HL Deb 08 September 2004 vol 664 cc680-4

(1) Where a shop which is prohibited by section 1 from opening on Christmas Day is located in a loading control area, the occupier of the shop must not load or unload, or permit any other person to load or unload, goods from a vehicle at the shop before 9 a.m. on Christmas Day in connection with the trade or business carried on in the shop, unless the loading or unloading is carried on—

  1. (a) with the consent of the local authority for the area in which the shop is situated, granted in accordance with this section, and
  2. (b) in accordance with any conditions subject to which that consent is granted.

(2) The provisions of paragraphs 3 to 8 of Schedule 3 to the 1994 Act shall apply in relation to consent under subsection (1) as they apply in relation to consent under that Schedule, but as if—

  1. (a) the reference in paragraph 6(1) to Sunday were a reference to Christmas Day, and
  2. (b) the reference in paragraph 7(a) to an offence under paragraph 9 of that Schedule were a reference to an offence under subsection (3).

(3) A person who contravenes subsection (1) is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

(4) In this section, "loading control area" means any area designated by a local authority as a loading control area in accordance with section 2 of the 1994 Act."

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 1, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 2 to 6 inclusive.

Those who were present during the Second Reading of this Bill may recall that I signalled the Government's intention to table an amendment relating to loading and unloading before nine o'clock at the premises of large shops on Christmas Day. This undertaking was made by the Minister in charge of the Bill in another place and was the result of concurrence between the Bill's sponsor, the Government and the Opposition on the merit of the proposed amendment.

The amendment would simply prohibit loading and unloading before 9 a.m. on Christmas Day in areas designated loading control areas by the local authority. This is for the principal purpose of ensuring that Christmas morning does not become a noisy affair for residents in the locality. Those areas designated as such will be the same as on a Sunday (under Section 2 of the Sunday (Trading) Act 1994).

In the last reading of this Bill my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity expressed some reservation as to the need for such an amendment and it was clear that part of this unease about the proposal was a genuine fear that the Bill might not be successful. On this latter point I am thankful that we have been able to arrive at an agreement with all parties in this House to enable this amendment to be made, while ensuring that the Bill is not endangered through lack of parliamentary time. I think this is a further reflection of the popularity and desirability of the Bill and a shared wish to have it in place for this Christmas.

On the former point, I recall that my noble friend had made some limited inquiries about the extent of the use of the current provision under Section 2 of the Sunday (Trading) Act, the main finding being that a minority of local authorities used this power in practice. The Department of Trade and Industry has also made inquiries about how extensively this provision in the 1994 Act is used, and the research produced some interesting findings. Whereas these inquiries endorsed those of my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity, they also confirmed that all of the respondents believed that inclusion of such a measure in this Bill is a good and sensible idea. There are two points that should be made here which give weight to the argument for the adoption of the proposed amendment and these are as follows.

First, it has been established in both this House and in another place that this Bill is largely pre-emptive in the sense that it puts in place a prohibition which, given the nature of market forces, is necessary to avert what could otherwise he a foregone conclusion—the en masse opening of large shops. Similarly, while it may be true that most large shops do not currently load or unload on Christmas Day before nine o'clock (or on Sunday), this does not preclude the possibility of that practice changing.

Secondly, the differences between Sunday and Christmas Day are important to emphasise here for the reason that such a power to prohibit loading and unloading may be more appropriate in the context of Christmas Day than in the context of a Sunday. Whereas Sunday is followed by Monday—an ordinary consumer shopping day—Christmas Day is followed by Boxing Day on which only a minimal observation would reveal the ubiquity of signs advertising sales. It is clear to see that the preparation for the busy sales period starting on Boxing Day would be more extensive than that of preparing for a Monday.

It is for these reasons, and for the reason that this amendment is in the spirit of the Bill's intentions, that I urge the Committee to accept this and the other supporting amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, as my noble friend the Minister has confirmed, at Second Reading I said that I had no objection in principle to this amendment. My concern was that we would have run out of parliamentary time. I am now assured that, with the maximum co-operation, that will not happen.

Since Second Reading I have met with my noble friend Lord Evans, I have had discussions with my noble friend the Government Chief Whip, I have had a brief discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, the Opposition Chief Whip and a very brief discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Roper, Chief Whip of the Liberal Democrats, and I believe that they have been extremely fruitful.

This morning I had a brief word with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who certainly supports the Bill, as expressed in his speech at Second Reading. He has no objection to the amendment. Further, I have had a telephone conversation with the right honourable Eric Forth, the Member in the other place who tabled this amendment in the first place. I have been assured by him that although the timetable is very tight, this Bill will not suffer obstruction in the other place and will therefore become law in time for Christmas this year. On that basis, I urge your Lordships to support the amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

I rise as a member of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group within the Church of England, which has consistently pressed for this Bill, and which has engaged in vigorous dialogue with some shops that have shown a tendency towards opening on Christmas Day. I am very glad for the introduction of this amendment.

I simply add to what the Minister has already said, that Christmas morning has a very particular quality about it, which makes its guarding a matter of some importance to us all. So I join with noble Lords who have already spoken in hoping that the amendment will pass and that the Bill will speedily become law.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I support the amendment. I just want to build a little on what the Minister said. To my knowledge this is the first time that we have been able to amend a Private Member's Bill from the Commons in this way. The other place has altered its arrangements, and in particular the last day on which it habitually takes Private Members' Bills, to allow this to happen. This is a rare example of the other place altering its procedures for the convenience of your Lordships. That matter is to be welcomed in principle as is the detail of the amendment.

Lord Roper

I rise not to speak on the substance of the amendment, although I believe, irrespective of what one thinks about the substance of the Bill, that these amendments improve it. Although I am told that turkeys do not vote for an early Christmas, I shall certainly not oppose this particular amendment.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I wanted to refer to the fact that we have, following the principle of comity between the Houses, been able to reach an agreement whereby it is possible for this House to consider amendments to Private Members' Bills at a late stage. This is a way in which we can ensure that this sort of legislation is improved, or at least made as good as it can be by discussion in this House as well, and that this in itself does not kill Bills and prevent them becoming law. That is a very important step forward in the legislative process. I am pleased that this is one of the first occasions when we have been able to take advantage of these new provisions.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2 [Enforcement]:

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendments Nos. 2 to 4:

Page 1, line 24, leave out "section 1" and insert "sections 1 and (Prohibition of loading and unloading at large shops before 9 a.m. on Christmas Day)"

Page 2, line 10, leave out "section 1" and insert "sections 1 and (Prohibition of loading and unloading at large shops before 9 a.m. on Christmas Day)"

Page 2, line 13, leave out "offence under section 1" and insert "offences under sections 1 and (Prohibition of loading and unloading at large shops before 9 a.m. on Christmas Day)"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Consequential amendments]:

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendment No. 5:

Leave out Clause 3 and insert the following new Clause—