Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

I have been to six different Games-to five as an athlete and I was working at one-and while each city and country hosts them in a different way, we should not underestimate the excitement, fervour or feel-good factor that occurs at Games times, and we should be ready for that. During Games time, there will be a significant number of different people, as compared to the usual tourists, who will visit not just London but cities around the UK. They will be visiting the live sites and there will be many different ways that families will gather together to support our athletes and the Games, and watch the events. They will not just be people who have bought tickets for the Games.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, raised a valid point about whether the provisions of the Bill should be available to all shops. I considered this carefully, because my original reasoning was that it would make sense for the Bill to affect only shops around the Games sites or live sites. However, considering the way that families will experience the Games, there might be people in all the different parts of England and Wales who will want to buy paint or clothes at different times. Where I live in the north-east of England, the shops in the nearest towns-we do not have many shops in Eaglescliffe -do not open on a Sunday; they are all shut, apart from two weeks before Christmas. I take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said regarding shops being open if they have customers. That is incredibly important, and I really hope that the decisions taken by the shops will be based on their specific circumstances and that they do not feel forced to open.

I also considered whether, rather than having just a block of opening, it might be useful for the provisions to extend just for the Olympics and Paralympics. However, between the Games there will be a massive turnover in the city. The people who may have escaped London because they do not want to be around during the Olympics might be coming back. Athletes are in and out, people choose to stay on at the end of the Games, and people come in early for the Paralympics. Although I am reluctant to say it, having the whole block of opening is probably the most sensible way forward.

What I feel strongly about is that the Government have said:

"Should the Government ever decide that it is appropriate to look again at the possibility of a more permanent relaxation of Sunday trading restrictions a full consultation would be undertaken".

That is important to reiterate. We cannot use Games time in any way as an accurate trial of the circumstances. These Games are completely and utterly exceptional. In the cities that I have been to during the Olympics and Paralympics-Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing; and I have spent an extensive time in each of those cities, leading up to the Games and afterwards-there is such a different atmosphere that I do not think we can use this in any way as a trial.

However, we have to be aware of the effect on small businesses during these specific circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, referred to whether people choose to do work on a Sunday. Possibly because I do

24 Apr 2012 : Column 1771

not have a life, I work on a Sunday, but that is my choice. An awful lot of people who work in shops will not feel that they have that choice. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about people having the opportunity to opt in, rather than out, is important because a lot of those workers will feel a certain amount of pressure to work.

Having said all that, London and the UK have consistently said they are open for business. The Olympics and Paralympics are a massive opportunity to benefit the whole UK. In this case, and in these very particular circumstances-and for a time-limited period, according to the sunset clause-the Sunday trading laws should be a little more flexible.

8.59 pm

Baroness Berridge: My Lords, I am also most surprised that in just over a year in your Lordships' House this is the second time I find myself speaking on this issue-the first being on the Remembrance Sunday (Closure of Shops) Bill. However, it is also perhaps apt as in 1992 it was this issue, as was the case for my noble friend Lord Bates, that prompted my first political activity. I distinctly remember sitting at my desk one Sunday while at university, looking out of the window at business premises that were silent and dark, so I wrote to my parents' MP, Alan Duncan, to request that Sundays be kept special.

Things are of course different now, so much so that I, as an occasional Sunday shopper, found on a recent holiday to the Isles of Lewis and Harris that Sundays were quite a culture shock. However, it is interesting to note that certain businesses, including the Entertainer chain of toyshops and the Reg Vardy car dealership in the north-east, do not open on Sundays: decisions motivated by the desire of the employers to give a day off to their employees, as well as the owners' Christian faith. I do hope this to be a new trend.

Although I am completely unsporting-my gym membership is perhaps best characterised as a charitable donation to the gym rather than a purchasing of its services-I think that London hosting the Olympics and Paralympics is fantastic. Surprisingly, I have even found myself a trustee of an Olympic-related charity, More Than Gold. Britain won the bid to hold the Games on 6 July 2005-a never to be forgotten date as it was the day before the 7/7 bombings, so I, too, am surprised how late in the day this issue is being debated.

Hindsight is a perfect science, and I usually think that there is little point in picking over the bones of how we got here, but I am told that the unusual use of the fast-track procedure, which hampers full consultation and scrutiny, when we have known for so long that the Games are coming to town, necessitates some questions and clarification that I hope that my noble friend can provide. First, and most importantly in my view, there are the views of shopworkers as expressed in the USDAW survey. I share some of the scepticism of my noble friend Lady Trumpington about such surveys, but I have to agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I worked for a living for five years in the catering industry and I know at first hand the pressure that one is put under to take on shifts and work when one would ideally choose not to do so. Can my noble friend say whether the figures from USDAW

24 Apr 2012 : Column 1772

have been contradicted by other statistics from shopworkers? If not, precisely what concerns have outweighed the views of shopworkers?

Why does the suspension period begin with the Sunday before the Olympics start? The opening ceremony is not until 27 July, but shops will be open all over the country on 22 July. I cannot see why the deregulation could not be limited to the official merchandising outlets of the requisite size directly connected to the Olympics: in the Olympic Park, in the athletes' village and in Hyde Park. Those areas are geographically discrete and the workers affected would, I assume, be temporary workers hired just for the period of the Olympics. In the context of my role as a trustee of an Olympic-related charity, I have dealt with the lawyers at LOCOG, and I rest assured that the intellectual property rights and association rights will leave no one in any doubt as to what is an official merchandising outlet, whether it be in London or at any of the other venues around the country.

I am also curious to know where the initiative came from for such legislation. Was it from the official merchandising outlets, which I accept are an anomaly, or was it Westfield in Stratford or the big supermarkets? Why was that issue not covered in what I understand to be two periods of legislative consideration of the Olympics and Paralympics?

I would also be grateful for any further information on why there is not a case to leave these longer hours on Sundays to the smaller businesses in the country for which such a boost in revenue, when they do not have to compete with the larger stores, is surely much more significant to their cash flow and profits than the additional hours on a Sunday for the highly profitable large supermarkets. What is the Government's case or evidence that additional money would be spent during these extra hours in places such as Westfield in Stratford that would not otherwise have been spent at all, rather than having been spent in smaller shops? I am not 100 per cent clear about the financial or economic case being made for the liberalisation. I was grateful to hear the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, regarding the experience in Germany. If it was possible for the Germans to estimate the economic benefits, why has it seemingly not been possible to come to a concrete estimate of what would be the economic case in our country, particularly for smaller businesses?

However, I am very grateful to hear the assurance from the Minister that this is not only temporary legislation with a sunset clause but that it is not being used as an experiment to see whether there will be a sufficient boost to the economy to use as a platform for further deregulation. I am so proud to be part of a Government who have kept to their commitment to give 0.7 per cent of our GDP in international aid, as the Prime Minister has stated that we refuse to build our recovery on the back of the world's poorest. In my view, any further deregulation of Sunday trading would be seeking to build our recovery on the back of some of our poorest paid workers.

9.06 pm

Lord Cormack: My Lords, for the fourth time in a row I find myself as the last speaker in a debate, and I wonder what I have done to upset the Whips. However,

24 Apr 2012 : Column 1773

this has been a fascinating debate and it has been interesting to hear the various contributions, through which there has been the almost continuous common theme that Members regret the introduction of this Bill. There were two exceptions-two quite enthusiastic supporters for it-but the rest of the speakers regretted the Bill, even though a number of them accepted it as being necessary. However, I regret it and I do not accept it as being necessary.

My memory of Sunday trading and campaigning on this goes back to before 1986 and the Shops Bill to, I am afraid, one of the very few occasions when I was on a different side from my noble and revered friend Lady Trumpington. No two people can agree on everything and this happens to be a subject on which we did not agree. I felt that it was right to oppose that Bill, and indeed I opposed Sir John Major's Bill, which was adopted and formed the basis for Sunday trading in this country. Why did I do that? I did so because I felt that there was something special about Sunday. Of course I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, says-that some people work on Sundays, some by choice and some by necessity. In those areas where they work by necessity-the National Health Service, hotels and so on-there are generally very good provisions to compensate for that. There is generally also a degree of choice as to whether they opt for Sunday working.

Baroness Trumpington: Is the noble Lord speaking for himself or for the general public?

Lord Cormack: No Member of either House of Parliament can ever speak for anyone other than him or herself, but one can try very hard to reflect feelings and to acknowledge desires, ambitions and aspirations in the country. I believe that there was something very precious about a day of the week when the pace was slower. I opposed the relaxation of restrictions on Sunday trading because I felt that we would then finish up with a replica Saturday-a high-street Sunday. One has only to drive into London, as I did from King's Cross on Sunday of this very week, to see what has happened. The streets are full of people out shopping, and the peace, the quiet and the opportunity to reflect has gone. I believe that we have lost something in that.

I am not so stupid as to suggest that all those who flock to the shops would be flocking to the churches if the shops were not there. Of course not, but I believe that a slackening of the tempo of life is good. When people come to this country to enjoy the countryside or to go round our great cities and small villages, I like them to be able to understand the tempo of English and British life. That is no longer possible in the way that it was and I regret that. I think it would be a good thing if those who came to watch the Olympic Games this year-and they will come in their thousands or perhaps millions-could have an opportunity to experience the tempo of life in this country as it was. I remember very well-

Lord Deben: My Lords-

24 Apr 2012 : Column 1774

Lord Cormack: In a moment. I remember very well indeed the 1948 Olympics when this was a very different country. It was a country recovering from war; a country with a real pride in itself because of what it had gone through. It really shared in the triumph of the athletes who were competing for one reason above all others-in many cases, for one reason only-their love of sport and competition, not for a love of commerce. Of course, I will give way.

Lord Deben: I am finding it difficult as my noble friend is a member of a party that would not force anything on people. I do not understand why they should be forced to have a slow Sunday. I must say that I enjoy Sundays but I want to be able to buy things if I want to. I do not see why he should tell me what to do on Sundays. It is a peculiar kind of conservatism.

Lord Cormack: My noble friend has not heard very much of this debate; he came in only about a quarter of an hour ago. I am not trying to force him to do anything, or not to do anything. I am saying that we had in this country a certain pattern of life, just as France and other countries have a pattern of life. It is part of the very fabric of the civilisation of the country and we have discarded it to our cost-and a considerable cost at that.

I am worried by the legislation this evening, which of course will go through. There is not much point in tabling amendments, much as I would like to restrict the openings to the Olympic areas. What worries me is that it will be the thin end of the wedge. I do not for a moment doubt the honesty of my noble friends and my right honourable and honourable friends in government who say that it is for eight weeks only, but there will be increased pressure after the eight weeks to make it permanent. I really regret that.

I know that we cannot go back to the Olympics that were immortalised in "Chariots of Fire" where even some of the athletes would not train on Sundays. Of course, we cannot go back to that, but we can at least recognise that we may have lost something. I do not want to lose too much more, so I ask my noble friend, who will wind up, to please recognise that what he is doing is not necessarily for the common good. I believe that my noble friend made a mistake when he talked of the enormous retail opportunities as if that were something really tremendous. We have become so commercially focused and dominated in our daily lives that we have lost a great deal of what made this country great. This is an opportunity to make these points. The noble Lord, Lord Glasman, made similar ones. He and I spoke in the debate some months ago when we were trying to persuade the Government to make Remembrance Sunday a day when the cash tills did not ring. It is for reasons not dissimilar to those that make us have misgivings about the legislation that is currently before the House.

I ask my noble friend, when he is talking to colleagues in government who have given assurances, to tell them that there are many in all parts of this House who feel that it would be a retrograde step if this led to a general further relaxation of restrictions, not least because of the shop workers and not least-the point

24 Apr 2012 : Column 1775

made by my noble friend Lady Berridge-because of the smaller shops. Somebody talked about Mary Portas. One of the things that she has frequently commented on has been the gradual extinction of the smaller shops in the high street at the expense of the big chain stores. That has meant that the individual identity of towns has been eroded in many cases, and totally destroyed in others. My home town where I was born many years ago used to have a wonderful Victorian centre but now all it has is a precinct with chain stores. We want to be able to protect our small and individual stores and this is not necessarily the right way of going about it.

I shall not oppose the Bill by seeking to cause a Division. That would be ridiculous. Nor shall I move any amendments on Thursday because the Bill will go through. I just want to share with the House, and in particular with my noble friend and those in Government, the fact that some of us have real worries and proper misgivings, which are honestly founded, sincerely held and are in no sense inimical to the conservatism which I believe in and which values traditions perhaps above all.

9.15 pm

Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, I have not put my name down to speak in this debate but having taken the Sunday Trading Bill through the House of Lords in 1994, I have much sympathy with the points made by my noble friend. However, I hope that he will accept that one of the arguments that I tried to put forward when I took that Bill through, in its general sense-it was not specific to the Olympics-was that those who wish to keep Sunday special, in its broadest sense, can do so in accordance with their particular views and that the Bill should not inhibit those who wish to conduct their business in a way that allows economic vitality to exist. That is one of the major points that surrounds what is being proposed in the Bill.

I spent many hours and probably several months on it. My noble friend Lady Trumpington took it on for me and I dealt with the Bill afterwards. It was a massive piece of work which we all struggled with. We struggled with all sorts of different aspects of it: the religious side of it, the USDAW aspects of it and a whole set of different issues. However, in the end the Bill went through; it followed the Auld report, which my noble friend will remember, years before.

I do not think that this is the thin end of the wedge at all. It is a small element that would allow advantage to be taken of a particular opportunity and it need not detract at all from those who regard Sunday as a special day which should be observed. It should not be thought of as damaging for the future.

Lord Cormack: I believe that that was an intervention and therefore I must respond to it. Of course, I hear all that my noble friend says. One has to have regard to the desires of all people. To suppress the desires of those who would have a quiet and peaceful Sunday in the interests of those who would have a commercial one is also dangerous. Getting the balance right is the most difficult thing in life. I do not question my noble friend's hard work or integrity in what he sought to

24 Apr 2012 : Column 1776

do, but there is another side to the matter and I think it is one that we should bear in mind. I do not suggest that we should repeal the Act which he and the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, were responsible for getting onto the statute book, but I suggest that we should not take it further.

9.18 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Minister has several problems to address but I shall help him with one of them. Discordant voices on his side can be reconciled quite easily here and in the other place. The major parties have always left Sunday trading to a free vote and, therefore, discordant opinions are part of the rich warp and weft of debate in this House. I would not get too upset about the discordant voices this evening, although the Minister needs to address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, at the beginning of the debate, rather than in his contribution at the end. He asked the obvious question: why is this Bill before us now? Not only do we have to deal with it at this very late stage, under the extreme privations of a rushed parliamentary timetable, but there were opportunities when the issue could have been addressed in an appropriate manner for this revising Chamber. I am grateful to the Minister for the element of generosity that he showed when he indicated that an impact assessment, which we pressed for in the rushed days of consultation, will be provided-tomorrow, after Second Reading on the principles of the Bill. This is evidence of the fact that we are faced with an extremely difficult situation, dealing with fast-track legislation in this form. It can only be down to government incompetence.

The fast-track legislation process that we face in dealing with the Bill in three days, with an impact assessment interspersed between the days, is designed for urgent responses, for example to terrorist attacks or natural global disasters-not for retail opportunities during the Olympic Games, particularly when, as every Member of the House knows, we have known since 6 July 2005 that we would have the Games in London. One would have thought that that had given the Government plenty of time to get their act together. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked pointedly about the nature of the emergency. The answer is clear: the Government had their chance a few months ago. They brought before the House six months ago the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Amendment) Bill, which is now an Act. This was a suitable vehicle for consideration of exactly the issues that we are dealing with extraordinarily rapidly in the course of this week.

The Government failed to do it then, and as a consequence the Minister emphasised that he had been involved in consultation. What levels of consultation? Certainly the Opposition had the opportunity for a certain exchange of views; but as I will point out in a few moments, we are not reconciled to every aspect of the Bill and we will put down amendments on Thursday because the Government have not met our anxieties to the necessary extent.

If the issue of trading opportunities was so important, why on earth was it left to this year's Budget, a few weeks ago, to air it? One can only speculate that pressures were brought to bear on the Government.

24 Apr 2012 : Column 1777

If that is denied and it is the Government seeing an opportunity, without any pressures at all, how strange it is that they should largely have ignored in the first instance the very considerations that a large number of contributors to the debate this evening, on their own Benches as much as on ours, emphasised: namely, that the proposed legislation may work adversely against the interest of workers who must contribute to Sunday working-a contribution that at present is carefully regulated by legislation that was passed, as noble Lords emphasised, more than a decade ago in such a way that we reached agreement across the nation.

There is no pressure for enormous changes. Of course, I heard the representation of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I also know that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, takes a different view from some of us in the House on the extent of Sunday trading. However, on the whole, the legislation that was passed in the 1990s has stood the test of time. Every Government and Minister since-and I include my Minister, Alan Johnson, for example, as well as Conservative Ministers-who have consulted on whether Sunday trading laws should be relaxed have found that it has not looked worth while.

This Bill ought to have been considered within the framework of provisions for the Olympics, and it was not. I think that the Bill is necessary. Let me give one obvious instance. Somebody has tumbled to the fact that the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games begins at 7 pm and under the present legislation, unless it is changed, the outlets and the shops must close at 6 pm, so if you are at the ceremony and get that great emotional feeling of a successful Games, which we all look forward to, and that surge of determination to get a memento of the experience by buying something to take away from London as a result of that great experience, the shops and outlets will have closed before the closing ceremony has begun. You would have thought that the Government could have got their head around this issue somewhat earlier rather than producing this emergency, fast-track legislation.

Noble Lords have emphasised that the greatest concern in this House, which will certainly be of great concern in the other House, and I have no doubt that my party will be united on it, is that this has got to be a unique event related to the Olympic Games. It must be no Trojan horse. In his opening speech, the Minister indicated that he is not constructing a Trojan horse, but I guess that that is what the Greeks suggested at the time of the construction of the original Trojan horse. We want to emphasise that we are accepting the good faith of the Government how this is not a tryout for some further onslaught on the abolition of red tape and the transformation of Sunday trading laws in circumstances where there is little public clamour for it, although there may be discreet interests of influence in the Conservative Party that seek to benefit from it.

Since we do not have a great deal of supporting evidence, we do not know what will be the impact of this potential opening on small shop keepers. We may get some enlightenment tomorrow, but at this point, where we are considering the principle of the Bill, we are devoid of information on that score. Of course, it is obvious that those shops that are not controlled by

24 Apr 2012 : Column 1778

Sunday trading laws at present will lose their competitive advantage over the eight Sundays on which this legislation is to operate. That is why they made representations to the effect that they are against this legislation; they are concerned about it and they are particularly concerned if it should presage further changes subsequently.

Another dimension was brought up by noble Lords in all parts of the House this evening. It is whether the legislation significantly affects the rights of workers under existing legislation. As a result of the tight timetable between the passing of this legislation and the opening of the Games, the period of notice to workers has to be changed. It is the case, therefore, that in their ability to respond to the pressures that an employer may apply-and noble Lords have been right to emphasise that these pressures can be severe in some circumstances-workers will be disadvantaged by the tight timetable.

Of course, we want the Olympic Games to be successful. Other noble Lords have testified to the work that they have done on Sunday trading. I might add that I answered dozens of questions about the Olympic Games and participated in a number of debates on the Games when in government. Of course, I want to see them a success, the same as every other Member of this House. Whether that is dependent upon changes in trading laws, I have greater leave to doubt.

Of course, as a party, we will not vote against this legislation. We will not do it here or in the other place. However, on Thursday we will go into detail on this Bill and I signal to the Minister that I do not regard his present amendment as being sufficient to safeguard the interests of those workers whose conditions will be changed by the legislation, and we shall be tabling amendments accordingly.

9.32 pm

Lord Sassoon: My Lords, first, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their valuable and insightful contribution to today's debate. With just over three months until the Olympic and Paralympic Games, it is certainly clear that whatever the views of individual noble Lords on this Bill, there is a shared enthusiasm for the success of this once in a lifetime event. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, for confirming that the Opposition will not oppose the Bill.

There is a great commitment across the country to making the Games a great success for the athletes, and indeed for the visitors, and it is in that context that we are making a modest but, I think, important contribution to the overall success of those Games through the measure that we are bringing forward today. It is important to bear in mind what my noble friend Lady Trumpington had to say. I am sure that she would never say-and I would never directly say, in terms-"Calm down, dears" to anybody, but she did say, in almost those terms, that we really should put this measure in perspective. It is important that we consider all the proper safeguards but it is a modest measure, which will contribute to the success of this great event.

I recognise and have already acknowledged that it is not ideal that this Bill has come forward this late in the day, and through the fast-track procedure, which we have only brought forward after discussions with the

24 Apr 2012 : Column 1779

Opposition in the normal way. Sunday trading was subject to scrutiny through the Red Tape Challenge process that is going on for all regulation. We looked at it in that context and it did not support a permanent relaxation. Following that, a Private Member's Bill was brought forward in another place by Mark Menzies MP in October last year, which proposed a similar suspension to that being introduced by this Bill, and that contributed to the narrowing down of our thinking on this issue. Following some reflection, we came to the conclusion that this Bill was appropriate and necessary. So there has been an evolving process. I can assure those noble Lords on both sides of the House who were insinuating that there was some pressure-some dark plots, even some panic-that there has been no panic as to whether this measure is necessary and no pressure from particular impacts groups. It was a realisation which evolved through reflection on the general question of attitudes to Sunday trading, and by thought about the opportunity which visitors and spectators at the Games and across the country should have through this period, that has led to the Bill coming forward.

There have also been questions around the economic impact. I am conscious that the more one talks about the economic impact, the more it could be portrayed, or perhaps misportrayed, as a Treasury Minister being drawn into talking about Trojan horses. I say again what I said clearly two or three times in my opening speech-this is a one-off measure. We took the belt-and-braces approach of putting the sunset clause in, which was not strictly necessary. The Bill is absolutely as it says it is on the tin.

I am nervous about getting drawn into questions of economic impact because they could be misconstrued, but a number of noble Lords referred to it. The impact is extremely difficult to assess. When noble Lords see the impact assessment tomorrow it will not give-because it would be wrong-spuriously accurate figures about the impact of this measure. There is a lot of qualitative discussion but I would not raise the expectations of noble Lords for the reasons that have been given already. On the one hand, we have heard quoted some relatively extreme figures for the particular impact to which the Association of Convenience Stores has drawn attention. On the other hand, the Centre for Retail Research has given numbers that go the other way showing the positive impact. We could look at the previous Government's benefit study for full relaxation and the positive impact that that impact study gave as regards the relaxation of rules around Sunday trading.

The best we can say is that the studies show a mixed picture and are extremely difficult to interpret. If one looks at convenience stores, for example, it is quite possible, and very likely in some areas, that the generation of excitement and more appetite for people to go out and shop around the events associated with the Games could benefit convenience stores just as it may benefit larger stores.

Noble Lords will have received the interesting submission from the Federation of Small Businesses, which has asked for an impact assessment after the event. As I have already assured the House, if the Government were ever to come forward with a wider proposal for relaxation, the impact of this proposal

24 Apr 2012 : Column 1780

for the Olympics would be one of the things that would quite properly be taken into account. That is what the Federation of Small Businesses has asked for.

As for the special nature of Sundays, I am very grateful for the measured positions that have been taken by some long-standing opponents to the relaxation of Sunday trading. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells gave a very balanced view. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Wilcox for the work that she has done to help me with this Bill, particularly the leading role that she has taken in conversation with the churches. I also thank my noble friend Lord Cormack, whose views on this subject are well known and were very clearly put in this evening's debate. The conclusion that he came to about the Bill is much appreciated. I know that he does not like it but he has made clear that he will not stand in the way of it. I hear that very clearly and I hope that he has heard my assurances on the general topic on behalf of the Government.

The Bill is focused on the Olympics and the Paralympics, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, in another balanced and measured contribution to the debate, addressed the question of the number of weeks covered. My noble friend Lady Berridge specifically asked why it is being done the week before. There is also the week in the middle. If the Government are going to put in place this measure, as they believe is appropriate, then certainly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, explained, there will be athletes and visitors arriving here before and staying between the two events. We certainly did not want to prolong this unreasonably but we believe that if we are going to bring it in it should cover the whole period during which visitors and athletes may have more opportunities to shop and get out and about before and after the Olympic Games. However, it is only for one week before the Games until the day that the Paralympic Games close.

I know that the hour is getting on. Of all the considerations that have arisen, clearly the other main issue was the impact of the Bill on employees. There were some rather overdramatic references to exploitation, historical lessons going back to the Greek period and comparison of the Games with what happened under other regimes going back to the Games in Moscow decades ago, which were perhaps taking what is being proposed somewhat out of context.

It is worth bearing in mind the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that employees in the retail sector already have special protections which employees in just about every other sector of the economy do not have. That is not to say that we want to, or will, undermine those special protections in this Bill, but it is worth reminding the House that we are not doing anything in the Bill which has a terrible impact on a particular sector; it preserves the special rights which employees in this sector already possess. On the subjects of exploitation and pressure on workers, I understand that these are real issues but, nevertheless, the picture that we were given by one or two noble Lords on this subject was not balanced. The Games will provide an opportunity for some employees to

24 Apr 2012 : Column 1781

earn more money, at a time when families are under pressure because of the general economic environment. In a balanced way, that opportunity should and will be available to people through this measure if it is approved by your Lordships' House and in another place.

The Government cannot directly legislate to deal with the pressure that people feel under in these circumstances. They can only ensure that they have appropriate legal rights, and that certainly is what the Bill takes into account. We have been talking extensively to employers and are encouraging them to talk sensibly with their employees. We know that employers are already starting to do just that. It is not in the interests of large retail groups, who will normally be the owners and operators of the big stores that we are talking about, to expose themselves to reputational damage if they pressurise their employees. That is surely the last thing they want to see associated with the Olympic Games. It is also very important to realise that all the protection in the law, which is important, is very much a backstop protection, and that in reality the protections that are built into the employment contracts of the big retail groups will actually go well beyond the law.

I referred in my opening speech to the approach of one major supermarket group. Another of the major retail groups already has in its contracts of employment the right for staff to opt out of Sunday working on a one-month basis-a greater protection than anything in current legislation gives. Another major retail group has a longer opting-out period, consistent with the period in the legislation, but it recognises that and is already adopting an approach of having conversations at local level with its employees. Another supermarket group is in the position where Sunday working currently ranks as non-contracted hours, so they are usually a source of overtime for staff. That particular group is projecting a relatively high take-up, both from existing employees and from student workers wanting to work additional hours on Sunday. We should not think that legal protections, important as they are as a backstop, are what major retail groups apply in reality; they have contracts of employment that in many cases go much further. Even beyond that, they are already talking to their employees to sort out something sensible if they are given this modest but important opportunity around the Games.

A number of other issues have come up and we will have further opportunity to debate them on Thursday.

24 Apr 2012 : Column 1782

I come back to the fact that the economic impact assessment is difficult to make in micro terms, but we can look at the enormous benefit of the Games, whether it was the £2.5 billion boost to the economy in Australia, the $5 billion in Atlanta or some of the other numbers that have been generated. I do not begin to say that we can link this measure in any scientific way to the generation ahead of time of economic benefit, but it is a small measure that primarily helps with the overall experience of visitors to the Games and of the whole UK population around the Games. However, it will contribute to what I hope, after the event, will be an important boost, associated with the Games, to the economy-including of course the huge amount of work that is going in to making sure that the legacy of the Games in the UK is second to none. These are things that we will only be able to assess after the event, but this measure will contribute to that.

As to the evidence around the popularity of this measure, we have heard certain numbers from USDAW, but on the other hand we have also heard about the YouGov poll-so this does not come from any particular interest group-which shows that the majority of the country believes that a combination of permanent and temporary relaxations are appropriate.

I come back to welcoming the broad statement from the party opposite, although I recognise that we have some detail to go through on Thursday. I am grateful for the contribution from all those around the House. I have not mentioned all noble Lords who have spoken, but I thought that in particular the very measured conclusions from the right reverend Prelate, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and, at the end, in the unanticipated intervention from my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, were among those that summed up the appropriate spirit. I look forward to a further discussion on Thursday but ask that this evening the House gives the Bill a Second Reading.

Bill read a second time.

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

Returned from the Commons

The Bill was returned from the Commons with reasons and an amendment.

House adjourned at 9.51 pm.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page