HL Deb 18 May 1995 vol 564 cc670-80

3.32 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

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

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Permitted hours in licensed premises]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, leave out lines 15 to 17 and insert: ("(3) In subsection (6) (off-licences), the words "or Good Friday" shall be omitted and at the end of that subsection there shall be added the words "and the permitted hours on Sundays, other than Christmas Day, shall begin at ten in the morning".").

The noble Lord said: I move the above amendment on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, who, unfortunately is required to be in Brussels today. In doing so, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 4. The noble Lord has asked me to give his apologies to the Committee and to deal with his two amendments. The amendments deal with very small matters. They do not refer at all to Sunday hours, but only to one day a year; namely, Good Friday. So far as concerns Sunday, the Bill deals with the anomaly which survived after the Sunday Trading Act of last year which stated that, although large shops and supermarkets may open for a total of six hours between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., they can only sell alcohol between 12 noon and 3 p.m. That means that during the period before 12 noon and after 3 o'clock supermarkets have to do what some of them were doing illegally before the Sunday Trading Act last year; namely, they have to put cordons around their drinks shelves and refuse to serve drinks during that time. The Bill before us removes that anomaly on Sunday.

However, the amendment refers only to Good Friday when the Sunday restrictions on the total opening of supermarkets or large shops do not apply. On Good Friday, supermarkets can be open from 8 o'clock in the morning until quite late at night. Yet the Bill as drafted forbids them to sell alcohol before 10 o'clock in the morning. That is based on the analogy of the Sunday opening provisions.

The Bill was initially rather more complicated because it included Christmas Day, but those provisions have now been taken out by government amendment in another place. I suggest that it would be a small, harmless but still welcome rectification of an anomaly if the legislation were now to be amended to allow off-licences to sell drink from 8 o'clock on a Good Friday morning rather than from 10 o'clock as is the case at present.

Of course, Good Friday is an important part of the Christian year, but it is not universally observed as a public holiday all over the country. As I understand it, in large parts of Yorkshire, Good Friday is not a public holiday and the following Tuesday is taken instead. Those who go to the three-hour services, for example, on a Good Friday will not really be affected by permission being granted to sell alcohol between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. The benefit would be that the barriers, the cordons, the signs, and so on, which are required for the partial closure on Sunday, and which, under the present legislation have to be retained, could be removed.

I do not suggest that we are discussing an earth shattering amendment in any way, but I do suggest that it would he in keeping with the conciliatory way in which the Government have approached the Bill for it to be passed now. I can assure the Minister that, if it were to be passed in this Chamber, there would be no attempt to delay the Bill in another place on its return there. I beg to move.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

It seems to me that we are discussing a very sensible amendment. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will consider it favourably.

Lord Gisborough

I should also like to support the amendment. It is eminently sensible and should he well supported.

Lord Skelmersdale

I second the remarks made by my noble friend. Indeed, it is a great pleasure, for once, to be able to agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. However, I should like to add to his point about Yorkshire and say that—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am sure that the noble Lord and I have agreed on more than one occasion in the past.

Lord Skelmersdale

I am sure that that is so, but I was referring to today. The noble Lord mentioned the fact that Good Friday is not a holiday in Yorkshire—or in parts of Yorkshire. However, I have always regarded the most fervently religious part of Great Britain as being Northern Ireland. I should point out that it is not even a holiday in the Province. Therefore, one can buy intoxicating liquor in Northern Ireland perfectly freely as one can on any other day of the week. I should like to see that extended.

Lord Monson

I was in two minds about the amendment. On the one hand, I do not believe that it would do any harm for supermarkets and a very small proportion of their customers to be mildly inconvenienced for a small part of one day out of 365. On the other hand, the original purpose of the Good Friday bank holiday has now largely disappeared; indeed, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh alluded to that fact. I would guess that not more than 5 per cent. of the population at most spend the hours between 12 noon and 3 p.m. on Good Friday in quiet, solemn prayer.

Of course, logically, if shops are to be compelled to close at all on Good Friday for religious reasons, they should be compelled to close during those three hours. However, no one has proposed that and that is not what is on offer. That being the case, I can see no reason for resisting the amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle

I regret not to have been present at the Second Reading of this Bill but I have read the record of the debate. In it the noble Baroness in charge of the Bill referred to a balance in this matter of religious festivals. She remarked that she believed that the balance proposed by the Government was correct. I wish to support her on that. I have the impression that such a balance would be widely thought to be fair and sensible, both in this Chamber and outside it.

Speaking personally, I noted with appreciation that the present arrangements for limited hours will continue as regards Christmas Day. I am grateful that the Government deferred to views expressed in another place on this matter, not least by the right honourable Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. On balance this seems right. Consumer interests are not the sole consideration; the protection of employees and their families is equally important. That point is addressed in another connection in an amendment which will follow.

It is against that background that we come to the more detailed matter before us; namely, that of licensing hours for Good Friday in supermarkets and stores in which there may otherwise be a cordoned off area from, say, eight to 10 o'clock in the morning. Given that extended hours are now being proposed for the opening of licensed premises on Good Friday, the amendment before the Committee seeks to eliminate what may prove to be but an anomaly. No Member of the Committee has adduced compelling reasons to retain for Good Friday this particular provision. I do not think it reasonable to make life difficult for shoppers for two hours in the year and therefore I believe it is not reasonable to resist this amendment.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was absolutely right; these amendments would permit off-licensed premises to sell alcohol on Good Friday from eight o'clock in the morning through to 10.30 in the evening. The Government recognise that, at first sight, this might seem a simple and worthwhile change from the 10 o'clock start which the Bill provides for off sales on Good Friday. But, as is so often the case, a change of this kind would not be entirely straightforward, and there are a number of matters that need to be considered. Good Friday is, of course, a religious festival, and it is for that reason that licensing hours on Good Friday have traditionally been the same as for Sundays. The Bill will continue that link. The licensing hours on Sundays and Good Friday for pubs, clubs and off-licensed premises will be increased from what they are at present, but not so far as to bring them into line with weekdays.

The amendments of my noble friend—supported today by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh—would mean that off-licence hours on Good Friday would be virtually the same as those for routine weekdays, which are from eight in the morning until 11 at night. The question arises, therefore, whether it is right for off-licence purposes to treat Good Friday just like any other day of the week.

The noble Lord's purpose is to enable supermarkets with off-licences to sell alcohol throughout their opening hours. That is what the Bill is intended to achieve on Sundays. Under the Sunday Trading Act large stores like supermarkets may open for six hours between 10 in the morning and six in the afternoon; and the new Sunday off-licence hours will cover which ever period of six hours within those times that supermarkets choose to open. But it is a rather different matter to tailor our off-licence hours to suit whatever times, outside of the restrictions of the Sunday Trading Act, shops choose to open.

Most of the debate on off-licence hours on Sundays and Good Friday has tended to concern supermarkets. But only a small proportion of off-licensed shops—less than 15 per cent.—are supermarkets. The great majority comprises either shops specialising in the sale of alcoholic drinks or small shops which sell alcohol along with a range of other goods—frequently the typical corner shop. These small shops are not subject to the Sunday Trading Act, and so they can open at whatever times on Sunday suit them and their customers. Many open quite early, but under the new off-licence hours in the Bill they will not be able to sell alcohol before 10 in the morning.

So while we have restrictions on off-licence hours, and lesser restrictions on shop opening hours, there will always be times when shops with off-licences may open but not sell alcohol. The only way in which that situation could be avoided would be by abandoning off-licence hours altogether. While that is a course which my noble friend, who is not present today, and perhaps also the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, might well applaud, I hope they will agree that it goes far beyond the ambit of the present Bill. Furthermore, as the noble Lord acknowledged when the Bill was read for a Second Time in this Chamber, extending Good Friday hours beyond those that are proposed for Sundays would be to move in the reverse direction from the views which were expressed in another place. There amendments were moved, albeit unsuccessfully, which would have left the licensing hours on Good Friday for pubs, clubs and off-licensed premises as they are at present—that is, from midday until three p.m. and from seven until 10.30 in the evening. There was certainly no move to extend Good Friday hours beyond those provided in the Bill.

The noble Lord also acknowledged, in the light of those views expressed in another place, that he would make little headway in seeking more liberal hours for pubs on Good Friday than the Bill already envisages. The amendment therefore concerns only off-licence hours. But it would be illogical if Good Friday were regarded as comparable with Sunday as far as pubs and clubs were concerned, but were treated like any routine weekday for off-licence premises purposes. I am sure many licensees of pubs would find it hard to accept that their Good Friday opening hours should be more restricted than weekdays, when off-licence hours were not.

The Government take the view that there needs to be a proper degree of consistency between on-licence hours and off-licence hours. That is not to say that hours should be the same for both kinds of business. They are not uniform now—for good reasons—and nor will they be when the Bill is enacted. But there need to be good reasons for applying different standards to pubs as compared with off-licensed shops. There seems no obvious justification for linking Good Friday with Sunday for the purpose of pub hours but with weekdays for off-licensing purposes, which is the effect of the amendments before us. For these reasons the Government believe that the balance in the Bill is about right. However, I have to say that amendments such as these must be a matter for the individual conscience of Members of this Chamber and therefore I leave the matter to the free vote of this Chamber to determine.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I find that response, or the logic of it, difficult to follow. Of course it is true that there have been those, both in this Chamber and in another place, who have been against the extension of hours proposed in this Bill and they have proposed amendments which have been defeated. They have come from all sides. I should have made it clear that neither is this a party matter within the Labour Party; a large number of my noble friends are opposed to the provisions of this Bill.

I am not convinced by the argument on amendments in another place further to restrict opening hours. When the Minister says that there are other anomalies which still remain to be corrected, I am sure she is right. It is true that what this amendment does is remove only one anomaly of many. A number of us said at Second Reading that at some time we would have to recognise that this piecemeal approach which is being adopted by the Government is not satisfactory because it does not allow us to consider all the issues at any one time. Yet the Minister appears to come to the conclusion, although she has not actually criticised the direct effect of this amendment, that somehow the anomalies which are still there do not permit the Government to accept the provisions. I am not sure whether, if the matter is put to the vote, she will vote against it. I am not sure whether she will advise any of her noble friends who agree with her to vote against it. I am not sure what the Government's position is, or whether indeed we can hope for a Government amendment which would deal with any deficiencies in drafting at a later stage in the Bill. Will the Minister advise the Committee further?

Baroness Blatch

I have said that it must be a matter for individual conscience. I do not want my intentions to influence people and for them to feel that they must take a lead from me as Minister. I have made the Government's position clear and I will exercise my vote as an individual in this matter.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful for that clarification. Am I right in thinking that, although the Minister pointed out other anomalies, she did not say that the amendment itself was defective?

Baroness Blatch

That is absolutely right. The amendment is not defective in itself.

Lord Peston

I am sorry to have to join in the debate. This is such a sensible amendment that I took it for granted, since it was within the spirit of the Government's legislation which I totally support although I am probably more extremist than the Government, that the Minister would say, "This is a perfectly good idea and let's get on with it". Is it the Minister's wish that the Committee divides on the amendment so that Members can express their opinion? I am lost as to what is going on. I just came in for decorative purposes.

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps I may make the position clear. What I said was that it is not for the Government to accept the amendment on behalf of the whole Committee. I think that it would be presumptuous of the Government to do that.

There is an issue here. The issue, which I believe will be a matter for people's consciences, is to determine whether Good Friday should be considered as any other day of the week or whether it should be consistent with the rules which apply on Sundays. That is the issue before the Committee. It must be a matter for individual Members to consider.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

We are grateful for that. Although the Minister still states that there are wider issues as to the comparability of Good Friday with other days of the week which are not dealt with within the amendment, the Minister has confirmed that the amendment is not defective and that it achieves the objectives that we seek. Although other anomalies still remain, I believe that it is appropriate that I seek the opinion of the Committee.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

The Question is that the amendment be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content". To the contrary, "Not-Content". The "Contents" have it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 2:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause:

(-Employment protection

Schedule (Schedule to be inserted in the Licensing Act 1964 after Schedule 14) shall have effect in relation to the rights of bar workers in relation to work during the previously restricted hours on Sundays.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 2, I speak also to Amendment No. 3. I make it clear from the outset that on these amendments the Labour Party has a policy. It is the policy of protecting the rights of those who are required to work on Sunday. These matters were rehearsed at considerable length in debates on the Sunday Trading Bill last year. Comparable amendments were put forward although not in these terms.

The new schedule in Amendment No. 3 is lengthy and I apologise for that. However, employment protection legislation is lengthy and complicated. I was encouraged to hear the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor move the First Reading of new employment protection consolidation legislation which may make life easier for those of us who seek to amend the 1978 Act in future.

Paragraph (1) of the schedule deals with definitions generally. Paragraph (2) defines a protected bar worker, which is the category of worker with which the amendment deals. Paragraph (3) makes sure that there is no discrimination either way by making provision for those who work in bars on a Sunday to opt into the existing legislation. Paragraph (4) deals with the notice of objection to Sunday working. Paragraph (5) provides a definition of the meaning of "opted-out bar worker"—that is someone who has chosen not to work the extended hours proposed in the Bill. Paragraph (6) deals with a notice period. Paragraphs (7) and (8), the core of the schedule, deal with the right not to be dismissed for refusing to work between the hours of three o'clock and seven o'clock on a Sunday. Paragraph (8) deals with the redundancy excuse which an employer might be tempted to use. Paragraph (9) deals with the qualifying period and the upper age limit. It again refers hack to the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978. Paragraph (10) goes further than dismissal by giving protected bar workers the right not to suffer detriment in their employment. I am told that in employment legislation that has a specific meaning.

Paragraph (11) requires the employer to give an explanatory statement of his policy so far as concerns Sunday working. Paragraphs (12) to (15) deal with contract of employment rights. Paragraph (16) is technical and deals with proceedings for contravention. Paragraphs (17) and (18) deal with restrictions on contracting out of the schedule. Paragraph (19) deals with transitional protection mainly in maternity cases. Paragraphs (20) to (22) are miscellaneous amendments to the 1978 Act.

The principle underlying the amendment—although it is lengthy I believe that it is reasonably clear—is this. Having extended the hours on which bar workers may well be required to work on a Sunday they should be given some protection for their family life and indeed for their religious obligations on a Sunday in addition to that which is already provided under the Sunday Trading Act 1994.

The amendment relates only to protected bar workers. The Minister, Mr. Forsyth, replied to a comparabe amendment in another place, at col. 1782 of the Official Report on 5th April. With admirable honesty, he said: I now come to the part of my brief marked 'Use only if pressed'. There is an anomaly, and the hon. Gentleman is right to mention it, but the people who work in off-licences arc shop workers, and as such already have the right to decline Sunday work. It would he irrational for the law to pretend that employees in pubs, restaurants, hotels. sports clubs and so on are shop workers and should therefore have the same rights, simply because the premises in which they happen to work happen to have liquor licences".

We are legislating for two groups of people: those who are bar workers working in on-licences; and those who are working in off-licences. Mr. Forsyth did not come to the conclusion to which I come: that the anomaly is that there should be differential protection—a higher lever of protection for those who work in off-licences and are shop workers—and a lower level of protection for those who work in bars. That distinction cannot be right.

Perhaps I may say this to the Minister, in the most conciliatory of spirits because she has been helpful this afternoon. I hope that she recognises that that is the anomaly which remains in the legislation. That is the anomaly which should he dealt with by this modest extension to employment protection rights. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

This Bill continues the process of sensible deregulation to which the Government are committed, allowing businesses to stand on their own two feet and make their own decisions as to how they should operate. I believe the proposed Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are unnecessary and would be a retrograde step in a Bill which otherwise moves forward in line with the demands and expectations of today's society.

Where workers in any industry are asked to take on additional work or to change their working hours, that is a contractual matter for them to decide. Hours of work are for agreement between employers and their employees, whether they work in licensed premises or elsewhere. It would he wrong to impose unnecessary restrictions on the way that businesses in the leisure and catering industries operate.

The proposed new schedule, to which the proposed new clause would give effect, is aimed at giving bar workers the right to refuse to work during the additional Sunday hours permitted by this Bill—that is, between three o'clock and seven o'clock on a Sunday afternoon. It would add to this Bill employment provisions similar to those introduced for Sunday shop workers in the Sunday Trading Act 1994 and for Sunday betting workers in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994.

In the Government's view, it is plainly wrong to seek to replicate and apply provisions which are specifically appropriate in one set of circumstances to circumstances in which they are not appropriate. We do not accept that the position of employees of licensed premises is directly comparable with that of shop workers or betting workers. Their situation is in fact quite different. Until the recent changes, legislation prohibited on Sundays the very activity that shop and betting workers were employed to do, and the employees in question could reasonably have expected never to have been required to work on Sundays. However, for pubs, restaurants and clubs, Sunday has been a long established and important trading day. It has been quite lawful to sell alcoholic drinks on Sundays, and to employ people to do so, and the afternoon break is largely regarded as archaic and a nuisance.

The very nature of work in licensed premises encourages more flexible working patterns. This has long been the case and bar work and the like has provided opportunities for many employees who prefer this type of work or who may be unable to work more conventional hours. This Bill must not put constraints on the freedom of employers and employees to agree hours which suit their individual circumstances and preferences.

This Bill seeks to remove barriers and anomalies and to allow businesses to trade freely. The leisure industry is competitive, with various attractions vying for our attention, particularly at weekends when many families enjoy time together. Many hotels, restaurants, pubs and clubs will welcome the additional trading hours in order to allow them to compete on an equal footing with other businesses in the industry. Others may have no wish to take advantage of the new regime. However, that is a commercial decision for them to take. It should not be the role of Government to impose unnecessary administrative burdens.

Not only would the provisions contained in the amendment be extraordinarily cumbersome, they would also create new and indefensible anomalies between the rights of different groups of staff working in licensed premises. Those involved in serving alcoholic drinks would have the right to stop working for four hours on Sundays whereas their colleagues working alongside them on different activities would not. To put it another way, employees in a particular branch of a particular industry would have the right to refuse to work between three o'clock and seven o'clock on a Sunday, irrespective of what their contract of employment said, but between midday and three o'clock, and between seven o'clock and half past 10 in the evening, they would be be bound by their normal contractual terms.

Were the amendment to be accepted I only hope that none of your Lordships is ever in a restaurant ordering lunch at three o'clock on a Sunday afternoon! It would certainly be a strange experience to have the wine waiter down tools while the rest of the restaurant carried on as normal. Perhaps the scene would be reminiscent of pubs at "last orders", with customers rushing to beat the bell, ordering the drinks they think sufficient to last them through their meal. Or perhaps the bons viveurs would hold on until seven o'clock, when they would finally be able to round off their lunch with a glass of port. I see no reason to legislate in this area and I hope that the noble Lord may be persuaded to withdraw the amendment.

4 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The last few sentences of the Minister's reply were quite extraordinary. We had something of a debate at Second Reading, initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, about the indefensible difference between restaurant licences and full on-licences. Although my amendments refer merely to on-licences—in other words, to bar workers—the Minister has chosen to attempt to make fun of the amendments by talking as if they referred to restaurants as well. They clearly do not. Restaurants serving drinks on a Sunday will still be able to do so after three o'clock. My amendment refers only to bar workers and protected bar workers, it will not apply to restaurants.

Another curious aspect of the Minister's speech was the idea that in pubs there are people serving alcohol and people working alongside them who are not serving alcohol. It is true that in large pubs when lunch is being served there are people who are mainly serving food or mainly preparing food, but in any pub that I have ever seen, whether on a Sunday or another day, people do whatever work is to be done. They do not have demarcation disputes between them. I am clear, from the way in which my schedule has been drafted, that it would apply to all bar workers and that it would apply equally.

It is simply not true that people who work in pubs have accepted unlimited Sunday working. Of course, they have accepted Sunday working and flexible working patterns for many years. But anyone who has listened to or read the debates, both in this House and in another place, on the Bill and on the Sunday Trading Bill last year, will agree that the extension of licensing hours in pubs from 12 o'clock to three o'clock and from seven o'clock to 10.30, to 12 noon to 10.30, means a substantial difference in the obligations imposed on those who work there. It makes a huge difference to their family life and their ability to make contact and spend time with their families on those days.

As I said at the time of the Sunday Trading Bill, I suspect that a high proportion of bar workers will not wish to opt out of the gap of working between three o'clock and seven o'clock. I suspect that they will wish to make other arrangements to spend time with their families or engage in their own leisure pursuits. I suspect that there will be very little disruption as a result of any amendment of this kind.

Frankly, the reasons which the Minister has given for opposing the amendments do not stand up at all. She did not really deal with my point about the difference between those working in off-licences and those working in pubs with on-licences, except by asserting that what we are trying to do is to extend conditions from circumstances in which they are appropriate to circumstances in which they are not appropriate. She said that they are not directly comparable. I suggest that in all material respects they are directly comparable. We are dealing with people who have to make judgments about the hours they work and the way they organise their lives. Those who wish to make provision of that kind have expressed the view that they need extra protection.

I do not believe that it is appropriate at this stage for me to pursue the matter to a Division. However, I give notice that we may have to return to the matter at a later stage in the proceedings. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 4 to 6 agreed to.

Baroness Blatch

Was a vote called for the amendment?

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff)

I have called that Clauses 4, 5 and 6 stand part of the Bill, which was agreed to. Amendment No. 2 was, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Schedule 2 [Section 4(2)]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 4, line 3, at end insert:

(" 1964 c. 26 The Licensing Act 1964. In section 60(6), the words "or Good Friday".")

The noble Lord said: This amendment is consequential upon Amendment No. 1, which the Committee approved. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn for 10 minutes until 4.20 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, can the Minister explain why we are adjourning for 10 minutes?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I apologise very humbly on behalf of the Minister concerned, who is stuck in traffic. I am sure that she has your Lordships' sympathy.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 4.10 to 4.20 p.m.]