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Mr. Knight: When one is debating legislation, one needs to argue for and support what is right. Procedural matters are secondary. I am telling the House what I believe is the right and proper way to proceed. I therefore commend my amendments to the House.
Mr. Chope: Hon. Members seem rather timid about joining in the debate. They are still digesting the fantastic speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight). They are probably torn, as I am, between recognising the logic of his arguments in support of his amendmentswould it not be good to go for those amendments?but they may be slightly inhibited because they are worried that, were we to go for the amendments, we would jeopardise the entire Bill.
I supported the Bill originally because it is relevant to the upcoming season. With Christmas day falling on a Saturday and Christmas eve on a Friday, and with the ordinary Sunday trading rules applying on the Sunday and the prospect of bank holidays after that, there might be a great temptation for large stores to open on the Saturday. The temptation for them to start loading and unloading in anticipation of that long period when people would be able to shoppeople who may not have had time to go shopping before thatwould be very great.
I do not want the Bill to be lost, and although I have signed the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend and wholly support them, I am nervous about the knock-on effect. The Minister may be able to help us, and the promoter of the Bill may be able to share with us any insights he has into the prospects of the Bill being
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completed successfully before Prorogation if the amendments were passed in the House and found favour in the other place.
One thing has emerged clearly from the debate. This is the first occasion for many years when we have had what we call a private Members' Friday after the long summer recess. The advantage of that is that it enables Bills that have gone through this place and have been considered in the other place to be considered again in the light of any Lords amendments. Much private Members' legislation has gone on to the statute book imperfect because Members in the other House were of the opinion that it was better for it to be imperfect than not to be passed at all. They felt that were they to amend the Bill, there would be no opportunity for it to be debated again here and it would effectively be ditched. So I hope the Government will ensure that in future we can have one of the private Members' Fridays after the summer recess.
Next year or the year after, there might be more Lords amendments to consider. It is probably a little late in the day to consider ab initio Bills that come from this House, but Bills that have been through the other place and been subject to amendment could properly be considered. Even though he knew that we had the opportunity today to consider the amendments, the noble Lord who is promoting the Bill in the other place was inhibited about allowing the amendment because he feared that the consequence would be to place the entire Bill in jeopardy. I hope that the message has got across. I commend the promoter and his colleague in the other place for trusting that we would be able to deal with the Bill effectively today and improve it as their lordships have done.
I am grateful to the promoter and the Government for responding so positively to the concerns that we expressed on Reportagain, a good example of the House at its best. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who is sorely missed today
Mr. Chope: As I understand it, he is away on parliamentary business. I do not know where he is as I have not received any postcards from him, but he may well be outside the country. If he were in the country, I am sure he would have made every effort to be present today.
Mr. Chope: I note my hon. Friend's suggestion. I am not sure whether he has gone east or gone west, but as we know, he is very much here in spirit. He will be disappointed not to be present this Friday. Perhaps on future occasions he will have to adjust his annual calendar to accommodate the fact that we will have a private Members' Friday in October, rather than finishing the whole process in July, as has been the case hitherto.
Mr. Greg Knight:
Will my hon. Friend not leave this part of his speech without paying tribute to the Minister? He has been unique in the Government in that
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he has listened, heard forceful arguments and been willing to amend the Bill in the light of those arguments. He should be commended and we hope he goes far.
Mr. Chope: Certainly. I hope the Minister goes as far as he can prior to the general election. That is as far as I am prepared to go along with my right hon. Friend's comments. Seriously, though, we are grateful to the Minister. It makes so much difference to the way in which legislation is dealt with in the House whether Ministers listen and are reasonable, or whether they become rather arrogant and defensive and say, "We have a large parliamentary majority. This is what we are doing and so be it." As a result of the Government's flexibility, the Bill will be better than it would otherwise have been.
On the substance of the amendments, I strongly support the Lords amendment. Loading and unloading outside large shops is a serious problem, particularly for adjoining residences. Although the amendment states that the regulations should apply only before 9 am, that is a great deal better than the situation would be without any regulation at all. I supported the amendment that would have extended the restriction to 10 am.
If the prohibition runs till 9 o'clock, people attending the 9.45 service will probably already be getting out of bed by 9 o'clock, so they will not be disadvantaged. If the prohibition extended to 10 o'clock, people intending to attend the 11.15 service would probably be all right. Without the amendment extending to 10 am, people intending to attend the 11.15 matins on Christmas day might find that their sleep was disturbed earlier in the morning than they would have wished. No doubt that is small beer compared with what might happen if they were disturbed in the early hours of the morning.
One problem relates to transport and logistics. Policy on haulage and deliveries is largely forced by conditions on the roads. Those of us who have to leave London on Friday afternoons experience the nightmare of traffic congestion. A heavy goods vehicle travelling 100 miles from a distribution depot to a supermarket at that time will consume much more fuel, create much more pollution, cause its operator much greater cost and detain an expensively paid lorry driver for much longer than a vehicle travelling in relatively free-flowing conditions. One can thus understand the temptation for logistics companies and the large supermarkets, which are their employers, to make their lorries go to their destinations, as much as possible, through the middle of the night. I have no objection to that; it makes good common sense, but when we consider the impact of such a policy on the sanctity and peace of Christmas, I begin to be concerned.
The amendment addresses a problem that arises from the congested roads over which the Government preside and to which they contribute further congestion by refusing to implement reasonable improvements to the road network. Until those improvements are made, the incentive for heavy goods vehicles to travel in the early hours of the morning will be very great indeed.
Other Members may have received a copy of the Transport for London five-year investment programme, which came out this weekinterestingly after the elections for the Greater London authority. I do not know what the Mayor and the authority had in mind in the paragraph that states:
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"A sustainable freight distribution project is designed to reduce the impact of freight deliveries in London. It will include freight information on the journey planner and legal loading information."
That could mean anything, so it is important that the House accept the amendment, which is precise in its application, so that everyone knows where they stand. That will not only be good for people living near supermarkets; it will put less pressure on people employed by supermarkets to supervise the delivery processthe unloading, checking and so on. It will also put less pressure on lorry drivers to work over Christmas eve and Christmas day to fulfil their obligations to their employers. Much good will come from the amendment.
The amendment does not address loading and unloading at large shops that are exempt under the Billa point that we might address on a future occasion. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but my recollection is that when we discussed the measure on Report we were concerned that large shops that were exempt from the provisions of the Bill would be open on Christmas day and would attract deliveries. I think it was the intention of some of the people who spoke then that there should be some control over the delivery process for large shops that could already legitimately open on Christmas day. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that. It could be a problem as heavy goods vehicles are even more likely to be making deliveries to large shops that are in that category than to those that are not.
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