HL Deb 07 November 2001 vol 628 cc282-96

7.52 p.m.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. I am reminded that in the middle of the 19th century during Victorian times, Charles Dickens wroteA Christmas Carol. When Bob Cratchet wanted to finish work early on Christmas Eve, Ebenezer Scrooge said, Every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart". Mean words from a mean man. But even Ebenezer Scrooge allowed Bob Cratchet to have Christmas Day off to spend with his family.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, if my noble friend will allow me, Scrooge bought Bob Cratchet a turkey on Christmas Day morning!

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, that takes it a stage further.

I bring the Bill before the House in an attempt to correct an anomaly in the Sunday Trading Act 1994 and to protect Britain's shopworkers from being forced to work on Christmas Day. As a former general secretary of the shopworkers' union, USDAW, I have spent many years seeking to protect shopworkers from unlimited and often unnecessary extended shop opening hours.

That battle rumbled on throughout the 1980s and well into the 1990s. As many noble Lords will recall, in 1986 a coalition of organisations, including USDAW successfully campaigned against a proposal by the Government of the day to completely deregulate shop opening hours. That was a famous victory and one of the few that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, suffered during her time as Prime Minister.

In 1994 the debate on shop opening hours returned to Parliament with the issue of Sunday trading. Again, complete deregulation was defeated and so was the status quo. After much debate, Parliament arrived at a compromise which is known as the Sunday Trading Act 1994.

Earlier I referred to an anomaly in that Act. The 1994 Act does not allow trading by large shops on Christmas Day when it falls on a Sunday, but unfortunately, and unwittingly, it allows trading when Christmas Day falls on any other day of the week. That is not only illogical, but it also goes against the spirit of the 1994 Act. Protection for Christmas Day was inserted into the Act along with Easter Day, because both were recognised as important days in the Christian calendar. Yet, unlike Easter Day, which falls only on a Sunday, Christmas Day falls on all other days of the week and in 1994 few, if any, thought that Christmas Day trading would become commonplace. Regrettably, considerable changes have occurred in the past few years. That is why it is now necessary to correct that anomaly.

A further anomaly is the right of shopworkers to refuse to work on Christian holy days. One of the most important aspects of the Sunday Trading Act is that shopworkers are protected in law from discrimination for refusing to work on a Sunday. It is illegal for employers to dismiss or to deny promotion to anyone who refuses to work. However, shopworkers do not have the legal right to refuse to work on Christmas Day if it falls on a Monday, a Tuesday, a Wednesday, a Thursday, a Friday, or a Saturday. That is because there are, by error, no restrictions on trading on 25th December when it falls on any of those days. That cannot be right. In fact, shops can open for the full 24 hours when Christmas Day is on one of those days and shopworkers can be required to work on such days. That could never have been the intention.

I cannot believe that when the House passed the Sunday Trading Act noble Lords thought of Christmas Day as a less significant Christian event than all Sundays throughout the year or Easter Day. Yet, that is exactly the basis on which the current trading laws can be operated. For that reason the law needs to be changed. It also needs to take account of new developments.

Shopworkers have seen a continual drive towards longer trading hours over the past 20 years. The days of a five-day working week, with a half-day on Wednesday and Saturday morning only, are now a distant memory. Since then we have seen the introduction of all-day Saturday opening, Sunday trading, Bank Holiday shopping, late-night or 24-hour supermarkets and now even Christmas Day opening is on the increase.

Year on year, more and more shops are opening their doors on Christmas Day. At first small convenience stores opened. In the main they were corner shops staffed by their owners, offering a range of small facilities in a local neighbourhood. Then a chain of convenience stores began to open on Christmas Day, Spar shops selling mostly groceries. Unfortunately, that example was soon followed by larger chains. For the first time, in 1999, J Sainsbury and, regrettably, many Co-op shops opened on Christmas Day. Last Christmas Day more large chains opened. J Sainsbury and the Co-op opened more shops than before and they were joined by some Woolworths and Budgens stores. Once some of the chains begin to open, it becomes difficult for all the chains not to open. We saw that happen with illegal Sunday trading in the 1980s.

As regards Christmas Day, this Bill will go some way to create a level playing field. There is no doubt that the vast majority of retailers do not want to open on Christmas Day, but they will consider opening if their competitors open. Such is the nature of the severe competition in retailing, particularly among the supermarkets.

Members of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) believe that they were forced to work last Christmas Day. I choose my words carefully. Every store manager in the county would deny that he forces his employees to work on Christmas Day, but there is no doubt that coercion takes place. The only way to stop it is to prevent large shops opening on 25th December, as on Easter Day, in the first place.

The Bill is not just for shopworkers but also for families. Christmas is a very special time for families and no parent should miss it. It cannot be much good, and certainly not right, if when children at home open their presents and pull Christmas crackers mum is behind the check-out at a supermarket down the road.

For shopworkers Christmas Day should be the one day during the retail industry's busiest time of the year when they are guaranteed a day off. Retailers' gross income rises by up to 40 per cent in the run-up to Christmas and to achieve those sales shopworkers must work very hard. Most shopworkers are not allowed to take any holidays in December or January. I do not believe that it is too much to ask that they be guaranteed one day off during that period.

This Bill proposes a modest change in the law and applies only to large stores above 280 square metres, not small shops. It is not intended to bring about a dramatic change in the present law. This means that small shops that can be staffed by their owners can continue to open as and when they like. That is the case today. However, shops over 280 square metres need more than one member of staff. We then end up in a situation where shopworkers are required, or even forced, to work a day that they would much rather spend at home with their families. I believe that they should have the right to do just that.

This Bill was first promoted in another place during the previous Session of Parliament. It was given a Second Reading and completed its Committee stage during which the Government proposed seven technical amendments. All of those amendments were accepted, and the Bill now before the House is as the Government amended it. On that basis, I do not expect any further amendments from the Government.

This is a simple measure that will make a real difference to hundreds of thousands of shopworkers. The Bill addresses an anomaly in existing legislation. This measure is popular not only with shopworkers but the general public. It will ensure that Christmas Day—one of the most important days in the Christian calendar—remains special and is treated in exactly the same way as Easter Day at the moment.

In conclusion, the anomaly in the current legislation occurs in paragraph 2(4) of Schedule 1 to the Sunday Trading Act 1994. This morning I have discussed the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Not only does he support this Bill but he confirms that when the Sunday Trading Bill was before the other place he together with Sir Ray Powell tabled an amendment to prevent large shops opening on Easter Day and Christmas Day. That was the clear intention. However, paragraph 2(4) of Schedule 1 provides: The exemption conferred by sub-paragraph (3) above does not apply where the Sunday is Easter Day or Christmas Day". That cannot be logical because Easter Day never falls on a day other than Sunday. The conclusion is that there was a drafting error which came to light only when some large shops found a loophole and started to trade on Christmas Day when it did not fall on a Sunday. That is the long and the short of it. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Davies of Coity.)

8.7 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, that this is a straightforward Bill to deal with an obvious anomaly. I know that I am by no means alone in being grateful to the noble Lord for promoting the Bill and introducing pertinent issues so helpfully in this debate. Quite apart from the earlier progress in another place which the noble Lord mentioned, the matter which this Bill addresses was raised by my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford when he put a question to the Minister concerned in 1999. He reminded your Lordships that Christmas Day was, a day of value in the life of the nation, both as the celebration of the birth of Christ and as a shared day of rest". —[Official Report, 2/12/99; col. 907.] The Ethical Investment Advisory Group supports the evidence which has been presented tonight by the noble Lord. In its 1999 report, it noted the growth of shop opening from small stores to larger stores. That growth has now escalated, as the noble Lord indicated, to Sainsbury, Budgen, Woolworths and others. This was immediately a matter of great concern to the Church of England. After pressure from our Ethical Investment Advisory Group and other shareholders, Sainsbury agreed not to open in 2000. I understand that it has indicated that it does not intend to open this year.

The Ethical Investment Advisory Group is currently in correspondence with other companies, most of which have confirmed their intention to remain closed on Christmas Day this year. Some do so out of a firmly held and fundamental opposition to the opening of larger stores on that unique festival day. Unfortunately, I understand that Woolworths has indicated to us that it plans to open again on 25th December. Allders and Debenhams have said that although they do not like opening on that day they may do so if they believe that that is necessary for them to retain market share. That is the nub of the issue.

As the noble Lord indicated, if one store opens others begin to feel that they must follow, albeit reluctantly. If the matter is not dealt with in the decisive way proposed by the Bill, it will get out of hand and the trend will become impossible to reverse.

My support for the Bill is prompted by two concerns. First, as I am sure noble Lords will readily understand, Christmas Day is a festival of fundamental importance to all Christians. Attendances at worship over Christmas are invariably higher than at any other time of the year. It appears to be anomalous that under current legislation Christmas Day not only is less protected than Easter Day but also is less protected than any other Sunday. Like the noble Lord, Lord Davies, I do not believe that that was intended by those who drafted the Act, but that is how it is. It will not surprise your Lordships that from these Benches I support the argument of the noble Lord that from the point of view of large store trading, Christmas Day should be given the same status under the law as Easter Day and the other 51 Sundays.

My second concern is for those who will be required—the noble Lord used the word "forced", and I agree with him—to work if their store opens on Christmas Day. Whatever may be said by employers about protecting workers' rights and not forcing them to work, the truth is that since Sunday trading began many people have very little option other than to work on a Sunday, or, as is increasingly the case, Christmas Day, if they want to keep their jobs. The anecdotal evidence for that in my diocese is so overwhelming as to be, at least in part, very persuasive. It really seems to be the case that those who, out of religious conviction or a desire to be with their family, ask not to work on a Sunday often face losing their jobs. That is totally unacceptable. The strain that that kind of pressure puts on family relationships, especially where there are children, is wrong, and all the more so when it happens at Christmas.

Furthermore, as I have already mentioned, the concept of a shared day of rest is very important for the health of society. That is a view shared not only by Christians but by people of other faiths and of none. Research has convincingly shown that Christmas is a time when family and marriage relationships come under especially heavy strain. Invariably when that strain gets to breaking point, the relationship itself breaks down. That is in part because at that time of the year there is already extra tiredness, strain and stress. It is no exaggeration to say that if we allow Christmas Day store opening to get out of hand, we may find ourselves paying the high price of even more broken homes and separated families. Those statistics for this country are already far too high.

I support the view of the shopworkers' union that there should be at least one day off for shopworkers over the Christmas period and that there should be a day of rest, upheld by law.

Several large stores have indicated privately to us in the Churches that they would like to remove the six-hour opening on Sundays and to be relieved of that pressure to be trading on that day. We need to hear that. Certainly I strongly believe that we should take the opportunity now before us to place shopping restrictions on Christmas Day, on whatever day of the week it may fall.

On 2nd December 1999, the then Minister told your Lordships: I believe most people accept that Sunday is a special day and Christmas Day especially so … I shall play my part to ensure that it is protected in a way that fits with the traditions of our country". —[Official Report, 2/12/1999; col. 909.] I very much hope that remains the Government's view. I pray that the Bill will be able to proceed.

8.12 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I start by saying tritely that everything that can be said has already been said. But I shall then go on to make my own speech.

Certainly from the point of view of the shop workers and from a religious point of view the case has been well stated by the previous two speakers. The record will show that they have taken a great deal of care in putting forward their arguments. I sat here and listened to both speeches with appreciation. I smiled when the right reverend Prelate told us that Church authorities had been told privately by some of the larger stores that if they could they would undo the 1994 legislation.

That is the story of our lives. Before that Act was passed many of us argued, especially from the shop workers' point of view, that the Act would be rued. My noble friend Lord Davies, a dear friend and colleague over many years, will recall the exultation that he and his colleagues felt when I played a little part in defeating in 1986 the shops Bill. I saw Garfield in a photograph with members of the executive. They were drinking to the success of having stopped the machinations by the large stores to trade illegally, as they were. Times have changed.

We have now reached a situation where a union which I very much respect can recognise what I recognised—as was recognised before 1986: give them an inch and they will take a mile. You have to stand firm and not be persuaded pragmatically that there is an advantage in one year and one time. We all have principles. One of my principles throughout my life has been against Sunday trading. In all the arguments, for the life of me I could never see why people and stores, with the opportunity of trading all hours—they were not stopped from trading all hours—said, "In addition to that, we also want to trade on a Sunday".

Our family, which in a week might eat six loaves of bread, could go out on a Sunday and get more bread, or more coal, or buy more clothes. The opportunity to meet one's needs was already there. But I say quite bluntly and crudely, the greed of the large stores and chains to maximise their profit drove them to fight for the right to open. My noble friend Lord Davies says that the six hours was a compromise. It was not very long before we saw moves to change from six to eight, because the argument was that people wanted exemptions from the six hours—traditionally say 10 o'clock to 4 o'clock. They wanted to open at 8 o'clock but they wanted to trade until 4 o'clock. It is a battle all the time.

One of my great memories here was forming a triumvirate with Harold Macmillan and Tom Denning. In 1986, as the Bill was before us, Harold Macmillan stood up from that Bench there and said that he did not join the Conservative Party to deprive shopworkers of their rights. He was not going to be a party to it. He would vote against the amendments that we were dealing with. On that occasion we lost an amendment by one vote. As I went out into the lobby, Tom Denning said to me, "Ted, come and sit here with Harold. We must have another try". Harold Macmillan said, "Yes". It was a four-clause Bill. Instead of a clause which said: Shop workers' rights shall cease". The amendment took out the word "cease" and put in the word "continue". It then stated: Shop workers' rights shall continue". When the point came up at Report stage we won by one vote. That one defeat caused the Bill to be delayed long enough for the Churches in the country to get to work on the constituency MPs. It was delayed for about three months. When the Bill went to another place, we won. That is where Garfield and his colleagues said, "Hallelujah" for many other people.

We now have the situation—and I am distressed to learn this—that some of the people who are trying to use the loophole are co-operative societies. I stand here with my Co-op tie. My allegiance is to the Co-op movement. I say, "Shame on those co-operative societies and everyone else who cannot be content with making an honest living out of the trading conditions but feel that they must with other people do this". Tesco's, Alders and Sainsbury's were mentioned. Sainsbury's has resiled from its attitude.

I subscribe to the view that there are many people who work on a Sunday now but who would rather not. At one time we talked about people who worked on a Sunday as getting a premium rate of pay. One of the reasons why the large shops decided they wanted to make Sunday like an ordinary day was so they could pay ordinary wages. The idea of paying premium rates has virtually disappeared.

I understand the procedure for private measures. USDAW is doing a good job for its members, but it is a pity that five years ago the union decided for pragmatic reasons that it would support the breach made in the dyke. We are now facing one of the consequences of that breach.

I hope that the Bill succeeds. The right reverend Prelate said that Sunday added value to the life of the nation. Overwhelmingly, I think that people would support that view. Sadly, however, when it comes to wringing the last penny of profit out of running a store, some will listen to the argument but then proceed to try to get at that last penny. I understand the nature of competition and the pressure to pursue profits, but unless people stand up to it, the tide will rise ever higher.

My noble friend Lord Davies has done the House a service with the Bill, as has Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody, who took the measure down at the other end. I hope that all those forces ranged against Sunday trading will continue to express their views. Indeed, I hope that the good sense of those who were in favour of Sunday trading will be brought to bear and that they recognise that the path down which Christmas Day trading will lead us is a path that is not in the interests of the life of the nation. I wholeheartedly support the Bill.

8.21 p.m.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I have read the report of the debate on Second Reading in another place. It was clear that most, but not all, of the speakers in that debate were opponents of the original Sunday Trading Act 1994. I strongly suspect that that is also the view of the speakers in our debate so far. However, I have to say that I was a supporter of the Sunday Trading Act. I did not agree with complete deregulation, but I supported the measures proposed in the final legislation. I know that that will not make me popular tonight and I do not wish to reopen the debates held seven or more years ago as regards Sunday trading.

Perhaps it is more significant that I am happy to support this Bill. The points in support of it have been made very well. I shall not repeat them except to say that I do not know whether it was by accident or an anomaly that, in the earlier measure, Easter Day was included but Christmas Day, as distinct from Christmas Sunday, was not. Clearly, that was illogical and I believe that it should be changed.

The Bill specifically exempts smaller shops. That is absolutely right. Most of those shops are neighbourhood retailers, often run by a family, and often by those not of the Christian faith. For them, it is a reasonable way to earn a living and they provide what is for some in their areas an extremely valuable service. It is right that that should be allowed to continue.

However, I am worried about the trend which began in 1999 for the bigger stores to open on Christmas Day. I know that once one major store starts doing it, the pressure and the force of competition—the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, called it greed—on others to do the same is compelling.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, also pointed out that there was nothing new to say on the subject but that all noble Lords would repeat their arguments. However, I should like to make one point which has not been made and which I can put forward from personal experience. I am a councillor for a town centre area, a position I have held for many years. Over the past 11 years, I have represented the council on our town centre management committee. I lived through the period when the pressure to allow Sunday trading was building, and then when the new trading laws were introduced. Incidentally, during that period we also decided to open our central library on Sundays. For the library, Sunday is now the second most popular day of the week after Saturday.

I believe that the benefits brought by Sunday trading outweigh the undeniable disbenefits. However, speaking as a town centre councillor, the people who have experienced the greatest disbenefit are those who live in or near a town centre. Even now I have to explain and apologise to my constituents for the disturbance. Whereas Sunday used to be the one quiet day of the week for those residents, now for at least six hours, and probably eight hours, that is no longer the case. The thought that they would be disturbed on Christmas Day, on whatever day of the week it fell, is indefensible. That is the one new point that I can bring to the debate.

For the reasons already outlined, I am pleased to give support from these Benches to the Second Reading of the Bill. I wait to hear whether the Government have amended it as much as they wish—I shall believe it when it happens. I hope that the Bill has every success in this House and, in particular but perhaps not so likely, every success in the other place.

8.25 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I have enjoyed all the contributions this evening and I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, for introducing what I believe is a very necessary Bill. However, I rise to my feet with some diffidence. Noble Lords will know that I am Jewish. I feel that commenting on the Bill is difficult because the religious implications of Christmas Day do not apply to me personally. The same can be said for other members of the population who are not Christian. However, they are of great importance to followers of the main religion of this country, the Christian faith. It is absolutely right that Parliament should pay full attention to their concerns.

Along with many Members of both Houses, I believe that in general businesses should be given the freedom to trade whenever it suits them, but equally we accept, and I believe, that it is absolutely necessary to protect the interests of those employees who do not want to have to work on Christmas Day. For all Christians, the Christmas festival marks an important day. Even for non-observant Christians, it is very much a family day, one which parents and children wish to spend together—and they should be able to do so.

I note that the provisions of the Bill are limited to large shops. Far be it from me to wish to intervene between the Minister and his noble friend who introduced the Bill—I would not wish to say anything that might upset the Minister—but when he mentioned that Scrooge went out on Christmas Day to buy a turkey, I have it in my notes that he went out to buy a goose. Whatever it was, the fact is that there were no large shops in those days, so the small shops must have opened even then.

My honourable friends in the other place had a free vote and many spoke in favour of the Bill. I was most impressed with the argument raised by several honourable Members that the omission of Christmas Day alongside Easter Sunday from the Sunday Trading Act 1994 was clearly an oversight. Had the anomaly been noticed when the Bill was first introduced, it would not have been permitted. The noble Lord who introduced this Bill made that point clearly.

As my honourable friend the Member for Hexham said in the debate on the Bill's Second Reading in another place: I voted for liberalisation in 1994, and I thought at the time that we were protecting Easter Day and Christmas Day". —[Official Report, Commons, 16/3/01; col. 1323.] If we allow transport workers and all but the most essential workers in the utilities and emergency services to have Christmas Day off, I do not see why those who work in shops larger than 3,000 square feet cannot do so as well.

I believe that this is very much a matter of conscience. I assume—I do not know if I am correct—that political parties would probably be neutral on the matter, leaving it to individuals to express their view. As I have said, when the Bill was introduced in another place my party allowed its Members a free vote. Although it is not the custom of this House to vote on the Second Reading of a Bill, I would vote in support of this measure. I very much hope that it has an easy passage and eventually becomes law.

8.29 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, may I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Davies, on the way in which he introduced the Bill and on the support that he achieved in all parts of the House? He will not be surprised when I say that the Government are neutral on the Bill. Indeed, it is fair to say that we are doubly neutral on it. Not only are the Government neutral on all Private Member's Bills but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, reminded us, the Sunday Trading Bill was a matter of conscience and was dealt with on the basis of a free vote. That was the case when the Bill came forward for the Opposition, and I am sure that it would be the case on any subsequent proceedings now. Anything that I say about this Bill must be read in the light of that double neutrality.

I want to comment first on the history of the legislation; secondly, on the experience of what has happened since the 1994 Act was introduced; and, thirdly, on employee protection, which is so important to the Bill's promoters. Finally, I want to speak very diffidently about religion and tradition.

As I cannot conceal it from my noble friend Lord Graham, it is only right that I should declare my own interest and personal point of view. He knows that, although I have agreed with him on almost everything throughout our political careers, I disagree with him profoundly in respect of Sunday trading. I do not happen to be a Christian or to have any religious faith, but I do not think that that is the issue. I am deeply prejudiced in favour of deregulation, of not telling people what they cannot do and, as far as possible, of allowing them to do what they wish to do with their lives, as long as they do not do it in the street and frighten the horses, as Mrs. Patrick Campbell said. That is my view. It does not influence the way in which the Government think about the Bill, and it can be put on one side by any Members who wish to do so.

Let me say a word about the history of the legislation. It has to be remembered that, before the 1994 Act and the aborted 1986 Bill, the prevalent legislation was the Shops Act 1950, which was nonsensical. Everybody who was involved in the earlier legislation will remember that the Shops Act discriminated on the grounds of what could be bought. One could buy a pornographic magazine, but not the Bible. There were many other examples, but the main thing was that it did not restrict trading on Christmas Day in any way. Although the 1994 Act was removing restrictions in other respects, it was imposing them in this area. Parliament took the view that trading should be restricted only when Christmas Day fell on Sundays, but not when it fell on weekdays. That was not an omission or error; it was the case because the provision was contained in the Sunday Trading Bill, so any attempt to restrict trading on Christmas Days that were not Sundays would have fallen outside the title. The approach of the 1994 Act was partial deregulation. People were allowed greater freedom to shop, but there were still provisions maintaining that Sunday could be different from other days of the week. The distinction was based on an area of 280 square metres, as I prefer to say, or 3,000 square feet, as some other people prefer to say. As has been said, there is a restriction on larger shops and it is reflected in the Bill.

The Bill would go beyond the Sunday Trading Act and introduce new regulation where none exists. The point that we must consider in the light of the arguments that have been advanced today is how that squares with our determination in every area that we can think of to reduce regulatory burdens. The Bill would certainly be a new regulatory burden.

The right reverend prelate the Bishop of Wakefield and the noble Lord, Lord Davies, have referred to the experience since the 1994 Act was introduced. When the Act took effect, many people thought that the compromise would be unworkable. I thought so, but I was wrong. On the whole, it has worked pretty well. Shops have abided by the Act and there have not been many complaints. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about his town-centre constituents. A Budgens lorry drives past our quiet street early every weekday morning, so we have been rather grateful for the provision in the Act stating that lorries cannot deliver to their shops before 9 o'clock in the morning. More than half of people in this country shop at some time on a Sunday, but the effect is very marginal and represents an increase of only about 3.4 percent in sales and of 0.6 percent in profitability. Sunday trading is done because of convenience to shoppers, and not really, I suggest to my noble friend Lord Graham, done out of greed.

Let us consider what happened last Christmas. Asda did not open any of its stores. Sainsbury's opened three stores, which was fewer than were opened in 1999, but they were all small. They were less than 3,000 square feet in area and would not be affected by the Bill. Safeway did not open any large stores. It opened 50 small shops out of 480, and they were attached to petrol stations. Budgens opened 91 out of 207 stores, but they were all 3,000 square feet or less in size. The Co-opopened 85 of its 4,500 stores. Only three of them were more than 3,000 square feet in size. Woolworths opened three stores in Southall, Birmingham and Slough, where one might think that the argument about serving people who are not Christian would be relevant. All those three stores were more than 3,000 square feet in size. The lesson that I draw from that is this: yes, there are ups and downs, but it is not a plague or an epidemic. It is happening in a few places, especially non-Christian ones, but it does not seem to be growing significantly.

On employee protection, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, is right to say that the rights that are available for shopworkers who work on Sundays or who ask not to do so do not apply on Christmas Day when it is not a Sunday. Indeed, that applies to any bank holiday. But those rights must be a matter for negotiation between employers and employees. Employees who do not wish to work on Christmas day would generally be entitled to complain against employers if their contracts were varied without their consent. For example, they could do so if they were required to work on Christmas Day when they had not been required to do so before. Anybody who was dismissed for refusing to accept a contractual change would be entitled to complain of unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal. The Bill would legislate for the right of one sector of workers—only shopworkers—not to have to work on a particular public holiday. Whether or not one thinks that that is a good thing, it is not consistent with the way in which other workers are treated.

I shall tread very warily in talking about religion and tradition, because they are not my subject. None the less, I must say that my family observes Christmas Day. We do all the trimmings, as I think the saying goes. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is right, and that Scrooge bought a goose, not a turkey. We also tend to have a goose on Christmas Day.

It is common ground that those providing essential services have to work on Christmas Day. Priests of the Church of England have to do so. A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Great Ormond Street hospital with my wife, who was chairman of trustees, and with the Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife. He was working on a Christmas Day, although he was paid for it and I was not. It makes a difference. He was very noble about it, because he hates visiting hospitals. Clearly, however, some people have to work, but it is not new to suggest that there should be absence of regulation, that we should take things in our stride and that we should recognise that there are people of different religions in this country. There are many people—and, whether one likes it or not, their number is increasing—who not only do not observe any religion, but do not believe in one either.

Personally, I admire the spirit of the Bill, but I think that it is in many ways inconsistent with some of the other things that we try to do. So, as I say, I have my own reservations, which people can take or leave as they wish. The Government are neutral about the Bill. We believe that it is properly drafted after the amendments introduced in the House of Commons. We do not believe that it will require significant amendment.

Lord Norton of Louth

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I wanted to intervene before he concluded his remarks because I wish to make an important point. He mentioned the religious element, but is there not also a social dimension? The emphasis so far has been one way. Workers should have an absolute right to be protected against having to work on Christmas Day—there must be absolute protection—and, as the right reverend Prelate said, there is also a social case for it in terms of the family.

But is there not also a social case on the other side? For some people, Christmas is an extremely lonely period and for them the opportunity to work is a way of social interaction. I do not think that the dimension that some people may want to work should be lost. It may be a small number, but one has to see both sides of the argument.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. The Bill refers only to stores of 280 square metres and above, which is a small minority of the retail trade and an even smaller minority of work as a whole. That argument cuts both ways as well, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, will recognise.

However, the Bill is properly drafted and we would not wish to introduce amendments to it. We shall not oppose Second Reading or further proceedings in this House if your Lordships' wish it.

8.41 p.m.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in the debate, particularly the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield, and my very good friend the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I am also pleased with the contributions from all the Front Benches. One or two things have been said which require comment, but I shall not take up too much of the time of the House.

It is true that in 1994 there was a free vote on the Sunday Trading Act. Noble Lords will remember that the situation was somewhat unique because, for the first time, three options were placed before Parliament, from which a choice could be made. My noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey said that the Shops Act 1950 was in place until 1994. He is right. However, between 1950 and 1986, more than two dozen Private Member's Bills were laid before Parliament in an attempt to change the Shops Act 1950. Every Bill was defeated. Although there was a free vote in 1994, there certainly was not a free vote in 1986. Noble Lords may recall that that was a time when the Conservative government had a majority of 140. It was only the fact that 68 Conservative MPs defied a three-line Whip that enabled the Bill to be defeated in 1986.

My noble friend Lord McIntosh listed a great number of stores which had opened, some of them small stores. That is true. However, it strikes me that this is the prising of the floodgates. If it continues, what we are warning against will come to pass.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred to Sunday trading and pointed out some of its benefits. However, there are downsides. When we were campaigning against Sunday trading in the 1980s and 1990s, we made it very clear that, in the long term, overall trade would not be increased. Merely spreading trading hours over a larger number of days and hours would not necessarily increase trade. Subsequent reports have shown that to be precisely the case. Volume has not been increased or generated as a result of extending trading hours and spreading them over a longer period in the week.

However, we also said that in such cases—this has now proved to be the case—the costs of operation would be increased because you would be paying more but not necessarily achieving a greater turnover and greater volume of sales. That would mean that the increased costs would have to be paid for. We said, nearly 20 years ago, that those increased costs would be met either by increased prices or, alternatively, by reduced wages, or a little bit of both. Whereas when Sunday trading was first introduced workers were attracting premium payments of as much as treble time, we now find that in most instances payments are back down to single time. Indeed, in some cases, Sunday workers only are being employed on a Sunday.

This Bill is primarily about removing an anomaly, protecting shopworkers and recognising Christian values in the festive season and Christmas Day. I have drifted into Sunday trading and extended hours in general because I have, if you like, bitten the bullet as a result of comments that have been made.

A point was made—it may be seen as a bit of a downside to my Bill—about whether some people want to work on Christmas Day as a result of being lonely. This is the first time that I have ever heard that argument. I do not know what evidence there is to support that view. I do not know whether the situation even exists. Lonely people will find pursuits other than going to work. Sometimes their loneliness is not taken away even if they are in a crowd.

By and large, I am very pleased with the response I have received to my Private Member's Bill. I therefore request the House to give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at thirteen minutes before nine o'clock.