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Mr. Sutcliffe: It is a privilege and a pleasure to join the debate and speak on behalf of the Government on the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) on securing the opportunity to introduce the Bill and on the immense amount of work that he has done, which is evident not only in today's proceedings, in Committee and on Report, but from his deep involvement with many organisations and bodies that he consulted on the scope of the Bill. I refer particularly to my hon. Friend's work with the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and other representative bodies that had an interest in the Bill.

I put on record my thanks to the many right hon. and hon. Members who contributed throughout the lifespan of the Bill, and especially today—the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), to whom I shall return, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who is no longer in his place. It was interesting to hear them speak from their technical knowledge of these matters. I, too, was once a shop worker for two years after leaving school, so I can speak with some knowledge of the issues. We have had a wide-ranging debate on the Lords amendments and those tabled by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire.

I thank the business managers for ensuring that the Bill was afforded sufficient time to be amended, debated and returned to the House for consideration. The agreement reached on those procedural matters demonstrates a shared concern in both Houses to preserve the special nature of a tradition that the majority in this country value highly.

As I said in our previous discussion of the Bill, the overwhelming support expressed in the House and the other place is further evidence of the desirability of the Bill, and reflects its popularity among the public, as has been said. Given the rapid and wide-ranging pace of change in many spheres of modern life, I am not surprised that the preservation of something that provides a collective sense of identity and shared experience should resonate with the public. Maintaining the special nature of Christmas day contributes to that nationally and at a more personal and local level provides the opportunity to unite both the immediate and extended family. That is a social good which it is important to preserve.

On Report Opposition Members tabled a number of amendments, two of which were discussed in some depth. Those who were present may recall that the amendments were not accepted at that time, for what could be described as technical reasons. I signalled a preference to take an informed look into the possible consequences, were the amendments to be accepted in one form or another. I therefore undertook to consider the two proposed amendments and make changes accordingly subject, of course, to parliamentary time and with the benefit of consultation.
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The first amendment, which was proposed by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, was to include large pharmacies in the list of exemptions to a prohibition on opening. In particular, he proposed that where there was currently an exemption for pharmacies whose trading consists solely of medicinal or surgical appliances under the Sunday Trading Act 1994, that should be amended to read "mainly" those products. In assessing the practical implications of the amendment, my Department made some limited inquiries and found that currently no pharmacies match this description.

It is interesting that the type of shops that I believe the right hon. Gentleman had in mind are not in favour of the proposed amendment. For example, Boots expressed a preference to continue opening its pharmacy counters while cordoning off the remainder of the store. This is what Boots currently does on Sundays and what it has signalled that it will continue to do on Christmas day. Hon. Members may recall that my main concern was that pharmacy services should continue to be delivered on that day, and I believe that that will still happen. By maintaining the status quo, not only is that achieved, but the potential for undermining the purpose of the Bill is averted.

The second amendment at that time was proposed by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and related to loading and unloading at large shops on Christmas day. I miss the right hon. Gentleman's presence during the debate. He demonstrated a lively involvement on Report and I add my congratulations to those of my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham. During the discussion that day, it was remarked that private Members' Bills allow for detailed scrutiny, for whatever motivation may drive right hon. and hon. Members to do that. I acknowledge the role that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has played.

The regulation of loading and unloading by large shops was covered by the Sunday Trading Act 1994 but was not carried over into the Bill. In discussing the right hon. Gentleman's amendment, I recall that the House agreed that it was not only consistent with the aims of the Bill, but was an extension of the logic of preserving the special nature of Christmas day. That is why the Government amended the Bill in the other place and we all agreed on the merits of the proposal.

The core amendment would simply prohibit loading and unloading before 9 am on Christmas day in areas designated by the local authority as loading control areas. They would be the same as those designated under section 2 of the Sunday Trading Act 1994. A person contravening such a prohibition would be liable to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale, currently £1,000. Debate centred on the relevance of that amount.

To achieve that prohibition, several minor consequential amendments were made, such as changing the long title to include the words "loading or unloading". The principal benefits of the amendments, and indeed the reason that many consider Lords amendment No. 1 an improvement, is that they would reduce the risk of Christmas morning becoming a noisy affair for people living in close proximity to large shops.
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Like Sunday, when such provisions already apply under the 1994 Act, Christmas day is always considered a day when ordinary weekday sounds are not welcome. We have heard some good examples this morning of the type of sounds that people feel are unwelcome—the banging of drums and so on. Most of us would not relish waking to the sound of pneumatic road tools on a Sunday and we would also agree that the noise emitted by lorry engines, refrigeration units and manoeuvring forklift trucks would be an unwelcome feature of Christmas morning.

Although the provisions of the 1994 Act are not widely applied by local authorities, nor do many large shops open on Christmas day at present. As has been said, the Bill is a pre-emptive measure and giving local authorities the power to prohibit loading and unloading on Christmas day must also be considered as such. Although most local authorities from our consultation sample confirmed that they had not used the provisions under the Sunday Trading Act, they none the less all believed that the proposal was a good and sensible idea. That is certainly the case when one considers that in preparation for the busy sales period beginning on Boxing day many large shops will, in practice, be tempted to load and unload before 9 am.

The Lords amendments are both necessary and worth while and I thank the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst for raising those matters on Report.

Mr. Greg Knight: Can the Minister tell us why he feels that the words

are essential?

Mr. Sutcliffe: We believe that they maintain the scope of the Bill. There is a direct link to the provisions of the Sunday Trading Act and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham pointed out earlier, we would be going beyond that if we changed the words significantly. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that.

I noted the right hon. Gentleman's points about the change from 9 to 10 o'clock, but again we were asked for consistency—joined-up government. A change would make the position different from that in the Sunday Trading Act.

Mr. Grieve: It seems to me that those words—

are the correct ones, because they cover bringing in not only goods that are to be sold but also hoardings, advertising material and other related things. They would not cover—properly—the need to bring in bricks or material to repair the structure if it had been damaged during the night.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Exactly. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making those points and to the Opposition for their support for the Bill.
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Mr. Chope: Will the Minister respond to the point I made? The amendment deals with large shops that do not open on Christmas day but does not actually cover loading and unloading restrictions on the few large shops that will be exempt from the controls and will be able to open on Christmas day.

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