Madam Speaker : I have a short statement to make about the procedure to be followed later this evening on motion No. 4, relating to the Government's assessment of the medium-term economic and budgetary position.
This motion is the first to be made under section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, which requires the assessment to be reported to the House for its approval. In this respect, tonight's proceedings will be analogous to the procedure on an affirmative resolution for the approval of a statutory instrument, when, as stated on page 341 of "Erskine May", no amendments to the motion are possible since the Act provides only for approval.
I do not propose, therefore, to select any amendments this evening, but the House will of course be free to vote against the main question and to raise in debate many of the arguments advanced in the amendments on the Order Paper.
Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you help me with an inconsistency that I perceived in the answers today. A junior Minister decided that it was a matter for him to answer a question about Mr. Cahill and his £10 million payout for the Rover deal, yet, when we asked him yesterday about that, the Prime Minister said that it was not a matter for him. Can you enlighten me?
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Given the unsatisfactory replies by the President of the Board of Trade to my question about the Post Office--he did not even appear to know anything about it--may I apply for a Thursday Adjournment debate?
Column 286questions accepted yesterday and asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) and me. The questions were directed to the House of Commons Commission. I note from today's Order Paper that those questions, which concern the provision of child care facilities in the Palace of Westminster, have been transferred to the Chairman of the Administration Committee. Could that be reviewed?
I am aware that the Chairman of the Administration Committee is responsible for the questionnaire currently being circulated and analysed, but overall responsibility for this important matter rests with the Commission, so I hope that the matter can be reconsidered in order that the House can debate it in the Chamber.
Madam Speaker : I am grateful to the hon. Lady. The rule for questions is that they should be addressed to the hon. Member with primary responsibility for answering them. I am having inquiries made into the matter raised with me by the hon. Lady and shall be in touch with her as soon as I can.
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question relates to your original statement, although it in no way seeks to question it. While it would be totally improper for any amendments to be selected, do I take it that it is still possible for some amendments to be tabled, as they provide a valuable means for people to express their opinions?
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Would you, Madam Speaker, agree that the Government and the Cabinet have collective responsibility at all times? My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) asked a question about the Prime Minister's statement yesterday. The tinpot Minister of State answered the question for which the Prime Minister said he was not responsible. Last week, the Prime Minister called on all his Ministers and others to sing from the same hymn sheet--but they sound like a rabble.
Madam Speaker : I hardly think that is a point of order for me. It seems to be an extension of Question Time. I am sure that all hon. Members who are interested can find other methods of pursuing that subject.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision as to transcripts, oral evidence and other submissions to public inquiries, and for connected purposes.
Presenting this Bill today is for me rather like a maiden speech, as it is the first time that I have introduced a ten-minute Bill. My Bill makes two specific proposals that are modest and, on balance, will save taxpayers' money. I hope that it will have the unanimous support of the House of Commons, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I shall begin by describing the Bill's background. It stems largely from my recent experience of a public inquiry into the development of the A27 in the Worthing district. Alas, nothing in the Bill, even if it proceeds with the greatest speed, will have any effect on that inquiry. My experience of that inquiry showed me that it was worth while introducing a Bill to help those who are engaged in public inquiries in future. While we pass much legislation, and Government Departments introduce many procedures for our constituents, we do not always have first-hand experience of all aspects of that legislation.
Public inquiries into road schemes could be improved in two ways. The proposal in Worthing will not be affected by the Bill. I believe that Worthing should have a bypass, but the Government propose to put the road through the built-up part of the town. Our position is unique, in that there are two possible routes for the road. The normal procedure is for the Government to propose a route, which is the only one to be worked up in great detail. The overall effect of that is to bias proceedings heavily against objectors and in favour of the Department of Transport's scheme, which should give the House considerable cause for concern. It is important that schemes should be considered and alternatives fully examined. The other general matter of concern is that, although we introduced the Planning and Compensation Act 1991, which did something to help those affected by road schemes, I am increasingly of the belief that the way in which some of my constituents are treated can only be described as a form of highway robbery. The Government have interpreted the Act in a restrictive way. They pay compensation under discretionary powers only to those within, in general terms, 100 m of the central line of the roads, which may be six lanes wide. That seems to leave a large number of people who live outside the limit, but who are seriously affected.
The Government have consistently taken the view that the crucial factor is whether the enjoyment of property is affected by the proposed road. Many people are unable to sell their property for a number of years, regardless of how difficult their personal circumstances may be. The way in which the matter is handled is a considerable disadvantage to constituents who take their case to a public inquiry.
There is much to be said for the French system, whereby substantially more than the market value of the house is offered, which avoids the delays and unfairness that would otherwise result. The Bill essentially addresses two problems. The first is that, when a public inquiry begins, one is expected to present a so-called proof of evidence in writing. That is an
Column 288onerous undertaking, although I am amazed at the expertise in matters such as road programmes that emerges among constituents during such inquiries. None the less, one may have to write 80 or 100 pages of detailed analysis to present the so-called proof of evidence.
That is all very well, but the absurdity is that one is then required to read out that proof of evidence at the public inquiry, which can only be described as a field day for lawyers. [Interruption.] They are perfectly able to read the proof of evidence, but, as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is suggesting, they earn a considerable amount in legal fees for simply sitting and listening to evidence being read.
In addition, a considerable number of officials from the Department of Transport attend inquiries. They could also read the proof of evidence, but instead sit and listen for day after day doing nothing.
The result is that the inquiry that I mentioned has continued for three months, and is likely to continue until Easter or beyond. Much of the time has been taken up by the absurdity of people having to read out their proof of evidence. My proposal, therefore, is that the reading out of evidence should not be necessary, or that it should be allowed only if the inspector believes that it is appropriate. The second problem arises when constituents do not feel able to present an elaborate written proof of evidence, and instead give their evidence orally. The absurdity is that the decision about whether such evidence should be transcribed is at the discretion of the inspector.
I do not wish to comment on the case that I mentioned, but it appears that a transcript is not being provided, on grounds of cost. The scheme is likely to cost about £120 million, yet finance is not available for transcripts, which might achieve a result that is better, fairer and less biased in favour of the Department. We must correct that. My Bill, perhaps with a de minimis provision, would ensure that transcripts are provided.
The other absurdity that arises is that no transcript is provided of cross- examination--the interesting exchanges that are vital if one disputes matters at a later stage. As an objector's notes can be disputed, he is unable to present his case in a fair way, with all exchanges being recorded. That matter should be put right. It is absurd that constituents can attend an inquiry every day for three or perhaps five months, listening to the cross-examination, only to have their notes disputed.
For those reasons, I believe that the case is overwhelming. On balance, it would mean a substantial saving of public funds, and the saving of time and trouble under the first part of the Bill would more than compensate for the cost of providing a transcript. It has been suggested that proceedings could be tape-recorded. A recording is not necessarily provided but, as the House knows, a tape-recording is not an adequate substitute for a written record. If one wishes to dispute a particular exchange, one cannot whip back and forth through a tape-recording which might run for some hours, but one can pick out and cite a passage from a manuscript immediately. Therefore, there is no reasonable argument for proceedings to be recorded.
I very much hope that the House will be kind enough to allow me to introduce the Bill. I also hope that, unlike some other ten-minute Bills, it might find its way on to the statute book.
Question put and agreed to.
Column 289Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Terence Higgins, Mr. Bob Dunn, Mr. Alan Williams, Mr. Peter Bottomley, Mr. Iain Mills, Mr. Nigel Waterson and Mr. Gary Waller.
Sir Terence Higgins accordingly presented a Bill to make provision as to transcripts, oral evidence and other submissions to public inquiries, and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 4 March, and to be printed. [Bill 46.]
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. There are occasions when one regrets that the ten-minute Bill procedure does not have a fast track to fruition, and this is one of them. In the presence of the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, may I suggest that some thought should be given to finding a way to dispatch ten-minute Bills through the House? I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins), who has struck a chord with many of us in saying that the way in which public inquiries are carried out is a scandal. Those of us who went through the Orkney scandal believe that the procedure is outrageous.
in the Chair ]
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am concerned about the selection of amendments. Having heard what was said during the debates on the Maastricht treaty, I know that you cannot explain why you have selected some amendments and neglected to select others.
I have tabled an amendment which would exclude Wales from the Bill's provisions. It has no crossover with any of the other amendments that are to be considered, and I should like an assurance that there will be an opportunity to raise that point on Report, as I have been denied that opportunity now. It is an important point, not only for me but for most hon. Members with Welsh constituencies. Therefore, if I may, I ask for an assurance that the matter can be raised on Report in the House.
The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Morris) : I noted the strength of the hon. Gentleman's feeling from the speed with which he tabled the amendment. Nevertheless, he knows full well that I can give no assurance about the Report stage ; I can say only that Madam Speaker will read Hansard and will be aware of the hon. Gentleman's plea.
That the order in which the remaining proceedings in Committee of the whole House on the Sunday Trading Bill are to be taken shall be Clause 2, Schedule 4, new Clauses and new Schedules.-- [Mr. Peter Lloyd.]
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
and includes any work in connection with the delivery of goods for retail sale at the shop which necessarily involves attendance at or adjacent to the shop for the purpose of those deliveries'. Many hon. Members, especially Opposition Members, wish as few workers as possible to have to go to work on a Sunday. However, under the Bill, many workers may be obliged to work on a Sunday, and the conditions that apply to them are at the heart of the debate, and are of considerable concern to my hon. Friends and to myself. Employees are covered by many provisions in the schedule. It contains definitions both of shopworkers and of shop work, and it was our original intention to explore the definition of the term "shopworker". However, we have been advised that it is more appropriate to try to amend the definition of "shop work", and that is what the amendment is designed to do.
The amendment is not only probing but is of substance, too. I hope that, as a probing amendment, it will draw from the Minister a clear and expanded definition of what is meant by shop work and therefore how those who
Column 291undertake that work can be described. It is also an amendment of substance, because it would bring within the ambit of the schedule and the Bill workers involved in deliveries to shops that open on a Sunday.
We are most anxious to understand precisely who is covered by the provisions of the Bill. There are many workers whom a lay person might not regard as shopworkers as such. They are not necessarily serving at counters, providing goods or taking cash or cheque payments ; they may be workers replenishing the shelves, or working in the yard around the shop bringing goods in from delivery vehicles. They may be the people who go out and collect those trolleys that always seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We may presume that all such workers are covered by the definition on the face of the Bill, but in our debates on the specific employment protection measures, it will be essential to know which workers are specifically covered by the provisions.
Shop work is defined on the face of the Bill as
"work in or about a shop in England or Wales on a day on which the shop is open for the serving of customers".
That appears to include workers in the yard at the back of the shop, doing the ancillary tasks. But we wish to know definitely whether it covers, for example, workers who may be housed in offices at the back of the part of the retail premises where goods are being sold, operating the computers dealing with the cash tills and the flow of goods out of the store.
Does the definition of shop work as
"in or about a shop"
cover such workers whom a lay person might not imagine were involved in retail work of any kind? Does it cover the manager? Are we clear whether it will cover all managers associated with work in or about a shop that is open on a Sunday? Because we want to know the answers to those questions, we are testing the Minister by including in the amendment a definition of shop work that would include all those whom I have described--I have not yet heard a clear explanation whether they are covered or not--and also people delivering goods to the store.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Is it not important to establish whether the definition covers people who serve staff meals and refreshments? They may not serve the public, but many superstores such as Sainsbury's have staff cafeterias, and it is essential that the people who work in them be covered by the protection we seek.
Ms Ruddock : I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. He has mentioned yet another area where clarification is needed. I see that the Minister is beaming, which must mean that he will be able to say that those people are covered. We shall be delighted if he does. It is important to get such information on the record. I encourage all my hon. Friends to intervene as often as possible, so that we can have as clear and comprehensible a list as possible of workers defined as doing shop work "in or about a shop". I shall now comment on those workers who make deliveries. It may be a somewhat controversial subject, and those who make deliveries may hold differing views on whether they wish to be included in the Sunday Trading Bill. Many of those people who will be required to work on Sunday and to make deliveries to stores which are trading on Sundays may already have to work on Sunday.
Column 292I acknowledge that some delivery workers already work on Sundays because they supply stores that open early on Monday morning. We also know that many workers who currently make deliveries, especially of fresh fruit, vegetables and milk, and who work illegally under the present arrangements which stores have instituted, will be required to work legally if the Bill becomes law. We wish to test the Minister to clarify whether such people are already included in the Bill's provisions. If not, our amendment would include those who make deliveries.
Delivery men and women are an important group of people who already often work unsociable hours. Many deliveries are made in the early hours of the morning in preparation for a day's trading, and they have a work pattern which is not conducive to the best sort of family life. As for other workers who will be required to work if the Bill becomes law, we believe there ought to be an opportunity for delivery workers to opt out of Sunday working.
We seek to make Sunday working a voluntary activity, and people should be able to choose whether to go to work or not on a Sunday when they are performing an activity where choice is of the essence. Of course we do not expect there to be a choice over the provision of emergency services or essential services which require people to drive vehicles on Sunday--that is clearly understood. However, we are discussing retail opening. It should be voluntary and would be a new provision in our society on Sundays, and therefore would affect a group of workers who could have to work in new conditions.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : I welcome the attempt that my hon. Friend is making to present as broad a range as possible of the groups of workers who should be protected. Does she agree that there is no possible protection in the Bill for workers who are currently being pressured, including one group of maintenance engineering workers I know of, who have been told that, probably, they would have to work on a Sunday as all the shops would be open? Those jobs are unrelated to retailing, yet, because of the whole ethos of Sunday opening, there is pressure on those workers to work on Sundays as well, which is of major concern to many of us.
Ms Ruddock : I agree with my hon. Friend. It is clear that the consequences of Sunday opening and of legalised Sunday trading are wide- ranging. We have debated those matters in Committee, and that debate will clearly continue. I firmly believe that, when the House opted for limited Sunday opening and partial deregulation, it was not giving the Government a free-for-all approach to Sunday trading and to the commercialisation of Sundays.
There is a sense throughout the House, especially among Opposition Members, that many workers could be adversely affected. It is our intention to extend the protection provided in the Bill to as wide a group of workers as possible.
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : I support the amendment tabled by those on the Labour Front Bench, which extends the employment protection contained in schedule 4 to lorry drivers and distributive workers employed to deliver goods to shops opening on a Sunday. I welcome the amendment, because it will offer protection to some people working in ancillary retail services who will be substantially affected
Column 293if Sunday trading became law : workers who will no longer be guaranteed respite from work at weekends ; workers who are often separated from their families during the week and who will no longer be guaranteed free time with them at weekends ; workers who will be required to work longer hours at low rates of pay. I support the amendment in recognition of the fact that employees in ancillary retail services should and must be given comprehensive protection on Sundays.
I want to draw to the attention of the House two inadequacies in the amendment--inadequacies that also permeate the Bill itself. The first is that the amendment applies only to a limited section of those employed in the distributive industry. It would offer no protection to those working in warehouses and regional distributive centres who, equally, will be required to work throughout the weekend if Sunday trading becomes prevalent.
Nor does the amendment offer protection to other employees working in ancillary services who will be affected directly by the introduction of full Sunday trading--for instance, those employed in food preparation. I am sure that we are all aware of the case of workers at Middlebrook Mushrooms who were dismissed for refusing to work longer hours at weekends in order to prevent further instances of discrimination and the harassment of workers into working unsociable hours.
The House has a responsibility to introduce comprehensive employment protection. That cannot be achieved through employment protection provisions such as those contained in schedule 4. It can be achieved only by restricting the level of trading on Sundays. Equally, no protection is offered under schedule 4 to local government workers such as inspectors, traffic wardens and the police, all of whom will be required to have a larger presence in the community on Sunday if the Bill is passed. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) mentioned that in an intervention. It is important that all employees who are affected should be protected. The second inadequacy to which I wish to draw attention is the fact that neither the amendment nor the Bill deals with the increased pressure that will be exerted on workers such as lorry drivers to work on Saturdays as well as Sundays. Information received from the United Road Transport Union shows that the experience of limited de facto Sunday trading is that, in order to serve shopping needs on Sundays, lorry drivers and warehouse workers have had to work on Saturdays, often every Saturday.
That pressure will increase if Sunday trading becomes widespread. Already, most lorry drivers work 60 hours a week, and are away from home from Monday or even Sunday to Friday. The only chance those workers get to see and spend time with their partners and their children is at weekends. Is it right, in a modern society, that workers should be deprived of the right to go to football matches with their children?
Already society is suffering the worst effects of the break-up of extended family networks in which parents, grandparents and children met and interacted regularly, and in which there was usually someone around who cared enough to keep the youngsters out of trouble. Nowadays, children are all too often left to fend for themselves long before they are ready to face the world alone.
Column 294While we cannot blame all the break-ups in society on Sunday trading, the preservation of a common day of recreation forms the central plank in a strong family-orientated community. Therefore, today and on Report, the House must vote to keep Sunday a special day for as many people as possible.
Yesterday, I received a letter from the general secretary of the United Road Transport Union. It is necessary to record parts of that letter. I quote :
"It is not generally appreciated that the deregulation of Sunday trading will have a significant impact not only upon shop workers but, also, upon those engaged in the road transport and distribution industry".
It is right for the general secretary to send letters to Members of Parliament who are involved and interested in this Bill to ensure that his workers are protected. The letter continues :
"The advent of just in time' regimes, coupled with deregulation, will affect everyone in the supply chain ; those delivering to regional distribution centres will find themselves working on Saturday afternoons and on through the night, whilst those delivering directly to retail outlets will be required to work on Sunday. Those changes, designed to bring benefits to retailers and shoppers, will be achieved at the expense of professional drivers, and at a huge cost to the social lives of them and their families Substantial changes in working practices, leading to even greater pressure to breach existing regulations on drivers' hours, as there is no immediate prospect of a significant increase in the number of available qualified and experienced drivers to meet increased demand.
A detrimental effect upon road safety caused by those pressures and by the absence of opportunity for rest and relaxation.
A serious deterioration in family relationships as drivers become increasingly unable to fit in with the free time of the rest of the family A substantial cost to society in dealing with the effect upon family relationships, higher rates of divorce and juvenile offending as the influence of the breadwinner is removed from the family home for longer and longer periods.
Complete deprivation of any real choice about whether or not to work in accordance with the new demands as they become incorporated into the core of commercial activity. Concerns for the social welfare of the family and the well-being of children will, of necessity, be replaced by concerns for the security of employment and continuance of income."
David Higginbottom, the general secretary of that union, is concerned about his members. He also expressed concern about a number of other people who will not be safeguarded by this amendment. The Government do not intend to safeguard some employees.
In other letters that I have received, workers have complained bitterly-- Members of Parliament have also complained bitterly about this--that no hint was given or effort made to inform hon. Members that a deregulation Bill would extend weekday shopping to 24 hours a day Monday to Saturday. Why on earth do we want a Sunday Trading Bill to extend shopping on a Sunday when we will have shopping 24 hours a day six days a week?
What employment protection will be extended to workers when we take away the Shops Act 1950, which at least limits the number of hours that shopworkers are expected to work? The ancillary workers whom I mentioned-- in all probability, my hon. Friends will mention them later--do not have employment protection. No amendment has been tabled that would give them protection. What protection will they be given by this Bill? I cannot see that happening.
In addition, my hon. Friends have already received complaints, and I tell Government Members in Scotland that their constituents will have no protection. We should be looking at that matter when we talk about the protection
Column 295of workers. I will not take up any more of the Committee's time, because a number of my hon. Friends would like to express similar opinions.
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill) : I support the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and amendment No. 63. The amendment should be seen in the context of later amendments, which deal with the protection of workers who will be required to work on Sunday. Many hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) and myself, would say that one cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. This is a bad piece of legislation which cannot possibly be enforced in law. It will lead to the exploitation of employees who will be pressurised in the labour market.
Mr. Alton : However many of the amendments are passed today--I will vote for those before the Committee because they attempt genuinely to make a bad situation better--the fact is, as the hon. Lady says, it is still a bad Bill.
Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, rather than trying to deal in a highly complex and convoluted way with the narrow group of retail workers who work on Sunday, we should be looking to much simpler legislation which provides full-time rights for part-time workers? Should not that legislation be available on the hour that a person takes up employment, no matter how many hours they work or how long they have served in a shop? Would not that help to solve most of the problems in this area?
Mr. Alton : I agree with the hon. Lady, but she will recall that, only yesterday, the House discussed further deregulation for the rest of the week. We are going against the rights of workers. We rejected the inclusion of the social chapter when we debated the Maastricht treaty, and the rights of workers have been eroded week in, week out, during this Parliament.
I support what the hon. Lady says, although some of the amendments ought undoubtedly to commend themselves to the Committee. For example, some seek to protect applicants at interviews for retail work from discrimination because they choose not to work on Sundays. Other amendments shift the burden of proof from the employee on to the employer in cases of unfair dismissal on Sunday-related grounds. One reduces the notice period for opting out from Sunday work from three months to one month, and another ensures that employees are informed of their Sunday employment rights. An amendment improves the remedies available to shopworkers who are seeking redress for the violation of their Sunday rights.
Perhaps most importantly, there is an amendment to introduce statutory double-time payments for all shopworkers on Sundays, thereby extending the best existing practice relating to pay within larger stores to workers throughout the retail industry and fairly compensating employees for time sacrificed with their families and friends, as the hon. Member for Ogmore described.
All the matters which we will debate--including amendment No. 63, which extends employee protection to people in distribution who work on Sunday-- are worthy, and ought to be commended to the Committee. We should
Column 296not fool ourselves into believing that the measures will protect people, because everything is based on a wish and a prayer. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) talked about the voluntary principle, which shows a trust and belief in those who will be responsible for taking on employees in the future. Past practice does not give us any grounds for that touching belief expressed by the hon. Lady. The Shops Act 1950, after all, is what we are seeking to replace, and employee protection is at its heart. That principle has been tested in the British courts and the European courts, yet its provisions at the moment are paper-thin.
Legal aid is not available for industrial tribunal applications, and costs are not awarded except in wholly exceptional cases. Applicants without legal representation have been successful in only some 10 per cent. of cases when the employer has been represented. That is the present situation, so should we be making a bad situation even worse? Undoubtedly, the Bill will do that.
The remedies which are awarded are totally inadequate. Reinstatement--the primary remedy available--is awarded in only 1 per cent. of cases which proceed to a hearing. The compensation is derisory. The median compensation awarded in 1990 and 1991 was just £1,773.
Applications to industrial tribunals are subject to delay, and no interim relief is available. In June 1992, it was reported that, in a majority of regional jurisdictions, fewer than half of all applicants received a hearing within 26 weeks of their application being registered. Throughout the process of the hearing, the burden of proof of discrimination for refusing to work on Sundays lies with the employee. That is difficult to satisfy.
Even if later amendments are accepted, it will still be difficult to enforce the law.