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Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would be grateful for your clarification of something that, given my position in the House, I should know the answer to, and I am ashamed that I do not. Are we embarking on a stand part debate or are we merely debating the amendments? Will you see fit to hold a stand part debate later, because my right hon. Friend is trying to introduce something that should be discussed then?
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Perhaps this is a na-ve question to which there is an obvious answer, but if the shop is prohibited from opening on Christmas day, why on earth should it want to load and unload on Christmas day?
Mr. Knight: That is a logical question. I hope that most shops would not want to load on Christmas day. However, a shop that wishes to launch a presentation with gusto after the Christmas holiday may decide that the only way it can do that is by getting provisions delivered on Christmas day. Opposition Members, in particular my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who unfortunately cannot be with us, were concerned that the Bill may stop large shops trading on a Sunday, but deliveries could still take place. It has been accepted that that is a possibility. Remote as the possibility may be, however, the purpose of Lords amendment No. 1 is to ensure that it does not occur before 9 am.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend accept that that is especially relevant this year because Christmas day is on a Saturday, which is obviously followed by a Sunday? The temptation for a large shop to take deliveries early on Saturday morning so that the shop is fully stocked ready for Monday morningperhaps for a salewould be great, and the Bill will prevent that from happening.
Christmas is important, whatever one's religious beliefs. It is a holiday that has been observed since 336, when the Christian Church in Rome observed the feast of the nativity on 25 December for the first time. Ever since then we have continued to regard 25 December as a special day, which for many people is not just a religious holiday.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I fear I have to correct my right hon. Friend. The holiday was not observed in the period of the Commonwealth which was one reason why, when the Commonwealth finally foundered, people were so heartily glad it was gone.
Mr. Knight: I am glad that that is one decision that was reversed. While we are trading stories about Christmas day, I can tell the House that on Christmas day, 1830, the first regularly scheduled passenger train in the United States began operations. I mention that en passant.
Amendment (a), in my name, would mean that loading could not take place on Christmas day before 10 am, rather than 9 am. I think 10 am a more appropriate time because on Christmas day, just as at weekends, many families like to have a lie-in. They do not want to have to get up at the hour they normally do during the working week. I know that most families with children would say that the last thing they get on Christmas day is a lie-in; because of the excitement they get woken up even earlier. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) is an expert on that, because it used to be said in the Conservative Whips Office that he had so many children that he was the only Member who paid income tax at the higher rate on his child benefit.
My hon. Friend will well know the problems of having young children when Christmas day comes round, but there are many families and couples who do not have children and who like a lie-in on Christmas day. Why should they be woken up at 9 o'clock by the sound of vehicles loading and unloading at a nearby supermarket? The Lords amendment refers to 9 am, but if a supermarket were seeking to load provisions on Christmas day, the vehicle would probably arrive at 8.45. We all know that these are heavy goods vehicles with diesel engines, and we can imagine the scenario: the driver leaving his engine running while the gated area at the rear of the supermarket is unlocked.
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I had better declare an interest as the director and major shareholder of a family retail business. I have not worked out whether it comes under the definition of a large store. It does when it comes to rates, I think, but at the moment, not when it comes to turnover.
My right hon. Friend is being rather optimistic in thinking that these lorries will arrive only a quarter of an hour before their allotted time. My many years of
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experience suggests that they arrive hours before, and not only do they keep their engines running, especially in the winter, but when they reverse into the yard there is the "beep, beep" noise of the safety warning, so I am not sure that, even with a start time of 10 o'clock, we would avoid the problem.
Mr. Knight: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing his experience to bear in this debate. His remarks make the case for my amendment even more compelling. If the start time is 10 o'clock, however early the delivery vehicles arrive, it will at least be an hour later than it would have been under the Lords amendment, so I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House are convinced that the 10 o'clock start is better.
These vehicles will, of course, be loading as well as unloading. The reason for that came to my attention through a constituent who is a bit of a character. I saw him after Christmas day one year and he said that he had had a wonderful Christmas, with all sorts of provisions on the family table that he could not have afforded, but he had come across them for nothing. I asked whether he had a benefactor, and he said, "No, I went past my local supermarket and saw the shop assistants skipping some wonderful food items because they would have been out of date after the holiday. When they had gone, I emptied the skip. I took the food home and we had a wonderful Christmas." I do not know whether he was committing theft. I suppose that if the supermarket owner had skipped the items, one could argue that they had been abandoned.
Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) rightly referred to the noise that would likely be made by an arriving vehicle, but very typically, rather understated his case. Ought we not also to take into account the great probability that radios or CD players would also be in operation, possibly playing music of a very discordant character, which would be very unsettling?
Returning to my eccentric constituent who, it appears, committed theft, I have noticed, since he told me about his behaviour, that every supermarket I have seen now has a compound, and the area where they dispose of their goods is behind locked gates, presumably to stop such behaviour. It is not, therefore, simply a question of a vehicle arriving, pulling up to the loading bay and starting to unload; often the gates have to be unlocked and the vehicle has to be reversed into the
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yard. As my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) said, most heavy goods vehicles emit a beep to warn pedestrians which is very piercing and annoying.
I know that because, a few years back, I took part in a classic car run during which I found myself in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. I stayed at a rather upmarket hotel in his constituency, and at about 6 am I was rudely awoken by a heavy goods vehicle beeping as it reversed into the yard. I do not understand why, but it seems that every person I have come across who is involved in loading and unloading takes relish in making the loudest, most prolonged noise possible. Trays are thrown on the floor, loading racks are rattled and doors are slammed. That is why such activity should not take place before 10 am on Christmas day.
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