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Dr. Godman : Does the eight-week period incorporate training for a person's work ? For example, welders work intermittently in the offshore fabrication industry, and if they are out of work for three or four weeks, they may not be able to reach the standards set for such work in that industry. They have been out of work to undergo periods of training to bring them back to the levels required by Norsk Veritas and an American insurance regulatory body. Does that eight-week period incorporate or include periods of training ?
Mr. Scott : The hon. Gentleman's intervention relates to a previous amendment, but that period certainly would include any period of training. I was talking specifically about the medical test and the arrangements being made for our proposals to be brought forward properly and publicly discussed. There will then be a final opportunity for the House to discuss the regulations which will flow from that. If I can leap backwards, the answer to the hon. Gentleman is that such a period will certainly apply.
Mr. Bradley : I glean from the Minister's response that he intends to issue the final report, and that those panellists who have a dissenting view on it, rather than having their views highlighted in the report, will be allowed to comment on it. If I have misunderstood, I would welcome a correction from the Minister. It is important to discover whether the document will be published as though there was consensus. Will those panellists who disagree have an
Column 153opportunity to express their opinions separately, or will their concerns be highlighted when the revised report is published ?
Mr. Scott : It is my present intention that, once the Government have considered the work of the panellists and the evaluation process, they will come forward with their own proposals. It will then be open to anyone to make clear his views about them. Whatever people's final views, I am extremely grateful to those who have taken part in the work of the panel for the body of expertise that they have offered and the fact that they have concentrated on an important issue.
Question put and agreed to.
Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to, some with Special Entry.
Lords amendment : No. 42, in page 19, line 24, at end insert ("under section 30A below or short-term or long-term incapacity benefit under section 40 or 41 below")
Mr. Bradley : The effect of the amendment, as laid out in the Department's document, is welcome. Widows and widowers who are incapable of work will qualify for incapacity benefit on the basis of their deceased spouses' national insurance contributions. Why are industrial injuries excluded from a similar provision ?
Question put and agreed to.
Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to .
Lords amendments considered .
Lords amendments Nos.1 to 4 agreed to.
Lords amendment : No. 5, in page 4, leave out line 9
Mr. Lloyd : During the many changes that the Bill has undergone, any reference to "licensed premises", other than in the list of definitions, has been removed from schedule 1. The definition is therefore redundant, and amendment No. 5 seeks to delete it. I hope that it will assist the House if I also say a word about the other amendments in the group.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 11 would provide an exemption for any stand used in an exhibition from the six-hour restriction that the Bill places on trading by large shops. According to the current law, stands at most exhibitions are able to trade legally on a Sunday, notwithstanding the provisions of the Shops Act 1950, because of a series of provisions in various local Acts, which allow trading at specific and listed sites. For example, the West Midlands County Council Act 1980 disapplies the closing and Sunday trading provisions of the 1950 Act to any shop or stand open during the course of an exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre.
This is, of course, a matter for the House, but, as I see it, the amendments do not provide a loophole for large retailers to slip through. They would lay to rest any concerns of exhibitors who have always hitherto enjoyed free trading on a Sunday.
Amendment No. 7 would allow large farm shops to trade at any hour on a Sunday instead of being restricted to six hours trading like other large stores. Up to a point, shops on farms have always been in a privileged position regarding Sunday trading. Section 58 of the 1950 Act allows on a Sunday
"the sale at a farm, of produce produced thereon".
That provision was intended to provide that, if a farmer sold a customer some of his own produce, he would not be in breach of the Sunday trading provisions.
Times have changed, however, and some of the farm shops now in operation are larger than 3,000 sq ft. If those shops have been trading on a Sunday they may well have been doing so in breach of the 1950 Act by selling far more than the produce of the farm on which they are situated. Whatever the potential anomaly in allowing a large shop to open at any hour on a Sunday, as long as it is on a farm and sells wholly or mainly home-grown produce, the practical effect of the amendment would be very limited.
Amendment No. 8 would extend the list of those large shops that the Bill allows to open beyond six hours to include shops where the goods sold were "wholly or mainly" motor and cycle supplies. The 1950 Act allows the sale of motor and cycle supplies and accessories on a
Column 155Sunday. Partly as a result of that provision, large motor supplies shops, such as Halfords, have been trading all day on a Sunday for a considerable number of years. Such retailers have managed their business, at least in part, on the assumption that all-day trading on Sunday is a lawful activity for them.
Amendment No. 10 concerns pharmacies. Under the 1950 Act, pharmacies may sell medicines and medical and surgical appliances on a Sunday. That reflects the fact that, irrespective of the general considerations that Parliament might wish to apply to Sunday trading, it should be possible for a pharmacy to open at any time on a Sunday to dispense medicine and sell products that can genuinely be considered to have a medical application.
The Bill as originally worded provided an exemption only for the sale of medicinal products and surgical appliances. That meant that items such as thermometers could not be sold by large pharmacies outside the six permitted hours on a Sunday. The amendment simply allows large pharmacies to sell those items that, under current legislation, they are permitted to sell on Sunday outside the new six-hour period--for example, when they are on rota duty.
I make those points for clarification. The Government are, of course, entirely content for the House to decide freely upon the amendments.
The Sunday Trading Bill and the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) have been debated in the Chamber and in the other place for what seems to have been an interminable time. The Minister will be as pleased as everyone else in Parliament when this matter is finally resolved.
May I say at the outset of consideration of the Lords amendments that, although those of us opposed to Sunday trading regretted the measures agreed at an earlier stage, we felt that at least a commitment to compromise had been made. Indeed, the word was used both by the Minister and other hon. Members at various stages. Having been amended in another place, the idea that the Bill remains a compromise has now been blown out of the water.
The shopping hours reform lobby has abused the law, spent its millions and bought its preferred option at bargain basement prices from legislators who salve their consciences at the expense of families, communities, low-paid shop workers and small businesses. Everything we warned about in this Chamber during the earlier stages of the Bill has now come to pass. Every commodity under the sun is now on sale on Sundays. Employees who once spent Sundays with their families are now forced to work, and the special traditional nature of one day of peace and quiet has been destroyed by mercenaries whose only ideals may be measured in sterling.
The Bill was sold on the basis of the right to shop. That flaccid language of rights and choice, shorn of reference to duties, obligations or responsibilities, hides the real cost of Sunday trading. Thoreau once said that, if we cut down the trees, the birds will no longer be able to sing. By destroying Sunday as a unique day, ordinary people will lose the opportunity to spend time with one another, their families and relatives, and to have a day of tranquillity away from the hustle and bustle of every other day of shopping.
Mr. Alton : Far from waiting for the debate, I am participating in it, and trying to persuade the hon. Gentleman, who has been one of the leading advocates of Sunday trading, that he should join us in the Lobby later, should it be necessary, to oppose the Lords amendments.
The noble Lord Earl Ferrers, the Minister dealing with Sunday trading in the other place, said :
"I would add just one personal caveat. I have mentioned it before, and I do so without any form of direction. I think that we should be careful about bringing into the Bill a great number of additional exceptions. We have already agreed an exception for motor supply shops. If all the exceptions which have been proposed were accepted, we might well find, as my noble friend Lady Young has said, that the reform is becoming largely indistinguishable from the total deregulation which this place has already rejected."--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 14 April 1994 ; Vol. 553, c. 1682-3.] Thus, the Home Office Minister in another place has said that, were the amendments then before the other place accepted, the Bill would become indistinguishable from the total deregulation which the House of Commons had earlier rejected. I remind hon. Members that those amendments are now incorporated in the Bill, and we are invited to vote on them this afternoon.
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen) : The hon. Gentleman mentioned motor accessory shops. We are not changing the law on those, as they have been allowed to trade since 1950. If his wife or children were to break down on a Sunday and wanted a part for their car, he would not want them stranded on the motorway because the shop had closed. We are not changing the law, but simply putting it back.
We should listen carefully to the warning of the noble Lord Earl Ferrers, that, if a range of new exemptions and exceptions were agreed, the carefully crafted compromise made in this House would be placed in jeopardy. The compromise left many of us cold, because we still said that Sundays should remain a special day.
Amendment No. 7 deals with farm shops. I feel strongly that it is unnecessary. When considering its merits, it is important to do so from a rational perspective. Were the amendment passed, any farm shop which had an internal floor area exceeding 280 sq m or 3,000 sq ft or, from another perspective, was larger than the Chamber of the House of Commons could open for unlimited hours on Sundays. How many farm shops fall within that category, and what is the nature of their business ? I hope that the Minister will answer those points.
Mr. Peter Lloyd : Those are not my amendments, but I have explained them to the House. The hon. Gentleman has given only half the picture and, in fairness to the House, he should give the whole picture. Only shops situated on a farm that sell products wholly or mainly supplied from that farm will fall within the scope of the amendment. So it is drastically restricted, as I said in my explanation.
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester) : I urge the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the efficient use of space by farm shops. In my experience, they are often located within large barns, so are comfortably in excess of the floor area that he mentioned, although they are genuinely small businesses of the kind that he and I are trying to protect.
Another issue is why farm shops need to open for longer than six hours on Sundays, given that they will not provide an emergency service. Any farm shop that exceeds 280 sq m must be entering into significant commercial activity, selling a wide variety of products to attract sufficient custom to remain profitable.
While the amendment requires farm shops to sell at least 51 per cent. of goods produced on the farm in question, it further permits the shop to sell up to 49 per cent. of other goods, such as other foodstuffs, tourist souvenirs, gardening equipment and garden furniture. As a consequence, the amendment would create further unfair competition and anomalies within the Bill, giving preferential treatment and trading advantage to one type of retailer over another.
Could not the type of store envisaged as opening under this provision more accurately be described as a garden centre, grocery store, supermarket, or even tourist shop, rather than a traditional farm shop ? It is unfair to permit large farm shops to open beyond the six-hour limit, when supermarkets, tourist shops--and, depending on the outcome of a later amendment, garden centres--will be required to close after six hours.
Amendment No. 7 also represents the liberalising of the existing law, so it also jeopardises the carefully crafted agreements previously worked out in this House. Under section 58 of the Shops Act 1950, farm shops, regardless of size, are permitted to open all day on Sundays, but only to sell produce produced thereon. Under this amendment, while farm shops will be allowed to sell 51 per cent. of their own-grown produce, they will also be free to sell up to 49 per cent. of goods brought in from outside.
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the marvellous garden show in London. Only recently, it disclosed that exhibitors buy most of the flowers on their stalls elsewhere. Would not even the large farm shops import goods that were not produced on their farm if they were allowed an opportunity to trade for more than six hours ? Would not that be unfair ?
Mr. Alton : It would indeed. As the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) rightly described, it would be another element of unfair competition, which is at the heart of the arguments that he, I and other hon. Members in all parts of the House have advanced against the Bill throughout. It will inevitably destroy smaller businesses, it will inevitably build in unfair competition and it will greatly damage the traditional tranquillity that families and communities have enjoyed on a Sunday when it has been a special day.
Amendment No. 8 deals with motor and cycle supply outlets. The Royal Automobile Club and the Automobile Association have widely distributed briefings to Members
Column 158which argue in favour of amendment No. 6, in permitting large motor and cycle supply outlets--those of more than 280 sq m--to open for unlimited, as opposed to six-hour, Sunday trading. The main thrust of the RAC and AA argument is :
"The House of Lords amendment is a technical amendment to the Bill. It does NOT seek a new concession for motorists but merely seeks to maintain the current legal position for motoring supply outlets".
They say that large motor supply outlets provide an emergency service on Sunday, and that if those large centres were restricted to six hours' opening on Sunday, lives--the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) intimated that too--would be put at risk and significant inconvenience would be caused to motorists.
That is misleading in several respects. Amendment No. 6 represents a significant liberalisation of the law. To argue that the Lords Mr. Luff rose
To argue that Lords amendment No. 6 is a technical amendment which merely retains an existing exemption already granted to motor and cycle supply outlets is inaccurate and highly misleading. The House of Lords amendment is far broader in scope than the existing law governing motor or cycle supply outlets on Sunday.
The Shops Act 1950 exempts motor and cycle supply outlets to open on Sundays regardless of size, but only to sell a narrow range of products. Schedule 5 to the Shops Act 1950 states that a shop may open for the serving of customers on Sundays for the sale of "aircraft, motor, or cycle supplies or accessories".
The courts have always interpreted that provision narrowly, ruling that neither a pair of tights converted for use as a fan belt nor a fridge to be installed in a caravan were motor supplies or accessories. Rather, the term
"motor, or cycle supplies or accessories"
has been interpreted to include only items that are directly usable for mechanical purposes, to service a motor vehicle or bicycle or, in certain circumstances, to decorate a vehicle, for example, furry dice. It is worth noting that that definition would not include new or second-hand cars or bicycles, but rather only parts for them. In contrast, the proposed amendment exempts large motor or cycle outlets to open to sell their full range of products for unlimited hours on Sundays, provided that
"the trade or business carried on"
in the shop
"consists wholly or mainly of the sale of any one or more of the following
(i) motor supplies and accessories, and
(ii) cycle supplies and accessories".
The key term used in the amendment is "wholly or mainly". Although that term will be the subject of judicial interpretation, it is expected that, for the purposes of the Bill, it will mean 51 per cent. turnover.
Column 159Consequently, if the amendment were accepted today, motor or cycle supply outlets such as Halfords would be able to open for unlimited hours on Sundays, with up to 49 per cent. of their sales coming from goods that may not lawfully be sold under the existing law. Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire) rose
Stores such as Halfords would be free to extend their business activities significantly--for example, to sell equipment for use in caravans, for tourists, maps, camping equipment, picnic ware and so on, and continue to open for unlimited hours on Sundays, whereas their competitors are required to close after six hours.
The right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) and the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) are probably anxious that I discuss emergency services, so I shall discuss that now. I ask the Minister to clarify whether the emergency services such as the RAC and AA rely on outlets such as Halfords for the supply of repair parts on Sundays. I believe that the AA and the RAC carry most general spare parts with them in their vans. The need to have access to stores such as Halfords on Sundays is minimal. Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) rose
Most RAC and AA vans do not carry a wide range of specialised parts designed for specific markets or cars. However, I believe that the emergency services tend to rely on specialist traders, which mainly operate out of garage sites, to supply those parts, as opposed to the general high street traders.
The RAC and AA, in their briefings, have said that 30 per cent.--that is 330,000--of breakdowns take place after 6 pm on Sundays. It must be asked, however, how many of those breakdowns involve the use of spare parts that are not usually carried in AA or RAC vans, and which are supplied in stores such as Halfords. In addition, I hope that the Minister will say how many of those cases would involve the car being repaired on Sundays, as opposed to being towed away and repaired on Monday morning.
It should further be noted that small motor supply outlets are exempted under the Bill to open for unlimited hours on Sundays. If there is significant and sufficient demand for spare parts before 10 pm and after 6 pm on Sundays, those smaller outlets will undoubtedly remain open, adding to the number of shops and premises that trade on Sunday.
Mr. Fabricant rose
I do not believe that adequate evidence is available to establish that large motor and cycle supply shops provide an emergency service on Sundays during the early mornings or evening hours which neither can be nor is being met by small motor outlets or specialist dealers who supply the RAC and AA direct. The acceptance of amendment No. 6 will only increase the anomalies-- [ Hon. Members :-- "Amendment No. 8."]--amendment No. 8, and I think as it affects amendment No. 6 earlier. It will only increase the unfair competition and difficulties of enforcement already created in the Bill.
Column 160I happily give way to the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire.
Mr. Fabricant : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. We have worked on several Committees, including the Committee that considered the Shops (Amendment) Bill of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), and the Committee on the Bill that we are debating. Does he accept that, if he were to remove the "wholly or mainly" from the definition of the supply of goods in stores such as Halfords, which was one of his arguments, people--not the RAC or the AA, but people who do their own car maintenance--might buy spark plugs but be unable to buy a spark plug spanner or, perhaps more worryingly, be able to buy brake pads but not the right tool kit to put the brake pads in ? Although he may be of sufficient wealth to have his car serviced by professional organisations, does he accept that many people in this country do their own servicing ?
Mr. Alton : Of course I accept that, and I do not think that it will impinge on them, as the present law has failed to do in the past. There is no reason why people should be inconvenienced. It is simply that, if we do not want, as I do not--the hon. Gentleman and I entirely disagree about that--large numbers of extra retail outlets to open throughout the country, we must be careful not to provide, as we have in this legislation, so much coach-and-horses provision that anyone and everyone will be able to open at every hour of the day and the night.
Dame Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden) : I accept the anxieties that the hon. Gentleman expresses about the notion of large stores being added to the ones that already open. However, does he accept that the number of makes of motor cars nowadays is so great that it is possible that only large stores will have the correct, and sufficient numbers of, spare parts to suit any one of any range of cars ? That argument is the most powerful, I think, and it is for that reason--and the fact that, under the old law, Halfords and other large motor spare stores have been allowed to build--that they have extended and expanded their services.
Mr. Alton : I should have thought that it was the other way round-- that cars of a more marginal nature, which are not supplied by one of the big car manufacturers, would be most likely to be affected in the way that the right hon. Lady describes. I should have thought that every other trading day, when those outlets are open and people can provide themselves with the spare parts and pieces they need, would provide them with sufficient opportunity to do so without having to extend that time as the amendments seek to do.
I think that the Minister will agree that we attempted, during long, laborious hours in Committee, on Report and during the various debates on the Shops (Amendment) Bill, to reach a sensible agreement. We all accepted that there would be some anomaly. We all admitted that there were massive anomalies in the Shops Act 1950. There are bound to be anomalies in any legislation that the House passes, but we do not need to add to them. Some of the Lords amendments seem to do that and, worse, they seem to undermine the law by trying to push still further the case for wholesale liberalisation. That was what the noble Earl
Column 161Ferrers argued when the Bill was in the other place. That carefully crafted, constructive compromise is at stake today.
We will not be able radically to change the nature of the Bill at this late stage. The message that will be sent out to people who have observed the proceedings governing the Bill and who have followed the arguments throughout will be that yet another aspect of the debate has gone by default. They will receive the message that yet another loss has been occasioned because of the legislators' failure to safeguard what has traditionally been the one special day enjoyed by families and communities the length and breadth of the land. It is for those reasons that I have raised my opposition and questions to the Lords amendments.
Dame Angela Rumbold : I wish to make a few simple arguments in support of Lords amendment No. 8. The most telling point in the amendment is that it simply restores the legislation that existed before we entered on the laborious and lengthy exercise of trying to modernise the Shops Act 1950.
The subject of amendment No. 8 is the one sphere in which the 1950 Act made an exception. The number of people who now own cars has risen substantially since 1950, when there were 2.3 million. There are now, in 1994, perhaps regrettably, 22 million car owners. In 2000, there are likely to be 25 million car owners.
We must not assume that every one of those car owners will be able to enjoy the pleasures of membership of one of the motoring organisations. There are currently 10 million people who are not members of a motoring organisation and depend entirely on their own resources and access to spares to make their cars roadworthy. Until now, they have been able to go to Halfords or a large store with a wide range of spare parts for cars and motor cycles on a Sunday if their vehicle was not functioning in order to repair it so that it would function on Monday through to Saturday.