, L.||Dilhorne, V.|
|Beloff, L.||Drumalbyn, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Dundee, E.|
|Bessborough, E.||Effingham, E.|
|Birdwood, L.||Elibank, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Elliott of Morpeth, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Elton, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Erroll, E.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Fortescue, E.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Gainford, L.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Gibson-Watt, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Gisborough, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Glanusk, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Gray of Contin, L.|
|Cameron of Lochbroom, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Hanworth, V.|
|Colwyn, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Harris of High Cross, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Harvington, L.||Pender, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Hives, L.||Plummer of St Marylebone, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Radnor, E.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Renwick, L.|
|Ilchester, E.||Rochdale, V.|
|Kimball, L.||Rugby, L.|
|Kinnoull, E.||St. Davids, V.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Loch, L.||Selborne, E.|
|Long, V.||Shannon, E.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Sharpies, B.|
|Lyell, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|McFadzean, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Somers, L.|
|Margadale, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Marshall of Leeds, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Merrivale, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Monson, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Tryon, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Munster, E.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Napier and Ettrick, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Nelson of Stafford, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Norrie, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L.||Yarborough, E.|
|Onslow, E.||Young of Graffham, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.41 p.m.
Lord Oram moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 1, line 13, leave out ("eighteen") and insert ("twenty-one").
§ The noble Lord said: When the Minister was replying to the last debate he said that he could not accept the amendment but that he would look favourably on some subsequent amendment, and the noble Lord referred to the one in my name. I hope that this will be one upon which he can look with a favourable eye for the reasons that I shall explain. In order to appreciate the special purpose of this amendment, as distinct from the last amendment, it is necessary to look not only at what this Bill proposes to do to shopworkers but also at what the Government propose to do in another Bill which has not yet seen the light of day but the outline of which has already been made clear. I refer, of course, to the Bill that will drastically reduce the powers of wages councils.
§ At the present time, shopworkers have two defences against exploitation. There is Part II of the 1950 Shops Act, discussed during the debate on the previous amendment. Secondly, the position of shopworkers is safeguarded by orders issued by the two wages councils covering the retail trades, one for workers in food trades and one for other retail workers. As I have said, we do not yet know the details of the Bill that will deal with wages councils but we have had a very clear outline of what it will contain in principle.
§ Mr. Tom King, when Secretary of State for Employment, stated that wages councils would be reformed rather than abolished, but that they would be reformed in such a way that they would have no powers in respect of workers under 21. Moreover, even 166 for the over-21s they would have power only to set a minimum hourly rate of pay and one overtime rate of pay. So far as shopworkers are concerned, this will be, in my view, a gross diminution of the powers of the present councils. At present, they can deal with such matters as holidays, meal breaks and premium rates of pay for Sunday working. But all that, if the Government have their way in respect of the two Bills, will be done away with.
§ A particular group of workers will be especially disadvantaged if this Bill is not amended. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, referred, I believe, to what he called the lacuna, the gap in the provisions that the Government are bringing forward together with what they propose to do in the forthcoming wages councils Bill. I refer to the group of workers who have passed their eighteenth birthday. Below that birthday, they will still be protected by the present Bill. But those who have not yet reached their twenty-first birthday will have no protection either under this Bill or under a wages council. The group of people who are aged 18, 19 and 20 will be deprived of the protection of the 1950 Act and they will be deprived in future of any action by the wages council. They will therefore be left without any statutory protection at all.
§ My amendment would put that right. It would give them the same protection as they have at present under the 1950 Act until the age of 21. It may be said, and it has been said by the noble Lord. Lord Glenarthur, that things have changed and that they can have the protection of their trade unions. What the Auld Committee said, and what was said in the previous debate, makes it clear that it is most difficult to recruit into trade union membership this particular group of workers. It is difficult for trade union organisers to contact them in the very varied circumstances of the retail trading industry. For these reasons, they are most unlikely to have good protection from trade unions. These 18, 19 and 20 year-olds will be in the position of having no statutory protection at all and very weak organisation of their trade unions. It is for that reason that I am proposing in my amendment that we delete "eighteen" and insert "twenty-one". That, I believe, would fill this gap and give protection to what, in other circumstances, is a very vulnerable section of the shopworkers. I beg to move.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
I asked a question which the noble Lord, Lord Oram, has kindly repeated. I asked it on the last amendment. I did not press the noble Lord the Minister because I thought that he would probably prefer to answer it on this amendment. It really comes to this. If the over-21s need any sort of wage council assistance, why do not the 18 to 21 year-olds? Their case would seem an even stronger one. I am not particularly wedded to raising the age to 21. For most purposes nowadays people are regarded as adults at the age of 18. But what it seems to me is intolerable and barely understandable is that there is this gap when a group of persons whom one would think more vulnerable than the over-21s are left without either shops inspectorate protection or wages council protection.
§ Lord Glenarthur
As the noble Lord, Lord Oram, has described, this amendment would retain the provisions not only for young people but also for adults up to the age of 21. The Shops Act 1950 makes a clear distinction between adults and young people. I think that this is the point which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, was making. That Act lays down more detailed employment provisions for young people. A young person is defined as someone who is over compulsory school-leaving age but under the age of 18. As I think I said in relation to the last amendment, this is in line with the definition of young people in the Factories Act and related legislation, which also contains provisions on permitted working hours of young people.
The Auld Committee suggested that the case could be made for some form of continued protection for young people. We consider, therefore, that keeping the 1950 restrictions pending a review of all the legislation concerned with young people's hours recognises the need which the Auld Report so clearly set out.
We see no need to retain restrictions governing the employment of anyone over the age of 18 in shops. The question was asked: why is it 18 and not 21? I must make it clear that there will be ample opportunity to discuss wages council and pay rates when the Bill reaches your Lordships' House. However, as far as this Bill is concerned our predecessors saw fit to distinguish between young people and adults when setting their conditions of work and we are continuing that distinction for the time being, and, accordingly, we believe that the restrictions on hours for those aged 18 and over are simply no longer necessary.
On the question of the wages councils, again (and may I reiterate this?) they are being retained. However, the response to the consultative paper on wages councils showed a widespread support for reform, and hence the changes which were announced by my noble friend Lord Young in July. These reforms were necessary because wages council statutory rates and premium rates are too high, especially for young people. The effect of these rates is to price people out of work. Our reforms should encourage employers to take on more workers, and they should be encouraged to take on more young workers. It is particularly important at this time, with the regrettably high level of unemployment to which reference was made at some length when we debated the previous amendment.
So far as concerns the suggestion that the reform of the wages councils and the removal of trading restrictions might eliminate practically all statutory measures designed to protect shopworkers, I have to say that wages councils will continue to set a minimum rate and overtime rate for those aged 21 and over; and it is important to remove the over-regulation and the effects on job creation caused by the present system.
I do not think it is fair to suggest that the exclusion of young people leaves them particularly vulnerable to exploitation. The most important thing, as I have stressed, is to get young people into jobs, because in this way they will gain the experience and self-confidence that comes, as I am sure we all realise, with a crucial first job. The exclusion of people under 21 from wages council regulations will, I suggest, help to promote their employment.
168 Although we are discussing one particular amendment, we are naturally bringing into our discussions those which lie ahead of us when we come to the Bill which deals with wages councils. On this amendment I have to say that it would add yet another category of employee for employers to consider; and it would be a completely unnecessary complication. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Oram, will see the force of that argument. It is not unrelated to the discussion that we had on the earlier amendment. I hope that the noble Lord will realise that and will not feel it necessary to press this amendment.
The Minister has explained why "eighteen" is in the Bill, because that is the age which applies to employment in other categories of commerce and industry. He has also agreed with my interpretation of what Mr. Tom King said: that the wages councils Bill will provide wages council protection for those aged 21 upwards. But for the gap in between—those aged 18, 19 or 20—I find his answer most unsatisfactory. As I said in my opening remarks, it is leaving them without the statutory protection of either wages councils or the similar provisions in the 1950 Act. They will be completely without protection other than their trade union membership. As I have explained, and as the Auld Committee makes very clear, that is a most difficult piece of organisation to achieve.
The real reason which the noble Lord has given for leaving that group of workers in such a weak position is that the Government are determined to bring their already poor wages lower still in order to employ them. That is something which we on this side of the Committee cannot accept.
However, I recognise that my amendment overlaps very considerably with a Bill which we have not yet seen and which we shall have the opportunity of discussing in the future. I recognise that it might be better for discussions on these and a wider range of points to be taken up at that time. I am in no way accepting what the Minister has said—in no way at all. But I feel that it would not be appropriate for me to press this to a Division at this stage. We shall reserve our opinion about the wages councils Bill until we see it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I have previously given notice of an intention to oppose the Question, That the clause stand part of the Bill. We have had a very good debate on the earlier amendments so ably moved by my colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. That provided a number of insights. It was the first indication by the Government that they may be prepared to accept some amendments on this part of the Bill. That was not in response to the speech by my noble friend but came in the Minister's second intervention after the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, had made his very powerful speech.
The Minister and his noble friends behind him have constantly urged upon the Committee that it should 169 trust the Government, that something will turn up, that they have something in mind, give them time, but that in the meantime they should please pass this Bill unamended, untouched. What my noble friends are saying on this argument is that the Minister should have come forward at an earlier time than the very close vote which we saw on the previous amendment and should have said: "We recognise that we may not have got this right so far as the employment protection clauses are concerned."
As regards Clause 2, the employment clause, we have sought piecemeal and in global terms to test the Minister as to whether there is any hope or possibility of the kind of protections which we believe we need. In response to my intention to oppose the Question, That Clause 2 stand part of the Bill, yet again the Minister has the opportunity to give us, not copper-bottomed guarantees, but the hope for which we have been looking.
In earlier speeches reference was made to the need to protect and retain the existing protections for many workers—not merely those who work in shops but those who work in retailing and distribution. They need not be shopworkers; they may be warehousemen, lorry drivers, or office workers who are ancillary to serving in shops. We are talking in terms of more than two million men and women. A good number of them are unorganised, are women and are part-time workers. We are not talking in terms of a cohesive, single group; we are not even talking in terms of one trade union. The prime unions involved are the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, the Transport and General Workers' Union, the General and Municipal Workers' Union, ASTMS, NALGO and others. All have members involved in this trade and all are appalled at the intention of and the necessity for Clause 2.
I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, did the Committee a powerful service in trying to get the Government to face this matter. The general public overwhelmingly think that the Government are simply trying to bring shopping hours up to date. I reject any charge that there is a "clamour" (that word is not mine; it is in the Auld Report) for a general opening of shopping hours. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, for reminding the Committee that the shopping hours have been the main burden of the debate, so why go beyond that remit?
I remind the Minister that people are entitled to be suspicious that the Government are not merely tidying up but restricting. The headline in the London Standard tonight is: "New Curbs on Unions". The Minister will I hope forgive trade unions for believing that part of the nexus of this Bill is a platform used by the Government to tighten, restrict and remove existing protections not just for shopworkers but also for those in retailing and distribution. It is part of the raison d'être of this Government in their attitude to and confrontation with trade union members.
We on this side of the Committee have listened very carefully. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, in debating the earlier amendment on Clause 2, advised, "not at this stage". I have read very carefully previous debates in this House on the Bill promoted by the noble Baroness, Lady 170 Trumpington—the Trumpington Bill. Four members opposite said that in any legislation they wanted to protect the workers in the industry. A great many people support the deregulation of shopping hours. I want to examine very carefully how it affects employees. Those who represent the interests of shopworkers and those in retailing and distribution are in no doubt about what they think of Clause 2. There is no doubt that USDAW detests the whole raison d'être of the Bill. Not only is that union opposed to Clause 2, but it is also opposed to Clause 1. It represents about one million of the two million workers. If organised labour says that it wishes these protections to remain, how can we judge the views of the one million unorganised workers who are primarily women and who are primarily part-time, working 16 or 20 hours a week? I can assure the Minister that the views put forward by the unions involved in these matters reflect very faithfully and well the general interest of members in that particular category.
The Auld Report has been used selectively by anyone who wishes to make an argument, and I am no exception. For the clause stand part debate I have the appropriate references in the Auld Report. Quite clearly that committee went outside its brief and one wonders why it decided to do so in relation to that recommendation. It presented the Government not merely with a recommendation completely to deregulate shopping hours, but it also said that if shopping hours were to be deregulated, there should be a strengthening not only of the wages councils but of the wages inspectorate. I wonder whether the Minister has ever contemplated what the members of the Auld Committee would say if, tonight or tomorrow, they had a conversation with him or this Committee on what the Government have done with their recommendations.
One of the members of the Auld Committee, Miss Frances Cairncross, at a conference organised by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, was quite blunt. She said that there is no logic in the Government's action in respect of the employment clauses following deregulation. The Government do not have a friend from informed sources upon which they sought to prevail in giving advice to the Auld Committee as to the logic and necessity for this. If there is complete deregulation, this Bill will not be a shops Bill but will be an employment Bill. Once the hours have been deregulated, it will be a Bill wholly concerned with the conditions, pay and negotiating stance of trade unions. With no disrespect to the Minister from the Home Office, who has dealt with this matter very fairly, honestly and forthrightly, it is a matter for the Under-Secretary for Employment.
Increasingly the Bill deals with deregulating employment. I say candidly to the Minister that he must tell those outside the House, the many friends of the Government in this House and his political friends in another place why he feels it is right and necessary. One only has to take the views of those who hitherto have written protections into statutes which 35 years later may not seem to be so important, to be reminded (as the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, reminded us), picking up a point made by my noble friend Lord McCarthy, that one radical difference between 1950 and 1985 is the jump from 2 per cent. unemployed to 171 15 per cent. unemployed. I do not intend either to frighten or to warn the Minister that the atmosphere as regards employment in Britain in 1986 is very frightening indeed for those who are unemployed and for those who are on the margin of employment.
The Minister deludes himself if he does not believe that there are some employers who will be forced, by the fierce competition that they will be in once this Bill becomes an Act, to look carefully at a number of matters which may have been the subject of collective agreements. With the disappearance of statutory protection they will say, "There is a chance to trim a fraction of a penny off the wage rates." That is what it is all about. The margins of retailing in 1985 are very fine indeed. The ability of a company, large or small, to survive let alone prosper will depend upon whether it gets its wage rates right.
I am not concerned about later amendments. I am concerned in Clause 2 and with the weakening of the protections which employees enjoy at the moment. They are statutory. There is no need to remove them. The Minister has an opportunity to say why that is necessary.
Earlier this evening I was unable to attend a meeting of the all-party retail group in this House. That is a committee of which I have the honour to be an officer. One of the matters they were going to discuss was the Shops Bill. One of the papers they had was a paper entitled "Reform of Wages Councils in the Context of the Shops Bill". The Minister may not have seen this, and I should like to read what The Retail Consortium are saying about the problems faced because of the juxtaposition of the Shops Bill with no knowledge of the content of the wages councils Bill.The Retail Consortium is very concerned, however, at the implications of any removal of restrictions on shop hours for pay and conditions in the retail industry. Thus, the Retail Consortium is concerned that the debate on the Shops Bill should run in parallel to the proposed measures to reform wages councils. It will be important to safeguard against a situation arising whereby wages council orders remain active concerning pay and conditions, after deregulation of shops hours legislation, but prior to new and restricted powers for wages councils coming into force. Ministers have noted the problem but not offered a solution.Earlier my noble friend Lord Oram dealt particularly with the gap between 18 and 21. It is not the Minister's fault (it is a matter of business management) but we are debating and being asked to approve clauses in the Shops Bill without the benefit of having knowledge of the detail of the other Bill. The Minister was quite right in reminding us that Mr. King, when he had responsibility, gave both Houses a look at the broad sweep of the legislation.
However, we are not looking at whether somebody is going to be able to go out and shop at the garden centre on a Sunday afternoon. We are not talking about someone who may have under-ordered in the supermarket on a Friday night. We are talking about men and women. We are talking about their conditions of work. We are talking about a real aspect of their lives, and that is the kind of protections which they have enjoyed. They are not large, and they have perhaps been bypassed in many good collective agreements not only negotiated by trade unions but agreed by good employers. We are not concerned about the good sense of good employers recognising 172 that in order to get the best out of their workers they need freely to negotiate good agreements. We are concerned about the million workers in retailing and distribution who are not organised at all. We are also concerned about the ambiance, the atmosphere, and environment which will persist once this Bill goes through.
That is why I believe that it is right, in view of the disappointing attitude of the Minister to earlier debates and the clear intention that the Government do not intend to come forward with any meaningful amendments, to move, That Clause 2 shall not stand part of the Bill.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
In parliamentary terms I should have liked the noble Lord, Lord Graham, to say that he would not push this matter to a vote. He has just made a very proper speech on the Question that the clause shall stand part of the Bill. It was full of detail that ought to be taken into account. We also had a detailed debate and an effective speech on the second amendment.
In parliamentary terms I should have felt, particularly in view of the response from the noble Lord in charge of the Bill, that it was proper to allow the noble Lord to confer with his colleagues who are responsible for this Bill to see what effect the arguments made on the amendments are likely to have on how they are likely to react in the future.
I do not think that it would be fair to expect an immediate reaction so soon after the arguments have been presented. I would have thought that it was good and accepted parliamentary procedure, knowing that the detailed and proper arguments are on the record, to give the Government a chance to consider the arguments. We still then have another chance at Report stage and Third Reading before this Bill goes out of our hands to another place.
While I accept the effective speech that the noble Lord has just made, I feel that it would have been helpful, having put the remarks on the record, to recognise that the speech would have to be considered and not to expect an off-the-cuff reaction to it. Having made clear the points to be considered, I feel that this matter should not be pushed to a vote.
§ Lord Denning
I have been rather embarrassed in all the discussions on this clause because in answer to the suggested amendments, what is really being said is, "Wait for the wages councils Bill". I do not have the first notion of what it is, or what is proposed. I doubt whether it is proper, in considering our clauses, to say, "Well, we may have something to deal with all this in a wages Bill which may be brought before the House later".
I should have thought that we ought to wait and consider that Bill, and that we ought to consider this clause on its merits as it stands without any notion of what the wages Bill would come to. Having said that, I would not go so far as to oppose the clause standing part of the Bill.
§ Lord Glenarthur
I do not think that it is necessary for me to reiterate what is removed in Part II of the 173 Shops Act by this Bill. What I should point out is that Part II contains more detailed restrictions specifically on the hours of young people than those we have been discussing. In particular their maximum hours and their overtime are set, and their employment at night is controlled. Shop occupiers will also have to keep records of their working hours. The Bill before us does not alter these provisions in any way. They are being kept unchanged, at least for the time being. It is important to say that because it sets in context the other areas of the Shops Act to which the noble Lord, Lord Graham, referred and which have been referred to by so many Members of the Committee today.
The policy behind Clause 2 has several strands. So far as concerns adult shopworkers, the Government have accepted the recommendation of the Auld Committee that all the provisions contained in Part II of the 1950 Act should be abolished. This may look harsh at first sight, but let us be absolutely clear that in practice these statutory restrictions for adults are ineffective and very limited in their scope. They do not in fact set the maximum working hours per week for adult shopworkers. Nor do the trading hours' restrictions impose an effective maximum because, after all, shops are free to open now for at least 20 hours a day for six days a week.
Furthermore, it cannot be denied that these restrictions are out of date. We have heard many arguments to suggest that that is not the case. I am afraid I cannot agree. They do belong to another era—one that is long past. They originated in the early days of this century and even the most recent is nearly 50 years old. Yet despite the changes that have occurred since then in the retail industry and in society generally, these provisions have not kept pace with the times.
The 1950 Act consolidated much earlier legislation from the early years of the century. Conditions for shopworkers then were certainly severe; for example, their working hours were excessive and 70 hours or more a week was very much the norm. But these conditions of 70 hours a week and so on are not in existence today, as I am sure your Lordships will only too readily recognise. The reduction is not due to the operation of the 1950 Act, which sets no maximum hours for adult shopworkers. It merely requires a half-day holiday a week, meal breaks are set down and time off in lieu of Sunday working.
The reduction is not entirely due to unionisation either, because, as has been stressed by noble Lords opposite, unionisation is not widespread in the retail sector. The reduction is not due to the limitations on shop hours because at present shops can open for the times and on the days I have mentioned. Yet this does not happen. The general improvements in working conditions for shopworkers are part of the general improvements to be found in so many different sectors of our national life. The reductions are not due to the 1950 Act as it stands today and this is why we have recommended the repeal of the Part II provisions for adults.
All these factors lead to the conclusion, to my mind, that the time for statutory limitations is over. There is no reason why adult shopworkers should be treated differently from other workers who settle their working 174 conditions through collective agreements or by individual agreement with the employer. This does not seem (how can it seem?) to lead to difficulties that cannot he worked out between employer and employee. This is precisely what happens in other sectors of the economy. They do not have, or, further than have, appear to need, this kind of inflexible statutory restriction.
What happens to all those shopworkers who, for example, have some sort of contract? The contract to work in a shop does not strike me as being so enormously different from the contracts that one might have or agree to in so many other different forms of life. It has been stressed—and I referred just now to the fact—that unionisation within the retail world is not as great as it may be in other areas. That is all very well but there still exists the opportunity to come to a sensible agreement on a contract basis. I do not see that in that case retail is so different from other occupations.
However, for young people the arguments are not so clear and the Auld Committee recognised this. Although we do not pretend that these provisions are anything but out of date, other considerations must also be taken into account. Young people who have recently left school may not have reached full intellectual and emotional maturity. They may have educational and recreational needs which should be taken into account in their work patterns. I am sure that is something we all readily understand. The Auld Report suggested that continuing protection could be given by adapting other, more general legislation when Part II was repealed. Tackling the Shops Act provisions in this way, however, did not seem a very sensible approach when we remember that they are just part of a raft of legislation governing young people's hours of work. Earlier I quoted the Factories Act. It would be unreasonable to tackle the Shops Act in isolation from the rest. The Government have decided, therefore, that a more sensible approach is to review all the legislation controlling young people's hours of work. It is, after all, high time that its relevance nowadays is assessed and a careful examination is made to see whether it could and should be updated.
As I have explained to the Committee, that review is in hand. The Health and Safety Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission have been asked to consider it and let us have views by the end of next June. In the meantime the Shops Act provision will be retained intact for young people. I am sure that your Lordships would agree that it would be premature to consider them in isolation from the rest, rather in the same way perhaps as the noble Lord, Lord Oram, generously suggested—although he could not agree with what I had said in relation to the previous amendment—that in view of the fact that wages council legislation would appear in due course it might be best (if I got the drift of his argument right) to deal with many of the matters which he raised when we reached that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Graham, said that he was not asking me for a copper-bottomed guarantee. Indeed, from what I said earlier I am sure he would have realised that I cannot give him a copper-bottomed guarantee. What I have said in relation to the other 175 amendments concerned with employment legislation, which form part of our consideration of this Bill, is that I will listen with the greatest possible care and study all the remarks made in connection with it. My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls was kind enough to say that he thought that was a reasonable way to proceed.
I cannot say any more than that. I shall study and listen with the greatest care to the arguments which will be put forward both today and when we next return to the matter. I believe, however, that the changes which this Bill produces for Part II of the Shops Act stand out as being a first-class example of the changes that ought to be made. As I said, I could not agree to both earlier amendments, but I hope that with the further insight to the reasoning that lies behind the view that the Government have taken the noble Lord will not press his case that Clause 2 should not stand part of the Bill.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
The Minister has said that he is prepared to look with the greatest possible care at subsequent amendments. I have been under the impression that the Minister considers every amendment with the greatest possible care, but there will be even greater care taken with those in future.
I was also taken by the reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. He gave nothing away but in effect said, "Don't press your luck. Something may be coming. Give the Minister time to reflect and to study what has been said". He also used the words—and these are his words—"Perhaps the Minister may be able to confer with colleagues to see what is forthcoming". I do not intend to press this matter to a vote at this stage, recognising that there are other amendments now and that there are other stages of the Bill yet to come.
The Minister ought to be quite clear—as he was kind and courteous enough to explain the context in which he felt unable to accept either amendment—why he wants Clause 2. The reason why shopworkers in particular are entitled to protection above and beyond that enjoyed by others is that, sadly, they receive one of the lowest rates of pay. Wages council rates for adult male workers in 1985 were less than £75 a week. When one looks at the statutory provisions which are being deleted and puts them in the context of the minimum statutory rate of pay for those workers in 1985 being £75 a week, I think one can see why even something that appears to be almost inconsequential to all Members of your Lordships' House because of their personal circumstances assumes an importance which is far greater to the shopworker.
I think the Minister referred to the fact that not many people work 70 hours a week now. I have to tell the Minister that I am told that many in the management grades in retailing are working up to and in excess of 70 hours a week because of the six-day week now. When it becomes a seven day week, I venture to suggest we shall hear many tales of people with responsibility who are forced to work more than 70 hours a week in order to keep their jobs and make their businesses successful.
I am quite content to debate with the Minister subsequent amendments and other clauses to see 176 whether it is possible for the Minister to be more helpful in the future than he has been up to this stage. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Lord Mishcon
Before the Question is put, I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister, bearing in mind that the Report stage is on 6th February, could communicate any concessions that he finds it possible to make before that date so that one knows intelligently how one should put down amendments at Report stage and save the time of the House.
§ Lord Glenarthur
What I said when we debated the earlier amendment was that I would consider carefully the arguments which were put forward on amendments subsequent to the one on which we had a Division an hour or so ago. I undertake to do precisely that. I am sure that the noble Lord will be able to tell as we progress through those various amendments what my inclination is. But I stand by what I said. I will study with great care what takes place. If there is any news that I can give the noble Lord I shall do so. What I am not promising to do, and have not promised to do at any stage, is to bring good news; merely to study what is said and to listen to the arguments to see precisely how we can go ahead.
§ Lord Mishcon
There is no difference between the noble Lord the Minister and myself on this point. I was merely hoping that we could, as it were, make the wheels move a little easier if the noble Lord the Minister indicated his intentions. Then we would know where we stood at Report stage. That is all I said.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Viscount Davidson
It may be for the convenience of the Committee if we take a break now. I suggest that we do not resume the Committee stage before half-past eight.
§ I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.