Clause 1 - Sunday working: shop andbetting workers in Scotland
Sunday Working (Scotland) Bill
9:30 am

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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Mr David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde, Labour)

I welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Gale. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I appeal shamelessly to the better side of your nature. I have never attended discussions about a private Member's Bill in Committee, let alone try to steer one through. No doubt I shall be blundering out of order all over the place, so I ask you to keep me in order. I apologise in advance for such action.

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Mr Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

Order. The hon. Gentleman will find that this Chairman does not allow hon. Members to be out of order.

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Mr David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde, Labour)

It seems that I have already blundered.

We are about to discuss the only substantive clause in the Bill. It is the mechanism by which the intent of the Bill will be realised. I shall not rehearse the arguments that were advanced when it was discussed on Second Reading, when many excellent speeches were made. Its purpose is to harmonise the law as it applies to the rights of shop workers in Scotland not to work on a Sunday if they do not wish to do so—a right that applies already in England and Wales.

On Second Reading, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said,

''one of the reasons why the Bill has an excellent chance of succeeding is that it is a classic private Member's Bill—it is modest in scope, identifies a real problem and sets out in a succinct and uncontroversial way to solve that problem''.—[Official Report, 7 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 572.]

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that comment. I was relieved by it. Clause 1 is, indeed, a succinct and uncontroversial way to solve the problem of the lack of statutory rights for shop workers in Scotland.

Subsection (1) amends the Employment Rights Act 1996. The rights enjoyed by shop workers in England and Wales are enshrined in that Act, which is a consolidated measure that incorporates the rights outlined in the Sunday Trading Act 1994. Shop workers in Northern Ireland enjoy similar protection to that enjoyed in England and Wales, although under different legislation, which will not be affected by the Bill. Clause 1 would delete ''England and Wales'' from the scope of the Bill at the appropriate points.

Subsection (2) amends the relevant part of the 1996 Act to modify the definition of the commencement date. That Act has been in force in England and Wales

for seven years and obviously it needs a fresh commencement date if it is to take effect in Scotland. That is achieved by the inclusion in the Bill of section 36(8) of the Employment Rights Act. Subsection (3) covers the thorny issue that was debated at length on Second Reading—why there is a distinction in Scottish legal terminology as opposed to England and Welsh terminology about the definition of alcohol. In Scotland, it is referred to as ''alcoholic liquor''. In England and Wales, it is referred to as ''intoxicating liquor''. The measure would include the description ''alcoholic liquor'' to avoid any doubt that it is covered by the 1996 Act.

Subsection (4) refers to betting workers, who are covered by a different part of the 1996 Act. The subsection simply deletes the phrase ''in England or Wales'', which refers to the scope of application of the rights in section 233 of that Act. Subsection (5) acknowledges the fact that Scotland starts from a different point. We already have deregulated Sunday trading in Scotland; in fact, it has never been regulated.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), among others, pointed out at the time of the Sunday Trading Act 1994, although in practice there was no statutory ban on Sunday trading in Scotland, in reality such trading was not that widespread. When the market was substantially deregulated in England and Wales, there was a knock-on effect on Scotland and Sunday trading there has mushroomed. As the law allowing such trading did not extend to Scotland, the protections did not extend there, either. It was pointed out at the time that that could have an impact.

Nevertheless, many people in Scotland work in shops on Sunday and many other contracts already exist. That was not the case when the 1994 Act was enacted for England and Wales. Therefore, the Bill makes various amendments to the 1994 Act to deal with types of contract that may have been applicable in England and Wales at the time but that are simply not applicable in Scotland. We will not introduce those provisions of the 1994 Act into Scotland, as they are simply redundant.

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Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I wonder about people opting in or out of the scheme. He talks about contracts for employment; will there be a lead-in and a lead-out period for volunteer, casual and other workers?

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Mr David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde, Labour)

Yes, I anticipate that there will be. In England and Wales, because it was expected that people would not have to work on Sunday, as shops did not generally open on that day, there were specific contracts that allowed people to not to have to work on Sunday. In Scotland, there is no expectation that people would not have to work on Sunday. Anyone who works in a shop would be expected to work on Sunday if asked to. The types of contract in place in Scotland are different to those that were in place at the time of the 1994 Act and, a fortiori, the 1996 Act.

We do not want to get too confused about opting in and opting out. The effect of the measure will be that

everyone in Scotland who works on a Sunday but does not want to will have to give notice of that wish to their employer, who should then allow them not to work on Sunday. Again, that was not the case in England and Wales.

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Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater, Conservative)

I am sorry to press the hon. Gentleman, but I think that the point is important. There might be complications with pension contributions and other matters. In England and Scotland, when someone leaves employment, there are lead-in and lead-out times. If the provisions were tightened up, would it not give safeguards to people who might not be able to deal with those complications themselves?

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Mr David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde, Labour)

There will be lead-in times, but nothing will happen within three months, which is the period that applies in England and Wales. We have not yet come to clause 2, so I shall not dwell on it, but if those issues are raised in debate today, on Report and in another place, there will be the opportunity to make any transitory arrangements necessary under clause 2. Given that fact, the hon. Gentleman may wish to raise his point under that clause.

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Mr Michael Weir (Angus, Scottish National Party)

On contracts, I notice that in the Scotland Office paper circulated yesterday the Association of British Bookmakers pointed out that many of its employees in Scotland are covered by the English contract because it is used UK-wide. If the Bill is enacted, will everyone have the same rights in Scotland, irrespective of whether they are under the English or Scottish form of contract?

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Mr David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde, Labour)

Yes. The Tote and others that responded said that they would not dream of forcing their people to work on Sunday if they did not wish to. As was said on Second Reading, that was the case throughout the sector. Good employers would not dream of doing so. However, such contracts are not legally enforceable in Scotland. They do not have the back-up of statute, which is why we are here this morning and why the clause has been drafted. I think that I have covered the clause and I am happy to respond to any questions that may emerge during the debate.

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Mr Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

Order. Before we proceed with the debate, it will be apparent to all hon. Members that, as the hon. Gentleman has set out on his stall, the guts of the Bill is contained in clause 1. I am therefore prepared to allow a fairly wide-ranging debate. Having said that, I do not expect a repeat of the debate on Second Reading and, as this is the Sunday Working (Scotland) Bill, I do not expect there to be a rehearsal of all the attributes, or otherwise, of legislation covering England and Wales, although hon. Members may wish to draw analogies.

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Mr Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, Conservative)

Thank you, Mr. Gale. It gives me great pleasure to respond on the clause. As I said previously to the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns), I apologise for not being present on Second Reading. He might recall that I had a certain high-profile visit in my constituency, which was not, I happily inform the Committee, for the purposes of Sunday shopping. It is ironic, but not surprising, that

the hon. Gentleman has promoted the Bill, given his close handle on Scottish affairs.

I have personal experience of employing Sunday staff in Greenock, among other locations. As hon. Members will know, before I entered the House, I was involved with retail businesses that opened on Sundays throughout Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, and in Greenock. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said. One of the ironies in the proposed legislation is that it is not necessary for the best employers. In fact, for the best employers, it has not been necessary. While I would not automatically have called myself the best of employers, I would have thought that I was equitable and balanced enough without the proposed legislation. We did not generally force people to work on Sundays; if people did not want to work on Sundays, they did not. One of the processes of managing a business was that one recruited a spread of people, many of whom had expectations about when they wanted to work. Some wanted to work during the week and some wanted to work on Sundays. That was balanced as part of the management exercise. One of my regrets is that the Bill is necessary at all, but the official Opposition generally welcome it. It is overdue and it ties up the loose ends left behind from the legislation of the 1990s.

One of the interesting aspects of the legislation in Scotland is that we have different traditions of holiday and Sunday working. In fact, it is only about 25 years since people in my own business worked half days on Christmas day. I said that I was a good employer, but that was not unusual in the late-1960s and 1970s. That shows the different history and traditions of Scotland. It was not an unusual thing to do and the local population welcomed it, but the staff who had to work did not, which is probably why it stopped. One of the welcome aspects of the clause and the Bill is that it ties up the loose ends and, while we have a different tradition, we will henceforth have the same rights. I welcome the fact that employees in Scotland will no longer be disadvantaged in that respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) asked about the transitory arrangements. That is something we will perhaps want to tease out, especially when we move into the phase of tying up the equivalent rights in Scotland, England and Wales. There will be a lead-in period and I was interested to see how many of the employers' organisations that were consulted had responded, despite the difficulty of getting through to the Scotland Office website, overloaded as it was due to the friends of Scotland initiative. Employers will be concerned about how the transitory arrangements will be introduced and what will be the lead-in times and delays before their obligations are set in stone. They will want those matters to be teased out later.

On behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, I welcome the hon. Gentleman's Bill and the tenacity with which he has promoted it. We look forward to giving it a fair wind today and in future.

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Mr Michael Weir (Angus, Scottish National Party)

I will be brief. Obviously, the Scottish National party also supports the Bill, which may seem strange because we are not usually keen to see Westminster legislating for Scotland. We recognise

that there is an anomaly and we are keen for Scottish workers to have equivalent rights.

Clause 1 is clear and concise and is most welcome. As the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) noted, Scotland has a different history of Sunday working. It is unfortunate that the Bill is necessary because of the actions of one particular employer, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) highlighted. Most employers act reasonably. However, as the paper produced by the Scotland Office points out, because companies work in Scotland, England and other parts of the UK, Scottish workers are employed under myriad different contracts. Effectively, some have the protection of English law, some do not and some have no protection whatsoever.

Although religious objections in Aberdeen were the original reason for the Bill, there is a wider need for people to have at least one day off to spend with their families if they wish. We give wholehearted support to the Bill and along with the official Opposition we will help it to move at full speed through the House at every opportunity.

9:45 am
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Mr Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire, Conservative)

I refer to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale and others who said that the Bill gave protection to workers within the sector. Are hon. Members aware that people who deliver to shops on a Sunday are not covered by the Bill? We are talking about shop and betting workers, which is a narrow definition of workers, even within the retail sector. While they consider the Bill—which, along with my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, I welcome—hon. Members should be aware that we are discussing only a narrow group of workers. Does the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde intend to widen the scope of the Bill, at another time or in another place, to include all workers who do not wish to be forced to work on a Sunday?

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Mr Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen North, Labour)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Bill and I am pleased that there is a strong degree of unity on the issue. We have the support of all parties in the House, as was illustrated in an early-day motion last year, which was rapidly signed by more than 200 Members from across the political spectrum. I am grateful that there is interest from hon. Members throughout the UK, not only Scottish Members. There is a feeling that this is a matter of protecting workers' rights.

I am pleased that the consultation received such a positive response. As well as the trade unions, there is support from the Scottish Retail Consortium, CBI Scotland and the Road Haulage Association, which is welcome. As hon. Members have said, good employers support the legislation. It is disappointing that one company is causing problems. I believe that it is still putting pressure on some of its workers, which is disappointing given the amount of effort put in, especially by the Scotland Office. I pay tribute to the

Secretary of State for Scotland and Scottish Ministers for their support.

To correct a point made earlier, Aberdeen was not the only part of Scotland affected. Religious problems were not people's primary concern; most cited family and social reasons. Credit should be given to the various religious organisations involved that said that they did not only want to protect people's religious rights—although those are of primary importance in some areas of Scotland such as the Western Isles. This is a matter of protecting people's general rights because there are many people for whom Sunday is a day when they can get together with their partner or family. There are those sorts of concerns, as well.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde on the Bill. I welcome the support that it has received and hope that it will shortly become law.

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Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland, Liberal Democrat)

I think that we have reached that point in the debate when everything there is to say has been said, but not everybody has said it. In the interest of completeness, I indicate the support of the Scottish Liberal Democrat party for the Bill and I, too, commend the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde for having got it to this stage.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North referred to the religious aspect. Although it is proper that the provisions are not solely restricted to those who have a religious objection to working on a Sunday, Scotland approaches the issue from a particular traditional and cultural perspective, as the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale said, and it is right that Sabbatarians, of whom there are still a substantial number north of the border, should be given this sort of protection. Their rights should be respected.

Perhaps a different procedure is followed for private Member's Bills, but the Bill does not appear to contain a declaration of compatibility with human rights legislation—such things normally come from the responsible Department. Perhaps the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde or the Minister could say whether that has been considered. I have no doubt that the Bill complies with human rights legislation, but it does not contain such a declaration. I am less familiar with the Committee procedure for such Bills than the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde.

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Mrs Anne McGuire (Parliamentary Secretary, Scottish Office; Stirling, Labour)

It is a pleasure to be on a Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. I observed how brilliant you were in the Chair during the four years that I spent as a Government Whip, when I was never allowed to say very much, so it is a real pleasure to be here.

Like everybody else, I do not have a great deal to say. The Bill has been given a fair wind across the parties. However, I want to place on record some of the results of the consultation undertaken by the Scotland Office. Everyone on the Committee should have received a copy of the results before they arrived this morning. The consultation exercise invited responses by 14 March. My hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I had discussions with various

business and retail organisations and trade unions in the course of the consultation on Sunday working. That included meeting with the CBI and the Scottish Trades Union Congress and having discussions with the Scottish Retail Consortium and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers.

There were 138 responses to the public consultation from a variety of bodies. Over 2,400 individuals, across three petitions, signalled support for a change in the law. Particular thanks should go to my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce) for the petition from his constituency and to my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald) for his petition, which was co-sponsored by his colleague, the MSP for the Western Isles, Alasdair Morrison. A petition was also received from Brian Fitzpatrick, who is the MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden.

I have an interesting point for those Members who like numerical extrapolations. If we extrapolated the figures from the Western Isles, it would mean that 5 million people across the United Kingdom supported the Bill. That is probably about accurate—my hon. Friends nod in agreement. It must be much easier to get that number of names from the Western Isles, than to get 5 million names from across the rest of the United Kingdom, in terms of geography and so on. Such figures show the strength of support. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) is working out how he can compete with the Western Isles. There is a great deal of competition between the western and northern isles. I look forward to the next petition from Orkney and Shetland—the hon. Gentleman has 5 million to beat.

In addition, 48 civic organisations and bodies, 55 individual members of the public, four local authorities, 22 MPs and 9 MSPs submitted their views on the Government's proposals. There was a significant level of consultation on what everyone accepts is a neat piece of legislation that actually has an echo in the community. Those who contributed indicated overwhelming support for extending to Scotland the legislative provisions governing Sunday working. People from the small business sector expressed some concerns, but we managed to reassure them that the right balance has been struck between effective protection and the regulatory burdens on business. That came out of discussions with the business community. [Interruption.] My mobile phone seems to be singing a song. I sincerely apologise for that. I am sure that your hearing aid is not switched on, Mr. Gale, as you seem not to have heard it.

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Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater, Conservative)

I have a question about section 244 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and unfair dismissal. A year seems an incredibly long period. It would give people time to apply under the unfair dismissal procedure but could also mean that it would be difficult to prove a case after that period of time, given the changes in the legislation. Note 10 of the explanatory notes deals with the matter.

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Mrs Anne McGuire (Parliamentary Secretary, Scottish Office; Stirling, Labour)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I always knew that some Members of the Opposition were sheer gentlemen who would rescue

damsels in distress. None of my side did, not even my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles.

It is not appropriate for me to respond in any detailed way to the various points made in the debate, but I wish to reassure the hon. Gentleman that people who opt out of working on a Sunday do not opt out of employment. Therefore, there would not be a net effect on pensions. If I have to finesse that piece of information after further considering the hon. Gentleman's point, I shall write to him and other members of the Committee.

It is for my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde to take matters forward as he sees fit. However, it has been a pleasure to support the Bill on behalf of the Government. I wish not just a fair wind but every success for the Bill in its remaining stages in the House and the other place. Many people in Scotland look forward to the legislation becoming law and I believe that we all echo the views of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that it is an excellent private Member's Bill.

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Mr Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

Before I invite the hon. Gentleman who is in charge of the Bill to respond to the debate, the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) has told me that, unfortunately, he has to attend a Select Committee hearing at 10 o'clock. That is an example of conflicting business in the House. As the hon. Gentleman has courteously notified the Chair, I feel that it is appropriate to notify the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde, who may wish to respond to his questions.

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Mr David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde, Labour)

Indeed, the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire informed me yesterday that he had to attend a Select Committee meeting.

This has been a useful and enlightening debate. I am grateful for the support that the Bill has received and shall reply briefly to some of the questions raised.

The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale spoke of the experiences of business men and of his links with Greenock. I thought that he might repeat the claims that were made by my Liberal Democrat opponent in the last general election. At the first hustings debate, we were describing our links with the constituency. I said that I had been born there, grew up there and went to school there, and the Conservative candidate said the same about himself. The Liberal Democrat said that he had not been born there but had been conceived in Greenock high street.

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Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland, Liberal Democrat)

The gentleman in question was not only conceived in Greenock—we will take his word for that—but I seem to recall that subsequently he was shot there and, fortunately, that after that he joined the Scottish National party.

10:00 am
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Mr Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

Order. There is something that is known as too much information.

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Mr David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde, Labour)

All that I remember about Mr. Brodie, who was a Liberal Democrat candidate, is that in every conversation I had with him he spent the entire time going on about how terrible the Scottish Nationalists were, and to my complete surprise he has

since joined them. I shall intrude no more on that piece of private grief.

The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale rightly said that this Bill ties up some loose ends. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir). In his small contribution, he made excellent cases for the importance of the strength of the Union and the relevance of this House. I could not have put those cases better myself and I am grateful to him for his strong support for the Union.

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Mr Michael Weir (Angus, Scottish National Party)

I cannot let that pass. I would hate for it to be on the record that I support the Union in any way. It is unfortunate that Scotland does not have the power to deal with this matter: it would undoubtedly have had that power many years ago and it would have dealt with this much more quickly. I am sorry that it has taken so long to get here.

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Mr David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde, Labour)

It is not unfortunate that we are doing this here; it is because the overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland wish to continue with the Union, and the hon. Gentleman's party has been singularly poor at convincing them of the merits of separation.

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Mr Roger Gale (North Thanet, Conservative)

Order. When the hon. Gentleman referred to the Union, I assumed that he was referring to the shop workers union. He is in grave danger of becoming out of order.

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Mr David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde, Labour)

Thank you, Mr. Gale, for that ruling.

The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire spoke briefly about people who are not covered by this legislation. The definition is narrow and it was praised as such by the shadow Leader of the House, so I am certainly not going to test his patience by widening it. The object of this exercise is to harmonise the law in Scotland with that in England and Wales, rather than to go further. I do not believe that it is within the scope of a private Member's Bill to attempt such a hugely ambitious endeavour—that would be a matter for the Government.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North for his tireless efforts on behalf of his constituents. He, along with his central Aberdeen colleague and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) did a great deal to bring this issue into the public's consciousness: they more than anyone else were responsible for laying the grounds that have led to us being here today.

I welcome the support of the Liberal Democrat party, as expressed by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. I take it from his remarks that this measure has the unqualified support of all parts of his party this morning and I welcome that. He spoke about the Sabbatarians and one of the unintended consequences of this Bill is that I have become something of a hero among the Wee Free community, which is a delightful if somewhat unexpected position for me at my time of life. I am enjoying it while it lasts.

My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the consultation. I did not mention it because it was a

stand-alone consultation, although it obviously has implications for the measure that we are discussing. Therefore, I also extend my thanks to those who made the effort to respond to the consultation and to those who collated the information and provided it for the Committee in advance of today's discussions. I would especially like to thank all Members of this House and the Scottish Parliament who wrote in in support of the legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.