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Perhaps I should repeat my earlier declaration of interestalthough as there will be thousands of people listening live to the debate or watching it on the Parliament channel, that might be seen as unfair advertising, so I shall simply refer to that declaration of interest.
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I worked in a retail outlet for 18 years, and contrary to what Labour members might think, I worked upwards, and worked on delivery vans and as a shop assistant. I have great sympathy for shop workers, who have had a rough deal over the years. Our business has been in operation for more than 100 years110, I thinkand one sees cycles come and go. I can look back at earlier eras when opening hours were much longer, but because of shop workers' legitimate rights, the hours became shorter. I can remember when we first closed on Wednesday afternoon, and then all day Wednesday. That has now ceased because of public pressure and the pressure of competition.
I nearly lost a vote at the general election when someone said that they would vote for me, although they would not normally vote for my party, because they liked the fact that our shop never opened on a Sunday. I nearly lost the vote by replying, "Unfortunately, in this world you can never say never." However, I can categorically say that I would never open on Christmas day.
I have great sympathy with the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), but there are forces at work here, and they come from the public. The public say that they do not want something, but in fact they are happy to take advantage of it. I have to hold my hand up and say that when Sunday trading started I was absolutely opposed to it, yet I now find myself buying things on a Sunday.
Mr. Randall: It is a fact of life; it is more convenient. I, with a young family, could not see myself wanting to go shopping on Christmas day, but I can understand that, sadly, there are people who do.
I want to approach the situation from the viewpoint of those who have to go to work on Christmas day. The point that I tried to make with regard to the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire about the later hour of unloading is genuine: people will have to come in, and they might not want to be there at 9 o'clock, because in fact they will probably have to be there just before. But equally it could be that the sooner they get on with it, the sooner they can go home. The snag is that it is impossible to legislate for that. It is actually down to the good will of the people who are doing these operations.
Most of the concerns we are talking about are responsible. However, sometimes, to get one step ahead of the competition, they are inclined to do things that perhaps they should not, and it becomes a bit of a bidding war about which days they open and at what time. Who would have thought a few years ago that we would have 24-hour opening in supermarkets? I still cannot quite get my head around who wants to go shopping at 3 o'clock in the morning, but I have found people who have done it because they thought there would be shorter queues or something, and I can understand that.
Although I have a great deal of sympathy with those who would like to change the hour, bearing in mind also the result that the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) has just mentioned and which other colleagues have talked about, I do not think that it will make much difference, because even if the large lorries are not to be unloaded at 10 am they may still arrive at 8.45, and it would be virtually impossible to legislate for that. It is a great pity that, for exampleI hope this is still in orderthere are plans in my constituency for a very large supermarket, and they are planning to put housing on top of it. We all know that we want housing, but those people who are living on top of that supermarket will have to
Mr. Kevan Jones: Would not large lorries delivering to a store and leaving their engines running for an hour beforehand be covered by complaints that local residents could make under, for example, noise legislation? That is clearly not covered by the Bill, but surely it would be covered by other powers that local authorities have and could enforce?
Mr. Randall: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Noise of that level would probably not be covered. I am not an expert on the subject. It has nuisance value. There is a lot of ambient noise aroundit seems to have increased over the yearsbut it probably is not covered by noise regulations, because it must be pretty loud to be covered.
I believe that the Bill should be welcomed by us all. I am sad in a way that it has to be necessary; I had hoped that people would realise that there are times when perhaps one should resist the urge to go shopping. I will try not to be sidetracked into discussing one of my favourite subjects, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, when I saw the hon. Gentleman on Parliament square this morning surrounded by Father Christmasses, my heart melted and I thought to myself that we must ensure that the Bill passed today. Therefore I will be urging my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire to withdraw his amendment.
Although in an ideal world the local authority takes consideration of matters such as lorries sitting with their engines running, I am worried about the variation that we have just been discussing. A case could be made for unloading earlier, and very often, unfortunately, the decisions are taken not by councillors but by council officers, who are not directly reliant on their electorate's votes. I know of decisions that have been taken which I think the elected representatives did not want, but which the officers sometimes felt to be appropriate; that is the politest way I can put it. Therefore I do not think on this occasion we should give councils those powers.
Mr. Greg Knight:
My hon. Friend has great experience in this area and I think the House would value hearing from him at what times vehicles load and unload at his own shop premises. What is the earliest he
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will accommodate deliveries at his business and what is the latest hour in the day? That would help to give us a picture of how one large shop operates.
Mr. Randall: We have a system which my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) alluded to, which we call "booking in", so that we know in advance who is coming in. Because we are not such a large store, that will be done by and large by morning or afternoon on a particular day, in order not to have too much to unload all at once. I know from my experience of bigger stores that some of them have a very narrow window of opportunity. We open to the public at 9 o'clock. At 8.30 there are enough staff there to unload, and on many occasions I have unloaded myself when I have arrived. Butthis is the point that I was trying to get to earliervery often I will arrive at 8 o'clock in the morning to find Cricket Field road in Uxbridge clogged up with large vehicles waiting to deliver.
Mr. Randall: I understand that of course, Madam Deputy Speaker, but the point is that, whether it is Christmas day or any working day, drivers who want to do their job properly and be there on time will always try to get there early, and if they find that there is another lorry in front of them early, there will be clogging up. I have to say also that if they have come from abroad, as happens quite a lot these days
Mr. Randall: On the Autobahn, yes, and various other ways into Uxbridge. We do even find them coming in the night before, so it is an incredible logistical problem, which is why it leads me to think that, whatever legislation we try to put in, and whatever times we try to put in, it will be very difficult to achieve the optimum, which would be some protection for the workers who are unloading, and of course the residents. I simply hope that those stores that might have been covered by such a provision will read the report of the debate and realise that there is a very real need to be responsibleto ensure that their delivery drivers and those unloading do it in a sociable way at sociable hours, do not play the radio too loudly, and do not too often shout "up your end" or "down that bit" or whatever delivery drivers are taught to say at an early stage.I think that if we were to support this amendment, unfortunately it would have the net effect of killing off an admirable private Member's Bill.
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