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Mr. Davies: The hon. Gentleman asks extremely pertinent questions, and to give the Under-Secretary time to respond to them, I shall now conclude my remarks.

Mr. Carmichael : I very much hope that the undertaking given by the Under-Secretary with regard to any order under Lord Amendment No. 2 that may need to be debated in the House this autumn will extend to any subsequent order that might prove necessary. That was certainly the basis of the understanding that I understood to have been reached between me, the Under-Secretary and the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), and I hope that the usual channels will bear that in mind. I would certainly view anything other than that as a breach of trust between us and the Government, and I very much hope that that will not be the case.

May I say in passing that the moves that have brought us to this stage since we discussed the Bill on Second Reading reflect creditably on the Under-Secretary, who has shown himself capable of listening and responding to the concerns of the House? As someone who is new to such discussions between those on the Front Benches, I should like to place on record my appreciation of the efforts that the Under-Secretary, his colleagues in the

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other place and, indeed, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford and his colleagues in the other place have made to expedite matters and to deal with this issue in a way that allows some certainty to be injected at last into the situation. As I have said before, we would not choose to place ourselves in this situation, but, given what has been done, we have done the best that is possible in the circumstances.

Rev. Martin Smyth : I share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), and I raised them earlier. I also pay tribute to the Under-Secretary for his integrity. He shared with us the fact that it was his intention that there would be an election, but he will remember the immortal bard who said that the best laid plans of mice and men oft gang a-gley. To show that we are impartial, since the majority of Members are English, Shakespeare said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Some of us are concerned about the concept of introducing a six-month delay because we bear in mind the fact that the prevention of terrorism provisions had to be constantly reintroduced for years. We therefore stand by the concept of election for a devolved assembly.

May I press the Minister again following the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), bearing in mind that the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) raised the question about continuing to pay the salaries of current Members? Is not there a danger that a nominee for election who is not already an Assembly Member could complain, under human rights legislation, that there is not impartiality, because people who are not working are getting money to continue to campaign, whereas new candidates must work and are placed at a disadvantage? Will he reconsider his undertaking that that is in keeping with the human rights legislation?

8.15 pm

Mr. Browne: In the few minutes that I have left, I shall try to deal with some of the issues that have been raised. If I may respond to the issue raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) in his peroration, I gave a reassurance that this legislation does not infringe the state parties undertaking under article 3 of the European convention on human rights. That is my view, which I reached after considering the issues involved, and that view is expressed in terms in the explanatory notes to the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman raised another point, which was also raised on Second Reading, and I shall give him the same response that the Secretary of State gave: any incumbents in the period between the dissolution of an Assembly or Parliament and an election, if they are being paid, as is the case in all assemblies and Parliaments in the United Kingdom, could be said to be operating at an advantage to those who seek to oppose them in an election. Nobody would be any different in that respect. We must bear in mind, however, that that situation cannot run indefinitely. The Secretary of State will bear that in mind in relation to the scheme developed for payment of those who were Assembly Members.

Secondly, I want to reinforce the point that was made in an intervention by the official Opposition spokesman. It is perfectly clear under the law as set out in the

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Northern Ireland Act 2000 that a new Assembly would not automatically meet after an election unless suspension was lifted. That is the state of the law at present.

In response to the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), I can do no better than to quote my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when speaking in Belfast on 17 October, and the Government have been consistent to that position since—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): That was going to be his best point.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Well, we shall never know.

It being one hour after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker, pursuant to Order [12 May], put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of business to be concluded at that hour.

Lords amendment No. 2 agreed to.



8.18 pm

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): This petition is supported by more than 5,000 signatories and a substantial number of letters of support and e-mails. It was organised by Autism in Mind as an activity for autism awareness year 2002, and it was largely collected by Mr. Terry Rutherford, who carried out a nationwide tour of the United Kingdom during November last year, ultimately presenting the petition at Westminster to me and to my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) and for Ilford, North (Linda Perham).

The petition reads:

To lie upon the Table.

14 May 2003 : Column 433

Community Pharmacies

8.20 pm

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Community pharmacies play an immensely important role in the delivery of high-quality health care to the people of North-West Leicestershire. I am presenting a petition signed by more than 1,100 constituents who are extremely concerned about the recommendations made in an Office of Fair Trading report, which they believe threaten the future of community pharmacies in Ashby, Castle Donington, Kegworth, Coalville, Ibstock, Measham and elsewhere.

The petition reads as follows:

To lie upon the Table.

14 May 2003 : Column 434

Shop Workers (Criminal Attacks)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Dan Norris.]

8.21 pm

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East): I am pleased to have secured this Adjournment debate to raise the worrying and growing issue of criminal attacks on shop staff. Thousands of workers in my constituency and some 2.7 million people across the country are employed in the retail sector. So it is right that we address the risks and abuse that they face.

I know that the Home Office does not collect specific statistics on attacks on shop workers, but the number of thefts from shops is on the rise. In the West Midlands police force area, the number of recorded offences rose by 12 per cent. in the past two years, from 17,891 incidents in 1999–2000 to just over 20,000 thefts in 2001–02.

The retail crime survey published by the British Retail Consortium gives an idea of the number of attacks on shop staff. Last year, it found that 20,000 staff were physically assaulted in 2001—a 40 per cent. increase in just over a year. Some 28,000 staff were threatened, 68,000 were verbally abused and many more incidents go unreported. Staff in small and medium-sized retail outlets such as garages, newsagents and off-licences continue to be more susceptible to attack. The BRC found that 12 in every 1,000 staff in the small and medium-sized enterprise sector were subject to physical violence compared with seven per 1,000 staff for larger retailers. Small stores are less likely to have security measures, such as CCTV and in-store guards, but more likely to have staff working on their own, often late at night.

Last year, a young manager at the Lidl supermarket in the Hamstead area of my constituency was viciously and violently attacked by a man with a baseball bat. Like thousands of shop staff across the country, he was working late at night with no security or support.

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