Sunday Working (Scotland) Bill

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Mr. Weir: I will be brief. Obviously, the Scottish National party also supports the Bill, which may seem strange because we are not usually keen to see Westminster legislating for Scotland. We recognise

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that there is an anomaly and we are keen for Scottish workers to have equivalent rights.

Clause 1 is clear and concise and is most welcome. As the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) noted, Scotland has a different history of Sunday working. It is unfortunate that the Bill is necessary because of the actions of one particular employer, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) highlighted. Most employers act reasonably. However, as the paper produced by the Scotland Office points out, because companies work in Scotland, England and other parts of the UK, Scottish workers are employed under myriad different contracts. Effectively, some have the protection of English law, some do not and some have no protection whatsoever.

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Although religious objections in Aberdeen were the original reason for the Bill, there is a wider need for people to have at least one day off to spend with their families if they wish. We give wholehearted support to the Bill and along with the official Opposition we will help it to move at full speed through the House at every opportunity.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): I refer to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale and others who said that the Bill gave protection to workers within the sector. Are hon. Members aware that people who deliver to shops on a Sunday are not covered by the Bill? We are talking about shop and betting workers, which is a narrow definition of workers, even within the retail sector. While they consider the Bill—which, along with my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, I welcome—hon. Members should be aware that we are discussing only a narrow group of workers. Does the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde intend to widen the scope of the Bill, at another time or in another place, to include all workers who do not wish to be forced to work on a Sunday?

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Bill and I am pleased that there is a strong degree of unity on the issue. We have the support of all parties in the House, as was illustrated in an early-day motion last year, which was rapidly signed by more than 200 Members from across the political spectrum. I am grateful that there is interest from hon. Members throughout the UK, not only Scottish Members. There is a feeling that this is a matter of protecting workers' rights.

I am pleased that the consultation received such a positive response. As well as the trade unions, there is support from the Scottish Retail Consortium, CBI Scotland and the Road Haulage Association, which is welcome. As hon. Members have said, good employers support the legislation. It is disappointing that one company is causing problems. I believe that it is still putting pressure on some of its workers, which is disappointing given the amount of effort put in, especially by the Scotland Office. I pay tribute to the

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Secretary of State for Scotland and Scottish Ministers for their support.

To correct a point made earlier, Aberdeen was not the only part of Scotland affected. Religious problems were not people's primary concern; most cited family and social reasons. Credit should be given to the various religious organisations involved that said that they did not only want to protect people's religious rights—although those are of primary importance in some areas of Scotland such as the Western Isles. This is a matter of protecting people's general rights because there are many people for whom Sunday is a day when they can get together with their partner or family. There are those sorts of concerns, as well.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde on the Bill. I welcome the support that it has received and hope that it will shortly become law.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): I think that we have reached that point in the debate when everything there is to say has been said, but not everybody has said it. In the interest of completeness, I indicate the support of the Scottish Liberal Democrat party for the Bill and I, too, commend the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde for having got it to this stage.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North referred to the religious aspect. Although it is proper that the provisions are not solely restricted to those who have a religious objection to working on a Sunday, Scotland approaches the issue from a particular traditional and cultural perspective, as the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale said, and it is right that Sabbatarians, of whom there are still a substantial number north of the border, should be given this sort of protection. Their rights should be respected.

Perhaps a different procedure is followed for private Member's Bills, but the Bill does not appear to contain a declaration of compatibility with human rights legislation—such things normally come from the responsible Department. Perhaps the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde or the Minister could say whether that has been considered. I have no doubt that the Bill complies with human rights legislation, but it does not contain such a declaration. I am less familiar with the Committee procedure for such Bills than the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): It is a pleasure to be on a Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. I observed how brilliant you were in the Chair during the four years that I spent as a Government Whip, when I was never allowed to say very much, so it is a real pleasure to be here.

Like everybody else, I do not have a great deal to say. The Bill has been given a fair wind across the parties. However, I want to place on record some of the results of the consultation undertaken by the Scotland Office. Everyone on the Committee should have received a copy of the results before they arrived this morning. The consultation exercise invited responses by 14 March. My hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I had discussions with various

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business and retail organisations and trade unions in the course of the consultation on Sunday working. That included meeting with the CBI and the Scottish Trades Union Congress and having discussions with the Scottish Retail Consortium and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers.

There were 138 responses to the public consultation from a variety of bodies. Over 2,400 individuals, across three petitions, signalled support for a change in the law. Particular thanks should go to my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce) for the petition from his constituency and to my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald) for his petition, which was co-sponsored by his colleague, the MSP for the Western Isles, Alasdair Morrison. A petition was also received from Brian Fitzpatrick, who is the MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden.

I have an interesting point for those Members who like numerical extrapolations. If we extrapolated the figures from the Western Isles, it would mean that 5 million people across the United Kingdom supported the Bill. That is probably about accurate—my hon. Friends nod in agreement. It must be much easier to get that number of names from the Western Isles, than to get 5 million names from across the rest of the United Kingdom, in terms of geography and so on. Such figures show the strength of support. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) is working out how he can compete with the Western Isles. There is a great deal of competition between the western and northern isles. I look forward to the next petition from Orkney and Shetland—the hon. Gentleman has 5 million to beat.

In addition, 48 civic organisations and bodies, 55 individual members of the public, four local authorities, 22 MPs and 9 MSPs submitted their views on the Government's proposals. There was a significant level of consultation on what everyone accepts is a neat piece of legislation that actually has an echo in the community. Those who contributed indicated overwhelming support for extending to Scotland the legislative provisions governing Sunday working. People from the small business sector expressed some concerns, but we managed to reassure them that the right balance has been struck between effective protection and the regulatory burdens on business. That came out of discussions with the business community. [Interruption.] My mobile phone seems to be singing a song. I sincerely apologise for that. I am sure that your hearing aid is not switched on, Mr. Gale, as you seem not to have heard it.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: I have a question about section 244 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and unfair dismissal. A year seems an incredibly long period. It would give people time to apply under the unfair dismissal procedure but could also mean that it would be difficult to prove a case after that period of time, given the changes in the legislation. Note 10 of the explanatory notes deals with the matter.

Mrs. McGuire: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I always knew that some Members of the Opposition were sheer gentlemen who would rescue

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damsels in distress. None of my side did, not even my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles.

It is not appropriate for me to respond in any detailed way to the various points made in the debate, but I wish to reassure the hon. Gentleman that people who opt out of working on a Sunday do not opt out of employment. Therefore, there would not be a net effect on pensions. If I have to finesse that piece of information after further considering the hon. Gentleman's point, I shall write to him and other members of the Committee.

It is for my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde to take matters forward as he sees fit. However, it has been a pleasure to support the Bill on behalf of the Government. I wish not just a fair wind but every success for the Bill in its remaining stages in the House and the other place. Many people in Scotland look forward to the legislation becoming law and I believe that we all echo the views of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that it is an excellent private Member's Bill.

 
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