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I do not want to be the Scrooge of today's debate. I am personally very happy with the Bill; I think I spoke in favour of it and I think I originally voted, much to the disgust of other members of the no turning back group, against the Sunday Trading Act 1994. So I do not come to the House as the voice of big business and certainly have no commercial personal interest in road hauliers or big retailers. I live on Horseferry road in London, where I am driven crazy by people unloading at 5 am and so on, so I am very sympathetic
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to all the arguments that have been made today, but I feel duty bound, in this short debate, to strike a note of caution. That is why I think it right that somebody like me should come along and give the alternative point of view. That is what debate is all about, after all.
I often think that if normal Government legislation were debated as thoroughly as private Members' Bills are on Fridays, we should have much better legislation. We have very good debates on Fridays. One of the reasons for my occasionally taking the trouble to turn up on Fridays is that I think it right to give scrutiny to Bills generally, and particularly right to give scrutiny to Bills like this and other Bills that we consider on Fridays. They tend to be regulatory.
I hope my colleagues will forgive me for saying that there is a tendency for those who come along on Fridays to wrap themselves in moral fervour and, dare I say, play to the gallery. They tend to forget that we live in a commercial nation, and that those who run businesses, often in very difficult circumstances, have a right to be heard.
I am afraid I must tell my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) that I do not support his amendments. The obvious point has been made repeatedly this morning that if he forced them to a vote, that would effectively kill what is clearly a popular Bill. There is, however, another reason for opposing the amendments: they go too far. To be honest, I am not even very happy with the Lords amendments. I go along with the tenor of the Bill because there is plainly public support for the idea that shops should not be allowed to open on Christmas day, although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) that people are very divided on that. As I have said, we can wrap ourselves in moral fervour and say that it is outrageous for shopkeepers to be forced to work on Christmas day, and ridiculous that anyone should want to go and shop on Christmas day. In fact, though, many people do want to do that.
Mr. Leigh: I am worried about the Lords amendments. The Bill is fine, but they impose another layer of regulation, control and difficulties on businesses. I think that the point about loading and unloading poses a particular difficulty. As others have pointed out, Lords amendment No. 1(1) contains a confusing phrase. It states that the occupier of a shop prohibited from opening on Christmas day must not load or unload
"in connection with the trade or business carried on in the shop, unless the loading or unloading is carried on",
To be fair to businesses, there may be circumstances in which, while they do not want to cause unnecessary inconvenience to the public, they have to do some sort of work in their shops on Christmas day. At an early point in my right hon. Friend's speech, I said that I did not really understand what was going on here. If a shop
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is prohibited from trading on Christmas day, why on earth should the occupier want any loading or unloading to be done? My right hon. Friend's immediate riposte was that he might be preparing to open on Boxing day, and why should he not do so? He is running a business.
Are we not pushing things too far? We have already made the point that people are to be prevented from trading on Christmas day. Fair enough: there is public support for that. But do we want to go on adding, like decorations on a Christmas tree, more and more bits to make it more and more difficult for people like my hon. Friend to run their businesses? They are not in the business of deliberately inconveniencing the public, and for all sorts of reasons it may be necessary for loading and unloading to take place on Christmas day.
Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend has just used a very infelicitous phrase. He said that it might be necessary for a business to load or unload on Christmas day "for all sorts of reasons"over which, I am sorry to say, he then glossed. How many reasons are there? What are they? We ought to be told. I am not convinced.
Mr. Leigh: As I said, a business might want to open on Boxing day, or to have stock delivered. There might be a fault in the shop, or preparations might have to be made. I do not knowthere are all sorts of reasons.
Mr. Randall: I do not necessarily want to side with my hon. Friend, but I can give some examples. Our shop was broken into on several occasions on Christmas eve; I had to go in on Christmas day and clear up, andalthough we do not open on Boxing dayto get everything ready for the following day. I can envisage circumstances in which the occupier would need to be on the premises, and to get more stock in.
Mr. Leigh: It is useful for us today to hear from someone who has practical experience of working in retailing for 20 years. He has told us that he would never open on Christmas day. He is a local trader, completely in touch with his local community. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), however, that there may be reasons for him to want to go in on Christmas dayperhaps to do some work on his shopand in such circumstances loading and unloading may be necessary. Why, when so many problems confront people like my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge, should we impose another layer of control, regulation and difficulty on them?
I am very dubious about the Lords amendments, but I accept that they are now in the Bill. If I forced a Division, there would probably not be a quorum. Even if I had my way, the whole Bill would be killed. Therefore, I shall not push my argument.
Mr. Greg Knight: Is it not important for the quality of life of those living near supermarkets to be at least enhanced on Christmas day by a requirement for no loading before a designated hour? That is all that the amendments seek to do. What is wrong with that?
That is an entirely fair point, but for reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for
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Uxbridge, in the real world a shop owner is not always in control of his suppliers and when they will arrive. Ensuring that they arrive at a certain time is just another thing to worry about. Now my right hon. Friend wants to make the situation even more prohibitive and difficult for such people.
The fact is that the Lords amendments will be passed, but why does my right hon. Friend want to impose even stiffer fines? He says that these are big businesses which can afford to pay. My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) says that there is a history of people deliberately flouting Sunday trading regulationsbut as Opposition Members have pointed out, most retailers want to operate with public support. They do not want bad publicity. What worse publicity could there be than being caught breaking the law on Christmas day? Is Sainsbury's or Tesco going to flout the law deliberately? I do not think that that is a fair point.
Even worse, my right hon. Friend wants to involve local government. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham has a romantic view of local government as the voice of the local community, but surely, as a Conservative MP, he knows that that is not always the case.
Someone running a business does not want the burden of worrying about whether a delivery will turn up at 8.45, 9 am or 9.45. Now a local authority, perhaps playing to public opinion, may make the delivery even later. It does not add up.
For all these reasons, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire will accept that he is proposing a bridge too far, or a loading bay too far. I hope also that he will withdraw his amendments and give a fair run to business. Further, I hope that he will accept that it is our duty in the House not just always to support what seems to be what public opinion wants, but to remember that behind public opinion are those who are trying to run their businesses and provide a service to the public.
Ms Coffey : I, too, urge the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) to withdraw his amendments. I understand all the issues relating to noise on Christmas day. However, we are debating issues about noise because of the amendment to the original private Member's Bill, which basically seeks to prevent trading on Christmas day. It would be sad if we were diverted into other issues that could be the subject of another private Member's Bill, and in doing so wreck the original Bill.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) on his skill in steering the Bill through this place to this stage. He has put in an enormous amount of hard work and made a huge commitment of his time to so doing. The Bill will be only the third private Member's Bill to be passed this Session. I understand that all of these Bills have been introduced by Members who came into the House in 2001. That is quite a record.
I supported the original Sunday trading Bill. The retail sector provides about a third of the jobs in my constituency, so it is extremely important. I am one of those sad people who have been known to shop on Boxing day. I feel that when we debated the Bill
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originally we did not think about Christmas day; we were focused on Sunday trading. I do not believe that the House would ever have wished Christmas day to become a day like any other. It is a national holiday and we must preserve it as such. I entreat the right hon. Gentleman not to prejudice the passing of the Bill, which in a few minutes could become law. That would be an historic occasion. I ask him not to put to a vote amendments that are tangential to the Bill.
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