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Mr. Greg Knight: I have followed my hon. Friend's argument as far as his conclusion. He wants to vote against Lords amendment No. 1, but that would create a free-for-all in which loading could take place at any time on Christmas day. If he wants to discourage unloading on Christmas day, the amendment would at least be a step in that direction.

Mr. Gale: I indicated in an earlier intervention my less than mastery of procedure, but this is where we are
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between a rock and a hard place. Were I and others to chuck out the Lords amendments, the Bill would have to go back to the other place. That would provide the opportunity to re-amend the Bill. Unfortunately, because of the procedures of the House, which are arcane and less widely understood than we would wish, that is not possible. The amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend are an improvement on the Lords amendments, if only by one hour. I would have gone further. Indeed, I could have gone further and tabled an amendment to the effect that unloading would not be allowed until midday.

The difficulty that we have is that if we follow our natural inclination and vote as we believe we should—that is, with my right hon. Friend if he chooses to press his amendment—we would kill the Bill. It would have to go back to the other place and because, for reasons unknown to most of us, the House will not sit next Friday, we would have no further opportunity to consider an alternative Lords amendment and the Bill would fall, as will, it has to be said, many other Bills on the Order Paper today, including my own Criminal Justice (Justifiable Conduct) Bill. It will go the way of all private Member's Bills at this stage. We have run out of parliamentary time in this Session.

We are faced with a stark decision: we can run with the Lords amendments as they stand or lose the Bill, and none of us wants that to happen. There are issues that arise from the Lords amendments that have not been mentioned. It is the provision that gives the power to local authorities to vary the provisions of the amendment—the 9 o'clock rule. What worries me is that we could end up with a wide variation across the country in the restriction or lack of restriction that local authorities impose. That is unsatisfactory. If we are to make a law, it should be constant, universal and understood by everybody. I do not want lorry drivers to have to drive at all, but given that they will have to do so, we cannot have a situation in which a road haulier is in breach of the law because of a local authority variation of which he may be unaware. That provision is highly undesirable, but we are stuck with it. We keep it or we lose the Bill.

Mr. Bercow: I might have been under a misapprehension. I thought that the power of discretion allowed for later unloading. If, as my hon. Friend suggests, the discretion could be used to allow unloading to take place earlier than 9 am, I would be very alarmed.

Mr. Gale: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter; perhaps the Minister can clarify it. Paragraph (a) talks about variation

Mr. Grieve: My reading of the Lords amendment makes it fairly clear to me that the variation must apply to the period before 9 am, so the local authority is being given the power to allow for earlier deliveries upon application by the trader. I certainly do not read it as a device to enable local authorities to delay beyond 9 am.

Mr. Gale: My hon. Friend is much wiser in law than I, and if that is his reading I bow to his knowledge. I am sure that he is correct, so that makes matters worse
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rather than better. It means that the local authority can ride roughshod over the 9 o'clock rule and say, "Well, if you want to drive in at 4 o'clock in the morning on Christmas day, you can."

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Santa Claus.

Mr. Gale: We have heard about Santa Claus already. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was with us—

Bob Russell: I never am.

Mr. Gale: I do not think that he was with us mentally, physically or spiritually when Father Christmas came thundering across the skies earlier this morning.

Mr. Sutcliffe: We should not leave this issue without pointing out that there was a great deal of consultation on the Bill, for the reasons that have been outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones), and that many of the major retailers wanted to see the Bill as a pre-emptive strike to prevent them from operating on Christmas day. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look upon what we are trying to achieve in that spirit.

Mr. Gale: I am grateful to the Minister, and accept what he says, but the fact is that that paragraph in the Lords amendment could make matters worse. We would be voting for a 9 o'clock rule this morning. The Lords carried that amendment, so fine—although it is not what we would all like. We would prefer 10 o'clock, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire suggests in his amendment to the Lords amendment, or midday, as I might have suggested myself. However, I have not made that suggestion, because we know that we would lose the Bill if we went down that road. That paragraph, however, could negate the provision of the Lords amendment, so we are pretty much back where we started.

Mr. Kevan Jones: Surely any local authority worth its salt will listen to the local people, who will have a big impact on what it does. It would be a brave local authority that rode roughshod over local people's views and imposed a 4 am rule if that caused them nuisance. In my experience of local government, that does not happen.

Mr. Gale: I am aware—I suspect that deep in his heart, the hon. Gentleman is aware too—of local authorities controlled by all three major political persuasions that cheerfully ride roughshod over local people's wishes when it suits them. If a local authority were placed under duress by a major retailer, I think it highly likely that it would say, "Yes, that's all right; not many people live in that area." I do not care whether many people live in the area. This is about quality, not quantity, and if even one person lives in the area, that person has a right to rest on Christmas morning, and that is just as significant in principle as if 100 or even 1,000 people were affected.

Mr. Bercow: I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend has said. Is it not also important to give a voice to the voiceless when we debate such matters? I have a
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young son who will celebrate his first birthday at the beginning of December. Customarily, my wife and I expect little Oliver to start making a noise from about 7 in the morning—although it is conceivable that on Christmas day he will be minded to do so somewhat earlier. The thought that he might have his sleep wrecked by some unconscionably inconsiderate corporate lorry driver at 4 o'clock on Christmas morning is unacceptable to me, and I feel sure that it would be unacceptable to him.

Mr. Gale: My hon. Friend is probably right, at least in saying that his and his wife's sleep is more likely to be disturbed by the raucous behaviour of young Oliver at 4 o'clock on Christmas morning than by the horrendous reversing noises that we heard described earlier, from multinational supermarkets' vehicles outside.

I have made my point. We are in a difficult situation. I have the greatest desire to support the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, but I have an even greater desire to see this modest, just and necessary measure go through the House and reach the statute book. We cannot have both, so with great reluctance I have to say to my right hon. Friend that I hope that he will concur with what I suspect will be the majority view and, when the time comes, see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East) (Lab): In this brief contribution I shall first say that I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), who has a very distinguished history of contributing to the campaign to keep Sunday and Christmas day special. I concur with the conclusion to his argument, because we can all see how important it is that the Bill should complete its passage today. The hon. Gentleman is right: further tinkering and attempts to make further changes can only put it at risk.

I have been following the debate closely and have some sympathy with the arguments of the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) and others. However, as the debate has shown, they open up large areas of territory for consideration, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) said, could be the subject of other private Members' Bills, or even Government legislation, which would be popular with the public.

This is a very good Bill, and I join in the commendation of my hon. Friend's great work. He has made a great contribution and has worked with the representations that have been made to him and carried public opinion with him. He has the overwhelming support not only of shop workers and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers but of the general public. Those who think that they could make the Bill more perfect by tinkering with it further are making the perfect the enemy of the good. It is an excellent measure, and the House should send it forward to a successful conclusion today.

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