Sunday Trading (London Olympic and Paralympic Games) Bill [HL]
Lord Sassoon (Commercial Secretary, HM Treasury; Conservative)
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to debate Sunday Trading in connection with the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Games begin in just over three months and, on all sides of the House, we are determined to make a success of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Both occasions will draw a significant number of visitors from home and abroad to the events themselves, to our tourist attractions, to our pubs and restaurants, and also to our shops.
This is an opportunity for our runners, swimmers and cyclists to showcase their talents. They will be seeking to emulate the achievements of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and of the other distinguished Olympians and Paralympians in this House. It is also an occasion to show the rest of the world that the UK is open for business. We will be showcasing everything that the UK has to offer at a time when the world's attention is on us, and that includes our retail sector. The Games offer a unique chance for everyone to sample the UK's superb retail outlets. We have to do everything we can to fully exploit this unique opportunity in a way that fits with the schedule of the Games.
At present, however, the Sunday Trading Act 1994 limits the opening times on Sundays of certain shops with a relevant floor area of more than 3,000 square feet. In particular, the Act restricts them to opening on a Sunday for a maximum six-hour period between 10 am and 6 pm. Just imagine the situation: it is the evening of
The Bill that we are discussing today will give shops the opportunity, should they wish to take it, to open for longer to make the most of the economic benefits of the Games. It presents retailers with a chance to increase sales, shop workers with a chance to earn some extra money, consumers the flexibility to shop when they want to and it could help to increase temporary employment. It will be good for the Games and good for the economy in these challenging times.
I recognise that the use of the fast-track procedure for this Bill is not ideal. However, I believe that exceptional use of this procedure is justified given the imminence of the Games. We do not want hundreds of thousands of visitors to be welcomed to the UK with closed signs across our shopping centres, and not just here in London.
Lord Sassoon (Commercial Secretary, HM Treasury; Conservative)
My Lords, many arrangements needed to be put in place for the Games. This is an important one, as are many others. We are putting this in place now and it also follows the introduction of a Bill dealing with Sunday trading in another place, which helped to prompt some of the thinking that this is an additional measure to round out what will be spectacularly successful Games with everything laid on. Yes, I have said that it is not ideal that we are dealing with this now. The Government believe that it is important and there is appropriate time for your Lordships to debate what is a relatively simple measure over two days this week.
The Government believe that the Bill should apply to all of England and Wales. The Games are for the whole of the UK, not just for London. Indeed, many of the Olympic and Paralympic events are based outside London. There will be football in Manchester, Newcastle and Coventry; sailing in Weymouth; mountain biking in Essex; rowing at Eton; and canoe slalom in Hertfordshire. In all those sports there will be events on Sundays, including Paralympic sailing and rowing.
Big screens will be put up in towns and cities around the country to enable people to get together to watch the Olympic and Paralympic Games. We want tourists and visitors to those events also to take advantage of longer shop opening hours in the vicinity of those locations. Of course, tourists may travel to other parts of the UK during the Games. We want families, whether they are in east London, the East Midlands or the north-east, to have the flexibility to plan their weekends around local and national events.
However, we recognise that the Bill causes concern for important groups. We have worked with the Opposition, unions and retailers to make sure that the concerns are addressed. In particular, there was concern that shop workers would not have sufficient time after Royal Assent to opt out of Sunday working in time for the start of the suspension period, should they wish to do so. This is because the usual notice period for opting out is three months, and there will be less than three months between Royal Assent in early May-subject of course to the agreement of your Lordships and of another place-and the start of the suspension of the restrictions on
This right to opt out of Sunday working is already a unique employment protection that is not shared by almost any other sector of the working population, including, for example, the catering sector. The Bill will not diminish the rights that are set out in law. However, in recognition of this concern, we have brought forward an amendment to the Bill that temporarily reduces the three-month opting-out notice period to as little as two months for shop workers in large stores that are affected by the Bill. I will move that amendment in Committee on Thursday. On top of that, and very importantly, shortly after Royal Assent the Government will publish guidance on the implications of the Bill for employers and employees.
I am pleased to see that many large shops are taking a sensible attitude to working with their staff to take advantage of this opportunity. Morrisons, for example-one of the many stores that we spoke to-told us that it will speak to its employees so that they understand the proposals and any impact that they might have on their working hours. It also said that,
"whilst it represents an opportunity for them to earn extra money, it is also important that any of them who do not wish to work on Sundays will still have the right to opt-out".
That is characteristic of the sensitive approach that large retail groups are taking.
Furthermore, the Government are very mindful that for many people Sunday has a particular religious significance as a day set aside for worship, and a day that is different from the rest of the week. The Government consulted with the church in advance of the Bill to ensure that it was recognised that this is emphatically a temporary measure for the period of the London Olympics and Paralympics only. I make it clear that this is not a test case or Trojan horse for a future permanent relaxation of the rules. The Bill is time-limited in its effect and contains a clear sunset clause. The suspension will be in effect from
I will also address the potential impact of the Bill on small shops, which has been highlighted. It is not clear whether, how, and to what extent small shops will be affected. However, both the Opposition and the Federation of Small Businesses have asked the Government to carry out an assessment of the impact of the temporary suspension. I assure the House that were the Government ever to decide to look at a permanent relaxation of Sunday trading restrictions, a full impact assessment would be carried out. As part of that, they would of course consider any evidence of the impact that the temporary suspension had had on relevant businesses, large and small.
We listened to the concerns raised about the Bill. We made every effort to consult and to work with a range of interested parties. We spoke to large businesses, including supermarkets and other retailers; to representative organisations such as the CBI, the British Retail Consortium and the British Council of Shopping Centres. We spoke to representatives of small businesses such as the Association of Convenience Stores, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents and the Federation of Small Businesses, which I mentioned. We also spoke to trade unions including USDAW and Unite. As I mentioned, we spoke to the Church of England, the Church of Wales and the Roman Catholic Church.
We also offered briefing sessions on the Bill to all Peers and Members of another place. We had numerous discussions and exchanges with the Opposition. They agreed several weeks ago to the use of the fast-track procedure for the Bill, subject to us considering employees' notice periods for opting out of Sunday working. As I explained, I brought forward amendments that I believe will deal with precisely that point. Despite that, and despite further letters from me and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business at the end of last week, we have not yet had confirmation from the Opposition that they will fully support the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, is about to give us that confirmation. After all, it was the party opposite that secured the Olympics for the UK, and it was a great achievement for all concerned with the bid. It would be a huge shame if it was now not to support a temporary measure aimed at ensuring that the UK can make the most of the opportunity that the Games will give us. I hope that we can demonstrate to the world in a small way through this debate that we are pulling constructively together to put in place a further measure that will ensure the success of the Games.
As I said, the Games are an opportunity to showcase the UK's skills, talents and businesses to the rest of the world. They will be an occasion for unparalleled entertainment, and we want to make sure that everyone can enjoy them to the full. Allowing extended Sunday trading for UK retailers will be a small change that could have a significant impact on the enjoyment of the Games, on our national economy and on our international image. It is one that has been done elsewhere on similar occasions. It may surprise noble Lords to learn that even Germany, with its notoriously tight restrictions on Sunday opening-far tighter than ours-eased its opening hours restrictions during the football World Cup in 2006 and then reimposed them. If Germany could do it, I am sure that we in the UK can and should. The Bill will give employees, consumers and businesses the opportunity fully to seize the vast opportunities that will come from this once-in-a-lifetime event. I commend the Bill to the House and beg to move.
Lord Newby (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, when I first saw this Bill, I found it quite perplexing. It raised a number of questions in my mind. The first was the question that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has already raised: why has it taken seven years since we were allocated the Olympics for someone, with fewer than 100 days to go to the Games, to realise that there is a bit of a problem? When talking to people, it has been suggested to me that it was only because the retailers on and adjacent to the Olympic park realised that they were not going to be able to be open to sell souvenirs on a Sunday. If that is indeed why this is coming forward at this time, someone in the Olympic organisation has been pretty incompetent. Even if one accepts, as seems perfectly reasonable, as the Minister said, that the shops on and adjacent to the park itself and other major Olympic venues should be open for the full duration of sessions of the Games, it seems a very big leap to get to the provisions of the Bill. Why should a B&Q in Carlisle or a Comet in Margate be able to stay open all hours on eight Sundays just because we want attendees at Olympic events to be able to buy a T-shirt on their way home?
It could be argued that actually it does not really matter and that this is a storm in a teacup. No one could argue that this is the most significant problem facing the nation, but it seems to me that it matters for two reasons. The first relates to the public debate about Sunday trading. The current Sunday trading laws are the product of years of debate, and I believe that they reflect a broadly settled view of an acceptable balance between the right to shop at virtually any time of the day or night and the recognition that Sunday, whether you are religious or not, Christian or not, is a separate and special day, and we should retain at least a vestige of that specialness because it benefits individuals and families. It is also the case that the restrictions on larger stores on Sundays go some way to halt the ever-onward march of the bigger boys against small shopkeepers. Therefore, I very much welcome the Minister's assurance that this is not a Trojan horse, the thin end of the wedge, or whatever analogy one would like to use, to change the settled view of the country on Sunday trading.
The second reason why this is of greater significance is that shops are not machines. They need people to run them and, to put it mildly, the people who run them are less keen than the Government on this legislation. No doubt a number of noble Lords will have seen the representations from USDAW about the views of its members. Admittedly, they are USDAW members, not an absolute representation of everyone who works in a shop, but when you ask 20,000 shop workers what they think, and 78 per cent are opposed to longer working hours for the Olympics and 73 per cent believe that the Bill will lead to more pressure on them to work on Sundays against their will, it is a matter of concern.
I heard what the Minister said about Morrisons. In the nicest possible way, it would say that, wouldn't it? I believe that many people who do not want to work additional hours on Sundays, whatever the rules about them being able to request an exemption, will be pressurised to work on Sundays and, in the current climate, will feel that they have to work on Sundays for longer hours against their will.
I very much welcome the Government's planned amendments to make it easier for people to opt out if they do not want to continue working longer hours or to have longer hours on Sunday. I just question how effective in reality, on a shop-by-shop basis, that will be.
If I am pretty grumpy about the timing of the Bill and its geographic extent and implications for shop workers, what are the reasons why I might adopt a more balanced view and even support it? The first is that it is obvious that the Olympics are a unique event. They are a global festival. The eyes of the world are going to be on the UK and, as we have done with so many other things to do with the Olympics, whether it is the cost of the stadiums and ancillary facilities or accepting that we have special lanes for the cars of Olympics officials, we have accepted that you do not do the Olympics in a half-hearted way. That is the right approach to take. To a large extent, one is bound by the rules of the organisers, and in assessing how to run the Olympics one must have in one's mind how other countries have done it and how we can be seen to do at least as well as many other countries that have had the Olympics. In many ways, the preparations for the Olympics in the UK have been extremely well organised, and while I am being grumpy about this issue, in many other respects the organisation, the planning and the construction work have been exemplary.
The other thing that flows from that is the Minister's point about how other countries have approached Sunday trading. It is quite extraordinary that in Germany the rules on Sunday trading were relaxed to the extent they were because Germany has a much stronger view about Sundays and their role than we do. It is very interesting that the academic research done about the positive and negative impacts of the World Cup in Germany showed that, in aggregate, the economic impact was as near zero as made no difference, but the great impact was that people in Germany felt better about Germany to a quite considerable extent. That is clearly a very positive benefit. Despite meeting other grumpy people, who in some cases are grumpy because they do not want to be involved in the Games at all, I have no doubt that I, like most people in the country, will be absolutely captivated by them, and I suspect that on the middle Sunday of the Games, I will be glad that there are no people grumbling that the shops are shut.
Baroness Deech (Crossbench)
My Lords, my only reservation about this Bill is the sunset clause. The relaxation, or normalisation, of Sunday shopping hours lasts only from
Not only are small shops open, but we all expect to be served on Sunday by those who work and support, at varying hours and seamlessly, in TV, radio and cinemas? The clergy and, no doubt, their wives are busy on Sunday. The pubs are open. Concerts are held. Sport and health clubs go on. Hospitals and medical services are fully staffed. Would we not be shocked if we were told that all married people in hospital service were going home to feed their families? Care homes are, of course, open. Museums, the police and the fire service are working. Restaurants are open, no doubt selling pasties. Garages are open. Traffic wardens are at work. The AA and the RAC are out there working to rescue us. Transport is more or less fully functional. Flights are flying. Swimming pools are open, and so are gyms and hotels. The telephone, electricity and gas are working with people behind the scenes to support them. The stately homes are open, as are the markets and the funfairs. The newspapers are being printed and sold. Garden centres and farm shops are open. No doubt that list could be added to. There are no such restrictions in Scotland, hardly a less religious or family-oriented nation than England.
More and more people, especially women, are in employment and find it impossible to fit in all the chores in normal shopping hours during the week. Indeed, it is my view that banks, post offices, hairdressers and dry cleaners need to be open on Sundays. Since there is-and remains-no compulsion on a worker to work on Sunday and since we are a multicultural society, there is no threat to religious freedom here.
Family togetherness is threatened now by the opening of pubs and the availability of sports on Sunday. In any case, a favoured family togetherness activity is, precisely, shopping. If convenience stores are accepted, why is there no concern for the family togetherness of their owners? Is it perhaps protectionism at work? Noise concern is misplaced because there is noise already from the various activities that I have mentioned.
There is something-dare I say-a bit snobbish about controlling supermarkets and big stores when none of the other activities and outlets that I have mentioned is controlled. A YouGov poll in March this year revealed that 35 per cent of adults wanted a permanent relaxation of Sunday hours; 31 per cent supported the temporary relaxation that we are discussing this evening; only 27 per cent were opposed. Forty-six per cent of Scots supported permanent relaxation-and they should know because they already have it. The hours apply, as has been said, only to England and Wales. A OnePoll survey in February this year showed that 33 per cent want a permanent relaxation and 22 per cent want Sunday closure. A Sunday Telegraph poll in March of 1,000 adults showed that 37 per cent wanted permanent relaxation, and that 63 per cent of women did.
The existing six-hour allowance is a bit of a nuisance. A large shop is typically open only from, say, 10 am to 4 pm. There is not really enough time before lunch if you are preparing it, or indeed after lunch if it has been a good lunch, to get to the supermarket for the necessary hour and a half or two hours. The Government have shown great enthusiasm for the Mary Portas-led study of how to revive the high street. The high street is dead on a Sunday. If more shops were open there, they would rival the out-of-town shops.
I mentioned sexism. The sexism here is that objections to longer Sunday opening hours appear to come mostly-but not always-from men. They are quite happy to have the pub, sport and the garage on Sunday as usual, but I suppose they do not want their wives out when they might be required at home to make lunch. Cooking, visiting relatives, laundry and childcare are all taken for granted for very long hours on Sundays. Would it not be wonderful if all women downed tools at home on Sunday on the grounds that it was a day of rest? What working women want, quite apart from the Olympics period, is a day when they can catch up with the tasks impossible to perform during the working week-number one: shopping, preferably with another family member.
So here's to the success of the longer Sunday opening hours-not only good for the Olympics but good for family activities and very good for women.
The Bishop of Bath and Wells (Bishop)
My Lords, it will not surprise the House that the Church of England, like most Christian churches, is no great enthusiast for Sunday training, notwithstanding the most excellent speech that we have heard from across the Chamber. Just as the Olympic ideals promote the principle that the Olympic Games are about much more than the games themselves, so the way the working week is ordered says some powerful things about the priorities of a flourishing society.
There is a danger of contradictory messages here, of the desire to create a better and more wholesome society and having the time to do so, and finding a natural space within a week in which that can be encouraged somewhat further. I stress to your Lordships that the church's reluctance to enthuse about Sunday trading is not about its own institutional self-interest. Our churches offer ministry seven days a week, every week of the year, but Sunday remains the one day of the week when most people, by and large, are able to share common time for their own pursuits. The work/life balance is not merely an individual concern, where the life part of the equation cannot be shared with a wider spectrum of other people. Our whole society, I believe, begins to break down if we do not have something that reflects that value.
The number of people who can share a common day of leisure forms a critical mass below which many of our voluntary institutions cannot survive. Too often in debates on Sunday trading we have heard about the virtues of shopping as a shared leisure activity. But for people to shop, others must work. Very significant numbers of people, including high proportions of women and men with family responsibilities, are employed in retailing and distribution, and a great many other people in other walks of life are obliged to work when the shops are open. We are all consumers, but if Sunday trading was to become an unfettered norm, we would pretty soon all be workers too, and the rich associational life of our nation-its charities, amateur sports, extended family life and, yes, its churches-which is already desperately fragile, would crumble.
I cannot warmly commend this Bill, although I suspect it will pass. None the less, I thank the Ministers concerned for their careful consultation with my colleagues at Church House, and for their assurances that this Bill is prompted solely by the unique circumstances surrounding the Olympic Games, which will have an impact on many of our communities for the duration of the events-although I beg leave to doubt that the traders of Shepton Mallet will see much change in their normal footfall.
I am grateful that the Bill contains an unequivocal sunset clause, but no Government can have complete control over the way in which events may be used to support other arguments in the future. I am grateful to the Minister for his assurances that this is no stalking-horse for future deregulation of shopping hours, and I trust that this Bill will do precisely what it says on the tin.
However, I give notice that the church will be on guard against arguments from any quarter that try to insinuate that this Olympic experiment has been so successful that it must be extended in the future. An exceptional measure for an exceptional period in time is not replicable and it will give us no worthwhile economic indicators about deregulation in general. In the past, the calls for greater deregulation have not come from across the whole retail industry but from the chains, which saw an opportunity to steal a march on their competitors. I gather that the present proposal is not universally welcomed across the industry and that many stores will not be availing themselves of its provisions. However, competitive pressure has already forced Sunday opening on some firms that did not want to open on Sundays and we must be wary lest this permissive Bill becomes a covert lever for wider deregulation later.
I remind your Lordships, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, has also done, of the rights of shop workers to opt out of Sunday working if they so wish. These rights were part of the reason the Sunday Trading Act 1994 finally made it on to the statute book after earlier attempts at deregulation by Mrs Thatcher's Government had been roundly defeated. They were a crucial concession and yet they have not proved to be all that robust in practice. I am glad that we shall see an amendment to this Bill that regularises the opt-out for staff, but it must be a robust amendment, which does what it says on the tin. If the Olympic period is such an exceptional opportunity for British business, it is only right that those whose labour makes that possible-on all days of the week-are properly protected.
It would be extremely churlish of me not to conclude by saying that I believe and hope that the Olympic Games will be a resounding success for our country, and that if this Bill is to be passed, it will be limited to simply that period of time.
Baroness Trumpington (Conservative)
Fuss, fuss, fuss, my Lords. I cannot for the life of me understand why a small Bill covering a very short period of time should be used by USDAW in this unnecessary and provocative way. Incidentally, I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate that this Bill should never be used to increase Sunday trading hours. I have been associated with the opening and closing hours of shops since the Shops Bill in 1986, continuing with the Sunday Trading Bill in 1993. Not many of us are left, although it is worth mentioning that my main opponent, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who at that time I regarded as the enemy but whom I now think of as a good old boy, is still around. I am very sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, is not speaking today. As far as I know, she is the only other remaining noble Lord from that time.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells may be interested, in case he missed this information in 1994, that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich in debate in this House stated that,
"in the two years since Sunday trading has, quite illegally, become common, church attendance has risen".-[Hansard, 29/3/94; col. 1011.]
The argument of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, against Sunday trading was somewhat dented by the fact that I was able to tell him that the Co-op in Scotland was already trading on Sundays. Indeed, as has been mentioned, Sunday trading in Scotland has never been enormously prolific but always legal. In 1994, I said that I was grateful to Lord Harris of High Cross for saying that I was the grandmother of Sunday trading. As such and so many years later, I wish this Bill God speed.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Conservative)
My Lords, it is a great privilege to speak after the grandmother of Sunday trading having survived so long since 1994. It is not without reason that there was a long debate about this subject prior to 1994 in which the grandmother played a very important part. However, when it came to debating the Bill in Parliament, Divisions arose. They were on a free vote because matters of conscience were thought to be involved in the subject matter of the Bill. In due course, these reasons were elaborated. The principal religious reason was the basis for a weekly day of rest, which was clearly set out in an article in the Times not long ago by our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi. Of course, religious days of rest are not exclusively Christian by any means. Other religions that embrace such days of rest also have them as a precious part of their heritage. In the Christian tradition, Sunday of course is referred to in connection with the commemoration of the resurrection of our Lord.
Since 1994, Governments have raised the question of whether the restrictions in the 1994 Act should be altered. The Labour Government consulted on this matter and I remember Alistair Darling saying that it had found no appetite for change. This Government have also consulted on at least two occasions-first, in the retail review and, secondly, in the red tape review. On both occasions it appears that no appetite for change was revealed. On the great deliberation with which the Sunday trading provisions had been reached in Parliament, I must say that I found it slightly insensitive that they should have been regarded as red tape.
As the right reverend Prelate has mentioned, other aspects include family life. There are few occasions in the nature of our routines when families have the freedom to get together. On the whole, Sunday is certainly the day on which that is more possible than on most other days. Again, as the right reverend Prelate has said, that is a very important part of the structure of our society. I for one would not wish to have anything to do with arrangements that make that more difficult to carry on.
As has been said, the opening of large shops is what, after great deliberation, was prohibited or restricted by the 1994 Act. It was on the basis that small shops should be allowed to carry on. That has been the balance of our Sundays ever since.
Many people will come from countries that have their own restrictions on Sunday trading. Indeed, as the Minister said, Germany has quite strict restrictions on Sunday trading. It did, of course, relax them-it did not say exactly to what extent-in connection with the World Cup. That is a factor to be taken into account. Many people will be coming from other countries to our country for the Olympics. We hope that they will come in great numbers and that the whole event will be a complete success. Those people-some with restrictions of their own, some without-will see the normal balance of life still flourishing all the way through the Olympics.
I join the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and others in saying that the general arrangements for the Olympics have been extremely good. Some of the arrangements will still be tested-the traffic arrangements, in particular, will be tested very severely, I have no doubt-but the organisation that has been responsible for planning the Olympics has done so extremely well and I hope that the event will reward it through the extent of its success.
The idea that this should happen for eight Sundays has only recently been raised. As my noble friend Lord Cormack said during the Minister's opening address, it is not as though the date of the Olympics has been unknown until the Budget. It reminds me of the story of the man who saw a boy running for the train. He said, "You are running fast enough now, but did you start early enough?". We seem to have left that part out of the equation. This matter requires sensitive treatment in the ways of time as well as in the other ways to which the Minister referred. The Bill as introduced has now shown itself as requiring amendment and the Government propose to amend it.
As to the issue of workers in large shops, my noble friend Lord Newby has given the figures. One of the disturbing figures from the survey of 20,000 workers is that many of those who do not wish to work on Sunday feel pressured to do so and will feel increased pressure on the Sundays of the Olympics. After all, the family is an important unit in relation to the Olympics as well as to every other successful event in a similar situation.
The question of what good, if any, this will be for the economy is a matter of speculation. Your Lordships will have no doubt carefully studied the Explanatory Notes that have been printed on the Bill. They tell us that an impact assessment is not necessary. Notwithstanding that, my noble friend Lady Wilcox's department has in fact carried one out and the report is at Appendix C. Your Lordships might be surprised that it is hard to find Appendix A and Appendix B, but it is even harder to find Appendix C because it is not there at all. So the impact assessment from the department is, so far, private.
The idea that the opening of big shops will be a signal that Britain is open for business strikes me as bizarre because it is a temporary measure. After the eight Sundays have passed, will that be a signal that Britain is shut for business? I certainly hope not. We need all the business that we can get, but that does not mean that we need to destroy or damage our own way of life in order to achieve it.
The procedure used in connection with the Bill distresses me considerably. It is a pity that we should have to look at this matter in a rushed way on this occasion. The workers in the industry, as well as everyone else, have to be taken into account, and I strongly feel that the letter that we have received from the union that represents the principal number of workers in the industry has to be taken into account. As I say, I am distressed by the way this has happened. Deep considerations underlie the arrangements that we have had in this country for some time-when I say "this country", I mean England and Wales-and I am distressed that these arrangements should not be on display for people who come to visit us for the Olympics.
Notwithstanding that, I hope the Olympics will be very successful. However, I am not sure that this Bill will contribute to that particularly.
Lord Sassoon (Commercial Secretary, HM Treasury; Conservative)
My Lords, it might help if I just explain that I think in recesses some things do not get checked as carefully as they would normally, and there were no annexes A and B. Indeed, the advice was that the economic impact is very difficult to assess because of the nature of this Bill and the nature of the assessment that could reasonably be made. However, I am happy to make sure that we publish the impact assessment and make it available tomorrow ahead of the Committee stage. I stress to noble Lords that it does not strictly need to have been published, but in the name of full disclosure of information ahead of further consideration of the Bill, I am happy to make sure that it is available to noble Lords ahead of Committee.
Lord Judd (Labour)
My Lords, it is always a privilege, and indeed a joy, to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, who on issues of this kind sets a very high example in terms of the wisdom that he brings to bear on the issues before us.
The noble and learned Lord referred to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, in which he drew attention to the letter from USDAW and the statistics it contains. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, was right to do that, because whatever we say and whatever our position, the burden of what we are proposing falls on the shop workers. It seems absolutely extraordinary to move into it for a temporary period-which accepts that it is something we would not normally want to do-without taking the views of the people who it is most going to affect fully into account.
I will not repeat them, but one of the statistics that impressed me greatly was that only 11 per cent-just over one in 10-shop workers believes that they want to work in this situation. It seems rather difficult to accept that we go ahead with this when almost 90 per cent of shop workers say they do not want to do it and when it has all been apparently agreed that this is something we do not want permanently. We need to take this issue far more seriously than we apparently are. There have been consultations, but this was an effort to talk to the workers themselves and ask them what their views were.
I hope the Minister will forgive my drawing attention to the way he presented the case, but I am always intrigued in situations like these by the fact that people will have the right to opt out. But why on earth should the emphasis be that way? If you are going to have it, surely it should be about who wants to opt in, because we are intervening in what should be the normal arrangement of our affairs and expecting the shop workers to go along with us. I find it rather high-handed to say, "Well of course the person has the right to opt out". Then there is the whole issue of the reality as distinct from the theory. I suggest there is not one of us who, in our heart of hearts, does not realise that in an awful lot of situations there will be all sorts of pressures one way or another for workers to comply when this provision has been introduced.
All this bears far more careful consideration. The Minister also referred to the irrefutable fact, which we should remember, that the provisions we have to protect workers' rights in this context do not apply to everybody. They do not apply to an awful lot of people, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said. However, because something we believe to be right in one context does not apply to a lot of other people, that does not make the thing we believe to be right for the particular people we are concerned with wrong. It suggests quite the reverse-that perhaps the same provisions should be more widely available.
I am not a Sabbatarian but I do happen to believe that one of the crises in our society and its whole culture is a creeping and suffocating blandness in which everything becomes the same. Whatever the accident in history, in which of course religious conviction has played a big part, the concept that there are some days that are different from other days in all sorts of intangible ways helps to lighten the load of inevitability and monotony that seems so much to diminish quality of life for people. That is why we have been at great pains in our society-but I do not think that it all came from benevolence; a lot of it came through hard, determined and courageous struggle by workers and their leaders-that, when there is no Sunday provision, there is a recognition that people are entitled to a day off every week. Of course, what is being proposed here is that people may well be, as I understand it, although not necessarily automatically, expected to work in addition to the normal working week on a Sunday. I find that really rather a strange paradox.
As the right reverend Prelate put it so well, the whole Olympic ideal is about taking us out of ourselves and seeing bigger things than just the mundane, monotonous practicalities of life. It is about seeing spirit and adventure and people able to join in and that imagination that goes with the whole culture of the Olympic ideal. To say that for all sorts of immediate pressing commercial reasons a particular section of people are to have less freedom than they would otherwise normally have is a very strange paradox.
To conclude, this Bill illustrates the need for some profound thinking for where we are going as a society. Can the Minister reflect on the words that he used himself? He was talking about an unrivalled opportunity for a commercial opportunity, or words to that effect. There is a lot of anxiety among a lot of people about the commercialisation of sport and what it is doing to undermine the integrity, the character and the spirit of what sport should be about. To say crudely that here is an unrivalled opportunity to maximise our commercial opportunities on the backs of the athletes is quite a significant thing to be saying about the vision, imagination and self-confidence in idealistic terms of our society. It disturbs me-and it also disturbs me that we are saying that we must not miss an opportunity like this to demonstrate that Britain is alive and well for business. Of course, I want the world to know that we are alive and well for business, but I also want people to get a feel of what our society is like and the values that we take as important. If we send a signal to the world that we are prepared, on an issue such as this, to override something that is normally important, what is that signal to the world about our values and self-confidence as a nation? It is a pretty pathetic message to send out to the world. For all those reasons, what worries me is that it is a short-sighted, mean and oppressive piece of legislation that is unnecessary-because we do not pretend to argue, and I hope that we mean it, that it is something that we want permanently to happen in our society. It is quite unnecessary and I really cannot see why the House is being troubled with it among all the more important things that there are for us to be doing at this time.
Lord Bates (Conservative)
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who does us a great service by touching the soul of the nation as well as by giving the social and economic arguments that we are about to look at. I will focus more on the economic arguments, although this is a bit like going down memory lane. I recall beginning my political campaigning with the campaign "Keep Sunday Special" against the Shops Bill in 1986, so this debate is like "Adversaries Reunited". There I was on one side of the gangway handing out leaflets to political conference-goers that said, "Families that pray together stay together", while the retail consortium was, on the other side, handing out leaflets that said, "The family that shops together stops together". I do not think that the debate rose a great deal above that, but I hope in my time today to focus on some core themes and zero in on them.
I very much enjoyed the opening speech on the Bill by my noble friend the Minister, who has an acute understanding of these things. I want to make an argument about the nature of this Bill and what it says about the direction of the economy. Effectively, it is saying that there is a great commercial opportunity. We are totally agreed about the opportunity. The Olympics and the Paralympics-even more the Paralympics, because they are very much coming home to London, where they were invented in 1946-are a tremendous opportunity and they have been fantastically well organised. They are going to showcase Britain to the rest of the world. All of that is a given.
My contribution will focus for a little while on whether we ought to be looking purely at deregulation and opening our businesses for longer, or whether we ought to be looking a little more deeply at where economic value actually comes from. Here I take my inspiration from my father, who ran a successful small business in the north-east of England for 30 years. He was absolutely rigid about not wanting to work for any more than 40 hours per week and he always wanted to have his lunch hour. He used to say to me, "Michael, you know the truth of the matter is that it's not the hours you put in but what you put into the hours that counts". I thought that that was a very profound economic message. It is not about saying simply that we need to fling open the doors of Britain and work every hour available. We need to think about what we are yielding in terms of product and profitability in the process of doing so.
To give an example, at the moment we are being told of the great need to liberalise opening hours, but what would happen if you asked anybody in the street, "Do you know for how long shops are allowed to open at present"? The answer should be 150 hours per week, while we are talking here about whether they ought to be able to open for what I suppose is the maximum of 168. There is only 18 hours' difference. The reality is that businesses would be crazy to open for 150 hours per week, as they are allowed to at present, because of the diminishing returns that come from having long hours when there are no customers. What you need is to somehow tailor your opening hours to make sure that you are available to serve at the time when the majority of your customers wish to be served. That is a basic principle and we need to remember it, but businesses are making that judgment all the time.
In chasing longer hours, we need to be conscious of what that is doing not only to the social fabric-a very important point, which I would not diminish-but to the economic fabric of the nation, because as the cake remains the same, you simply divide it up over a greater number of hours. The greater number of hours that you are open, the more your costs increase and therefore your marginal utility and productivity reduce. That is what I want to put a marker down on, in the time that I have available. Our focus and passion should not be so much on or about being open all hours; it should be about productivity.
What do I mean by that? According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2011 a full-time employee in the UK worked an average of 42.7 hours a week. That was greater than his or her counterparts: in Germany the figure was 42, in France it was 41.1 and in Ireland it was 39.5 hours. However, the measure of productivity per hour is really what matters. Whether you are UK plc or JM Bates and Co in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, the answer is pretty much the same: it is productivity that counts.
When you look at the hours worked you get one answer, but here is the one that really matters: where does Britain rank compared with its competitors in terms of productivity? There you get a different answer. We may be open longer, but our productivity per hour worked is 107.2, given a base of 100 as an EU average. The productivity in France, whose economic model we often sneer at from this side of the Channel, is 136-almost 30 per cent more. In Germany it is 123.7-20 per cent more. In Ireland it is 125.6-nearly 25 per cent more. Essentially, I am saying that in these times we have to ensure that we are focusing on the right thing. If we just focus on saying, "We need to ensure that our pubs, offices and so on are open for business for longer and longer", but do not focus on the quality and the productivity of what goes on in them, we will miss the point about what is so desperately needed in the economy.
If I were looking to generate a bit of interest in support of this, I might look at how we conduct our affairs in this House. We were told, just before the Easter Recess in March, that there was not enough business for us to look at last week and therefore the House was not going to sit. The reason given by my noble friend the Chief Whip-who, of course, in all matters is absolutely correct-was that it costs £496,000 for your Lordships' House to sit. As we did not have sufficient business, we were not going to be open. That is a fair point. The quality of our scrutiny of legislation is what counts, not the number of hours that we are open. Heaven knows what the response would be if we said that we would all be coming in to scrutinise the Sunday trading liberalisation Bill on a Sunday-there would be a hue and cry. We need to remember that we are legislators legislating for people who have to do just that. As much as we might say that it is a wonderful thing, having watched Usain Bolt achieve a world record time on a Sunday evening, to be able to rush out and buy a T-shirt or a beer or something, someone would probably have to miss the final in order for that to be made possible and for us to be served. We need to remember that.
The heart of the issue has to be the economic case, because it may have relevance further down the track. We have been given different figures. Research by the Centre for Retail Research tells us that this act of liberalisation will yield £189.9 million. We then have another piece of research, produced by the Association of Convenience Stores, that says that the Bill will actually cost the economy £480 million. That is a pretty wide discrepancy. That is why the impact assessment that my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern alluded to, and which I followed him into the Table Office in search of, is very important. We need to have sight of it, not necessarily to spoil the party around the Olympics and the Paralympics-not at all; it is going to be a great event-but to learn something about what the driver of our economy is, and how therefore we ought to legislate and make ourselves competitive in future.
We need to have the self-confidence and belief to say that the measure of the competitiveness of our economy is not in the fact that some tourist visiting the Olympics and Paralympics can go out at 10 pm on a Sunday after the 100-metres final and buy a tube of toothpaste, but in the quality of the work, the skills of our employees and the level of investment and of innovation present in our businesses. That is what we are showcasing in these Olympic and Paralympic Games and we should remember that.
Lord Glasman (Labour)
My Lords, this is the fourth time I have spoken in the House and the third time I have spoken about Sunday, and closing shops on a Sunday, in relation to the Olympics. I want to say to my noble friend Lord Judd what an inspirational speech that was. I was involved with London Citizens in the bid for the Olympics and the part of the agreement about the living wage that would be agreed with all stakeholders. We were not told then that there would be these measures about supermarkets. It remains the case that there is not a single supermarket chain in England that pays a living wage.
We succeeded with the living wage. There is over 90 per cent compliance with it-it is £7.85 an hour, plus holiday pay, sick pay and pension-but the quality of the workforce remains key, and we have neglected that. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, made an excellent point. I am very interested in the statements by the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, in favour of Germany, and I look forward to emergency legislation being used to get workers represented on boards, vocational training and regional banks. I am sure that this is coming soon, but this is also the final echo of one of the most dismal Budgets that any of us can remember. It is another failed piece of political thought.
I am sure I am not alone in the House in being deeply grateful that, between Athens and the classical conception and London, Christianity emerged. This diminished the power of money and challenged the absolute sovereign authority of rulers. That was the problem with the classical inheritance: there was no mediation between the domination of the rich and powerful. Christianity has taught us the importance of work and rest. This is a crucial part of the Conservative tradition and an important part of the Christian inheritance, and it is absolutely central to the Labour tradition. This defies the liberal logic, which says that the only generator of wealth is technology and investment, and it also looks to the importance of the workforce and of rest.
In my campaign for London Citizens, the overwhelming majority of people working were women and there was exploitation in retail outlets. The living wage campaign was part of strengthening family life, creating a pause and some rest. What we have here is the worst kind of capitulation to the Olympic classical logic, which says that emergency measures are necessary to increase the exploitation of people. I ask noble Lords to appreciate that, when you are the bottom end of the scale and work for a very low wage but wish to improve your life, it is often very difficult to resist the demands of the boss. That is a fact. We all wish to do better. We found all the time that the pressures to work longer and in bad conditions remained, because workers lacked the confidence to associate and to demand that day of rest.
It is very important to say that panic is a very bad basis on which to build legislation and politics. We have had a long time to think about the Olympics, and using this emergency method to bring in this legislation is also consistent with the worst aspect of the political inheritance before the emergence of Christianity because it sides with the strong against the weak, with big businesses and with big supermarket chains. Winston Churchill said that the most important British tradition was Sunday. It was the most perfect expression because it was not an obsessively religious day. It was a day for family time, a day of rest and of pause. I am really concerned about this.
Baroness Deech (Crossbench)
Will the noble Lord explain why these sentiments about family togetherness, Sunday being a special day and well paid workers do not apply to nurses in the NHS-the biggest employer in western Europe-taxi drivers, garage attendants, train and bus conductors, barmaids, sports attendants et cetera? Why do they apply only to those working in shops bigger than 3,000 square feet?
Lord Glasman (Labour)
I begin my answer by saying that, certainly within the framework of the NHS and other large employers, there is a much better organised union system. I can speak only from my experience in the retail trade to say that the conditions of its workers were characterised by a lack of organisation and extremely strong pressure to work longer hours. I will look at the other cases in due course.
The point that I was making was about supporting the strong and larger retailers against the smaller ones. It is a distinctive feature of a tradition of our country, which goes across all forms of people, that having some pause in the demands of the working week is extremely important. In relation to the type of procedure that has been used to push this through, there has been a lack of proper negotiation. One of the characteristic features of Athens and Rome was the stipulation of decrees without any form of negotiation. One of the founding points of Labour was that there should always be some form of negotiation there. Negotiation is very different from consultation, which both sides of the House should bear in mind.
The nature of the procedure and the assumption of who should benefit-that it should be businesses and consumers, without adequate recognition of the cost involved for the workforce-is an extremely important consideration, too. Therefore, while I welcome the opportunity to debate this, we should say that there are traditions involved that oppose it and do not undermine the importance of the Games. In China and Russia we heard the strong echo of a very nasty tradition in the use of the Games. I remember the Red Army being used to shield the athlete who lit the flame in China, where there were certainly no restrictions on the exploitation of workers or oppression by the state. It would be wonderful if, in England, we did not just capitulate to the corporate demands of the Games but used them as a showcase for our gentler and more humane traditions.
Baroness Grey-Thompson (Crossbench)
My Lords, I start by declaring my relevant interests in this debate. I sit on the Diversity Committee and the Athletes' Committee of the London 2012 organising committee, also known as LOCOG. I also undertake other work for LOCOG that is listed in the register. However, none of it is linked to the topic of this debate. I also know that the noble Lord, Lord Coe, is disappointed not to be here this evening to take part in the debate.
With 94 days to go to the opening ceremony of the Olympics, I have to admit that I am in somewhat of a quandary. I have always said that we should maximise the opportunities of the Olympics and Paralympics-not just the sporting ones-because the Games will happen on home soil only once in our lifetime. However, I also feel passionately about protecting the hours of Sunday trading. The briefings that I have received on this topic put forward a very persuasive argument for opposing the Bill and extending Sunday trading hours. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has said that 73 per cent of its members believe that longer Sunday opening hours will lead to more pressure on them to work on a Sunday against their will. It is very important that we protect shop workers. The Federation of Small Businesses has also cited Sir Stuart Rose as saying that longer trading hours will not increase consumer spending, although in very different circumstances from what will happen during the Games.
On a personal note, I have to say that I like a day that is different from the rest of the week, and I think that the hours that are currently available for shopping are adequate. However, while I fundamentally oppose long-term change to Sunday trading laws, my quandary is that I recognise that during the Olympics and Paralympics it would make a great deal of sense for there to be increased flexibility to allow those visiting the Games or the general public the opportunity to spend their money at what will be an unusual and different time in the UK.
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 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.
Baroness Berridge (Conservative)
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
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 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
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 Myners, 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.
Lord Cormack (Conservative)
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, 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.
Lord Cormack (Conservative)
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 Cormack (Conservative)
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 (Conservative)
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 (Conservative)
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 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 inimitable to the conservatism which I believe in and which values traditions perhaps above all.
Lord Glenarthur (Conservative)
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 (Conservative)
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 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.
Lord Davies of Oldham (Labour)
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
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. 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 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 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-and that 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.
Lord Sassoon (Commercial Secretary, HM Treasury; Conservative)
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 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 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 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. 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.