HL Deb 06 November 1991 vol 532 cc211-3

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the freedom to trade on Sundays in Scotland which has existed for many years (since the Shops Act applies only to England and Wales) would be ended or eroded by any directives now being suggested by the European Commission.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, no proposed directives would prohibit Sunday trading but a draft directive on working time proposed on health and safety grounds would require all employees to have a weekly rest period.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply which is reassuring at this stage. Does he agree that Sunday is special in Scotland, although one can buy anything on a Sunday without anyone breaking the law? Would not such an EC directive, if it were put forward in draft, go much further than intervening in nooks and crannies? It would threaten a long-held basic freedom.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my noble friend is correct in saying that if the directive were implemented, it could affect the employees of shops. However, since it is only a draft directive, we have as yet no idea exactly what its effect would be. In any case, the Government aim to preserve the existing freedoms in Scotland.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, does the Minister realise that we agree with the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy? In Scotland we have handled the matter rather well in the cities and the country areas. Local authorities on the one hand and the Churches and other communities on the other have got together. Our Sunday trading has worked well, particularly in the cities. There has been no suggestion that it should be extended to areas that do not want it, such as the Western Isles. The point about employees is important. While it is basically a matter for the trade unions, I hope that we all recognise that Sunday is special. Someone who works on a Sunday should receive an increased inducement to give up that day.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, it is a delight to be able to agree entirely with what the noble Lord says.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm what I understood him to say, namely, that the draft directive would not affect Sunday trading? Is he aware that the reports which many of us have received indicate that the German Government are pressing for the directive explicitly to prevent work on Sunday?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I said that it would not prohibit Sunday trading. As I understand it, the draft directive on working time suggested that the weekly rest period should in principle include Sunday. This could give difficulties to those organisations that employ people on Sundays, but it does not include all shops since many are looked after by people who are self-employed.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, if eventually the draft directive is passed by a qualified majority and the Government do not agree with it, would it not be wise to follow the precedents so frequently established by both France and Italy? They simply do not obey the regulations if they do not agree with them.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, in this country we do not have a history of not obeying the law.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is this not an obvious area in which the principle of subsidiarity ought to prevail? Will my noble friend confirm my impression that the Jews have Saturday, Moslems have Friday and the Druze have Thursday?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my noble and learned friend is quite right. This is an area where subsidiarity should rule the day.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, if the directive came through, would it be possible for us to apply for derogation? Derogation on behalf of the United Kingdom would mean extending to England and Wales the same rules on Sunday shopping that apply at the moment in Scotland. At present large organisations are grossly uncompetitive because they wish to obey the law, whereas other organisations definitely flout it.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, as the noble Baroness said, the situation in England and Wales is entirely different. That is another matter.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, can the Minister help us over the directives? Does a directive require the consent of the Council of Ministers for it to be made? When the directive is made, is it implemented, as in the recent case of the environmental directive, by the commissioner alone or does it require the full consent of the Commission? It seems to me that when we consider the future of the Commission, the matter of its powers and who implements them is of vital importance. If the directive were adopted, would it be open to the commissioner concerned to prosecute whoever he wanted?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, at this stage the directive is still a draft directive: it has not yet been presented to a full council. Officials are still discussing the directive. This matter depends on whether the directive will be agreed under qualified majority.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that both Houses of Parliament have an elaborate system of scrutiny committees to look into these matters and have the first bite at the cherry?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my noble friend is quite correct.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that if there were any validity in the preposterous German claim that Sunday trading equals unfair competition then, logically, early closing days would have to be synchronised across the entire Community and the opening and closing hours of every shop, bank, building society and travel agency would also have to be synchronised throughout every EC country within any given time zone?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord has clearly demonstrated the illogicality of the proposal.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, is it not the position that a directive has the quality of a directive from the Council of Ministers to the government of a member state leaving it to the government of the member state to implement it as that government see fit as regards implementing the spirit of the directive? If that is right, do we have to bother with this problem at all?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, we do not have a problem at the moment because this proposal is not a directive. When or if the proposal became a directive without any derogations we would then have to examine carefully how we would put it into effect.

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, is not Sunday trading an issue on which strong views are held in both directions and one which should not be dealt with on a side wind in this way?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the point is that no one in Scotland wishes to impose the experience of Scotland on the rest of the European Community.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that consumer organisations, including the Consumers' Association, are concerned about the proposals which have been reported? As for Scotland, is the Minister aware that a MORI poll conducted in Scotland a year ago showed that 85 per cent. of the population did not wish to see the present situation changed by restrictions?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, that is useful and helpful information.

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