HL Deb 23 May 1991 vol 529 cc408-13

4.24 p.m.

Lord Newall

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

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Newall.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Strabolgi) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Amendment of Shops Act 1950]:

Viscount Brentford moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 9, leave out ("supply") and insert ("letting on hire").

The noble Viscount said: To save the time of the Committee, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5 as they all deal with the same point.

I am glad to say that following the Second Reading debate in the House there is no difference of opinion between my noble friend Lord Newall and myself on the main point, which is that the Bill should deal only with the letting on hire of videos and not with the selling of videos. The four amendments all cover the same point, by two different methods.

Amendment No. 1 in my name simply substitutes for the word "supply" in line 9 the words "letting on hire". That is simple and straightforward. The problem arises because the definition of "supply" in the Video Recordings Act 1984, as set out in Section 1(4), reads as follows: 'supply' means supply in any manner, whether or not for reward, and, therefore, includes supply by way of sale, letting on hire, exchange or loan; and references to a supply are to be interpreted accordingly".

Following Amendment No. 1 through, that would mean deleting the word "supply" in line 9 and substituting "letting on hire" and then deleting the words "'supply' and" in line 10, as set out in Amendment No. 2. On line 11 the plural would be changed to the singular—"have" to "has"—as my noble friend Lord Newall has stipulated in Amendment No. 5, with which I fully agree.

The alternative method is that proposed by my noble friend in Amendment No. 4, in which he gives "supply" a different meaning from that in the 1984 Act, restricting it to supply by way of letting on hire. That would have exactly the same effect as my Amendment No. 1. However, it is confusing that the word "supply" has two different meanings in connection with videos.

The problem in relation to Amendment No. 1 arises with the use of the word "supply" in the Title of the Bill. If it were not for that I should undoubtedly say that I preferred my version unequivocally. However, I appreciate that there is a problem because of the inclusion of the word "supply" in the Title of the Bill. Nevertheless, Amendment No. 1 seems to me to be much the more straightforward and much the easier amendment to adopt. I believe that it would result in less confusion in the future.

That only goes to show that the effect of the Bill is to increase the anomalies in relation to Sunday trading rather than to decrease them. I echo what my noble friend the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Reay—and I said at Second Reading, namely that we did not believe that dealing with the matter piecemeal was the right way forward. Nevertheless, that is the proposal at the moment. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

I spoke on the Bill at Second Reading when I said everything that I wish to say on the topic. The Opposition Front Bench is by convention neutral on Private Members' Bills and we are neutral on the whole question of Sunday trading. My stance on the amendments must consequently be neutral. My attitude must be that of the concerned but disinterested spectator, though I shall be actively interested to know the Government's attitude to the amendments.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, asked me to give the Government's views I shall be happy to do so.

The Government's position on the whole Sunday trading issue was explained by my noble friend Lord Reay during the Second Reading debate on this Bill to which my noble friend Lord Brentford referred.

We do not believe that the way forward lies in seeking to make fresh amendments to the fifth schedule to the Shops Act 1950. Our policy remains to try to assist those on both sides of the Sunday trading argument to reach agreement on proposals for legislation which are practicable, enforceable and capable of commanding widespread support both in Parliament and in the country at large. With regard to the amendments to the Bill, we are content to leave the question of acceptance or rejection entirely to the Committee to decide.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Newall

In principle, I have no problem with the amendment. It is entirely in line with my Amendment No. 4, which says exactly the same thing in a different way and gives effect only to the hire, not the sale, of video cassettes on a Sunday. In many areas it is that vital trade—not the sell through market—that is being damaged by the Shops Act 1950. My noble friend's amendment, which seeks to remove the word "supply" and insert the phrase "letting on hire", is similar to my amendment. However, although they would have the same effect via a different route and would remove the word "supply", I do not think that that is appropriate. As my noble friend said, the word "supply" is in both the Long Title and the Short Title. Although I have no argument with the amendment basically, it is cleaner and stylistically better to retain the word "supply". I therefore hope that he will not press his amendment any further.

Viscount Brentford

I appreciate what my noble friend Lord Newall has said. I have said everything that I had to say. I do not accept that the wording is cleaner because it gives the word "supply" two different meanings in the same context, which seems to muddle and make dirty rather than cleaner. However, in view of the title, I suggest that the way forward is probably as he has suggested. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Brentford moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 9, after ("recording") insert ("by a shop whose floor area does not exceed 1,500 sq.ft.").

The noble Viscount said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 6, standing in my name, as the two go together.

As I understand it, the main aim of the Bill is to permit the local video establishment to let on hire videos on a Sunday. In principle I do not disagree with that as it fits entirely with the rest principles which I support and which provide for recreation on a Sunday. The object of the two amendments is to provide for that smaller local shop, rather than the larger, warehouse-type establishment, to be open for the letting of videos.

One of the problems with the Bill is that there is no scope in it for introducing any employee protection on Sundays for those who work in the shops. Again, therefore, it is an incomplete measure. There are examples of Government-drafted legislation providing for that on Sundays which I should have liked to see incorporated. However, they were not relevant to the Bill, which simply inserts a new trade into the fifth schedule to the Shops Act.

>Limiting trading to the smaller shop—1,500 square feet is quite substantial; there is nothing particularly magical in that measurement—means that the trading will be lawful for those smaller establishments, which may therefore have better personal relationships between the employer and the employee. That provides, so far as I can envisage that it is feasible, protection for the employees who in theory may not have to work on Sundays, but who in practice are made to do so when they do not wish to. This factor again shows the danger of piecemeal amendment of the law. I should like to reiterate that a new Government Bill is needed as soon as the Government's consultations on the subject are completed.

I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to say that those consultations are proceeding swiftly. I have not yet received an invitation to talk to the Minister concerned. I hope that she will act more quickly to pursue these consultations so that the law, the enforcement of which is deteriorating fast, will be changed speedily. It is for that reason that I beg to move this amendment.

Earl Ferrers

Perhaps I may give a general response to this amendment by saying that the setting of any particular figure in this context is bound to be arbitrary. It could quite possibly lead to shopkeepers taking steps to bring their premises artificially within the limit set, for example, by temporarily closing off part of their shops. We are also inclined to draw attention to the possible difficulties to which this approach may give rise when the question of enforcement is considered. Since we are, in the context of this Bill, concerned only with shops which trade in one particular category of merchandise, I accept that it might not be too difficult for local authorities, which are the enforcers of this particular law, to determine in the first instance which shops in their districts may qualify for the exemption from the Bill, if amended. However, local authorities would still thereafter have to monitor premises on a fairly regular basis in case any additional floor space were subsequently brought into use.

We can therefore see that there are certain difficulties associated with any attempt to try to prescribe by law that only shops with a floor area which is below some specified upper limit may open for the serving of customers on Sundays.

Perhaps I ought also to mention that, to comply with the Units of Measurement Regulations 1986, which implemented a European Community directive, references to floor areas in Bills of this kind ought now to be expressed in square metres rather than square feet.

That aside, I can assure my noble friend that the discussions to which he referred are being continued by my right honourable friend and, if he has not yet received an invitation from her, I see no reason why he should be totally despairing.

Lord Newall

I am very glad that my noble friend the Minister is in agreement with what I too feel. However, I have some additional comments. One reason for resisting the amendment is that the British Video A3sociation cannot agree that the hiring of video cassettes on a Sunday should be restricted to shops of 1,500 square feet. The extra qualification and restriction would do nothing to the measure that we propose. The size of a video rental shop is determined entirely by the number of customers who come in and the amount of business that it handles. It is only that which expands or reduces its size. In many country areas the shops are very small. In towns the vide rental shop is often not in the high street but in some other area which is more suited to where the residents live.

This Bill is designed only to legitimise the rental of video cassettes on Sunday. It does not at all have the effect of enabling large high street stores to open. The space limitation would not affect the opening hours of other stores because the Bill applies only to video rental. I do not believe that any employee problems are likely to arise, because we are not dealing with large numbers of employees but often with owners who in many instances run the shops themselves. Moreover, opening on Sunday would not put pressure on any other high street shops to open on a Sunday because they are not next door to the video shops.

With this Bill we are trying to achieve the deregulation of outdated legislation which discriminates between Sunday entertainment businesses. The amendment proposed by my noble friend would add an unnecessary restriction to what is widely perceived to be a much desired alteration in the law. After all, cinemas and theatres are not restricted on Sundays by their size of audience. It is not possible to predict what future trends there may be in shopping hours or retail patterns. This caveat might soon become very outdated and a totally irrelevant piece of legislation.

It is difficult to say exactly how many video rental shops have a floor area of over 1,500 square feet. However, the guess that I make with the help of those who know better than me is that there could be well over 1,000. There seems no reason why larger shops, in particular those in London which supply only rented videos, should be ruled out by means of this amendment. None of them is a department store. The largest video rental shops are dedicated simply to video rentals.

Perhaps I may speak briefly to Amendment No. 6, in the name of my noble friend Lord Brentford. I believe that there is a flaw in it. It refers to "inspecting and purchasing goods". The Bill has nothing to do with purchasing any goods. It refers purely to rental of videos. I therefore urge my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Brentford

In view of what has been said, while reserving the right to reconsider the matter at a later date, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Lord Newall moved Amendment No. 4: Page 1, line 10, after (" "supply" ") insert ("means supply by way of letting on hire").

The noble Lord said: We have discussed this subject and have aired it quite satisfactorily. My noble friend Lord Brentford and I agree on the principle. That is the way that we shall go ahead. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Newall moved Amendment No. 5: Page 1, line 11, leave out ("have") and insert ("has").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is entirely consequential. It perfects the wording. I beg to move. On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.