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Mr. Leigh: I am sorry to be unhelpful to my right hon. Friend, but does he have any evidence that this is a problem at the moment? Given the costs of overtime and people's natural unwillingness to work on Christmas day anyway, is there any evidence that large numbers of our fellow citizens are being inconvenienced by loading and unloading on Christmas day?

Mr. Knight: When one is framing legislation, one should not always wait for a problem to be so acute that people are driven mad by it before one legislates. We are changing the law, and it is right and proper that in doing so we seek to pass good legislation that takes account of areas in which nuisance may be caused to nearby residents.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is the practice of those who celebrate Christmas to attend midnight mass, which is followed by a long peal of bells, and perhaps a service early in the morning which is similarly celebrated? Does he believe that that is not a nuisance, but loading is?

Mr. Knight: At Christmas, one should have a charitable attitude towards those who are using the day for religious purposes, which is how it all started.

Mr. Randall: My right hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. One consideration, which he may have been about to come to, is the people who would have to do the unloading. They might want to have a lie-in, rather than being at work at 9 o'clock, or they might welcome an opportunity to go to the early morning service beforehand. After all, the whole point of the Bill is to give shop workers, which includes those who do the unloading, some rest on Christmas day.

Mr. Knight: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for remarks that will, I hope, guarantee my amendment support from Labour Members.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Knight: I did not think that I had said anything provocative. I give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve).
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Mr. Grieve: The point that has just been made is critical. If the Bill's purpose is to prevent large supermarkets from forcing their workers into work on Christmas day, which it was greatly feared they would do, and they could still carry out administrative, maintenance or unloading work on that day, that purpose would be circumvented.

Mr. Knight: That is an excellent point. I give way to the promoter.

Mr. Kevan Jones: I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman's argument about loading and the related noise occurring before 10 am. On behalf of those who believe in Father Christmas, may I ask whether he will be covered by the legislation in respect of the sleigh bells that ring through the sky on Christmas morning, and so be prevented from going about his task?

Mr. Knight: I think that most presents are in place before midnight, so Santa Claus will be exempt from the provision.

The Government have acknowledged that the noise made by vehicles reversing is a problem. The website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has a page relating to development areas. Under the heading "Controlling Environmental Effects", the ODPM states that, to reduce noise,


The Government are already on the case of reducing unnecessary noise, and I welcome the action that they have taken. That is why I do not think that the provision is over the top. I think that it is necessary and will be welcomed.

The state of California has similar provisions. Ordinance No. 166,514,EFF1/24/91 sets restrictions to prevent people loading and unloading at certain hours of the day. The provisions prohibit the operation of

We are not going as far as California has.

Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend draws attention to the ODPM website, but does he accept that it is Government regulation that requires such noises to be emitted by reversing vehicles? If the Government removed that regulation, the problem would be solved, but the ODPM seems to want to have it both ways, by suggesting that it is against the provisions that the Government themselves have imposed.

Mr. Knight: What is new about one Department of the present Government not knowing what another is doing? The recent transport White Paper reveals that the Government want to expand Stansted on the grounds that there are no houses there—
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Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is going very wide of the amendment under discussion.

Mr. Knight: I was, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I was using the example to illustrate yet another area in which one Department does not know what another is doing. None the less, I live in hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), will be able to pull all the threads of argument together and change the regulation that requires heavy goods vehicles to emit a piercing beep when they are reversing.

Mr. Grieve: Of course I do not wish to contravene your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, but may I point out that airports have been described as supermarkets with a runway attached?

Mr. Knight: It would be stretching even my ingenuity to argue that airports come within the scope of the provisions, but I take my hon. Friend's point.

On Gloucestershire county council's website, I found reference to the lorry watch scheme, which is

I commend the council on its action in encouraging members of the community to "rat" or "grass" on any lorry that—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the scope of his amendment and that his comments should relate to it.

10.15 am

Mr. Knight: That is what I was about to do. The lorry watch scheme seems excellent to me, and to ensure that the legislation is effective, perhaps there should be an ignorant loader or unloader watch scheme, so that when a vehicle arrives hours early and the driver leaves the engine running and plays loud music, causing nuisance and annoyance, neighbours are encouraged to report such behaviour to the local police or trading standards department, just as Gloucestershire county council encourages people to report when lorries deviate from their proper route.

Action is needed, and I believe that my amendment (a) will make Lords amendment No. 1 even better than it already is. Amendment (b) would add a new subsection to the Lords amendment so that a local authority could vary the time at which loading or unloading may start. That is necessary because, in some areas, even 10 o'clock may be too early. A local community might feel as a whole that loading should take place only in the afternoon. The Bill extends to Wales, and I can envisage communities there feeling that Christmas morning should be kept free for chapel and that those who would otherwise be doing deliveries should go to chapel, so loading should take
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place only after 2 pm. My proposed subsection would allow the local authority to determine what time it considers appropriate.

Mr. Leigh: Is my right hon. Friend, as a Conservative Member of Parliament, really in the business of giving local authorities even more powers to interfere in the proper conduct of local businesses?

Mr. Knight: There are many good local authorities. I would much prefer to give power to local authorities, which tend to be in tune with the local community, than to some large regional assembly. I think that it is Conservative policy to allow local authorities to serve their local communities in the manner that they deem appropriate.

Mr. Bercow: I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) is genuinely troubled on philosophical grounds, because he thinks that the amendment does violence to Conservative principles. I put it to my right hon. Friend, by way of underlining his argument, that the diffusion of power to the localities in the way recommended in his amendment is wholly consistent with Burke's idea of "the little platoon" of people at local level determining their own fate. Furthermore, the amendment's excellence lies in the fact that it will deter businesses that are considering behaving badly. Those that do not plan to behave badly can hardly complain that the provision entails an additional burden: palpably, it does not.

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