I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is simple with one substantive purpose: to extend to shop workers in Scotland the rights that those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland already enjoy. I thank those who have come to support the measure, especially colleagues from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who are here to try to give my constituents some basic rights that theirs already enjoy. Colleagues who have been involved in the campaign far longer than me will wish to speak, and I shall therefore try to keep my opening remarks as brief as possible, while outlining the Bill's key principles.
It is against the law for employers to force shop workers to work on Sunday in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but not in Scotland, where no such legal protection exists. The Bill will give shop workers in Scotland the rights that they deserve. However, it is important to stress what the Bill does not do. It does not accord workers in Scotland preferential or additional rights. It does not extend rights to those who work on Sundays in other sectors. That would be beyond the scope of a private Member's Bill. It does not trespass on the Scottish Parliament's rights to determine the hours of Sunday trading in Scotland.
The law in Scotland does not differ from that in the rest of the United Kingdom because of devolution. The House of Commons decided that employment law would continue to be determined here on a UK-wide basis. That makes the discrepancy in the law all the more anomalous and unacceptable.
The reason for the discrepancy originates in the gradual, some might say tortuous, evolution of the laws on Sunday trading. It would take the entire time allotted for debate to do justice to the history of Sunday trading in this country, even if we started only from the days of Stanley Baldwin. I shall therefore not outline its history. Neither shall I try to make the case that Sunday is a special day that should be treated specially. The House has enshrined that assertion in law. The law also provides that shop workers occupy a distinct place in Sunday working. It is for those who dispute that to explain why the law is wrong. Those who oppose the measure must either oppose the law in the rest of the UK or explain why Sunday is special in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but not in Scotland.
Although I said that I would not retell the epic account of Sunday trading, it is necessary to sketch a thumbprint account to locate this morning's debate. The Sunday Trading Act 1994 liberalised Sunday trading in England and Wales. It did not apply in Scotland because there was no statutory ban on Sunday trading north of the border. The controversial nature of the reform led the Government to allow the Commons a free vote on a series of options. Cabinet Ministers had the freedom to support or reject different options. It has been said that those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat its mistakes.
The debates on the 1994 Act were deeply felt and prolonged. I do not wish to encroach on the impartiality of the Chair, but you feature prominently in them, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Party allegiances did not matter. Some hon. Members wanted no liberalisation and some supported partial regulation, while others wanted complete deregulation.
However, one thing united every speaker. Irrespective of their views on how liberal the law should be on Sunday trading, all speakers made it clear that any move to deregulate Sunday trading hours must be accompanied by new rights for Sunday shop workers. Not one speaker suggested that no additional protection was required to allow shop workers the choice not to work on Sunday. Although the Government granted a free vote on Sunday trading and the options on the extent of its deregulation, there was no choice about whether to give workers additional rights. The then Government whipped that vote, such was their determination to ensure that Sunday shop workers received additional rights.
"There is a distinction between the issue of which shops can open on Sundays, which cuts across party lines, and employee rights. There will be a free vote on the choice between the options, but the Government have a clear employment policy and we shall defend that policy vigorously . . . The rights will apply whichever of the options for reform is chosen by Parliament.
When the Act comes into force, existing shopworkers will have the right not to be dismissed or suffer detriment through refusing to work on Sunday, and can surrender those rights only by agreeing in writing to work on Sunday."—[Hansard, 29 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 818–19.]
Seldom have I agreed more with the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
Indeed, so commendably and forcefully adamant were the Government on this point that I went on to read the response of the then Labour Opposition with some trepidation. They were, however, equally unwavering that safeguards for shop workers be built into the law. I am delighted to report to the House that I support every single word that the then Opposition spokesperson said in that debate. The fact that it was my right hon. Friend Mr. Blair is utterly irrelevant to my total support for his wise position. The shadow Home Secretary—as the Prime Minister then was—said:
"we should fully protect the rights of those who work on Sundays in order that we may shop then. For me and for many of my colleagues, employee protection must go hand in hand with the freedom to shop. The two issues are not distinct". —[Hansard, 29 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 822.]
If employee protection must go hand in hand with the freedom to shop in England and Wales, it must also go hand in hand with the freedom to shop in Scotland.
But just as the Sunday Trading Act did not apply in Scotland, neither did the additional rights. It could be argued that, as Sunday trading had never been illegal north of the border, there was no need for extra legal protection. Indeed, this was a commonly held view among many who spoke in the debates, but the argument was flawed on two counts. First, it overstated the level of Sunday trading that then took place in Scotland. Secondly, and crucially, it ignored the effect that liberalising the market in England would have in Scotland.
Some particularly prescient hon. Members quickly realised the implications of such a move. It will come as no surprise to the House that the first to notice the danger was my right hon. Friend Mr. Foulkes, who raised the matter with the then Home Secretary on Second Reading, when he said:
"If the House agrees to total deregulation, that will mean that we will get universal opening in Scotland, which we do not have at the moment, contrary to what was said earlier . . . There are multiples that do not open in Scotland because they do not open south of the border.
Surely the protection in the Bill, . . . the right to refuse to work on Sundays, should apply also to Scotland. Will it be possible to amend the Bill in Committee to enable that section to apply to Scotland?"—[Hansard, 29 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 821.]
Sadly, the answer was no, but had we listened to my right hon. Friend then, we would not be debating this issue now. More importantly, had those rights been applied to Scotland, people who have since lost their jobs would not have done so.
That brings me to what the excellent House of Commons Library briefing on my Bill refers to as the "Argos saga". I do not propose to dwell on this matter, for two reasons. First, others who were far more involved than I was are better placed to recount the episode. I am especially pleased to see in their places my hon. Friends the Members for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) and for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge), who, more than any others, have brought this issue to light and shone a torch on the need for reform.
Far more importantly, I entirely refute the suggestion that this law is being introduced to punish a particular company. It is not. I believe that Argos has acted poorly, to say the least, but the case has served simply to highlight starkly the inadequacy of the current law. Now that this anomaly has been so publicly exposed, it would be wrong—a dereliction of duty on our part as lawmakers—to cross our fingers and hope that no one else loses their job for refusing to work on a Sunday. It is the lack of legal protection for shop workers in Scotland that motivates me, not a desire to punish one particular company.
I turn now to the specific measures in the Bill. When we were drawing up the Bill, I told the parliamentary draftsman that all I wanted to do was amend the relevant section of the relevant Act, effectively adding the words "and Scotland" where applicable—nothing more and nothing less. That is essentially all that the Bill seeks to do. The protection first contained in the Sunday Trading Act is now found in the consolidated Employment Rights Act 1996, and it is that Act that I am seeking to amend.
Clause 1 deletes the words "in England and Wales" where appropriate, and arranges for the current law to be extended to Scotland. Eagle-eyed Members will spot that subsection (3) highlights the difference between English and Scottish law over the legal term for alcohol. In England, it is referred to as "intoxicating liquor", whereas in Scotland it is referred to as "alcoholic liquor". Even the magnificent efforts of the House of Commons Library have been unable to establish the origins of this distinction. I am considering running a competition for the most ingenious suggestion. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has already suggested that, although the drink may be alcoholic, Scots are never intoxicated. Answers on a postcard, please.
I think that that is the essence of what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary was saying, but I am happy with the hon. Gentlemen's suggestion.
The other clauses deal with commencement and an allowance for any provisional or transitional arrangements necessary. That is basically it. Should this Bill succeed, those who currently work in shops on Sunday will have the right to inform their superiors that they no longer wish to do so. This law has worked well in England and Wales for more than eight years. There is not a shred of evidence that it has affected profits or productivity. No one, to my knowledge, has even suggested that the law, as it applies in England and Wales, should be repealed. If businesses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can make these provisions work, Scottish businesses will certainly not struggle to do so. Good companies have nothing to fear; they would not dream of forcing their employees to work on Sundays against their wishes.
The Bill will have an impact on businesses, however, so I welcome the Government initiative to launch a wide-ranging consultation. The Scotland Office has more resources than I have, so I am happy to allow the consultation to be the major route through which opinion can be expressed, although I remain happy to respond to direct approaches from interested parties. The deadline for the consultation should be before the Bill is debated in Committee, and I will readily consider any amendment that may be necessary as a result of responses to the consultation.
This is a straightforward and, I hope, uncontroversial measure. It extends legislation enacted by the previous Conservative Government, and enjoys support in all parts of the House. At heart, it addresses a basic unfairness. It is simply unjust that shop workers in Greenwich enjoy rights that shop workers in Greenock do not. The time has come to end this unfairness. I commend the Bill to the House.
I shall be brief, not least because there are other Bills before us. I congratulate David Cairns on a welcome Bill that commands widespread support among Liberal Democrats, and probably on both sides of the House.
I was one of those who, in the debate on liberalising Sunday trading, voted for the most liberal outcome. I accept, however, that the universal view in the House at that time was that people's right not to work on Sundays should be protected. I also accept that many of us realised that an anomaly would arise in Scotland in due course.
Some of the Argos employees affected were constituents of mine, and the matter was drawn to my attention. I am frankly astonished that Argos managed its affairs so badly: that was bad people management, regardless of the law.
For all practical purposes—this argument applied at the time of the last debate, but I think that it is no longer relevant—there has been no difficulty in finding people who are willing to work on Sundays. Indeed, for a variety of reasons, some prefer to do so. The ability of any business to manage more liberal trading hours in ways that still respect the rights of its employees not to work on Sundays if they do not wish to is transparent. In those circumstances, it is surely right to introduce a Bill that will harmonise the laws.
As the hon. Gentleman says, this is a reserved matter for the United Kingdom. It cannot be right for England and Scotland to have different rules for the protection of workers. The Bill is well timed and has been well presented. I hope that it has the full support of the House.
I too congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow on his success in the ballot, and on his choice of subject. The Bill, as he said so eloquently, addresses a serious anomaly.
I have an interest apart from my general interest in employment rights. Three of the 11 Argos workers who were threatened with dismissal for refusing to accept the company's terms were my constituents. I contacted Argos when the issue arose, and was shocked at the response that I received from Mr. Terry Duddy, its chief executive. I was shocked for two reasons. There was a suggestion that consultation had taken place, although all the information received from my constituents and from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers indicated that there had been virtually no consultation. There had been discussions, but they were take-it-or-leave-it discussions.
I was also shocked by what Mr. Duddy's letter said about the rights of staff. He wrote:
"All staff with religious or extremely difficult family situations have been supported and excluded where necessary."
An arbitrary rule was being applied. My hon. Friend contrasted that with the situation in England and Wales, where workers have the right to choose whether to work on Sundays. As Malcolm Bruce pointed out, many workers choose to work on Sundays, but at least they have the right to choose. Managers do not apply tests arbitrarily to their work force.
I met USDAW representatives with local officials and my hon. Friend Mr. Savidge, who, along with my hon. Friend Mr. Brown, has pursued the campaign. They too should be congratulated on the way in which they have conducted it. I see the Bill as a noble outcome to that campaign. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland took up the cudgels, but my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow has dealt with the details very appropriately.
When I arrived here in 1987, it was Greenock and Port Glasgow, but I thank my hon. Friend for correcting me.
I will not go into the details already dealt with by my hon. Friend David Cairns, but, as I said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took up the cudgels. She gave the Argos chief executive what could be described as a good talking to, as only she can. That produced a very positive result: Argos withdrew. As my hon. Friend said, however, this is not about one company but about fundamental rights for workers.
I want to make two straightforward points. My hon. Friend made the pertinent point that at the time of what became the Sunday Trading Act 1994 there was a consensus in the House about those fundamental rights, but during the pre-legislative consultation they were not included in the Bill. A strong campaign was required, partly by the Opposition but mainly by the shop workers' union. It was led by the union's then assistant general secretary, Sir Bill Connor, now general secretary.
Two things are notable. First, the then Conservative Government recognised the importance of the issue and accepted representations on it. Secondly, the Bill could not possibly have been passed in its original form, because just as many Conservative Members as Opposition Members were concerned about employees being forced to work on Sundays.
My second point is that there is a fundamental reason for the reserving of employment rights to Westminster. They are reserved because they are seen as fundamental. The Government's current employment policies could be summarised as an attempt to create a flexible labour market with minimum standards. Those standards, too, are fundamental: that is why we introduced the Employment Rights Act 1999, the minimum wage legislation, the working time regulations and the parental leave provisions. All those were introduced to provide a floor for employment rights.
The Argos case has highlighted the difficulty caused by the difference between the arrangements in Scotland and those in the rest of Great Britain. That difference is unacceptable, because it breaches that principle of a floor of minimum standards, and because it removes the level playing field that should exist in employment rights. We cannot afford to allow different terms and conditions of employment in different areas. As those of us with trade union connections know very well, if managements want to save costs, the first thing they look at is terms and conditions. We cannot allow that to happen on a cross-border basis.
I agree wholeheartedly with what the hon. Gentleman has said so far and I support the Bill, but given that we now have a European single market, does it not make sense to extend minimum rights throughout not just the United Kingdom but the European Union?
I do not think that Sunday trading is a problem on the continent. It is certainly not a problem in the way that it has been here, but of course there are certain basic rights that should apply throughout the European Union. A number have already been implemented: one of the Government's first acts was to sign up to the social chapter, since when we have progressively implemented other rights. Mine is a simple point. These are basic rights, and we cannot afford to allow regional variations.
The consensus reached in 1994, which gave important employment protection to shop workers by statute in England and Wales and by agreement in Scotland, was broken by Argos. It is no accident that Argos took that action. It was necessary only to read the financial pages to see that its trading performance was causing concern. The management looked for cost savings, and looked first where—as I said earlier—most managers look: the terms and working conditions of their employees.
If it had not been Argos that broke the consensus, however, another company would have. The lesson to learn is that there are certain fundamental rights that workers should have by law. One is the right for each individual to decide whether or not to work on Sundays. The last Conservative Government gave that right to workers in England and Wales; my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde—with, I am sure, support from this Labour Government—will give it to workers in Scotland.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to be able to speak in this important debate. I begin by congratulating David Cairns on introducing this Bill. I can assure him of my support, and that I will enter the Lobby with him to ensure that this Bill is passed today.
Probably the great majority of us in this House would agree that for the sake of the institution of marriage, and of couples, families and children, it should be a priority that such people have one shared day a week when they can be together to do as they please—be it going to church or whatever else they may choose to do. That is especially important in the United Kingdom, which has the highest divorce rate in the European Union, and by far the largest number of dependent children in single-parent households. I mention that because, given that 34 per cent. of lone parents with dependent children usually or sometimes work on a Sunday, many children are left with no parent at all on that day. In fact, the situation is even worse, because many of those parents have to work on Saturdays as well, so thousands of children effectively have parentless weekends. Moreover, given that some of those children may be of school age, very large numbers are in effect not seeing a parent at any time at all during the day. As someone who will continue to argue that family breakdown and its various causes is perhaps one of the most significant problems facing the UK today, I consider this an issue of great concern that needs to be brought to hon. Members' attention.
We have heard that this debate is about giving people choice as to whether they work on Sunday—Malcolm Bruce has mentioned this point—and I agree that they should have that choice. However, he should be aware that according to the evidence in a publication produced jointly last year by the National Centre for Social Research and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, some 70 per cent. of lone parents who work at weekends would prefer not to. That is significant, because it shows that there is little in the way of choice. Indeed, I shall argue that, good as this Bill is, we need to go further. The rights provided to shop and betting office workers are not strong enough; nor do I see a reason why this measure should be confined to just those workers.
Although I welcome the Bill, I would argue that the protection given to shop and betting office workers in England and Wales is in fact more imagined than real. The powers that exist in England and Wales are not working particularly well. Since the introduction of the Sunday Trading Act 1994, there has been only one such case in which a worker has won a claim for unfair dismissal against his employer. Mr. Paul Charnetski had worked for Safeway for some time before 1994, so he was in fact a protected worker, albeit with the statutory opt-out right, which is not particularly relevant in this regard. He did not want to work on Sundays, and Safeway dismissed him in 1999 for refusing to do so. Only in August 2002 did he finally win his industrial tribunal case against Safeway, and I shall quote briefly from his barrister's comments at that time. She said that the evidence given by Safeway suggested that it has
"ridden roughshod over the statutory rights of hundreds if not thousands of their low-paid staff."
The reality is that most shops have brought in five-out-of-seven-day working contracts. In effect, if they want to work in the retail sector, most shop workers have to sign a contract that, in requiring them to work five days out of seven, does not provide that either of the two days off be a Sunday. So their days off could include a Monday, a Tuesday, a Wednesday, a Thursday or a Saturday, but they do not have to include a Sunday. That is the reality for most retail workers in this country.
It is also true that, for those who want to get such a job in the first place, if they show any hesitation during the interview about working on a Sunday, they will probably not get it. Employers no doubt cite other reasons, but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that, if people show such hesitation, they are less likely to get the job. If they suggest, once in a job, that they would prefer not to work on Sundays, a lot of pressure could be brought to bear, and their chances of promotion could be severely reduced as a result. There is pressure and coercion, and a lot of employees do not necessarily have another job to go to; indeed, a shop worker will probably find exactly the same set of circumstances in the next supermarket or shop with which they try to get a job.
As I have said, why are we considering legislation just in respect of shop and betting office workers? Existing legislation has not worked particularly well, as the evidence shows. Only one case has been brought to an industrial tribunal in the past eight years. Some 9 million of our fellow citizens work on Sundays, and I do not believe that all of them are happy in doing so. Nor is it not just shop and betting office workers who are affected. Do we realise that the delivery people—the drivers of vans and big lorries who bring the goods to shops—are not covered by this legislation?
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman might clarify his argument. As I understand it, according to current legislation shop workers should have the absolute right to refuse to work on a Sunday without fear of dismissal, redundancy or any kind of detriment. The legislation also states that they should have the right to opt out of Sunday working, and should be able to do so again within three months with exactly the same safeguards. Does that principle not operate?
The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. Section 42 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 does indeed give them that right, and the provisions of the Sunday Trading Act 1994 are incorporated in it. However, although that statutory right is given, the reality is that the onus is entirely on the employee to complain, and to be the brave person who stands up to the employer. The management, and perhaps those of their colleagues who are happy to work on Sundays, apply great pressure on them not to sign up to that right. The fact that only one such case in eight years has successfully been taken to industrial tribunal supports my argument. Some 9 million of our fellow citizens work on Sundays. As I have said, a study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the National Centre for Social Research shows that 70 per cent. of lone parents would rather not work at weekends—
I will take interventions in moment, but I just want to finish this point. I want the requirement to be placed not on the employee but on the employer. It is not employees who should have to fight for their rights, be brave, battle on their own and perhaps not win a tribunal.
I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but he has to understand that for many people, a job is job. It is important, and it keeps life going for them, and sometimes people are very reluctant to speak out. I hope to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that I can make a small contribution, and in doing so I hope to give the hon. Gentleman some idea of certain practices that make people afraid of taking on their employer.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support. He seems to be reinforcing the arguments that I have just made, so I thank him very much and look forward to his contribution on this very point.
As I have said, why are we concerned only about the rights of shop and betting office workers? If we as a nation believe—as most of our constituents do—that a shared day off a week is important, why is this principle important only for people who work in betting shops and retail outlets?
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we are debating this Bill today because of an anomaly in the way the law works? Other workers do have certain protections under the law, but shop and betting office workers do not. That is why we are addressing this particular issue.
As I said, I am delighted to support the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde. His Bill is clear and simple; it represents an advance and it has Government support. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's interest in the subject and his rationale for proposing the measure is not limited to one group of his constituents. He has, rightly, introduced the Bill to address a specific anomaly, but I am sure that his concern—like mine—is for all his constituents. The hon. Lady said that other workers have rights in such cases; her intervention came just as I was about to argue that they did not.
I realise that many hon. Members want to speak, so I shall not detain the House longer than necessary, but I want to draw its attention to the case of Mr. Stephen Copsey, which came to light only last month. Mr. Copsey was a team manager at a quarry, where he had worked for 14 years. He had worked for the company ever since he left school, had an exemplary work record and, until recently, was a highly valued employee. However, in April 2002, the company introduced full seven-day working and refused to make any exception for Mr. Copsey. He was given the choice of either working on Sundays or losing his job—which is exactly what happened. He tried to negotiate, but his employer refused to consider either alternative employment or the introduction of a flexible shift system. On
Mr. Copsey said:
"It was difficult to describe the pressure and hostility that I was shown."
Shop workers, too, are subject to that pressure and hostility, which is why only one case on such matters has been taken to an industrial tribunal in eight years. Most shop workers are probably not brave enough to go through with the process.
Mr. Copsey continued:
"I have been treated despicably after 14 years of service."
The matter has gone to an industrial tribunal and the evidence is currently under consideration. I understand that Mr. Copsey's barrister will use the Human Rights Act 1998 to argue that Mr. Copsey, who is a churchgoer, should have the same rights as Muslims, Hindus and Jews, who enjoy some protection under the Race Relations Act 1976. The barrister will argue that section 2 of the Human Rights Act is relevant in the case and that may ensure that there is some progress.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the circumstances of that individual could have been resolved if he was a trade union member? Trade union protection is extremely important when people are pressurised to work in conditions that they consider unacceptable. As a trade union member he would have been represented in the workplace and at the tribunal, and would have been better able to defend his right not to work on Sundays.
I am grateful to you for that reminder, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I mentioned the case only to show that betting and shop workers are not properly protected either. I shall conclude my remarks shortly.
To respond to the point made by Mr. Tynan, I certainly support responsible trade unionism. Mr. Copsey may be a member of a trade union and, in that case, I am sure that he would be well represented. In fact, he has extremely good representation, and it will be interesting to know the outcome of the case.
I agree entirely with the sentiments that my hon. Friend has expressed. He cited the Rowntree evidence that most single parents who have to work on Sundays would prefer not to do so. My concern is about people who can work only on Sundays, even though they might prefer to work on other days. What evidence is there to suggest that jobs would be available to people who were able to work only at weekends?
I am not sure exactly what examples my hon. Friend refers to. My thesis is that people should have free choice in the matter. I have no problem with people choosing to work on Sundays. We should remember that we all rely on people who have to work on Sundays, such as those who run nuclear power stations or work in the emergency and accident departments of our major hospitals. Many people have to work on Sundays so that society can function, and I am simply arguing for free choice in the matter. The reality for shop and betting workers is that they do not have that free choice.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the fact that only one case on this issue has been brought before an industrial tribunal over the past eight years is a testament to the existing legal protection for workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland? If that level of protection is not extended to Scotland, does he agree that it will be even more difficult for Scottish workers to take their cases to an industrial tribunal?
As I said earlier, I am delighted to support the measure, and the protections—such as they are—that affect England and Wales should certainly be extended to Scotland.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, however; if he were to make contact with the Keep Sunday Special campaign, it would provide him with a mass of evidence to show that many, many shop and retail workers feel that they have been pressurised—indeed, coerced is not too strong a word—to agree to contracts whereby they have to work five days in seven and neither of their days off is a Sunday.
In the perfect labour market of classical economics, employees would have a vast range of job offers. Indeed, when the economy is strong, people may have more choice; but the reality for many people is that there is no choice. As the whole supermarket culture rests on the same attitudes to staff and all supermarkets operate similar contracts, there is in fact no choice. On that point, I conclude my remarks.
I congratulate my hon. Friend David Cairns on introducing the Bill. Many of us would have chosen to promote protection for shop workers and betting workers in Scotland, if we had been chosen in the ballot.
I was intrigued by my hon. Friend's definition of the difference between intoxicating liquor and alcoholic liquor. I am sure that he and colleagues from other Scottish constituencies would agree that the vast majority of people in Scotland tend just to call it a bevvy. As a nation we have always been keen to keep things simple.
The Bill has only four clauses but its passage through Parliament will make a tremendous difference to people. My only regret is that we are unable to legislate retrospectively. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, people had been losing their jobs for many years before the recent fiasco that brought the matter to our attention. Despite the reports in the national press, I am not convinced that all those who walked away from an employer who was happy to exploit, not a loophole, but a major gap in the law, which disadvantaged shop workers in Scotland, have been able to return to their jobs.
My hon. Friend has given the history of Sunday trading and what it has meant. Sunday is a special day. Many families chose to spend time together on Sundays. It is traditionally seen as a day of rest by many people. After all, it is the Christian Sabbath and a traditional day of worship. If my wife were here today, she would say that it is a day when she would desire to drag me around stores and especially garden centres. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend Mr. Roy says from a sedentary position that I love it, but it is probably one of my pet hates—I put it no stronger than that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but may I say— not only as a father, but as a grandfather—that I like to spend time with my grandchildren, which is the real excuse that I use to avoid garden centres?
As has been said, this issue came to light when the major store, Argos, attempted to enforce changes in its 37 stores across Scotland, and the store in Dumfries was no exception. I have said previously in an Adjournment debate initiated by my hon. Friend Mr. Savidge that that was a penny-pinching exercise, as has been hinted at again this morning, and I shall return to that, but I shall explain what happened.
People were quite happy to work on Sundays. The store in Dumfries had never been short of staff who were quite prepared to give of their time to work to keep that store open and to satisfy every shopper in and around Dumfries who wanted to shop in the store. That was never the issue. In fact, one of my constituents was distraught about what was happening because she was the sole breadwinner in the household, and she saw Sunday as a normal working day. She was quite happy to give up other time because an additional payment was involved, which made the difference between, I suspect, surviving and having a good quality of life. Sunday was important to her. Suddenly, because of that major change, she would have to work some Sundays, but there would be no additional payment for doing so.
In fact, things became worse because my constituent's working day was five hours. The store was open 12 o'clock to 4, and people ended up in the ridiculous situation where they were asked to come in for an hour before the store opened to do some kind of work to make up their five hours. They got a day off in the week, but there was no additional payment. That was the downside for those who were prepared to work. Of course other members of staff were quite happy to let their colleagues do their work, and their weekend—Saturday and Sunday—was precious to them, especially the Sunday because they spent that time with their partners.
Only this morning, before I came to the Chamber, I contacted the store and spoke to a colleague who said, "Let's hope that the politicians can do something for us here in Scotland and give shop workers some protection." The House should take on board that important message.
There is another element to the issue. A few days ago, one of my colleagues called together a group of Members of Parliament to consider establishing an all-party group on dignity at work, and the very issue considered then was bullying and harassment. It would be fair to say that many people have witnessed some bullying and harassment. People are told, "You will work. You have no option."
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has made excellent efforts in her discussions with Terry Duddy, the chief executive of Argos. After a real face-to-face discussion with that gentleman, my right hon. Friend was convinced that he was about to change his mind and offer some sort of concession to his employees. Many of us went away from Westminster after that meeting thinking that we had a solution to the problem and that the company had backed off.
About a week later, I discovered that the staff of the shop in my constituency had been visited by one of the regional managers, who walked in and said, "Whatever has happened in the last two or three days makes no difference to you." He said that, if they had a good reason to show that Sunday was special to them on religious grounds, fine, the company would consider it, but, beyond that, there was no real difference. I applaud the valiant efforts made by the Secretary of State for Scotland in trying to change that company's view.
I want to mention the consultation document, which was also alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde. It is interesting that there is a consultation process, and people are taking part. Of course, as well as congratulating my hon. Friend on what he has done today, and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers must also be congratulated on everything that it has done.
Many hon. Members have been wary of the so-called voluntary arrangement that has allowed shop workers to opt out of Sunday working in Scotland. We have always felt that the arrangement offered no protection to shop and betting workers and that it would last only as long as employers were prepared to put up with it. We saw that crunch towards the back end of last year with Argos.
I firmly believe that Scottish shop and betting workers should have the same protection as their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is only fair. The proposals in the consultation document published by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would provide exactly the same rights, with the exception of the protected shop worker.
When the Sunday Trading Act 1994 was implemented on
USDAW accepts that the system of automatically protecting shop and betting shop workers is not appropriate to the current situation in Scotland. Before it was introduced in the rest of the United Kingdom, Sunday trading had been illegal, so it was right to give shop workers a clear choice when they attained the new right to work on Sundays. That is not the case in Scotland, where Sunday trading has been legal and widespread for many years.
My hon. Friend Mr. Doran has commented on regional variations, and I want to say how important it is to have one structure throughout the United Kingdom. He and I sat together during the consideration in Committee of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, and we saw attempts to consider regional variations. I made the point that, coming from the part of Scotland with the lowest pay, I did not want there to be regional variations that might condemn workers in my constituency to being less well paid than elsewhere. That is why I am very much in favour of a firmer and more secure provision, which offers real protection for people. What I witnessed towards the end of last year was the opening of a new out-of-town retail centre. It was a pleasure to see that coming, and it offered new employment opportunities. What I discovered, however, was that some of the new employers coming to the area had approached Argos to discuss how it had set about operating its working arrangements in relation to five out of seven days working. That gives out a clear message: Argos, as a company, started something.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Does he also consider that the activities of these multiples have a knock-on effect on smaller shops, which are effectively forced to put the same pressure on their workers to survive in a highly competitive environment? That is why we must have legislation that will curb the more aggressive retailers and protect workers in smaller or independent outlets who would otherwise come under the same pressure.
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman's excellent point. For my part, I have looked around and learned a lot in the short period I have been here. In particular, I have looked at the retail sector and supermarkets and some of the things that happen in everyday life as a result of pressure from what we call the big boys. Pressure is imposed by reputable companies, or companies that are seen as reputable, which has a knock-on effect. That hits home in the more rural areas. At one time, some of the new stores that were about to open were struggling, and it may be a cause for congratulation of this Government that unemployment in my constituency has fallen significantly. With unemployment being so low in my area, it is difficult to find people to take up the job opportunities that come along. That may be good in one respect, but it creates difficulties in another. It is extremely worrying, however, if employers can see a chink of light that allows them to exploit an opportunity. That is why this is seen as a loophole, although I see it as a major gap. Something must be done to make sure that the working environment and life for people who give of their time to serve the public in shops and stores are made much better.
In conclusion, I once again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde—the constituency used to be Greenock and Port Glasgow. If we think that we have difficulty in determining who represents which constituency, that is nothing compared with what we will see once the Boundary Commission for Scotland finishes its exercise. Obviously, there will be fewer of us, and, as I have said for a long time, not many members of the public will shed tears at the thought of 13 MPs suddenly disappearing. Perhaps that is an argument—and a battle—for another day. I also congratulate other parliamentary colleagues, on both sides of the House, on coming here this morning. It is important that we offer the same protection to shop workers—and betting shop workers—in Scotland as we have done to others who work in that sector elsewhere in the UK.
I congratulate David Cairns on both his good fortune in achieving such a favourable placing for his Bill and his good sense in introducing such a splendid measure. However, I dispute the history that is given as the official version in the documents supporting the Bill.
"Sunday trading has been legal in Scotland for many years and, in consequence, many Scottish shop workers had become accustomed to Sunday working. It was the Government's view that the reform of the law on Sunday trading in England and Wales was not necessary in Scotland. These arrangements seemed to work to the satisfaction of all, without the need for further legislation."
Even the explanatory notes—which do not form part of the Bill, and for which the Department, not the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde, is responsible—state:
"No modern Scottish statutory provisions specifically relating to Sunday working exist. Sunday opening had been so long permitted in Scotland, that a view seems to have been taken that workers in Scotland had no reasonable expectation of avoiding working on Sundays."
That is absolute nonsense. I well recall my childhood in Scotland, but I do not remember any shops—other than the small corner shop—being open.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right, and I shall come to that later. I can recall a time, however, when one could not get a drink in Scotland on a Sunday unless one was a bona fide traveller and one went to a hotel. I hasten to add, however, that at that time I could not legally purchase a drink. Nevertheless, that was the case.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has touched on what he describes characteristically as cultural and religious certainties. One of the things that has always intrigued me about these debates, which occur from time to time, is the comparison with the United States. As he knows, religious observance is much more prevalent there than in this country, as is church attendance, yet the American people manage to combine a belief in God, church attendance and a relaxed Sunday, on which many of them shop—and work and shop—perfectly satisfactorily.
I, too, credit them with good sense. The reality is, however—I suspect that this is based on my prejudices rather than my knowledge—that religious leadership in the United States is somewhat more robust than it has been in the United Kingdom. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that it is infinitely preferable that workers' rights should be protected by cultural values and certainties than that we should have to have recourse to the law to make up for deficiencies in that regard.
Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that a more or less informal agreement among shop owners in Scotland has only recently broken down? It is only because of the betrayal of Argos that this new legislation has had to be introduced. Previously, a voluntary agreement existed.
I entirely accept that the hon. Gentleman is right. I will deal with that point shortly.
As briefing material for this debate, I sought a statement from the Lord's Day Observance Society. It provided me with a very lengthy statement, from which I will extract just one or two lines:
"Sadly we have witnessed in our nation over the past 50 years a steady decline in the application of this 'one day in seven' principle, which was intended for our good—the Sabbath, was made for man. The result of neglecting this gift is all too obvious in society. We are now reaping what we have sown. Sunday has become like any other day and, increasingly, people find that they are expected to work on Sunday—sometimes, against their will."
The society goes on to catalogue a long list of what it regards as direct consequences of Sunday working. I would go as far as to say that Sunday working may have been a contributory factor in many of those social phenomena, but I do not think that the finger can be pointed to it as the main cause. It is probably a phenomenon in itself rather than the root cause of many of society's evils.
I would like hon. Members to keep in mind the telling phrase in the Lord's Day Observance Society statement about our
"reaping what we have sown".
I shall shortly come to the issue of Argos in that regard.
I am intrigued to know whether my hon. Friend thinks that the long-term decline in church attendance in this country is a long-term secular trend that one can trace far back. Does he detect any acceleration in the decrease in church attendance since the Sunday trading provisions were changed in England or Scotland?
There has been a very long-term decline. My right hon. Friend may wish to go back to the days when there were recusancy fines in England to ensure that people attended church, but I suspect that he does not. In church last Sunday, my vicar, who had recently attended a conference on the issue, gave us depressing statistics about the precipitous recent decline in church attendance. I cannot remember the figures—they were stark—but he suggested a parallel with the increase in Sunday trading. The reality is that there are many more things that we can do on Sunday. Even a churchgoer like me often thinks of many things that I would rather be doing when I listen to a sermon. Other opportunities exist.
In a society that is so fractured, I draw attention to one factor that did not exist to anywhere near such an extent 20 years ago. Sunday has come to be regarded as father's day for all those fathers who do not otherwise have access to their children during the week because of the breakdown of marriage. It is unlikely that they will spend that precious day in church with their children when they could go to an open shopping centre and enjoy all the facilities there. That is a powerful factor in the figures.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Sunday is special to our constituents for all sorts of reasons? Above all, the Bill should be about employment rights and against discrimination.
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. She is absolutely correct and faultless in her analysis.
As my hon. Friend Andrew Selous pointed out, the provisions of the Sunday Trading Act 1994 and the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 are now subsumed into the Employment Rights Act 1996. However, the provisions for shop workers and betting shop workers in the 1996 Act do not extend to Scotland. Therefore, the Scots can call on the general provisions against unfair dismissal as their only statutory right, with all the impediments involved thereto. For example, one has to be in work for at least a year before one can call on the provisions against unfair dismissal. The burden of proof with regard to Sunday working is on the employee to show that he has been treated unreasonably.
As Mr. Harris pointed out, protection in Scotland has relied exclusively on the existence of a voluntary agreement. I am in favour of voluntary agreements. After all, the voluntary principle protected Scottish workers for many years when there was no need whatever for the law to step in. It is sad when the law has to step in to shore up what society has failed to achieve by voluntary means.
The Scotland Office's consultation document of December 2002 on how the voluntary agreement was working said:
"Generally speaking, the voluntary arrangement in respect of shop and betting workers in Scotland has operated well but could be open to manipulation. The Government has had increasing concerns about the capacity of the non-statutory approach to guarantee equality of treatment as between relevant shop workers in Scotland compared to the rest of the country . . . companies in Scotland are basically in the position of being able to require Sunday working and by the same token, workers have no automatic rights to opt out of Sunday working for religious, family or any other reasons, bringing the risk of discrimination against shop workers."
The document concludes:
"There is a clear risk therefore the Scottish workers could be discriminated against in a way that would not be legally possible in the rest of the country."
That is absolutely right, because those workers were discriminated against.
As the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde said, the Bill is not the anti-Argos measure. However, there is general agreement that what happened at Argos focused the debate and crystallised this issue. It is an important issue, so I return to what I said earlier about our
"reaping what we have sown".
"Neither I nor the church I represent would want to preserve Sunday for religious purposes alone."
Oh no, certainly not for religious reasons. He is saying, "I might be a bishop, but I certainly would not want to preserve Sunday for religious reasons." How is that for falling at the first fence or selling a pass? It gets worse. The letter adds:
"Many of use welcome the wider opportunities offered to people to spend their weekends in leisure and shopping."
The hon. Member for Gordon blamed it all on the multiples—the big boys. Did it occur to the bishop why Argos had taken this action? As the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde made clear, those multiples that trade in England and Scotland began to trade in Scotland as a consequence of the huge increase in activity in England. However, they did not open in Scotland just to spite Scottish workers. They did it in response to the demands of ordinary Scottish people to trade, buy and sell on Sunday.
My memory may be failing me, but it is my experience that shop trading in Scotland was a normal part of life for many years, and long before legislation was introduced in England to allow the multiples to trade in England and Wales. Sunday trading was going on in Scotland long before it was introduced in England.
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he pointed out that the issue was crystallised by Argos and by the big multiple chains opening in shopping centres on Sunday. There was no problem when small shops opened in small towns so that people could get their messages done on Sunday. The problem for workers rather than for the proprietors of small shops results from changes in the way we live. We do our shopping and leisure activities on a Sunday. I am entirely at ease with people's desire to do that, but I resent the fact that the bishop has suggested, "I'm in favour of protecting workers and aren't these multiples awful and wicked?" when in the same breath he says that he supports, wants and enjoys the greater freedoms that result from the liberalisation of the Sunday trading laws. The one leads as a direct consequence to the other.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a theological and doctrinal element to the argument that we ignore at our peril? There is a contradiction between the classic, rather narrow, Scottish Calvinist attitude towards the Sabbath, especially in the far west and far north of Scotland where a rigid approach is taken, and the more modern approach that allows people to combine a proper amount of worship, observance and church attendance with other social and family activities. Does he agree that in some people's minds that is an unresolved dilemma?
That is right, and as my right hon. Friend introduces doctrinal matters to the debate, I say to him:
"Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest . . . whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death."
They did not take prisoners in Exodus, and of course I eschew that attitude. There is a balance to be had between enjoying a leisurely Sunday and enjoying the benefits of Sunday as a special and different day. There are, of course, liberalisations implicit in such an approach, and hon. Members cannot escape the reality that has caused the Bill to be introduced.
If we expect large multiple stores to open on Sunday, someone has to staff them. Someone has to sell the goods and work. It is right that the Bill should bring legal protection to those people. I am 100 per cent. in favour of it. However, I share the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire that, once we introduce a measure of protection, the motivation behind the Bill in Scotland will turn out to be the tip of an iceberg and huge employment pressures will be brought to bear on people to work on Sunday in spite of their statutory rights.
I end with the Commandment itself:
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates".
That is the important point. We cannot expect not to work and to have the day off if we are not prepared to allow that right to thy maidservant and thy manservant. Everything that we expect to be available to us and open to us on Sunday has a consequence for the maidservants and the manservants who have to staff the shops when they, quite properly, would rather be doing something else.
I welcome the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend David Cairns. His presentation of it and the tone that he set will, I hope, result in unanimous support for the proposed change in the law. I also congratulate those organisations that have brought the issue to prominence in the past few months, and in particular the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers on representing its members, and the Lord's Day Observance Society on the way in which it has made its case. I remember a meeting convened in one of the Committee Rooms on behalf of a joint delegation from USDAW and the Lord's Day Observance Society following a campaign that culminated in a ten-minute Bill introduced by my hon. Friend Mr. Savidge that highlighted the issue, and I congratulate him on that.
We organised the meeting and a number of colleagues attended. It was highly successful and showed that there was wide support for a change in the law, not just on religious grounds, although they were hugely important for people who held such strong beliefs, but on the grounds of equal rights north and south of the border and of the quality of life for employees and workers, and in particular the protection of family life, which is a theme that has run through the debate. It is possible that we think that the position of shop workers is special because a disproportionate number of women work in shops and they play an important role in family life. That is why securing protection for shop workers is so profoundly important.
I commend the Scotland Office on the way in which it has taken up the issue. Following the lobbying meeting attended by the LDOS and USDAW, it seized on the issue and met Argos management. I congratulate it on the energy and weight that it has put behind the argument for securing the rights of shop workers. My hon. Friend Mr. Brown said that, sadly, there has been some backsliding, not perhaps by Argos as a whole, but in certain stores, which reinforces the argument that the conventions can no longer be relied on and we need to change the law.
I also commend the Scotland Office for its support of the process by undertaking its own consultation. Many of my constituents have responded and have copied their representations to me. I encourage members of the public from every constituency in Scotland to take advantage of the consultation to make their views known.
Mr. Forth mentioned the attitudes of the far north and west of Scotland. Those hon. Members who have visited my constituency over the years will have noticed that in large parts of it on Sundays there are very few shops open and very few trading opportunities. The picture painted by Mr. Swayne of the Scotland of his childhood prevails in large parts of the Western Isles. Even in the Outer Hebrides conditions are changing: in the past year Sunday flights have been introduced, and that will undoubtedly bring other changes in its wake. It may well be that as the years pass shops will begin to open on Sundays even in the Outer Hebrides. I do not imagine that Sunday opening will ever reach the level that it has in mainland Scotland, but the Bill will provide protection for that eventuality.
I acknowledge the point made by Andrew Selous in his excellent contribution, that the proposed change will not be foolproof, just as the system in England and Wales is not foolproof. However, it is an essential step forward to bring Scotland into line with the conditions south of the border. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde for promoting the Bill.
I, too, congratulate David Cairns on getting a good place in the ballot and on his choice of a Bill, which in principle is very sensible. I hasten to assure him that I do not want to resist the Bill, although there are issues that we could usefully consider; they are relevant to this Bill just as they were relevant to the original debate on Sunday trading in 1993–94.
I welcome the Minister to the House. Our paths have crossed before, and this is our first encounter since she had to endure 39 sittings of the Standing Committee on the Proceeds of Crime Bill, in which I spoke at considerable length. I hasten to reassure her that I shall not inflict another of those experiences on her.
My right hon. Friend should not tempt me.
I am deeply conscious—in fact I am proud—of being an English MP and an Englishman. I am well aware that there are occasions when people from other parts of the United Kingdom object to Englishmen poking their noses into what those people consider to be their business.
As one who has pursued a case like the one mentioned by my hon. Friend David Cairns in my own constituency, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he agrees that one of the most inspiring features of the support for the Bill is that USDAW in every part of the United Kingdom, not just Scotland, supports it?
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, but inviting me to wax eloquent about the activities of a trade union is possibly pushing me a little further than I want to be pushed on a Friday morning. I note what USDAW says, and I agree with it, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that my enthusiasm may stop at that point.
I am in a charitable mood, so although I was tempted to say that, I chose not to. My right hon. Friend has said it for me. One always hears about vested interests, and we shall leave that matter be.
As I said, I am conscious of being an Englishman involving himself in Scottish business. I can only say in my own defence that, day after day, week after week, I notice Scottish MPs getting involved in issues that concern only England, or only Surrey or perhaps even only my constituency. On this occasion, I make no apology for my involvement because I am simply learning some of the tricks of the trade from the right hon. and hon. Members from Scotland.
I am delighted to have that drawn to my attention. It is a fair point, and I can say only that it would be interesting if his principled and honourable stand were to be copied by others. I would welcome some people keeping their nose out of my business.
I point out to the hon. Gentleman that this is not a Scottish Bill but a United Kingdom Bill and every Member of the House, wherever in the United Kingdom they are elected, has the right to take part in the debate.
That is absolutely right. I am not disagreeing with that; the hon. Gentleman was trying to anticipate where my train of thought is going. This is indeed a House of Commons matter, and I find it almost amusing and certainly ironic that despite the much-vaunted arguments about devolution and the identity of the Scottish nation, every so often Scotland still has to return to the good old mother of Parliaments and acknowledge that, on occasion, we are a unitary state. Scottish Members come here, as necessary, to put things right in what they would argue is their country.This is not an important issue, but I touch on it for a moment to explain why the Bill comes before this House and why those in favour of it argue, "We need this in Scotland as well as in England".
The website of the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde is quite interesting. In an argument that he repeated this morning his website says about the Bill:
"It is quite simply wrong that shop-workers in Greenwich enjoy rights that those in Greenock do not."
[Interruption.] Hon. Members can tell that I am an Englishman when I say "Greenock". I invite them to think about how they would pronounce place names such as Staines, which you would pronounce differently, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure. Mr. Savidge was quoted on the BBC news on
"They are discriminating, in particular, against people with family responsibilities or religious objections, but in general against people simply because they live in Scotland."
I find the last part of that comment fascinating. I do not quarrel with it, but I find the argument interesting in the context both of the Bill and of this Parliament. If the argument is that shop workers in England have protection that is not available to those in Scotland, so it is reasonable for shop workers in Scotland to say that they want that protection, I support it, and that is why I support the Bill in principle. However, we must think about the benefits that people in Scotland enjoy that people in England do not. I gather that students in Scotland have a different deal from those in my constituency.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde has advanced an argument for a worthy Bill in which he says that in this unitary state it is entirely right that the shop workers of Scotland have the same rights as those of England. I accept the argument that what is right for England should be right for Scotland, but I sincerely hope that when my colleagues and I argue that we ought to have the same benefits as are enjoyed in another part of the unitary state, he will support our argument and make sure that the Government give us the same deal as they are giving Scotland.
I find the hon. Gentleman's point rather difficult to follow. Surely this is a non-devolved issue, so it is proper for it to be dealt with in this Parliament. If this Parliament thinks that it would be good to apply in England a measure passed in Scotland, it would be proper for that to be discussed in this Parliament.
I accept that this is not a devolved matter, but that is part of my argument. The other part of the argument is simply that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde have advanced as a justification for the measure the proposal that the shop workers of Scotland should have the same benefits as those of England. That is a separate issue from which Parliament should consider the matter.
I shall try to get the hon. Gentlemen to understand: all I am saying is that if a Scottish Member argues that the justification for the measure is simply that the same rights should apply in Scotland as in England, the same argument applies in reverse—whether or not the matter is devolved. I hope that they accept that if some people in one part of this unitary state have benefits that my constituents do not, I will argue that the benefits that apply in Scotland, which is part of the same country as mine, should apply in my constituency as well.
I do not wish to detain the House, but the Scottish Parliament has powers only because this House devolved certain powers to it and decided to retain others. The Bill falls slap bang in the middle of the powers that the House decided to retain and we would not debate here any issue devolved to the Scottish Parliament, so the hon. Gentleman should not say that we can discuss the matter irrespective of which Parliament is involved. The issue is for this Parliament. As my hon. Friend Mr. Harris said, we seek not to pass a Scottish Bill, but to amend a UK Bill. That is the crux of the matter.
I quite understand that and, as I said at the outset, I have no objections to the Bill in principle. It comes here because it has to, and I support it, but that is not the point that I am seeking to get the hon. Gentleman to understand. All I am saying is that what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. If the argument is, "This is unfair to Scotland. Please put it right," I am happy to put it right, but I look forward to the hon. Gentlemen supporting me when I use the same argument against him by saying, "What is good enough there ought to apply to my constituency of Spelthorne."
One thing that we are proud of in Scotland is that we still have a vibrant comprehensive education system, so I look forward to the hon. Gentleman thinking, "That is such a good idea in Scotland, why shouldn't it be applied in England?" Will he come to the House to advocate that as a way forward for changing the education system in England and Wales?
I would love to debate the failure of the Government and their education policies, but I suspect that I would not get far before you stopped me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the hon. Lady wants the benefit of my views on her Government's failure to get education right, I am happy to give them to her, but in the Tea Room or somewhere else, not here and now.
We are paying for that system. If we were to enjoy the same education expenditure per head as Scotland, all our taxes would have to go up dramatically.
Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I sensed a degree of restlessness and was about to do exactly that.
May I move on to the Sunday Trading Act 1994, which gives rise to the Bill? I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Office Minister responsible for taking the legislation through this place. If the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde looks closely, he will see that some scars that Sir Peter Lloyd and I acquired remain fairly visible. It was quite an experience.
They do, sometimes. I am very aware of the arguments surrounding the principle of Sunday trading.
We must be careful that when we approve the Bill, as I hope we will, we are conscious of the shortcomings that will be introduced to Scotland. The principle of making the provisions apply there is right, but those that are being added to the protections of Scottish workers are not the ones that I would want in an ideal world. I shall give the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde an example.
Earlier this week, we witnessed a series of free votes. If Members ever want to know what headless chickens look like, they have only to watch this place on a free vote night. Most Divisions in the Chamber on the Sunday trading legislation were on free votes. The result was that one or two proposals got majorities, but one or two were defeated—a result that Members, whichever Lobby they voted in, may not have intended. At the end of the process, colleagues, particularly Lord Alton, saw a series of amendments dealing with worries about the legislation defeated one after the other. All of a sudden, we were overtaken by a feeling of sorrow and pity for Lord Alton.
I am aware that my hon. Friend is a member of the Opposition Whips Office, but I very much relish the opportunity for a free vote. I am sure that I am not the only Member here who believes that we think hard and seriously about which Lobby to enter on a free vote. I would not equate the term "headless chickens" with that exercise.
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend and a number of other Members think deeply about that and get it right, but, watching from where I do, I see one or two people whom I shall not name who are not quite so certain in their minds about what to do on such occasions. People may have argued for a free vote for a long time, but the entire argument is undermined when, as a Whip, one is approached outside the Lobby and asked, "What do we do?"
What happened on that occasion is relevant to the present Bill. Towards the end of a series of votes, we took pity on Lord Alton, thinking, "He has lost so much, we will give him something." That was the unspoken thought, however. Everyone went into a Lobby, but we managed to wreck the busiest day for garden centres by making them close on Easter Monday. We did not intend that, so when we got up next morning and read in the newspapers what we had done, we thought, "Blimey. That was not what we thought we were doing."
As long as the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde is aware that importing that English and Welsh provision to Scotland means bringing a problem with it and as long as he is happy to do that, I am happy to support him. If ever I get any complaints from Scotland about not being able to buy plants over Easter, I shall blame him and say, "It wasn't me, guv." If the hon. Gentleman knows what he is doing, he has my support.
There is a tactical reason for acting in that way. I am a sponsor of the Bill, and I was assured that the rights to be given to workers in Scotland would be exactly the same as those in England. I am sure that my hon. Friend supports that point of view.
Absolutely right. All I seek to do is ensure that the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde is aware that the Bill is not a perfect panacea and that by importing the benefits that we in England have he is importing one or two problems as well. As long as he takes responsibility for the problems when garden centre owners beat him about the head and say, "Look what you have done to us," I am happy to support him.
May I reassure the hon. Gentleman? In Scotland, Easter Monday is not a national holiday. It is catered for under the local holiday provision. Easter Monday may be a holiday in Glasgow, but people who live there can still go to garden centres in Edinburgh, Falkirk or Stirling.
I am interested in that, but will the Minister reflect on whether it would be possible if the Bill became an Act? I genuinely do not know the answer, but we can leave that be. If she wants to write to me, I would be interested to hear from her.
As I understand the situation and as I remember the debates from all those years ago, two arguments were used as to why Scotland could safely be left out. One was that Sunday trading had been so long established there that it was part of Scottish life and should be left alone. Indeed, a number of Members on both sides of the House thought it a useful exercise of a weekend to travel for the purposes of observing Sunday trading in Scotland to discover whether we wanted the situation in England to be like that in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
A number of people had interesting weekends, shall I say, in those cities, and they came back to report that Scotland seemed to be perfectly all right with its shops open. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, and the general view was that the arrangements in place in Scotland appeared to work. The hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde has put a good case for saying that they do not any longer, even if they did then. That is another reason for me supporting him in principle.
Another argument that was used at the time is that the English were probably heathen while the Scots still understood the importance of the Sabbath. I did not need much persuading of that because when I was much younger I used to stay with my sister, who lived on the Moray coast. One of the summer activities that I used to enjoy was going down to Lossiemouth harbour at about quarter to midnight on a Sunday night and watching the local people shout "Heathen!" at any boat that dared to slip out of harbour before midnight.
My hon. Friend says, "Quite right", but I am neutral. I simply observe that when the argument was used that the Scots still respected the Sabbath, I found it quite a telling argument; I remembered that experience, so it seemed quite reasonable to exclude Scotland from the provision. However, it may now be that the fishing boats—if there are any left in Lossiemouth after the Government have sold the fishing industry down the river—go out on a Sunday and there is nobody left to shout "Heathen!" because they are all busy shopping.
I am in favour of voluntary agreements, which are far better than being dictated to by the nanny state. It seems to me that, for a period at least, the voluntary arrangements in Scotland appear to have worked. The issue arose only recently, so since 1994 the position appears to have been all right up to a point, but we then had the Argos episode, which was at best unfortunate—other words could be used to describe it. Like everyone else, I welcome the fact that Argos has backtracked, though perhaps not as much as some people would have liked. Perhaps it has learned a lesson, but it was a bit late in the day. The Government were absolutely right to carry out a consultation exercise as a result of that episode as a problem was clearly developing.There are valid arguments about why shop workers in Scotland do not have the same protection as those in England, so the Government are entirely correct to consult. I note that the deadline for comment is
It is not as though we cannot wait a little longer. It is not as though there is no protection for shop workers in Scotland. There is the Employment Rights Act 1996. I understand the difficulties and I know that it can be a tortuous process for a worker who is sacked for not working on a Sunday to go for a general argument of unfair dismissal. I know the difficulties in getting a tribunal to accept a claim are greater. I realise that this is not an isolated issue and that all sorts of other issues can be brought in, but if we waited a few months until the Government had finished their consultation exercise, it is not as though there would not be at least some protection. It is not as though there is currently no protection for people who are sacked for refusing to work on a Sunday. I wonder whether the Minister or the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde can tell us whether the general protection offered by the Employment Rights Act has failed, or whether it has been successful up to a point. If it has been successful up to a point, there is a better argument for waiting for the results of the Government's consultation exercise.
The Bill raises some issues that need to be explored further. One that concerned me in 1994 continues to concern me now. Suppose that someone applies to work in a shop and the manager explains, "This shop is open seven days a week. We expect people to work five days out of seven and we have a rota." Suppose the applicant replies, "I entirely happy with that. I am very willing to do my share of Sundays" and is given a job on that basis. At any time afterwards, that shop worker can change his mind and give three months' notice that he no longer wants to work on a Sunday. At the time I thought that that was unreasonable and I am still worried about it. In the case of a relatively small operation that was nevertheless big enough to be caught by the square footage limit, the bishop to whom my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West referred could suddenly arrive on the scene and convert all the workers who could then all give notice that they no longer wished to work on Sundays. That independent retailer would be in a difficult position because all the people who suddenly decided not to work on a Sunday and were protected by law would be those who had originally given an undertaking to work on a Sunday. I thought at the time, and I think now, that someone should give an indication at the point at which they are offered a job: they are entirely protected at that point.
The Bill became law in 1996. Before we take his point too seriously, can the hon. Gentleman tell us how often this extraordinary circumstance has occurred. How many instances of people suddenly being converted and refusing to work on Sundays have actually occurred in England and Wales?
I lament the fact that the Churches in England do not seem to convert many people these days, but perhaps there will be a religious revival and we will have that problem. We must think not only about the past but about what might happen in future. Along with a number of hon. Members, I would like to see a religious revival, but I suspect that you will not let me get very far with that argument, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
There is another general issue on which the hon. Gentleman needs to reflect for a moment or two. Some employers offer more money to staff who undertake to work on Sundays. It is not just extra payment for Sundays. Some employers are prepared to negotiate an arrangement where staff get more money in return for a guarantee that they are prepared to work on Sundays. Suppose that employees enter into such an agreement and take the extra pay for two or three years and then decide they are no longer prepared to work on Sundays. Has the hon. Gentleman thought about whether he wants to encourage that situation? I am concerned that the Bill as it stands would import that potentially difficult scenario into Scotland. It certainly arises here in England.
Another issue that the hon. Gentleman needs to contemplate involves the arrangements for bank holidays and Christmas day. The Bill protects staff against being made to work on Christmas day only if Christmas day falls on a Sunday. In my judgment, that is one of the Bill's shortcomings. I do not think that we should be able to force shop workers to work on Christmas day, but at the moment the legislation is such that the protection will apply only when Christmas day falls on a Sunday. When the Bill reaches Committee, the hon. Gentleman might give some thought as to whether or not it could be amended. I should also say that when he has achieved protection for Christmas day in Scotland, I shall demand that it is applied to England too.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend's sentiments about no one being forced to work on Christmas day, whichever day of the week it falls on, but I hope that he will be reassured by the fact that I learned only this morning that this Christmas there was a voluntary agreement between all the major supermarkets that none of them would open on Christmas day and that agreement seemed to work satisfactorily.
Presumably that also gives a market opportunity to shops that are owned and run by people of other faiths or no faith to provide a service for people who want to obtain much-needed supplies even on Christmas day.
That is so.
That brings me to the next issue that the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde should consider carefully. The Bill offers protection in general terms to Christians because it applies to Sundays, and to people of the Jewish faith because there is the provision that if they respect their Sabbath they can work on a Sunday but decline to work on the Sabbath. I applaud that. That is right. I am a publicly confessed Christian, so I am glad that my faith is respected in that way.
Not all that long ago, there were debates in the House about making religious discrimination an offence, and I suspect that that issue will return. An Act that discriminates in favour of Sunday or the Jewish Sabbath but no other holy day in a week would fall foul of religious discrimination were it ever to become an offence. I can imagine how offended I would feel if I were not a Christian or a Jew that people of some faiths receive protection when those of my faith did not.
May I take my hon. Friend back to the points that I made about Mr. Copsey, whose barrister is arguing that whereas Muslims, Hindus and Jews are protected under the Race Relations Act, it would appear that Christians are not similarly protected with regard to not wanting to work on Sunday, and so it may be the Human Rights Act that finalises the matter in terms of British law.
I hope that it is not the Human Rights Act that settles the matter because that Act is responsible for all sorts of things that I do not support and I would rather settle things by having a debate on the issue.
Surely my hon. Friend will agree that there is a danger of our confusing race and religion, to which he made a passing reference. I hope that he will resist robustly any effort to entangle us yet further in the miasma that so-called race relations legislation has become—to the extent that it is now reaching out into other unnecessary parts of our lives.
I agree wholeheartedly, but I sense that there would be some restlessness were I to start debating racial or religious discrimination.
That brings me to the quote from the Most Reverend Bruce Cameron, to which my hon. Friend Mr. Swayne so eloquently drew the House's attention. When we debated the Act that this Bill seeks to extend to Scotland, I well remember a large number of ministers of religion lobbying all of us, and I would always pause before responding to consider how curious it is that a minister of the Christian religion, whose contract of employment requires him to work on Sundays above all days, and who has an obligation to work on Sunday, should tell me why it is wrong for people to work on Sunday. That contradiction has always bothered me slightly.
Like my hon. Friend, I was bothered by the view of Rev. Bruce Cameron of the Scottish Episcopal Church, that
"Neither I nor the church I represent would want to preserve Sunday for religious purposes alone."
Why ever not? I do not particularly want to, but why on earth should a bishop of an Episcopal church whose job it is to convert people to Christianity and to respect the Sabbath be prepared to wash his hands and say that that is not what it is all about, that he does not really believe in all that, that it is incidental? That is half the reason why pews are so empty in churches in Scotland and England at the moment.
What about the comment,
"Many of us welcome the wider opportunities offered to people to spend their weekends in leisure and shopping."?
Why only weekends? What is wrong with having time off on a Tuesday or Wednesday if one is no longer arguing the religious case for having Sundays off? Oh dear me. Here is someone supporting protection for people with regard to Sunday working who wants to go shopping on a Sunday. The reverend gentleman cannot have it both ways. If shopping is a wonderful activity, he should not be surprised if employers require people to be there so that when he goes to the shop, it is open. I worry about such arguments.
I have listed the matters that I believe to be relevant, which I sincerely hope the Committee will consider. It is right and sensible to want the same protection in Scotland as in England, but I flag those issues up because the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde should understand that while he is importing the benefits from England he is importing one or two problems as well. As long as when problems come back to haunt him in his surgery he can say that he is not surprised because although he knew about them he did not believe they were sufficient to undermine the Bill's principles, I will have done my job of helping him to consider these things. If he understands the difficulties and is content, he has my support.
I want to take a moment to consider what we are debating, because we seem to have lost track of that during the past half an hour. We are here today to debate a simple issue—the need to afford the same rights to every worker throughout the United Kingdom irrespective of what part they come from. I shall spend only one or two minutes on that because one or two issues need to be reinforced.
We in Scotland are part of the United Kingdom and every hon. Member present—Angus Robertson is not present—wants to maintain that United Kingdom. Irrespective of what some might think, we have different cultures. There are different cultures throughout England, never mind between Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland, and that will continue to be the case. But in saying that, employment rights are a matter for the United Kingdom Parliament and they should be afforded to all.
Andrew Selous, in his very good contribution, talked of the rights of the individual and the pressures that many shop workers are under. It is the pressures that one does not see that so often come through. I know many in my constituency who are under pressure for different reasons. That is why they should all join the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and make sure that the protection offered by a trade union is there for them. I would encourage every worker to do that.
Argos has been mentioned on several occasions because, as a major company, it did what some small companies do on a regular basis, but let us look at the other side of the coin. There are many good employers. My area was the first in Scotland in which IKEA opened and it gave workers the opportunity to work the hours that they chose. It was able to take on several hundred people within a short period at hours that were beneficial to the employee. That is extremely important. That was quickly followed by Tesco, which opened a 24-hour shop in Midlothian. It employs 450 people, many of them working hours that suit them. That means that single parents can work during the day while their children are at school, allowing them to earn sufficient money to keep their children in the way that they need to be kept. It allows mothers and grandmothers to care for the children at night and at the weekend.
There are many such examples. It is important to recognise that the major companies set a trend for all the small companies. That is why the Bill is an excellent way forward.
For the avoidance of doubt, is the hon. Gentleman saying that, if the matter is dealt with properly and responsibly, it is perfectly possible to get people voluntarily to work what are sometimes loosely called antisocial hours on a Sunday or even in the middle of the night? That is what suits some people in their individual and family circumstances, and it has been demonstrated to be possible if it is dealt with on a voluntary basis by a responsible employer.
I accept that point. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman makes the very point that I made earlier. There are certain unscrupulous employers, however, and I believe that Argos went too far, as the voluntary code that he mentions was not adopted. That is why I believe very strongly that all employees should seek recognition.
Mr. Wilshire mentioned tribunals and said how complicated the circumstances could be. I may be the only person in the Chamber who has been to a tribunal. I recognise how important proper legislation is, as the guidance that is given at tribunals is based on trade union rights and other matters set out in legislation. That is why that aspect is very important. Part of the problem for Argos workers in seeking a result at tribunals is that they are based on existing legislation and not what the legislation should be. That is why there should be a right for all. I was one of those very fortunate people who won their tribunal, but that was possible because the legislation was very clear and because the National Coal Board had breached it as it saw fit. That part of the proposals is extremely important.
Mention has also been made of the Scotland Office and the work that it has done, for which I commend it. As I have pointed out previously, that shows what sort of work the Scotland Office can do in taking an issue and highlighting it on behalf of people in Scotland. I recommend not only that hon. Members take note and report back to the inquiry that is under way—I think that the closing date is
We should recognise that where there is low unemployment, as in Midlothian, many companies are fighting for people to come in and conditions are improving. Indeed, in my area, the local authority, which is the biggest local employer, is struggling to try to bring people in to work because of the various competing interests and the flexible working that is allowed by major companies. Let us not attack all companies; we should recognise that there are many good organisations out there and reflect that better image.
I congratulate my hon. Friend David Cairns on procuring the Bill, on the excellent publicity that he has obtained for it and on a speech that was witty, lucid and comprehensive.
It was my intention to be brief, and if I understand the pressures that I think I am getting from the Procrustean bed of the usual channels, I think that that is still my intention. Furthermore, I have already spoken on the same subject in an Adjournment debate and in introducing my own ten-minute Bill, others have already covered the topics adequately and I am conscious that there are other Bills on the Order Paper. Indeed, I am especially conscious that that is the case because I am in that rather odd position of having introduced in previous Sessions two Bills that feature on today's Order Paper, as my hon. Friend Lawrie Quinn is reintroducing the Health and Safety at Work (Offences) Bill, which I know we may not reach today, but which I hope will reach the statute book. As my hon. Friends the Members for Greenock and Inverclyde and for Scarborough and Whitby can both claim paternity of the Bills, I am not sure what relationship I can claim. Perhaps I should say that it is grandfatherhood, before somebody suggests something slightly less delicate.
That is a good example of what should often happen in politics, as a lot of significant things in politics are achieved through a co-operative effort by a large number of different people. We often end up in politics with people claiming or being given individual credit, but a lot of people are often involved in the greatest achievements. I should like to give credit to a number of the people in that regard. First, I join my hon. Friend Mr. Doran in paying credit to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scotland Office for the help that was given both in private and in public. I am grateful to Department of Trade and Industry Ministers for being ready to be persuaded of the importance of the issue with which the Bill deals, and also for the work that was done with Argos and the consultation, of which I am sure we will take full and proper account in Committee.
Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that 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? That is the basis on which most private Members' Bills tend to succeed.
I am happy not only to agree, but to say that the right hon. Gentleman has expressed that point very succinctly and worthily.
I also give credit to the Bill's various supporters. USDAW has already been mentioned, as has the great support given by various churches and religious organisations. I give particular credit for the fact that some of those organisations, including some of the strictly Sabbatarian ones—I say this with particular regard to some of the comments made by Mr. Swayne—not only argued on religious grounds, but took into account the social concerns of people who did not necessarily share their beliefs. I was disappointed by some of the criticisms made of Archbishop Bruce Cameron, whom I thought wrote an absolutely excellent letter that recognised that while some in his Church would want a purely religious Sunday, others would want an only partly religious one. He also recognised that, in a pluralistic community, others would take a completely different view and have a right for their social concerns to be taken into account. I thought that the letters from Archbishop Cameron and many others were excellent in expressing support. At one stage, I began to wonder whether the hon. Member for New Forest, West was going to try to be Hampshire's answer to the Taliban. When he began to talk about the commandment and the death penalty, I began to worry that he might be reintroducing a situation in which people were getting stoned in a fashion that had nothing to do with alcoholic or intoxicating beverages.
I should like to pay special credit to the Argos workers, especially those who lost their jobs. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central referred to the workers in Aberdeen, whom I obviously know best, but my impression was that they all behaved with great courage and dignity. I found it particularly impressive that, after they had lost their jobs and found employment with other companies, they still wanted to continue campaigning because they believed that there was a principle to be established for other people. If the Bill reaches the statute book, as I hope it will, particular credit should be given to those Argos workers.
The extent to which the Bill has cross-party support was illustrated by the early-day motion on the same subject, which was supported by more than 200 hon. Members. Tremendous support has been given by hon. Members throughout the House. In particular, I want to mention my hon. Friends the Members for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) and for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald)—but I shall not mention all the rest of them, as the Procrustean bed is acting.
I rush on, therefore, to say that I do not wish to deal again with the whole Argos saga. The Bill brings to Scotland what the House introduced under a Conservative Government, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde pointed out. The idea is that it will give proper flexibility to everybody. It gives flexibility by allowing retailers to trade on Sundays and allowing shoppers to decide whether to buy on Sunday, but it also gives flexibility by allowing shop workers to decide whether to work on that day. I think that that is a proper way of proceeding, as it protects the rights of those who have religious beliefs, as well as the rights of couples and families who want to get together and people with caring responsibilities. As family and caring responsibilities fall on women in particular, it gives important protection for women. Indeed, it was noticeable that it was mostly women who suffered in respect of Argos. The Bill also extends to people who are resident in Scotland the same proper protections that are enjoyed in England and Wales.
"Today, I hope that we can set down a marker for legislation in the next Session that would, I hope with the support of the whole House, extend to shopworkers in Scotland the protection that is currently enjoyed by those in the rest of the United Kingdom."—[Hansard, 5 November 2002; Vol. 392, c. 145.]
I give my very best wishes to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde in his efforts to achieve that objective.
It is good that legislation that affects Scotland is being debated in the House. We are, after all, in a unitary state. We look forward to further legislation—for example, legislation on the numbers of Members of the Scottish Parliament and, perhaps, on the implementation of the Norton report. That would ensure that the House was clearly seen to be representing a unitary state.
The more barracking I get from Whips, the longer my speech will take.
I join others in congratulating David Cairns. I apologise on behalf of those from English backgrounds who pronounce Greenwich and Greenock similarly. We changed the law so that the hon. Member could get here and, with this Bill, he is stamping his name on legislation. Along with many others, I congratulate him on that. I also congratulate Mr. Savidge, who called himself the grandfather of this Bill and did not wish any other name to be applied to him. "Donor" may be another appropriate term, but we should not go any further into that. The hon. Members for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran), for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) and for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) have in their constituencies workers who have been affected by the Argos saga. I congratulate the hon. Members on the work that they have done. I do not think that any of us would not support the stand that the Argos workers took; and I think that that reflects the nature of the support for this Bill on both sides of the House.
USDAW took up the workers' point but it was the strength of the workers that drove their case forward.
Many people have talked about the history of this issue and about why we have a particular problem in Scotland. Sitting here and listening to hon. Members' contributions, I have been reflecting on the age of some of us Scots in the Chamber. Probably only those of us who, like me, were born in the 1940s and brought up in the 1940s and 1950s—[Hon. Members: "Never!"] That is very kind of hon. Members, but I am afraid that it is true. We are the only ones who will have realised why the point that my hon. Friend Mr. Swayne made about reaping the whirlwind goes back further than the opening of shops on a Sunday.
Those of us who were born in the 1940s and 1950s in Scotland will remember what I once read described as the "cosmic boredom" of a Sunday afternoon. I was brought up in a small village in west Renfrewshire. It was so small that the only entertainment was a tennis club, and, on a Sunday, the tennis club was closed. There were no cafes, there was no church, there were no cinemas, no trains and no buses. One could do nothing. When one is a teenager, one does not want to spend one's afternoon washing the car or doing the gardening—despite what the hon. Member for Dumfries said about garden centres. Garden centres did not exist in those days.
Perhaps because of such experiences, and perhaps because, as the hon. Member for Gordon pointed out, the dominant culture in Scotland at the time was that the Sabbath was kept holy, there was no legislation. This point may encourage my hon. Friends, but only in the 1970s, through market forces, did the public demand shopping on a Sunday, as an antidote to being able to do absolutely nothing else.
At the time, some of us—dare I say it?—looked towards England. In England during the 1950s and 1960s, museums were open, it was possible to play some sports including tennis, one could go to the cinema and one could actually eat out. Reference has been made to bona fide travellers, and to the drinking houses with one or two bedrooms attached, as ways in which people could get a drink in Scotland on a Sunday. Many of us forget what Sunday was like in Scotland in those days.
The hon. Gentleman will soon be receiving a letter from me to say that I will be visiting his constituency in the very near future. I look forward to going back to the village where I was brought up, Brookfield. I suspect that there will still not be much more than the tennis club. It was a lovely village and I enjoyed a very good upbringing, but there was the cosmic boredom of a Sunday afternoon.
It was because of the dearth of things to do on a Sunday that ordinary people said that they wanted something to do. Shopping was the easiest answer and that is how the problem emerged that the Bill seeks to deal with. There had been no legislation because of the dominant cultural and religious belief that nobody would want to do anything on a Sunday. I have since checked this, but my recollection was that Edinburgh was the first place to allow the opening of a significant number of shops on a Sunday. I can see one or two hon. Members on the Labour Benches nodding, agreeing that my recollection was right. I checked with a former Member of this House, Sir Malcolm Rifkind. He was on the council in Edinburgh between 1970 and 1974, when those shops started to open. His memories were similar to mine. He felt that there was no need to change the law and that shops could just open. The council did not have to change licensing or anything of that nature to allow that to happen.
Looking back, it amazes me that it took England so long to catch up. Often, Scotland gets there first. That has happened in a number of areas, but I am sure that Mr. Deputy Speaker would pull me up if I went into them. However, I would not say that I would want the current state of the health service in Scotland to be emulated down here.
It was eight or nine years ago that England deregulated. Other hon. Members have referred to the difficulties in achieving that deregulation. In the 1980s, we had private Members' Bills and a Government Bill. I am sure that hon. Members here, and yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will remember that that Government Bill was defeated in this Chamber. Our then Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, was not a happy lady.
Shops were flouting the law because of the demand to shop. I remember that local authorities gave up the unequal battle of trying to police the shops, because people wished to shop. My hon. Friend Andrew Selous has referred to the arguments made by the Keep Sunday Special organisation. The organisation was very effective in arguing against a very free opening. In due course, it was agreed that there was a need to ensure that people could act according to their beliefs and refuse to work on a Sunday if they did not want to.
I was interested in what David Hamilton said about enlightened employers. He praised IKEA and Tesco for their flexible employment policies. I was slightly sad that he did not mention B&Q, which was one of the leaders in the campaign to open shops in England.
It may not be in Midlothian but it is in many other parts of the country. It is in the lead in retailing in terms of employing people who are over the age of retirement. We do not call such people "retired"—and very valuable they are too.
We had to ensure that, if they so wished, people had the right not to work on Sundays. Eventually, we brought in the Sunday Trading Bill, which became the Sunday Trading Act 1994. The Act gave protection to workers. We have already gone through the arguments as to why Scotland was missed out, and I commend the hon. Members who made those points. I supported the widest possible access to shopping but I also voted for the restriction to protect workers.
I am sure that all hon. Members receive much constituency mail; we certainly all hold surgeries, and Sunday trading does not appear on the radar. Despite the anxieties of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire, people are broadly happy. He made the valid point that only one case went to an industrial tribunal. The Argos case was settled out of court.
It would be interesting to know the number of cases that have been settled out of court. That would be another indicator of the issue's importance to constituents. Perhaps Labour Members can present evidence from USDAW about the number of workers' cases that it has taken up. That would be a litmus test of anxiety about the subject.
Most people are happy to shop on a Sunday. I do so because, like most hon. Members, I work on Saturdays. We probably all work on Sundays, too, but our contracts of employment do not cover that. Our constituents would be horrified if they believed that they could not contact us on a Sunday.
Our task is to get the Bill through all its stages. A point was made about the consultation paper. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North first raised the matter in July, but the Scotland Office did nothing. He presented a 10-minute Bill in November. Again, nothing happened until the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde won a place in the ballot. The consultation document from the Scotland Office swiftly followed, and responses must be in by
In case the hon. Lady's words are misunderstood, I emphasise that every time I raised the subject, I received sympathetic responses from the Ministers involved, including the Leader of the House and Department of Trade and Industry Ministers. In private, I received total support from the Scotland Office.
I accept that. However, despite sympathetic responses, no action was taken until the consultation document was published, and that happened when the Bill was introduced. Perhaps "unfortunate" is too strong to describe the timing. However, unless the Minister plans to delay the Bill's passage and spend weeks on it in Committee, it is possible that the consultation will finish after the Bill has left Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne referred to that. Is the Minister planning to pre-empt the consultation?
I therefore hope that when the Minister replies to the debate, she will solve the conundrum of how we can take account of the consultation's results if the Bill has left Committee before its completion.
Mr. MacDonald said that many of his constituents had responded to the consultation. Perhaps everyone supports the Bill. In that case, there is no problem. The websites of the CBI in Scotland, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry did not refer to the measure. One therefore assumes that they are content with it. However, it would be difficult to amend the Bill in the case of substantive objections unless the Minister expects the House of Lords to make her amendments for her. If the Minister could give us some answers as to why the consultation is so out of kilter with the progress of the Bill, it would be very useful.
I will finish—[Interruption.] If I get any more barracking, I shall continue at great length, so I would suggest that there be no more barracking from a sedentary position by any hon. Members, let alone those on the Government Front Bench. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what she plans to do about the consultation. This is a small but important Bill. No one has so far mentioned whether Members of the Scottish Parliament support it, but I am pleased to place on record that the Conservative MSPs do so.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde on introducing the Bill, which will almost certainly be on the statute book by the end of the year. He announced a competition to find out where the term "intoxicating liquor" had come from. I would like to put it on a postcard that it came from the time of either Cromwell or Victoria, because those were the two periods in history when alcohol was a naughty word in England. The Bill brings Scotland into line with England. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing it, but I have just one caveat. Bearing in mind the horrendous experience of the legislation that set up the Child Support Agency, which was supported by all the parties but from which great difficulties ensued, I hope that no difficulties flow from this Bill.
I feel that we have been round the houses this morning. I had not realised how much I had not missed Mr. Wilshire until he spoke for 34 minutes today. I wonder whether, when he was a child in Lossiemouth, anyone ever asked him if he would just haud his wheesht for a while. I will translate that later for those who do not know the expression.
I am also aware that there seems to be some misunderstanding about what happened in Scotland in relation to Sunday trading. I suspect that most of us here remember the wee shops, as we would call them, being open on a Sunday. I expect that my hon. Friend Rosemary McKenna would have had an ice cream in Jaconnelli's café on the Maryhill road on a Sunday, and Mr. Forth would probably have wandered down University avenue and managed to buy half a dozen rolls on a Sunday morning and have a wee coffee—I am not sure whether they had invented coffee when he was at Glasgow university—in the university café. Certainly, Crolla's would have been open, on Parliamentary road. I remember our shops in Easterhouse—I should say that we did not have any tennis courts in Easterhouse—
No. Let me get into my flow, please.
I remember going round on a Sunday to collect some messages from my mother. On one occasion, I had to get some bleach. While we did not have tennis courts, we always managed to buy bleach for the toilets on a Sunday. I remember spilling the bleach on my new Sunday shoes, and I found out that my mother believed not only in Sunday trading but in corporal punishment, as she gave me what we called a clatter across the lug.
We have had a grand tour here today, and I congratulate my hon. Friend David Cairns on being so successful in the ballot. The Scots have been very successful in the ballots for private Member's Bills this year, because in the top 10, we also have my hon. Friends the Members for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) and for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan). That is an indication that Scottish Labour Members see this as a United Kingdom Parliament and are willing to participate in its affairs.
In view of the comments from Mrs. Lait about how much she welcomes the fact that we are a United Kingdom Parliament, perhaps she will encourage Mr. Duncan to start voting as a United Kingdom Member, and to vote now and again on Scottish issues, as we are doing today. He, like the hon. Lady, makes such a virtue of the fact that he did not vote on some legislation that it would have been nice to see him today—especially in the light of the comments of my hon. Friend Mr. Brown, who said there had been difficulties in his area, part of which he shares with the hon. Gentleman.
I accept that, but I would mention that the hon. Lady raised the issue of who votes where and then decided to complicate matters by mentioning that ours was a United Kingdom Parliament. Let us leave that aside, however.
I especially congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde on introducing a Bill that is short but that will bring considerable benefit to workers in Scotland. I also congratulate those doughty hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge), for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) and for Dumfries, and all those who gave sterling support to the Argos workers last year. In fact, I think that we should thank Argos for highlighting a gap in the law. I understand that "lacuna" is the parliamentary term. I am pleased that the Bill appears to have been given a fair wind by Members on both sides of the House.
As hon. Members have said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken a direct interest in the position of shop workers and betting shop workers in Scotland, and the risk of discrimination against them in relation to Sunday working. The background to the legal position has been well rehearsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde and by others and I shall not repeat what they said, but I want to reinforce what has been said about the then Government's position in respect of the 1994 Act.
As my hon. Friend said, it is interesting that, although there was a free vote on the deregulation of Sunday trading, it did not apply to the extra legal protection for workers. I am therefore delighted to echo the tribute that my hon. Friend paid to my right hon. Friend Mr. Foulkes for his prophetic words at the time. He clearly perceived the likely effects of the lacuna in a law that did not extend legal protection to workers in Scotland. Admittedly, the voluntary agreement has worked for a number of years, but the then Conservative Government had an opportunity to extend the legal rights to Scotland and decided not to take it.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's involvement with the issue arose from representations on behalf of a number of former Argos employees in Scotland who had lost their jobs for refusing to work on Sundays. She met the Argos chief executive, Terry Duddy, and senior management to discuss the issues. I wish that I had been a fly on the wall, and I am sure many other hon. Members feel the same.
It was clear that the company had decided to take advantage of the different legal situation in Scotland to require its employees to face the prospect of regular or occasional Sunday working even when individuals had objected. Argos stores in the north-east of Scotland were the focus of particular publicity, and I acknowledge the contribution of hon. Members who represent that part of the world. I will not comment on the right of Argos management to seek to deploy workers in whatever way suited its business needs, because, as I said earlier, its actions highlighted the gap in existing legislation. I certainly do not wish to criticise the company for taking account of commercial considerations, and choosing to depart from a voluntary agreement which—as many Labour and, to be fair, Opposition Members have recognised—paid dividends to workers.
My hon. Friend mentions the commercial considerations, and under normal circumstances such considerations might have been appropriate. However, the commercial considerations of Argos at that time were no different from those that other businesses had to take into account.
I accept my hon. Friend's point, but the reality is that Argos identified a gap in the law. It took a decision for its own best reasons, and although I do not accept them, it was Argos's decision and it had the right to take it. In that sense, we need to be at least halfway generous towards Argos.
I should say that I have no axe to grind so far as Argos is concerned. I have a couple of sofas from Argos that are really quite comfortable, and other Members probably do as well; then again, perhaps not. I reassure my hon. Friend Mr. MacDonald that, in addition to being able to book online with it, Argos delivers to the Western Isles via the fish lorries. I have had sofas delivered to the Western Isles, for which Argos charges a very modest additional sum. [Interruption.] If Mr. Carmichael wishes to comment on Argos's trading agreements with Orkney and Shetland, I should be delighted. [Interruption.] When a Minister offers to give way—
I want to deal with a couple of specific issues that were raised about the consultation, particularly by the hon. Member for Beckenham. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland launched the consultation on
I want to take this opportunity to reassure the House that we will be able to feed in the results of that consultation before our debates in Committee. As I understand it, the first meeting of the Committee is scheduled for
That is the current scheduling as I understand it, but as a former Whip the hon. Lady will recognise that sometimes such dates are moveable feasts. To reassure her, what I am trying to explain to the House is that we are confident that the results will be in the hands of Members before the Bill goes through its various processes in this House.
I welcome this opportunity to inform the House that I am arranging to have published today a regulatory impact assessment, setting out the estimated costs and benefits of a measure to change the law in Scotland on Sunday working. As is often the case, we have had to make certain assumptions and calculations about the precise impact on financial and human resources, and it is in some ways difficult to predict just exactly how many workers may choose, at the end of the day, to exercise their right to opt out of Sunday working. Where Sunday working cannot be covered by other employees, however, it will be largely a matter of transfer costs for employers as they will not be obliged in law to find a weekday alternative for anyone who decides to opt out of Sunday working.
I am arranging for a copy of the RIA to be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses today. Copies will also be issued to everyone who received the direct consultation paper in December. A copy will also be placed on the Scotland Office website.
I am delighted for various reasons—some of which I have briefly highlighted—that the Government fully support the principles embodied in the Bill. As well as thanking individual Members, especially on the Labour Benches, for their vigour, energy and dedication in sponsoring the measure, I also congratulate Members who promoted the consultation exercise in communities in Scotland. As a result, many organisations contributed views and comments both to Members and to the Scotland Office. The consultation has provided a good model to show how MPs can discuss with their local communities matters of direct and specific interest to them.
We shall work closely with my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde to ensure that responses to the Government's consultation exercise on Sunday working are carefully considered. In the course of the remaining stages of the Bill's progress, we undertake to table amendments where we consider that they will improve the arrangements set out in the measure.
I am sure that other hon. Members will join me in thanking my hon. Friend for giving priority to this important measure from his advantageous position in the ballot. In a modest but important way, his measure would change for the better the working lives of many employees in Scotland who want to opt out of Sunday working without the risk of losing their jobs. The Government and the trade union movement, especially USDAW, have accepted that basic tenet in relation to workers in the retail industry. The Bill will have a place in the raft of measures being pursued by the Government to help to improve the work-life balance more generally, and I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland wish it a fair wind.
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall be brief. I understand that on these occasions it is the custom for Members in my position not to respond in detail to every point that has been made but to restrict themselves to a few general remarks.
I reiterate my earlier comments in thanking the hon. Members who have come to the House today to support the measure, especially those whose constituencies are outwith—a fine Scottish word—Scotland. I am extremely grateful for their support. Mention has been made of the excellent campaigning work undertaken by the shop workers union USDAW. I am more than happy to join in those tributes. The union has been a credit to its members and has fought the campaign all the way. I am grateful for its support, too.
Like other speakers, I pay tribute to the tenacity and courage of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. She is a doughty champion of the rights of Scottish workers and it is no coincidence that even today she is in her constituency fighting to protect 1,000 jobs that are under threat. We all wish her every success in that difficult fight.
Some hon. Members, especially those on the Opposition Benches, have urged me to go further and make the Bill much wider. The other day, someone said that in life one either ends up as a good example or a horrible warning. It is my desire to be a good example to future winners of the ballot for private Members' Bills by introducing a Bill that is narrow and focused and that addresses a particular, pressing injustice. That is what the Bill does and, once again, I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to