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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): Earlier, the right hon. Gentleman complained about a lack of joined-up government. Now, I am concerned about a lack of joined-up opposition. Has he run his proposals by his right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who I understand is looking in great detail at regulation?
Mr. Knight: I have not run amendment (b) past my right hon. Friend, but the provision merely allows a local authority to vary the time should it decide to do so. It is not adding to the burden of red tape to insert such a provision in the Bill, so I tend to discount the Minister's point.
"A local authority may vary the time at which loading or unloading goods under subsection (1) may commence."
This is not a matter of great moment. I am simply saying that if there are local reasons why 9 am, if amendment (a) is rejected, or 10 am, if it is accepted, are not applicable the local authority can vary the time. I should have thought that my hon. Friend would welcome amendment (b) with open arms.
Mr. Leigh: I must take issue with my right hon. Friend. Is he claiming that a local authority in, for example, Wales may wish to vary the time because people want to go to chapel? That is a fatuous argument. Cannot he do better?
Mr. Knight: That was merely an example, and there may be a host of reasons why people in a particular locality prefer peace and quiet, and do not want loading or unloading to take place in the morning.
Mr. Randall: I want to raise a local concern. Tesco has submitted a planning application for a megastore that will be open 24 hours a day, and wants to put 220 dwellings on top. That is a prime case of the need for variation, because people are literally living above the shop.
Mr. Knight: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. May I refer my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough back to my California example? The state has a 200 ft rule, and such activity cannot take place at certain times if the large store or supermarket is within 200 ft of a residential building. I assume that the dwellings that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge spoke about would be within 200 ft of the large supermarket. My amendment therefore has merit and should be supported.
I ask the Minister and the hon. Member for North Durham whether Lords amendment No. 1 will be effective, whether or not my amendments are accepted? Could the Minister tell the House how the provision will be policed? Will it be a matter for the local police or for trading standards officers? I am concerned that even if there is effective policing, that will not act as a deterrent. The Lords amendment offers a disincentive to offend, which is why I tabled amendment (c). Yesterday, I looked at the recorded profits of some of our largest supermarkets. Sainsbury, which has been having a difficult time recently, made a whopping £125 million last year. Morrisons made £198 million and Tesco,
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£822 million. Large stores therefore make significant profits, but Lords amendment No. 1 would merely impose a level 3 fine on transgressors.
There is no limit on the size of a fine imposed when someone is convicted by the Crown court. Magistrates courts, on the other hand, are limited to the maximum level provided by statute for the offence of which a defendant is convicted. The standard scale of maximum fines was introduced by the last Conservative Government in the Criminal Justice Act 1982, and was designed to rationalise maximum fines and make inflationary increases easier to implement. The maximum level 1 fine is £200; the maximum level 2 fine, £500; the maximum level 3 fine, which the Lords deemed appropriate to impose on large, profitable supermarket chains, £1,000. It is a sure bet that magistrates would impose a fine significantly less than the maximum, and may fine stores half£500for loading or unloading outside the permitted hours, which is no more than a slap on the wrist. I question, therefore, whether a level 3 fine will act as a deterrent for stores that believe they will enjoy bumper sales the day after Christmas, and may do their damnedest to load stock early on Christmas day. I therefore propose imposing a level 4 fine with a maximum of £2,500, which is two and a half times as much as the level 3 maximum. I thought about proposing a level 5 fine with a maximum of £5,000, but I decided that it was better to err towards the more reasonable punishment of a level 4 fine.
Mr. Bercow: My right hon. Friend said that he was minded to err on the side of being reasonable, but it could be argued that he is erring towards being feeble. Given that he alerted the House to the possibility that a large store in anticipation of a bumper day immediately after Christmas might take the view that breaking the law was commercially worth while, would not a more sensible basis for determining the level of fine be the expected profits on that bumper day?
Mr. Knight: That is a good point, but my hon. Friend will know that politics is often the art of the possible. We are dealing with a fairly narrow Lords amendment, so I believed that it would be possible only to substitute a different fine level rather than open up the basis on which fines are imposed in magistrates courts. My hon. Friend has offered an excellent argument for a criminal justice Bill, and if he is lucky enough to reach the top 20 of private Members' Bills next year, I hope that he will run with it.
Mr. Leigh: My right hon. Friend has been very patient with me, and I shall try to be polite, but does he really think that reputable companies such as Sainsbury and Tesco are likely to break the law? The publicity would be bad, so they simply would not do so. There would be a further regulation, fine or imposition on business. Is that what he really wants?
Mr. Knight: I clearly do not have the same faith that commercial operators will obey the law as my hon. Friend. If the end result is profit, there is always a temptation to break the law, which is why we need to legislate in Parliament.
It may be helpful for my right hon. Friend to know that before Sunday trading was allowed, the
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laws against it were regularly flouted by large supermarkets and retail outlets. They happily broke the law and paid the derisory fines that were imposed when the local authorities bothered to prosecute them.
I have concluded that level 3 is inadequate and that level 4 is appropriate. I hope the House will agree that amendment (c) is by no means over the top and should be supported.The other Lords amendments seem to be consequential only. I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm to the House that there is no item of substance in those amendments, which all seem appropriate.
Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend has not dealt with the concern which those opposed to the amendments have expressed: that if the amendments were passed, the entire Bill would be put in jeopardy. If the House passed the amendments, the Bill would have to go back to the other place, which might result in the Bill being lost, which I am sure my right hon. Friend would not wish to happen any more than I would.
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