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Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I wanted to intervene before he concluded his remarks because I wish to make an important point. He mentioned the religious element, but is there not also a social dimension? The emphasis so far has been one way. Workers should have an absolute right to be protected against having to work on Christmas Day—there must be absolute protection—and, as the right reverend Prelate said, there is also a social case for it in terms of the family.

But is there not also a social case on the other side? For some people, Christmas is an extremely lonely period and for them the opportunity to work is a way of social interaction. I do not think that the dimension that some people may want to work should be lost. It may be a small number, but one has to see both sides of the argument.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. The Bill refers only to stores of 280 square metres and above, which is a small minority of the retail trade and an even smaller minority of work as a whole. That argument cuts both ways as well, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, will recognise.

However, the Bill is properly drafted and we would not wish to introduce amendments to it. We shall not oppose Second Reading or further proceedings in this House if your Lordships' wish it.

8.41 p.m.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in the debate, particularly the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield, and my very good friend the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I am also pleased with the contributions from all the Front Benches. One or two things have been said which require comment, but I shall not take up too much of the time of the House.

It is true that in 1994 there was a free vote on the Sunday Trading Act. Noble Lords will remember that the situation was somewhat unique because, for the first time, three options were placed before Parliament, from which a choice could be made. My noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey said that the Shops Act 1950 was in place until 1994. He is right. However,

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between 1950 and 1986, more than two dozen Private Member's Bills were laid before Parliament in an attempt to change the Shops Act 1950. Every Bill was defeated. Although there was a free vote in 1994, there certainly was not a free vote in 1986. Noble Lords may recall that that was a time when the Conservative government had a majority of 140. It was only the fact that 68 Conservative MPs defied a three-line Whip that enabled the Bill to be defeated in 1986.

My noble friend Lord McIntosh listed a great number of stores which had opened, some of them small stores. That is true. However, it strikes me that this is the prising of the floodgates. If it continues, what we are warning against will come to pass.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred to Sunday trading and pointed out some of its benefits. However, there are downsides. When we were campaigning against Sunday trading in the 1980s and 1990s, we made it very clear that, in the long term, overall trade would not be increased. Merely spreading trading hours over a larger number of days and hours would not necessarily increase trade. Subsequent reports have shown that to be precisely the case. Volume has not been increased or generated as a result of extending trading hours and spreading them over a longer period in the week.

However, we also said that in such cases—this has now proved to be the case—the costs of operation would be increased because you would be paying more but not necessarily achieving a greater turnover and greater volume of sales. That would mean that the

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increased costs would have to be paid for. We said, nearly 20 years ago, that those increased costs would be met either by increased prices or, alternatively, by reduced wages, or a little bit of both. Whereas when Sunday trading was first introduced workers were attracting premium payments of as much as treble time, we now find that in most instances payments are back down to single time. Indeed, in some cases, Sunday workers only are being employed on a Sunday.

This Bill is primarily about removing an anomaly, protecting shopworkers and recognising Christian values in the festive season and Christmas Day. I have drifted into Sunday trading and extended hours in general because I have, if you like, bitten the bullet as a result of comments that have been made.

A point was made—it may be seen as a bit of a downside to my Bill—about whether some people want to work on Christmas Day as a result of being lonely. This is the first time that I have ever heard that argument. I do not know what evidence there is to support that view. I do not know whether the situation even exists. Lonely people will find pursuits other than going to work. Sometimes their loneliness is not taken away even if they are in a crowd.

By and large, I am very pleased with the response I have received to my Private Member's Bill. I therefore request the House to give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

        House adjourned at thirteen minutes before nine o'clock.

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