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Column 166

Martlew, Eric

Meacher, Michael

Merchant, Piers

Michael, Alun

Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)

Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)

Milburn, Alan

Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)

Molyneaux, Rt Hon James

Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)

Mudie, George

Murphy, Paul

Neubert, Sir Michael

Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon

O'Hara, Edward

Olner, William

Parry, Robert

Patchett, Terry

Pawsey, James

Pickthall, Colin

Pike, Peter L.

Porter, David (Waveney)

Powell, Ray (Ogmore)

Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)

Prescott, John

Quin, Ms Joyce

Raynsford, Nick

Redmond, Martin

Rogers, Allan

Sheerman, Barry

Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert

Simpson, Alan

Skinner, Dennis

Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)

Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)

Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)

Snape, Peter

Spearing, Nigel

Spellar, John

Spencer, Sir Derek

Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)

Spink, Dr Robert

Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)

Steinberg, Gerry

Sumberg, David

Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)

Taylor, Matthew (Truro)

Thomason, Roy

Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)

Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)

Timms, Stephen

Tipping, Paddy

Turner, Dennis

Walley, Joan

Wareing, Robert N

Waterson, Nigel

Wicks, Malcolm

Wigley, Dafydd

Wilkinson, John

Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)

Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)

Winnick, David

Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)

Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)

Wright, Dr Tony

Tellers for the Noes :

Mrs. Llin Golding and

Mr. William O'Brien.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 8 agreed to.

Lords amendment : No. 9, in page 4, line 46, at end insert ("(bb ) any shop which is a nursery, garden centre or do-it-yourself home improvement shop, or a combination of these, and where the trade or business carried on consists wholly or mainly of the sale of any one or more of the following

(i) plants,

(ii) garden supplies and accessories, and

(iii) materials and tools suitable for use in the construction, maintenance, repair or decoration of buildings,")

Mr. Peter Lloyd : I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker : With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendment No. 12.

Mr. Lloyd : We have just debated a group of amendments that made some limited exemptions from the six-hour restrictions on Sunday trading by outlets measuring more than 3,000 sq ft. Lords amendment No. 9, however, would liberate many more outlets from that rule by adding the larger nurseries, garden centres and DIY shops to the exempt category. Again, it is for the House to judge the extent to which it wishes to dilute the large shop-small shop compromise that it reached some months ago ; but I draw hon. Members' attention to the questions of definition and enforcement that are involved, as I believe that the answers that they give to those questions should be taken into account in the decision that the House reaches. I understand that garden centres and DIY shops were linked in the same amendment in another place because its sponsors felt that it was extremely difficult to draw a clear distinction between garden centres-- which sell garden furniture, as do many DIY shops--and DIY shops, which sell paving slabs and gravel like many garden centres. Both

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often sell lawn mowers, power tools, barbecue equipment and Christmas decorations ; indeed, many DIY shops sell plants and shrubs. It would certainly be very hard to distinguish their product ranges at law.

There is also a problem in distinguishing DIY and garden centres clearly from other shops. Many department stores sell garden furniture, power tools and lawn mowers. Many self-styled DIY shops sell flat-pack furniture, kitchen units, carpets, toys, curtains and a range of other products that are commonly found in a large number of shops that do not currently claim to be DIYs. If the amendments were carried, it would not be surprising if some of those other shops claimed quite convincingly that they were DIY shops as well--or hastened to adjust their range of goods to qualify under any definition that might be constructed to distinguish them. I hope, therefore, that the House will consider with care the law enforcement task that they will be placing on local authorities. To work effectively, the law must have sufficient clarity. We all know that the anomalies in the Shops Act 1950 made it difficult for local authorities to apply the law in practice, which led to the law being increasingly flouted. We should take care to ensure that that does not happen again.

Another reason why local authorities became reluctant to try to enforce the Act was that the public increasingly began to feel that it was unfair. The House will thus want to consider whether a DIY shop selling power tools when a department store cannot, or a large garden centre selling pet food, as many do, while a large pet shop must stay shut will be felt to be fair by the public. It is for the House freely to decide who may open and when, but all hon. Members, whatever our views on Sunday shopping and wherever we stand in the spectrum--whether we believe in greater restriction than the Bill would provide or whether we would deregulate entirely--want the law that we finally put on the statute book to be readily enforceable by the local authorities and the courts and to be regarded by the public and the retail trade as reasonable and fair.

Mr. Alton : The Minister's warning is well timed and well made. I hope that hon. Members will recall what he said when they vote. Will he confirm that we are not dealing with small enterprises and businesses, because about a third of DIY shops' output--about £1 billion--is of non-DIY merchandise ? We are not talking about small beer by any means.

Mr. Lloyd : I cannot confirm the figure, but it is substantial. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.

If the House does not agree Lords amendment No. 9, with your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall move a manuscript amendment to Lords amendment No. 12 to remove the reference to Lords amendment No. 9.

Ms Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : The Minister has been helpful. Despite being a self-confessed deregulator, he has--perhaps in slightly veiled language, but probably clearly--drawn the House's attention to the dangers of accepting the amendments.

I carefully read the debates in the other place. The amendments were part of a wide group of amendments, of which Lords amendment No. 9 was successful. The debate focused almost entirely on the desirability of activities such as going to garden centres and DIY shops and on leisure activities and how enjoyable they were. There was talk of there being more browsing than buying on such

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occasions, which was coupled with dire warnings of loss of trade if restrictions were placed on hours. In that debate, it seemed that, because customers' activities were associated with leisure, all other considerations that had previously applied in debates on the Bill were forgotten.

The proposal appears to have been made without any reference to the way in which the consensus grew in the House in favour of extending Sunday trading. Indeed, a similar consensus had initially been reached in the other place--that the opening hours of large enterprises should be restricted.

As we have heard, those enterprises have the greatest impact on our way of life on a Sunday. They have the greatest impact on staff conditions and terms of employment, on vehicle movements as people shop in them and on the environment because of deliveries and other such factors and because of the noise pollution that is associated with shoppers arriving and leaving in their cars. Both Houses rightly felt that restricting those enterprises to six hours of trading between 10 am and 6 pm on a Sunday was sufficient and that, if any compromise were to be consistent with preserving the special nature of Sunday, there should be only limited exemptions to the provision. I believe that those exemptions are substantial.

I have considerable sympathy with genuine horticulturists. Many small family firms have been in business for a long time and have traded without restrictions on a Sunday. We can well understand how they feel and we question the proposal in the Lords amendments, which did not give exemptions to small family firms of nursery men and women and did not properly explore the question of employee exemptions.

The horticulturists' association has advanced powerful arguments about the seasonal nature of their work, the rural location of businesses and the family interests involved. We cannot, however, properly consider them and weigh the evidence before we vote tonight because the amendments do not offer us a choice. They couple nurseries with garden centres and DIY shops. Many of the enterprises to which the amendments refer are large, are owned by large companies with multiple interests and, in urban areas, are located on sites where there is a combination of a garden centre and a DIY shop. I vouch for the fact that there is interest in gardening in urban regions. I know how popular garden centres are. Even in urban areas, particularly those in my constituency, many small garden centres are essentially large houses with their own private grounds from which plants are grown and supplied. I remind hon. Members that centres that fall under the 3,000 sq ft restriction will not be caught and that the amendments are not relevant to them. The large centres, which hon. Members will know many examples of and which combine DIY shops with garden centres, posed problems, as the Minister suggested, when drafting the amendments and led to the coupling of the two types of enterprise. That is the weakness of the amendments. Lord Norrie said :

"We all know a garden centre and a home improvement store when we see one." --[ Official Report, House of Lords , 14 April 1994 ; Vol. 553, c. 1670.]

We probably do today, but in past decades, the types of stores, the produce that they offer and their selling techniques have changed enormously. We were conscious of that when we looked back to the 1950 Act. We must recognise that there will be changes and diversification and that it will be extremely difficult to distinguish, as it is

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already in some cases, DIY shops from other stores or a garden centre that sells many products other than plants and immediately associated goods.

Courts, a high street stores group, sent out a letter, which I am sure all hon. Members received. It talks about DIY stores offering for sale not those items that we use for home improvements, but kitchen items, tables, bunk beds, mattresses, pillows, duvets, cutlery and glassware. That is a huge list, backed up with photographs, so that we can all see how impossible it is to find a definition--or at least, a definition that would stand any reasonable test--of the difference between centres that have primarily DIY goods and those that have a range of very similar products, or the same products, and a lesser range of DIY tools and equipment.

If the amendments were agreed to, they would drive a coach and horses through the Bill. They would totally undermine the regulation, and the policing of that regulation, that the House set in train. Simplicity is at the heart of the Bill, as it was at its heart when it left the House-- simplicity based on a size definition, which for all goods and services that are not urgent necessities made a distinction between premises larger than 3,000 sq ft and smaller premises. If we passed the amendment, it would signal a step-by-step move towards total deregulation.

6.30 pm

Let me remind hon. Members that both Houses overwhelmingly rejected total deregulation of Sunday trading. Both Houses also fundamentally endorsed a compromise, in which there would be no restriction on opening for small shops, thus giving them a competitive edge in trading opportunities, but a six-hour limit for larger enterprises. That fundamental compromise not only gained the consent of both Houses, but, as is equally important, was supported by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and by the group of major retailers organised into the Shopping Hours Reform Council. The Lords amendments would fatally undermine the basic premise on which the Bill was constructed--a regulated extension of Sunday trading. For those reasons I shall vote against them, and although I acknowledge that there will be a free vote, I hope that many or all of my colleagues will follow me in opposing amendments that effectively wreck a Bill for which consent in the House was so hard won.

Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne) : I disagree with the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock), and I intend to put the opposite case. Not only am I chairman of the Conservative parliamentary horticulture committee, but for a number of years I have been parliamentary consultant to the Horticultural Trades Association, which represents virtually all the garden centres in the country. During that time I have come to know the way in which the industry operates. I know the people who work in it and the people who use it. It is a diverse industry : at one end there are the large chains of garden centres, many attached to DIY stores, all of which employ a substantial number of people ; at the other end are the small family businesses in which a few people work all the hours that God gives them to make a living out of something that they love, and about which they are passionate.

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Another thing that I have learnt is how important garden centres are to the British people. Gardening is the most popular pastime in this country. It knows no social bounds ; it is a great leveller ; it captivates the wealthy man with his rolling acres and the poor man with his allotment. Every hon. Member has thousands of constituents who earn their living from garden centres, or much of whose leisure time revolves around them.

The Lords amendments, which are designed to exempt garden centres and DIY stores from the six-hour restriction on Sunday opening, are eminently sensible. Let us consider what difference it would make to our Sundays if we agreed to them.

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