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Standing Committee Debates
Sunday Working (Scotland) Bill

Sunday Working (Scotland) Bill

Standing Committee C

Wednesday 26 March 2003

[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Sunday Working (Scotland) Bill

Clause 1

Sunday working: shop and
betting workers in Scotland

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

9.30 am

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): I welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Gale. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I appeal shamelessly to the better side of your nature. I have never attended discussions about a private Member's Bill in Committee, let alone try to steer one through. No doubt I shall be blundering out of order all over the place, so I ask you to keep me in order. I apologise in advance for such action.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman will find that this Chairman does not allow hon. Members to be out of order.

David Cairns: It seems that I have already blundered.

We are about to discuss the only substantive clause in the Bill. It is the mechanism by which the intent of the Bill will be realised. I shall not rehearse the arguments that were advanced when it was discussed on Second Reading, when many excellent speeches were made. Its purpose is to harmonise the law as it applies to the rights of shop workers in Scotland not to work on a Sunday if they do not wish to do so—a right that applies already in England and Wales.

On Second Reading, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said,

    ''one of the reasons why the Bill has an excellent chance of succeeding is that it is a classic private Member's Bill—it is modest in scope, identifies a real problem and sets out in a succinct and uncontroversial way to solve that problem''.—[Official Report, 7 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 572.]

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that comment. I was relieved by it. Clause 1 is, indeed, a succinct and uncontroversial way to solve the problem of the lack of statutory rights for shop workers in Scotland.

Subsection (1) amends the Employment Rights Act 1996. The rights enjoyed by shop workers in England and Wales are enshrined in that Act, which is a consolidated measure that incorporates the rights outlined in the Sunday Trading Act 1994. Shop workers in Northern Ireland enjoy similar protection to that enjoyed in England and Wales, although under different legislation, which will not be affected by the Bill. Clause 1 would delete ''England and Wales'' from the scope of the Bill at the appropriate points.

Subsection (2) amends the relevant part of the 1996 Act to modify the definition of the commencement date. That Act has been in force in England and Wales

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for seven years and obviously it needs a fresh commencement date if it is to take effect in Scotland. That is achieved by the inclusion in the Bill of section 36(8) of the Employment Rights Act. Subsection (3) covers the thorny issue that was debated at length on Second Reading—why there is a distinction in Scottish legal terminology as opposed to England and Welsh terminology about the definition of alcohol. In Scotland, it is referred to as ''alcoholic liquor''. In England and Wales, it is referred to as ''intoxicating liquor''. The measure would include the description ''alcoholic liquor'' to avoid any doubt that it is covered by the 1996 Act.

Subsection (4) refers to betting workers, who are covered by a different part of the 1996 Act. The subsection simply deletes the phrase ''in England or Wales'', which refers to the scope of application of the rights in section 233 of that Act. Subsection (5) acknowledges the fact that Scotland starts from a different point. We already have deregulated Sunday trading in Scotland; in fact, it has never been regulated.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), among others, pointed out at the time of the Sunday Trading Act 1994, although in practice there was no statutory ban on Sunday trading in Scotland, in reality such trading was not that widespread. When the market was substantially deregulated in England and Wales, there was a knock-on effect on Scotland and Sunday trading there has mushroomed. As the law allowing such trading did not extend to Scotland, the protections did not extend there, either. It was pointed out at the time that that could have an impact.

Nevertheless, many people in Scotland work in shops on Sunday and many other contracts already exist. That was not the case when the 1994 Act was enacted for England and Wales. Therefore, the Bill makes various amendments to the 1994 Act to deal with types of contract that may have been applicable in England and Wales at the time but that are simply not applicable in Scotland. We will not introduce those provisions of the 1994 Act into Scotland, as they are simply redundant.

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I wonder about people opting in or out of the scheme. He talks about contracts for employment; will there be a lead-in and a lead-out period for volunteer, casual and other workers?

David Cairns: Yes, I anticipate that there will be. In England and Wales, because it was expected that people would not have to work on Sunday, as shops did not generally open on that day, there were specific contracts that allowed people to not to have to work on Sunday. In Scotland, there is no expectation that people would not have to work on Sunday. Anyone who works in a shop would be expected to work on Sunday if asked to. The types of contract in place in Scotland are different to those that were in place at the time of the 1994 Act and, a fortiori, the 1996 Act.

We do not want to get too confused about opting in and opting out. The effect of the measure will be that

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everyone in Scotland who works on a Sunday but does not want to will have to give notice of that wish to their employer, who should then allow them not to work on Sunday. Again, that was not the case in England and Wales.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: I am sorry to press the hon. Gentleman, but I think that the point is important. There might be complications with pension contributions and other matters. In England and Scotland, when someone leaves employment, there are lead-in and lead-out times. If the provisions were tightened up, would it not give safeguards to people who might not be able to deal with those complications themselves?

David Cairns: There will be lead-in times, but nothing will happen within three months, which is the period that applies in England and Wales. We have not yet come to clause 2, so I shall not dwell on it, but if those issues are raised in debate today, on Report and in another place, there will be the opportunity to make any transitory arrangements necessary under clause 2. Given that fact, the hon. Gentleman may wish to raise his point under that clause.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): On contracts, I notice that in the Scotland Office paper circulated yesterday the Association of British Bookmakers pointed out that many of its employees in Scotland are covered by the English contract because it is used UK-wide. If the Bill is enacted, will everyone have the same rights in Scotland, irrespective of whether they are under the English or Scottish form of contract?

David Cairns: Yes. The Tote and others that responded said that they would not dream of forcing their people to work on Sunday if they did not wish to. As was said on Second Reading, that was the case throughout the sector. Good employers would not dream of doing so. However, such contracts are not legally enforceable in Scotland. They do not have the back-up of statute, which is why we are here this morning and why the clause has been drafted. I think that I have covered the clause and I am happy to respond to any questions that may emerge during the debate.

The Chairman: Order. Before we proceed with the debate, it will be apparent to all hon. Members that, as the hon. Gentleman has set out on his stall, the guts of the Bill is contained in clause 1. I am therefore prepared to allow a fairly wide-ranging debate. Having said that, I do not expect a repeat of the debate on Second Reading and, as this is the Sunday Working (Scotland) Bill, I do not expect there to be a rehearsal of all the attributes, or otherwise, of legislation covering England and Wales, although hon. Members may wish to draw analogies.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Thank you, Mr. Gale. It gives me great pleasure to respond on the clause. As I said previously to the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns), I apologise for not being present on Second Reading. He might recall that I had a certain high-profile visit in my constituency, which was not, I happily inform the Committee, for the purposes of Sunday shopping. It is ironic, but not surprising, that

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the hon. Gentleman has promoted the Bill, given his close handle on Scottish affairs.

I have personal experience of employing Sunday staff in Greenock, among other locations. As hon. Members will know, before I entered the House, I was involved with retail businesses that opened on Sundays throughout Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, and in Greenock. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said. One of the ironies in the proposed legislation is that it is not necessary for the best employers. In fact, for the best employers, it has not been necessary. While I would not automatically have called myself the best of employers, I would have thought that I was equitable and balanced enough without the proposed legislation. We did not generally force people to work on Sundays; if people did not want to work on Sundays, they did not. One of the processes of managing a business was that one recruited a spread of people, many of whom had expectations about when they wanted to work. Some wanted to work during the week and some wanted to work on Sundays. That was balanced as part of the management exercise. One of my regrets is that the Bill is necessary at all, but the official Opposition generally welcome it. It is overdue and it ties up the loose ends left behind from the legislation of the 1990s.

One of the interesting aspects of the legislation in Scotland is that we have different traditions of holiday and Sunday working. In fact, it is only about 25 years since people in my own business worked half days on Christmas day. I said that I was a good employer, but that was not unusual in the late-1960s and 1970s. That shows the different history and traditions of Scotland. It was not an unusual thing to do and the local population welcomed it, but the staff who had to work did not, which is probably why it stopped. One of the welcome aspects of the clause and the Bill is that it ties up the loose ends and, while we have a different tradition, we will henceforth have the same rights. I welcome the fact that employees in Scotland will no longer be disadvantaged in that respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) asked about the transitory arrangements. That is something we will perhaps want to tease out, especially when we move into the phase of tying up the equivalent rights in Scotland, England and Wales. There will be a lead-in period and I was interested to see how many of the employers' organisations that were consulted had responded, despite the difficulty of getting through to the Scotland Office website, overloaded as it was due to the friends of Scotland initiative. Employers will be concerned about how the transitory arrangements will be introduced and what will be the lead-in times and delays before their obligations are set in stone. They will want those matters to be teased out later.

On behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, I welcome the hon. Gentleman's Bill and the tenacity with which he has promoted it. We look forward to giving it a fair wind today and in future.

 
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