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Mr. Alton : The hon. Lady makes a compelling case for garden centres, which would attract huge sympathy and agreement in the House, but in view of the failure to table any other amendments to the Lords amendments, would we not face a problem with the entanglement between the concept of DIY stores, which the hon. Lady mentioned only cursorily, and that of garden centres ? Does the hon. Lady agree that as we are not to be given the chance to vote in a way that would distinguish between the two but have to vote for or against both, we are faced with "like it or lump it" amendments ?

Mrs. Roe : The hon. Gentleman may have some problems in that connection, and I sympathise with him, but there may be hon. Members on both sides of the House who would be happy for the amendments made by the House of Lords to be agreed to. It is for hon. Members to make their own decisions on the Lords amendments before us.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton) : It has already been said that DIY shops tend to sell flat-pack furniture. Anyone who has ever bought any of that, whether a full kitchen or simply a chest of drawers, cannot but be aware how much DIY that involves--too much, as far as I am concerned. I know that it is not popular in the House to admit that one buys one's own furniture, let alone has to put it together when one gets home, but there is definitely a large element of DIY involved in purchasing the sort of furniture sold in such shops.

Mrs. Roe : I fully agree with my hon. Friend, who has made a valid point.

Let us consider what difference the passing of the amendments would make to our Sundays. I believe that no change whatever would result, and I shall explain why. There would certainly be no need for any more policing ; more people would not need to work longer hours, and we would not need to allow any new activities that we have not happily allowed to take place for years. The truth is that the amendments would simply maintain the status quo, and would allow millions of people--our constituents--to carry on doing what they already do on Sundays.

The big question is why on earth the provision was not included in the original compromise option ? If the deregulation option had been chosen, garden centres would have been allowed to open, and if the Keep Sunday Special option had won, garden centres would have been exempted, so why did not the compromise between those two extremes include that element, which was acceptable to both ? I do not think that anyone knows. It seems to many people that it was a mistake. It is now up to both

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Houses to consider and refine the legislation and to correct such mistakes, and that is just what amendment No. 9 would do. I cannot accept the argument that we should oppose the amendment, not because it is not sensible--obviously it is sensible--but because it goes against some ill-defined principle. I have said what would happen if we agreed to the amendment. Now let us consider what would happen if we opposed it. Who would gain ? I cannot think of anyone who would benefit from new restrictions being imposed on garden centres and DIY stores. Not those who work in them

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : Will my hon. Friend give way ?

Mrs. Roe : May I move on ? Then I shall give way.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : It will be too late then.

Mrs. Roe : Who would gain ? Not those who work in them

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman rose

Mrs. Roe : I am sure that the hon. Lady's point will be well made, and she will be able to make it in a few moments.

No one would benefit--certainly not those who work or shop in the businesses concerned. So who would lose ? That is far more apparent. Many of our constituents would lose--people who own such stores, people who work in them and people who visit them.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Will my hon. Friend give way now ?

Mrs. Roe : If the hon. Lady will give me a few more moments I will give way to her. All of us have thousands of constituents who will suffer if we oppose the amendment just because of some ill-defined principle.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : The hon. Lady said that she could not think of anyone who would lose by the amendment. She obviously does not live near a do-it-yourself shop.

Mrs. Roe : I do.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : The hon. Lady will lose, then. She also knows who will gain if the amendment is defeated--those who live near do-it -yourself shops and who rely on a little peace on Sunday. They will not get it if the amendment is passed.

Mrs. Roe : I actually said that I believed that the status quo was what we wished to achieve. Many people use the garden centres and the DIY stores. If the hon. Lady will give me time, I will show in a moment exactly what happens when the hours are restricted and the sort of reaction that we are likely to find among our constituents.

Sir Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln) : As my hon. Friend knows, I am on the council of the Garden Industries Federation. She was talking about losers. It is clear to me that a group of people who would also lose are those who work in companies, often small companies, manufacturing garden equipment for sale. They would lose because the majority of their sales are made on a Sunday. The biggest

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day in the year is Easter Sunday. If we want to maintain employment, we should give a proper outlet to the good products that are made in this country.

Mrs. Roe : My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Sir K. Carlisle) makes a good point and I am grateful for his support. He is extremely knowledgeable in this matter, and I assure the House that he knows what he is talking about.

It is difficult to judge what the customers will think. Most do not yet realise what is going on in Westminster. In Northampton during March this year all the DIY shops and garden centres opened on Sunday only for the hours that would be available to them if we reject the amendment--that is, from 10 am to 4 pm. On those four Sundays, literally thousands of people turned up before 10 am and after 4 pm. They were working in their homes and gardens and they needed equipment and supplies. We must realise that for most working people Sunday is the only day on which they can buy those supplies. More than 6 million people visit garden centres every Sunday. The people in Northampton were amazed and angered at what they found and could not believe that Members of Parliament were considering restricting garden centres and DIY stores. When they were told that restrictions were indeed being considered, many questioned whether Members of Parliament lived in the real world.

Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central) : Will my hon. Friend again acknowledge that many hon. Members have no desire to restrict the Sunday trading of small garden centres ? Because of the size limit, many will not be affected. We are talking only about the larger garden centres, which many of us would not want to restrict if they were not linked to DIY centres. As the Lords amendment links the two, however, those of us who are fond of garden centres of all sizes but wish to block the DIY side have no choice but to vote against the amendment.

Mrs. Roe : It is up to my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) to make up his own mind on the amendment. I shall support it, and I am explaining to the House why.

The House may think that I exaggerate the effect of imposing new restrictions on garden centres and DIY shops on Sundays. Most garden centres do up to 40 per cent. of their weekly trade on Sunday alone ; for DIY stores, the figure is around 30 per cent. Sunday is the most important trading day for them. If we reject the amendment, we shall artificially restrict the busiest day of our constituents' week. Let there be no doubt that if we reject the amendment we shall seriously damage the economic well -being of many of our constituents. People I have met in the stores ask me what is going on. When I tell them that it is possible that their Sunday hours will be restricted, they cannot believe it. They want to know why we would cut their wages or even put their jobs at risk. To be honest, I do not know what the answer is.

Opposition Front-Bench Members--some of whom, I believe, are sponsored by the Co-operative movement--have persuaded their colleagues to vote against the amendment as a matter of principle. I in no way seek to make a party political point, but I cannot believe that any union really wants to inflict unemployment and reduced wages on workers, many of whom are union members, for absolutely no practical point.

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6.45 pm

I have heard three arguments against the amendment. First, it is said that as a matter of principle we should not amend the agreed compromise. I have already shown that that argument is not valid. The chosen option is a compromise between two other options, both of which exempted garden centres. The omission of such stores from the option is a mistake. Without the amendment, the Bill will be a bad piece of legislation. It is our role and our duty to correct that mistake.

Secondly, I have heard it said that it will be difficult to police the exemption. But the exemption maintains the status quo, so the amendment will impose no greater burden on authorities than already exists. Thirdly, I hear it said that the amendment will allow unscrupulous retailers to get around the general six-hour rule by pretending to be a garden centre or DIY store. At a considerable stretch of the imagination, one might suppose that that could happen, but any sensible person looking at the matter objectively would soon realise that it simply would not happen. The amendment is so drafted that in the event of any dispute the onus is on the retailer to prove to a magistrate, first, that the store is a garden centre or DIY store and, secondly, that it sells wholly or mainly the prescribed goods. That double hurdle is a staunch test. Moreover, as all stores will be able to open for up to six hours on Sunday anyway, such a retailer is unlikely to risk a £50 fine just to open for an extra hour or two on a Sunday. In practice it will never happen, just as it has not happened under the current system.

I have been asked why DIY stores and garden centres are linked in the amendment. The answer is simple : in practice, there are inextricable links between the two types of store. Improving one's home is exactly the same sort of activity as improving one's garden. Many garden centres sell DIY items and most DIY stores have garden centres. The two types of store are a distinct sector of retailing and they cannot and should not be separated.

I understand that no party has whipped against the amendment tonight, so it is up to us to make up our own minds. That is how it was in the Lords. Indeed, the Labour peer Baroness Nicol, a staunch supporter of the Keep Sunday Special campaign, actually spoke in favour of the amendment. The choice is between some unfounded fears and an ill-defined principle on the one hand and the well-being of our constituents on the other. If hon. Members vote against the amendment, people will lose their jobs and their established leisure activities. Every hon. Member who votes against the amendment will be directly blamed by his or her constituents. I cannot believe that we can seriously consider forcing our garden centres and DIY stores to close on the very day when they are most active. As we already know, most people find it difficult to understand much of what we do in this remote Chamber ; they will be totally incredulous if we vote today to close their garden centres and DIY stores.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) is plain wrong about the Lords amendment that she supports. It is simply not the case that passing the amendment would preserve the status quo in DIY stores. The status quo in DIY stores is that a large proportion of the trading that goes on is illegal. The Bill will make it legal to trade for a set number of hours on a Sunday. The status quo does not enable do-it-yourself stores to trade for unlimited hours on a Sunday. Those which do so are breaking the law and some of them are

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now facing quite large fines, which do not bother them very much because large fines to them were an engine for achieving a change in the law. Now, they ride on the backs of garden centres and hope to obtain unlimited trading on Sundays in stores in which a large part of the trade is not in DIY goods at all. They rely on the hon. Lady's genuine arguments on behalf of garden centres to obtain for them what they have been seeking all the time. They first tried the bully-boy tactics of hoping that, by simply breaking the law, they could get their way. They then appeared to support compromise measures, which have been carried through the House, and, finally, they overturned those compromises in favour of complete deregulation on Sundays. We in this House would be behaving quite unreasonably if we allowed anybody to get away with such tactics.

I have great sympathy with those garden centres which want to continue their present activities, but the proper course for those who feel that it requires amendment of the Bill as it originally left the House would be to seek amendment to the Lords amendments so as to narrow down the Bill and achieve that effect. Even then, we are talking only about larger garden centres and larger numbers of hours than the six hours which will be allowed in any event. The House must decide whether it is prepared to bring the issue of unlimited trading back into the high street. We are talking not only about the garden centre which is outside the main centre of population, but the DIY store in the high street and, even more, the DIY store in the shopping complex, which is putting the high street out of business. We are talking about the ability of those who have already posed a threat to the traditional high street to have unlimited trading on Sundays.

I urge hon. Members to heed the warnings from both Front Benches. It must be the first time that, during the proceedings of this Bill, I find myself in such substantial agreement with the Minister and the Opposition Front- Bench spokesman and spokeswoman. On different points, they referred to the dangers which will arise if we allow the Lords amendment to stand.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Is not it a fact that, in a year's time, if the amendment is allowed to stand as the Lords have agreed, we shall almost certainly hear electrical stores complaining that it is quite wrong that a DIY store may sell exactly what they are not allowed to sell in those extended hours ? We shall therefore be asked, almost straightaway, to move further away and add further exclusions to the restrictions in the Bill.

Mr. Beith : That is absolutely right. One may almost say that anomalies are being prepared for the next stage of argument about anomalies. We have all seen the way in which the anomalies argument has been used in the Sunday trading issue to cast doubt on the propriety of obeying the law as it stands and to argue for changes in the law. Now, we shall see new anomalies built in to pave the way for further changes to the law beyond the compromise for which the House voted. It was not the compromise that I wanted. I wanted a more restrictive approach to Sunday trading, for reasons which other hon. Members have cited. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and the hon. Member for Broxbourne said, it drives a coach and horses through that compromise and brings back the whole issue of unregulated trading. Anyone who walks into Texas, or B and Q or any of the

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large DIY stores can see that they are general stores, selling a wide range of merchandise--£1 billion of merchandise other than DIY goods. They shall be putting themselves in the unfair trading position that they have wanted all along if they secure the benefit of the amendment.

Therefore, I urge all hon. Members, especially those who have supported the Shopping Hours Reform Council and its proposals, to resist the amendment, which makes nonsense of everything that has been done up to now.

Mrs. Browning : I am pleased to have an opportunity to support the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe). Like her, I, too, support the Lords amendments. I have a particular interest in garden centres since, in my constituency, a large garden centre is a major employer in east Devon--Otter Nurseries, which is known throughout the county of Devon. It started off as, and still is, a family business run by Mr. and Mrs. White. Over the years, they have developed their business and their reputation and now employ some 160 people, including 65 people who are employed on a Sunday. Such is the nature of their business that people arrange coach trips to visit the garden centre. I visited it myself on a Sunday. I am aware how popular it is, early in the morning as well as late on a Sunday afternoon.

The economy of my constituency, especially the east Devon part, will be severely affected if the trading hours of that garden centre were to be restricted. As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne pointed out, the Shops Act 1950 permitted garden centres to sell produce--as they did--to motor accessory stores and farm shops. Therefore, restrictions on large garden centres such as Otter Nurseries would not enhance its ability to provide jobs or to provide a service to the public. It would detract from what it is already able to do under the law. It would be most unfortunate if the Bill, which is looking to free the market place more on a Sunday, adversely affected something such as a large garden centre. By garden centres and home improvement stores opening on a Sunday, their popularity with the public has become apparent.

Listening to some of the speeches from both sides of the House, I wonder about the argument that, if a DIY store were to open, it would be unfair competition to the regular furniture stores. DIY stores are not Harrods, delivering its cabinet furniture, delivered by two gentlemen wearing gloves. DIY stores sell a totally different range of furniture, as I pointed out in an intervention. Also, garden centres

Mrs. Peacock : Will my hon. Friend give way ?

Mrs. Browning : May I finish this point and then I shall give way ? Garden furniture or patio furniture is becoming increasingly popular. I recently had great difficulty in finding a couple of chairs with cushions on them in furniture stores in my constituency. The only place that I could buy them and be offered a choice was at Otter Nurseries in my constituency. Therefore, the idea that garden centres are selling Chippendale cabinets and putting Courts and other furniture companies out of business is somewhat unfounded. I wonder how many hon. Members put their own furniture together or do their own decorating, rather than have a little man come in to do it. I suspect that it is not that many.

Mrs. Peacock : My hon. Friend mentioned furniture. I have here four photographs. Three are of DIY stores, all

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selling pine furniture, and the fourth is of a furniture store selling pine furniture. Three stores would be allowed to open and one would not. What is her answer to that ?

Mrs. Browning : Like my hon. Friend, I have also received those photographs. However, she will be aware that DIY stores require people to move their furniture home. There is a great difference between furniture shops, which offer a delivery service to their customers, and shops from where customers are prepared to struggle, with roof racks or rented vans, to take their furniture home themselves. I have studied those photographs very carefully and I have been round DIY stores, garden centres and furniture stores to see the way in which they market merchandise and there is a distinct difference between what happens to one as a customer when a purchase of furniture is made from a DIY store and what happens when one goes into a regular furniture retail outlet.

Sir Harold Walker (Doncaster, Central) : Characteristically, a large trading estate sites Do It All, Allied Carpets, MFI and B and Q cheek by jowl. The hon. Lady is proposing that Do It All and B and Q should be allowed to open when we are telling Allied Carpets and MFI to shut shop. Allied Carpets sells carpets identical with those on sale at B and Q, which can be delivered. Doubtless, those carpets will be sold after 4 o'clock, when we will have told Allied to stop trading. Can she defend that ?

Mrs. Browning : Yes, I can, because the right hon. Gentleman is referring to a very small number of ranges in which there is an overlap of interest. If one goes into a DIY store, one can see immediately whether it is a DIY store or a furniture store. There is certainly an overlap in certain ranges, but in the sort of DIY stores that have been mentioned tonight, such as Texas, one can see that it is a DIY store. The floor area is predominantly devoted to a whole range of things, from plumbing materials to decorating materials to paints and so on. The other lines that such stores carry are subsidiary lines. If we were to start precluding shops from opening simply because of an overlap of a small number of lines, it would be a great pity. In a way, it is a pity that we have not been able to separate the DIY interest from garden centres as I have a constituency interest with regard to garden centres. I would hate garden centres to be penalised simply because of the arguments against DIY stores trading.

Garden centres offer a much wider range of choice of services. In addition to plants, garden centres offer facilities for garden design. People enjoy going to Otter Nurseries for lunch or for tea in the afternoon. It is a whole-person experience. I would hate that whole-person experience to be restricted from 10 am to 4 pm. More seriously, there would be a grave effect on east Devon in my constituency. Many of my constituents would be disappointed about that, and I trust that the House will accept the Lords amendment and reject the opposition to it that has been voiced tonight.

7 pm

Mr. Ray Powell : I have listened to some of the arguments about garden centres and DIY stores and have tried to separate them. The difficulty when I presented my private Member's Bill was whether we should include garden centres or DIY stores. We listened to the arguments

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and agreed in Committee that we would accept the argument for garden centres to open, but on a restricted timetable.

Garden centres are ideal in April when we want to buy our plants to plant out. They are ideal in May, June, July and August when we see the lovely shrubs and flowers and when we can make a special garden from the flowers and plants that we can buy from garden centres. However, have you visited a garden centre in October, November or December, Mr. Deputy Speaker ? If you visit one in December, you will find that it sells all sorts of Christmas decorations, toys and, as one would expect, Christmas trees. It will also sell deck chairs which can be bought as presents for the summer.

There is a garden centre in Pyle in a constituency near mine which sells all the types of furniture that one can buy in a DIY store. It would also be possible to buy a swimming pool on a Sunday from that garden centre, at whatever time one cared to visit it.

Arguments were raised in the Committee that examined my private Member's Bill to such an extent that the Committee agreed to include garden centres in my Bill. Before agreement was reached in that Committee, there was pressure from the DIY stores. It was argued then that if we allowed garden centres to open because gardening is a very popular hobby, we should not deny people who want to visit DIY stores to buy shelving or to buy goods to repair or decorate their homes. The arguments were such that we agreed to include DIY stores. Of course, since 1986, the Government have been dragging their feet in respect of Sunday trading and the Shops Act 1950 despite the fact that DIY retailers were making millions of pounds at the expense of other retailers because the 1950 Act was not imposed on those who were breaking the law.

Nevertheless, we decided to include DIY stores in my Bill. However, because of the lack of time and the lack of Government and some Opposition support, my Bill fell. I had been lucky--if one can call it that--to come third in the ballot and seemed to have plenty of time for my legislation. Indeed, it had received plenty of support. At that time, the Government were prepared to allow my Committee to do the spadework and to prepare a Bill so that, after stopping my Bill, they could step in and have a ready-prepared Bill themselves. When the Government introduced their Bill, they made many promises about partial deregulation.

We all accept that the debate about the future of Sunday trading has produced sharp divisions between retailers and consumers and within the general community. However, all have been united on one principle--the new law must be effective. As the Home Secretary said on Second Reading when he introduced the Bill :

"We want the option to work in practice and to command the respect throughout the country which the current regime sadly lacks."--[ Official Report , 29 November 1993 ; Vol. 233, c. 818.]

Much was made of the claim for the option chosen, although it was not my choice. It was said that it was relatively simple and straightforward. Large shops of more than 280 sq m were permitted to trade for up to six hours, with unrestricted trading for small shops plus a limited number of special categories. Left alone, that at least offered the prospect of an end to the anarchy in the high street which has offended so many people in recent years.

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However, there was always a fear that certain retailers, indeed the very ones who had broken the existing law for longest and gained most from doing so, would continue to put self-interest before principle. Therefore, it is not particularly surprising, although it is regrettable, that the moment the ink was dry on the six-hour option formula which they had supported so vocally as the compromise option, the DIY and garden centre retailers were lobbying to gain exemption from that formula.

The DIY chains were a major force in the Shopping Hours Reform Council which lobbied for the six-hour option. A director of B and Q was seconded from that business to be deputy director of the SHRC. In seeking exemption from the formula which they had designed, the DIY and garden centre lobbies have had a problem. It is not enough for them that they should be allowed to sell just goods for decorating the home and for gardening. That is no longer the nature of their business. Major DIY chains sell furniture, kitchens, lighting, telephones, small electrical items, blinds and carpets. Some of the most recent businesses to open have extended the list to furnishing fabrics, linens, large electrical goods, gifts, pictures and mirrors, china, glassware and cutlery. Between a quarter and a third of their sales may be in non-DIY goods.

In 1993, the Central Statistical Office published an analysis of sales by DIY shops in 1990 which showed that non-DIY merchandise then accounted for more than £1 billion--nearly 28 per cent.--of the retail sales of all DIY businesses. The source for that is Business Monitor SDA 25 Retailing 1990. That is broadly comparable in size to the total--all merchandise--of national sales for that year of John Lewis department stores, House of Fraser including Harrods, Debenhams, Dixons UK, Storehouse including British Home Stores, Habitat and Mothercare, and Argos.

In short, large DIY shops, and to a lesser extent garden centres, have become general traders in a wide range of goods. Therefore, they made representations to hon. Members that they should be allowed to trade without restriction if they are open wholly or mainly for the sale of DIY or gardening merchandise.

What does "wholly or mainly" mean ? Much was made in the debate in another place of the view that Parliament should have confidence in the good sense of the courts. One of their Lordships indicated that the words "wholly or mainly" had been considered in revenue law where it means 90 per cent. But none of those who wish to permit unrestricted opening of DIY shops and garden centres can believe that that interpretation would apply here because few, if any, would qualify on that basis.

Moreover, the courts may be expected to show good sense that they can only implement the law passed by Parliament. Mr. Charles Flint, the Treasury counsel, said in an opinion that

"the effect of the current draft is that a DIY shop could lawfully sell a wide range of supplies, going beyond those to be used in the construction, maintenance, repair or decoration of the structure of dwellings, and the amount of such non-DIY supplies could amount to a substantial proportion of the sales made by the shop."

Furthermore, he says that

"as this is a criminal statute any ambiguity in interpretation will lead to it being considered in favour of a defendant who is prosecuted . . . the test of wholly or mainly must permit the shopkeeper to open the shop for a subsidiary purpose such as the sale of non-qualifying goods, even if that subsidiary purpose is not ancillary to the principal purpose of selling qualified goods ; thus the shopkeeper who opens a shop for the principal purpose

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of selling DIY goods could lawfully sell any other type of goods."

That is the legal interpretation. We are all interested in the law, so we all understand that.

That raises again the question asked in another place but not answered by anyone. A large modern DIY store has anything up to 90, 000 sq ft of selling space. What is to stop B and Q from diverting 40 per cent. or more of its space to merchandise from its sister business, Comet ? By the same score, it would be technically possible for a Sainsbury-owned Homebase to incorporate a food supermarket within its perimeter. If branches of Comet traded for more than six hours because they were sited within the perimeter of B and Q shops, how would their Lordships expect the chairman of Dixons-- and the owners of Dixons and Currys--to react ? What would they expect local authorities to do to restrain Currys, which had opened illegally for more than six hours ?

That is the argument. How will we enforce a restriction of six hours on DIY stores and garden centres which are blatantly trading, despite the Shops Act 1950 and despite breaking the law of Parliament ? They are exploiting their position. How will we control them, and how will we ensure that the law that is passed is enforced ? These are not fancifully speculative considerations. Anyone who has observed the length to which some DIY traders have gone recently to exploit the loopholes in the current law cannot be sanguine about the use to which new loopholes may be put if they are allowed to remain in the Bill. Unless the amendment is rejected, the Bill will remain fatally flawed.

Since 1986, some of us, including the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), have spent a lot of time discussing the Bill and the anomalies. I am sure that we do not want to see a flawed Bill being accepted tonight. I hope that many hon. Members will join me in the Lobby to vote against it.

I am sponsored by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. I am not a consultant for any other union--as a matter of fact, I am not really a consultant for USDAW-- [Interruption.] At least I still have my membership, unlike one of my colleagues on the Labour Front Bench--I shall not mention names. I received a letter dated 13 June from the deputy general secretary of USDAW. I shall read the final paragraph so that hon. Members clearly understand that I am on the union's side and I shall be going into whichever Lobby the union wants me to. USDAW is interested in ensuring that there is work for its employees, whether it be during the week or on a Sunday, but it still wants a restriction of six hours for its members who work in DIY stores and garden centres.

7.15 pm

The letter states :

"USDAW, therefore, calls upon"

all Members of Parliament

"to oppose the amendments in respect of Do-It-Yourself Stores and large Garden Centres, to ensure that the six hour compromise which has been accepted by both Houses is not undermined by belated opportunism."

We all accept that. I cannot understand where the deputy general secretary got the phrase "belated opportunism", because USDAW was a party to destroying the whole idea that we should reject the Bill as it presently stands.

I am pleased to hear the Minister say that at last he supports a Lords amendment which will totally destroy all the promises that he and the Government made about the six-hour compromise. Many Opposition Members fell into

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the trap of thinking that the six-hour compromise was the solution to the problem. After arguing the matter in 1986, we defeated the Thatcher Government and their proposals for total deregulation by a mere 14 votes. When they had a majority of 140, it was quite an achievement to defeat them by 14 votes.

I am sure that many people will complain about the fact that Sunday has become an ordinary day of the week. There is an opportunity for the House to limit at least some part of Sunday trading by restricting garden centres and DIY stores. I hope that those who are responsible for DIY stores will ensure that the six-hour restriction is maintained. If not, I hope that the Government and local authorities will ensure that heavy fines are imposed. I hope that all hon. Members will join me and my colleagues in voting down these Lords amendments.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : My contribution will be brief. Before their Lordships got their hands on the Bill, it had three main advantages which I would commend to the Government for inclusion in all future legislation : it was fair, simple and enforceable. It was easy for people to understand, it was fair to everyone and it was simple and enforceable for local authorities.

The position which their Lordships want to push forward in the amendment is to enable two groups of shops--garden centres and DIY stores, and in some cases shops which are both--to have extra hours on a Sunday because some of their customers cannot be bothered to get up early in the morning, or perhaps they want to continue gardening or DIY-ing late into the night.

If one goes round the DIY stores and garden centres on a Sunday, as I have done recently in my area, one will find that they sell such diverse things as furniture, carpets, sweets, food, newspapers, pets, pet food, car parts, bicycles, sports goods, sports shoes, video and music cassettes, crockery, electrical goods and a variety of other items. We are effectively saying that a DIY store or garden centre can sell those goods on Sundays when other shops will not be allowed to sell them and that cannot be fair.

Secondly, we are being asked to support an amendment that states : "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 must declare an interest as I am a barrister and if this amendment is agreed it will create much work for me and my colleagues. Major DIY stores will spend a great deal of money on my colleagues sorting out in court what the phrase "consists wholly or mainly" means. So, in five years' time we will be back in the House reconsidering the Sunday trading legislation in the light of a host of anomalies. I remind the House that that is why we legislated on the matter in the first place.

The third question is that of enforceability. What will happen when local authorities check on DIY stores, such as Dixons, Currys or anyone who decides to start selling DIY or garden materials ? What about a furniture store that starts to sell deck chairs ? Is it "wholly or mainly" involved in plants, garden supplies and accessories, or is it a furniture store that has a subsidiary interest ? Enforcement will become a minefield.

I strongly recommend that hon. Members stick with what the House decided, which was that we wanted a simple, enforceable and easily comprehensible solution.

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Mr. Pike : It is very rare that I agree with the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), but I certainly do tonight and I strongly underline his comments.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), I have taken a different line from that in the Bill and from the compromise agreed during our earlier debates in the House. I did not believe that we should support the Shopping Hours Reform Council compromise, but ultimately it was carried. It got a majority in the House and, eventually, in the other place, but almost immediately an attempt was made to make a major breach in that compromise. Although I did not support it, one has to accept that the people who advocated it outlined certain principles--it could be easily understood and enforced and would not create fortunes for barristers interpreting exactly what it meant.

The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) got it completely wrong when she spoke of the status quo. Why should we talk about the status quo for certain people--people who in some cases have chosen to break the law for some considerable time ? The House will know that I have said on many occasions that in this country we do not break the law if we want to change it. We believe in doing so through democratic means.

Mrs. Roe : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that garden centres were legally selling the items covered by the Shops Act 1950. I was referring to that fact when I mentioned the status quo.

Mr. Pike : I accept the hon. Lady's point, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore said, DIY stores were the first deliberately to challenge existing legislation by breaking it and they have been doing so for a long time. Then other stores, such as Sainsbury and Tesco, thought that if the DIY stores were getting away with it, why should they not challenge the law ? Now this Bill is going through Parliament.

I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members hope that, whatever side we were on at an earlier stage, we will not have to debate the issue again next year or the year after. One would hope that the Bill will at least stand, be enforceable and be observed, despite my reservations.

I have strong reservations about whether some people will observe the six- hour limit. I have grave doubts whether Sainsbury or other stores will abide by that rule. Initially, they will do so, but I fear that in a few years' time they will break it. If we allow Lords amendment No. 9 to stand, we are asking for such stores to challenge and break the law because they will rightly be able to ask, "Why should others be able to get away with it, if we are not allowed to do so ? Why should there be a difference and why are they put in an exclusive bracket ?"

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore spoke ably on the DIY aspect. DIY shops will look closely at what they are selling and may well choose to include even more excluded products, as long as they still meet the criteria of "mainly". For the Bill to state "wholly or mainly" leaves the outcome wide open. Stores might well decide to sell other goods because the profit margins are better. They could change their stock to get around the law, if they are put in the privileged position that would result if we agreed to Lords amendment No. 9.

We accepted a compromise and it would be wrong for the House to accept the Lords amendment. We should

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