Mr. Couchman : I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) on the way in which he introduced his amendments. He made an eloquent and elegant opening speech to introduce what are, none the less, wrecking amendments. Both he and the House know that. He said that shutting large shops on Sundays would ease matters for small shops. In saying that, without that pressure, small shops would not have to open on Sundays, he revealed his true position, for he would much prefer it if no shops opened on Sundays.
My right hon. Friend's views would find some sympathy from the group OPEN which has encouraged and exhorted hon. Members, as it did in its letter to me dated 21 February in which it suggested that we should support my right hon. Friend's amendments because they would take the pressure off small shops and allow them to open on Sundays, keeping all large shops shut. It quoted evidence from a London Economics survey, which forecast that if the Bill is enacted, 5,000 jobs will be lost in the small shops sector. If that figure is correct--I do not for a moment believe that it is--it compares with the 180,000 people who now work mostly in the large shops sector, who would lose their jobs if the amendments were passed.
Those who lose their jobs will lose an income that is important to their households and would not qualify for redundancy pay. Many people who work on Sundays are students who value an opportunity to add to their grants or loans.
We have heard a lot about employee rights from opponents of Sunday shopping. I received a letter, dated 16 February, from the deputy general secretary of USDAW, Bill Connor. He states :
Column 360"We welcome the incorporation of an employee rights package into the Sunday Trading Bill, which was agreed on Wednesday, 9th February 1994, ensuring that Sunday working will be on a voluntary basis in the retail sector for existing and future employees. Given the level of turnover and the number of part-time workers in the industry, we particularly welcome the right of access to a tribunal without any qualifying terms."
Mr. Couchman : I am more inclined to take the word of the deputy general secretary of USDAW. He makes it clear that those rights will exist for present and future employees and that they will have access to a tribunal without any qualifying service or number of hours worked.
Interestingly, Mr. Connor also states :
"If one looks specifically at premium payments, as an example, it is in the major companies with whom we have agreements that our members receive either double-time payments or some significant premium for working on a Sunday. In the smaller stores premium payments have virtually disappeared".
If the amendments are passed, they would restrict the number of people who work on a Sunday who would receive premium pay.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) : We do not have any of those idiotic regulations in Scotland. How is anyone to shop on Monday if someone does not man the heating, lights and transport on Sunday? Is it not all a lot of bogus hypocrisy?
Mr. Couchman : I am interested in that intervention by my hon. and learned Friend. It is not the first intervention from a Scottish Member. I think that it was the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) who, in a long intervention, said that his wife enjoyed shopping on Sundays. How many Scottish Members, particularly those on the Opposition Benches, will feel inclined to deprive English housewives of the right to shop in the shop of their choice on a Sunday while allowing their wives to continue to shop in whatever shop chooses to open in Scotland on Sunday?
In his letter, Mr. Connor also talks of an agreement that he and his union have reached with the major employers who make up the principal supporters of the Shopping Hours Reform Council. That agreement with Sainsbury, Tesco, Kingfisher, Boots, Dixons, Asda, Argyll, and W H Smith includes all sorts of undertakings and in it the employers
"reaffirm their statement that they will continue to pay current premium rates of pay to Sunday employees that they would only require employees to give one month's notice of their intention to opt out of Sunday work that they would incorporate the right to opt out of Sunday work into employees' terms and conditions of employment that they would endeavour to make the opting-out procedure as simple as possible ... that where an existing shop worker opts out of Sunday work the employer will use his/her best endeavour to reschedule the employee's lost working hours elsewhere subject to the needs of the business."
Interestingly, the agreement also states that if the
"standard working week for shop floor employees shall not exceed 39 hours hours worked in excess of this will be paid at currently agreed rates."
Because of that agreement, Mr. Connor exhorts the House to give a speedy passage to the Bill and asks us all to vote for the Third Reading.
That is an interesting letter from an erstwhile opponent of Sunday trading and the change has come about because USDAW has sensibly responded to the needs, desires and
Column 361wants of its members. Many of them work in large shops which, if the amendment were passed, would be forced to close.
We must lay to rest the question of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill. I shall quote in full a paragraph in the letter from Mr. Nigel Matthews, the group secretary of Sainsbury, which I am sure hon. Members have received. It states :
"I understand that during the debate on the Sunday Trading Bill this Wednesday there may be some who will seek to link the provisions of the Deregulation Bill to Sunday trading. I would like to make Sainsbury's position clear on this issue. While we generally welcome deregulation, we would not expect to make any significant changes in our trading hours. Our trading hours reflect the needs of our customers, and we have no evidence from our current trading patterns that there is a widespread wish for people to shop extended hours on weekdays."
In her excellent speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) advanced the case for rejecting the amendments and said that few housewives will wish to shop between 8 o'clock in the evening and midnight.
Mr. Alton : By saying that he hopes that we will negative the amendments, the hon. Gentleman implies that he opposes them all. Will he confirm that he is in favour of shops opening on Christmas day when it falls on a Sunday and on Easter day, as that is one of the amendments on which we shall vote?
Mr. Couchman : I think that very few shops will open on Christmas day when it falls on a Sunday and that, in general, very few, apart from convenience shops which presently open, will do so on Easter day.
These wrecking amendments of whatever strand should be opposed. I include the intriguing amendment in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) and the hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley). That amendment would interest only a limited number of large shops. I suspect that it would suit the John Lewis group, which would wish to open its Waitrose supermarkets but not its major stores. That may be where the idea came from.
I was intrigued that we were offered a mornings-only option this time when on Second Reading my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) offered an afternoon-only option for the opening of large shops.
If these substantial amendments are approved, they will stop many do-it- yourself stores, garden centres and supermarkets opening. That would be a tragedy for do-it-yourself stores and garden centres because it would deprive many people of the opportunity to buy the goods that they want for their leisure time on Sundays.
Sir Roger Moate (Faversham) : I apologise for not being here for part of the debate. I was here when my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) moved his amendment and I place on record my strongest possible support for it. If by some mischance it should fall, I shall support the mornings-only option. I urge the House to take this opportunity once again to try to maintain, as far as we can in this day and age, the special qualities of our Sunday. My hon. Friend and good neighbour the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) said that these are wrecking amendments. That is nonsense and fails to understand the nature of the legislative procedures of the
Column 362House. Some people in the House and outside suggest that when the House has taken one vote its will has been expressed for good and all and thereafter anybody who seeks to change or amend that decision is flouting the will of Parliament. That is nonsense and I hope that every hon. Member understands that.
The will of the House or of Parliament is tested only when legislation has passed through all its stages in both Houses and has been tested in Committee and by the resolve of the House being tested in every possible way. Our measures are law only when they receive Royal Assent. It is quite right and proper that at every stage in this House, including Third Reading, and in another place, hon. Members should seek to change the legislation in any way they can. That is exactly what we are trying to do, and rightly so, and we shall continue to do so.
I place on record again my sadness and disappointment that we did not vote to keep Sunday special. I hope that subsequent events will have persuaded enough hon. Members to take this further opportunity to prevent us from going down that sad road.
Listening to some of the arguments that we have heard before--it is not right to rehearse them again today--one would feel that we are simply arguing about the checkout in Tesco in 1994. It is much more than that ; we are arguing about the nature of the society that we have inherited and what we pass on to future generations. The decision that we make today on the vote and the legislation is about much more than the retail war of the 1980s and 1990s--the DIY war and the superstore war. We are making a decision that will outlast all those factors and will influence our society for 100 years to come. When we open up Sunday trading without any regulation, although none of us can forecast what will happen tomorrow or the day after, it is a reasonable assumption that in years to come Sunday will be exactly the same as every other day of the week. That is the decision that we are taking and we should not take it lightly or throw away the opportunity to say that we wish to keep Sunday a quieter day and a special day, and to seize every opportunity to do so.
Mr. Fabricant : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, but I do not follow his assumption that Sunday will become like any other day. That is not the case in Scotland, where Sunday trading is allowed. There are those who say that Scotland is different from England and Wales, but we heard earlier in the debate that there is no restriction on Sunday trading in many states of the United States. In many of the states of New England, where there are small shops, Sunday is still a very different day, although there is derestriction.
Sir Roger Moate : My hon. Friend has made that point on many occasions. It is a matter of judgment. I am talking not about Scotland, but about England and Wales ; I am talking not about the United States, but about our society. We are trying to make a judgment about the shape of our society in years to come. I really cannot believe that, given the trend of events, if we open the doors to deregulated shopping, we shall not see the end of Sunday as we know it. Let us make a longer-term judgment for the future. It is self-evident that if we have total derestriction Sunday will cease to be a special day. Whether it is next year, in 10 years' time or in the lifetime of our children or
Column 363our children's children, that is the decision we are taking for our society and we should be very careful about what we are doing.
Mr. Alton : I strongly support the point that the hon. Gentleman is making and draw his attention to the evidence that the Church of Scotland Church and Nation Committee gave to the Home Secretary, which made it clear that it believes
"that the experiment in Scotland was not a success and was no model to be followed elsewhere."
I wish to make one further point about small shops. The amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) appeals particularly because it allows the opening of small shops and prevents the opening of very large stores, but not necessarily garden centres.
When my hon. Friends--I do not doubt their sincerity--say that they believe in maintaining small shops and defending rural post offices and then argue for total deregulation and for the high streets and the major supermarkets to be open all day Sunday, I begin to doubt their judgment. Frankly, the one major threat to the small shops are the major out-of-town centres and the large supermarkets. If we legislate, as we shall, to allow major stores to open six days a week, 24 hours a day, surely that will provide ample opportunity for shoppers to purchase goods at cheaper prices in supermarkets, if they wish.
Sir Roger Moate : My hon. Friend is right. This is a turning point for many small shopkeepers. Unrestricted Sunday opening will deliver a tremendous extra power into the hands of major retailers and large supermarkets. I cannot believe that Parliament wants that to happen. Many small shops, such as rural sub-post offices, will face a further and greater challenge. We should be trying to help those businesses, which have suffered most damage in recent years, yet no one seems anxious to help them --save those who support my right hon. Friend's amendment.
I hope that the House will take this late opportunity, seize the chance to back my right hon. Friend's amendment and send a message to the country that we will protect smaller shops, keep Sunday special and protect full- time jobs the rest of the week--albeit at the loss of some part-time jobs on Sunday.
Question put, That the amendment be made :--
The House proceeded to a Division--
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) (seated and covered) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I missed the vote through no fault of my own. I came over from Millbank as soon as it was called, and arrived in good time ; but there was a great logjam, and it was impossible to get through, although I pushed and shoved. May I urge you, Madam Speaker, to call off the Division and call another so that I can exercise my rights? This is very important, because many of my constituents have raised the matter with me and want me to vote on it.
Column 364time to vote. The fact that a lot of hon. Members are milling around is not the responsibility of the Chair. Hon. Members know that there are Divisions tonight, and they should know which Lobbies they are going to go into. I have watched the clock very carefully, and I am not prepared to have a recount. I caution hon. Members that Divisions are taking place ; they must know which Lobby they are going to enter, and they must be prepared to do so. That is the end of it.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (seated and covered) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I arrived on time, and it was impossible to get through the Lobby, although I was here a good two minutes before the doors were locked. My constituents, too, want me to vote consistently, as I have voted before.
Madam Speaker : The system has been functioning in the House for many years. Very seldom do Members of Parliament find it impossible to get into the Division Lobby of their choice, and I am not prepared to accept that as an excuse tonight, simply because Members of Parliament are standing around. Let me repeat that hon. Members know the way in which they will vote on these issues. The Chair has kept the Division Lobbies open for the appropriate time and hon. Members are responsible for themselves.
Mr. Alton (seated and covered) : Once the vote has been concluded, Madam Speaker, will you ask the Serjeant at Arms to give you a report about the scenes outside the Lobby? You were not able to observe those scenes, Madam Speaker, but some of us did, and they were more reminiscent of the Portobello road than of the House of Commons. They clearly prevented some hon. Members from exercising their right to vote. We hope that you will ensure that there is no repetition of those scenes when the next vote is taken, on the exclusion of Christmas day and Easter Sunday from the provisions of the Bill, and on whether people should be able to shop on those days.
Mr. Renton (seated and covered) : With the greatest respect, Madam Speaker, I have voted in the House on many occasions, over quite a few years. When I arrived in the Lobby just outside to vote just now, there was a considerable scrimmage, and it was very hard to get through to the No Lobby. People were explaining which way to go. I must say that I think that the Division should be recalled on account of the amount of pressurising and lobbying that was going on outside. I found it impossible to get through to the No Lobby.
Mr. Quentin Davies (seated and covered) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I have succeeded in voting this evening, but I was just in the Dining Room when the Division began. There has been a new factor during the past few months. It is perfectly true that, for years and years, Members have managed to get into the Division Lobbies on time. There is a new factor. From 7 Millbank, where I have my office, it takes at least six minutes, even without any--
The House having divided : Ayes 239, Noes 300.
Division No. 141] [9.36 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F.
Berry, Dr. Roger
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Body, Sir Richard
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Corston, Ms Jean
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Donohoe, Brian H.
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grylls, Sir Michael
Hannam, Sir John
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Home Robertson, John
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)